The Work of Christmas Series | Matthew 14:13–33 | Fifth Sunday of Epiphany | February 8, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN

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When I started dating Daniel, I started to hear a certain phrase from him: “It could be worse.” Whenever something bad happened, Daniel is always there to say, “It could be worse.”

I learned early on that Daniel picked this up from his Norwegian heritage as well as being a child of the prairies. He talked about the stocism of the Scandanavians who came and settled in the harsh climate of the Northern Plains and learned to take things as they come. They had to learn that no matter how bad things were, they could imagine that there could be something even worse. Maybe it was a way to lessen the blows that life gives us. I’m not sure. But what I’ve learned from Daniel’s use is that “It could be worse,” is also hopeful. All isn’t lost. The things that come our way, the things that could tear us apart, aren’t in the end so powerful.

It could be worse.

This phrase is so interesting to me because it is so different from my own heritage. African Americans and Puerto Ricans tend to live in the moment. We tend to feel the depth of the bad things. We know that the hard knocks we recieve in life can be terrible, they can ruin lives. Maybe that’s why we have things like the Blues, a musical style born of the pain African Americans faced, the pain of poverty and racism.

I’m not saying that one way of looking at things is better than the other. I think sometimes we need to feel the pain and sometimes we need to realize that the pain is not all that there is. We need both to make through life.

Recent events in my own life have me looking at the feeding of the 5000 differently. When we get to this text, preachers tend to talk about things like sharing or the importance of table fellowship. Or we talk about abundance or maybe miracles. But this morning I’m focused on one thing: the impending disaster of having a large crowd with no food.

I think this is what the disciples were looking at. They saw the huge crowds, too numerous to count. They knew they were miles from the nearest town. They saw chaos around the corner, so they tell Jesus to stop with the healing and send the people on their way. Maybe if they leave early enough they could get some food on the way.

Jesus doesn’t respond by joining in their worry. Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd something to eat.

In short, Jesus tells the disciples it could be worse.

The thing is, it could have been worse, much worse. But Jesus reminded the disciples that things are not as bad as they seem. He takes the meager food the disciples found, blesses it and then gives it to the disciples to distribute. What seemed like a disaster, what seemed like not enough, turned out to be enough. More than enough.

It could be worse.

In our lives, we face toils and tribulations. We get the cancer diagnosis. We get the pink slip. We get the things that could do us in. But in the end, Jesus is there taking what we have and making it enough, enough for us to continue to serve God.

It could be worse.

The reason we can say, it could be worse is because we are a people of hope. We place our trust, our faith, our hope in Jesus.

The apostle Paul summed it up this way in his first letter to the Thessalonians:

13 Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died[a] so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus. 15 What we are saying is a message from the Lord: we who are alive and still around at the Lord’s coming definitely won’t go ahead of those who have died. 16 This is because the Lord himself will come down from heaven with the signal of a shout by the head angel and a blast on God’s trumpet. First, those who are dead in Christ will rise. 17 Then, we who are living and still around will be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet with the Lord in the air. That way we will always be with the Lord. 18 So encourage each other with these words.

We have hope that the people will be fed. We have hope that the homeless would have a home. We have hope that our family and friends will come to know the wonderous love of Jesus. We have hope.

This past week has been a long one for me. I got the call at 4AM that you know is not good. My father lived 85 years, but even so, his death is not easy for me or for my mother. But in this past week, we have had scores of people sharing notes of concern, tons of cards in the mail and so on. The death of a loved one is devastating. It can shatter your world. But the outpouting of love reminds me that it could be worse. I live in the future hope of the ressurrection and the present hope of love that has surrounded me in the past week.

A few weeks ago, I came accross an article about declining churches and the need for these kind of churches to have a clear mission. I shared this article with a few people and I got an interesting response. The person didn’t think we were declining, but were just a small congregation. A year earlier, this person might have said we were close to closing. But instead they responded by seeing all the wonderful things this community has done and responded to me: “It could be worse.”

We live in the promise of Christmas. We live knowning a little baby born in a backwater of a great empire would change the world. We live knowning that no matter what happens in our lives, we live in the hope of Jesus Christ and we have the courage, the faith, the hope to say:

“It could be worse.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Written by

A middle-aged pastor living in Minneapolis. I write about politics, religion, sexuality, and autism.

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