Using the vivid example of creative problem solving featured in the movie Apollo 13, the Rev. Dr. William (Bill) Gibson offers a fresh look at the feeding of the multitudes in Matthew’s Gospel discovering a message for today’s church. Gibson argues that too often in the church, we allow our anxieties to shift our own thinking away from “what God is already up to” toward what he calls “the scarcity of the moment” to the detriment of what is possible.
There is no question, that in what is emerging as a post-Christian America, that there are challenging times for the church.
But it’s in these anxious moments when we’re trying to navigate a 21st-century landscape of how to do church differently that we become anxious; we talk about what we don’t have rather than what we do have. We say we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough people, we don’t have the right facilities, it’s not possible. We get caught up in the scarcity of the moment rather than the abundance of God.
I’m reminded of this story – I don’t know if you remember this or not, Apollo 13. Now if you are a movie buff you probably have seen the movie with Tom Hanks in it, right? This is a mission to the moon, and on the way to the moon, they have this problem with the spacecraft.
After the famous words, “Houston, we have a problem,” Gene Kranz gathers all the NASA engineers into this room to begin this problem-solving exercise. All this chaos ensues and everybody’s arguing about which problem should take priority. There’s just this lots of noise that it’s an engine issue, it’s an oxygen issue, it’s all these kinds of things.
And finally, Gene Kranz says, “cut it out! Just be quiet. Can we start with what on the spacecraft is working?” And once they turn their attention away from the problems and issues to the assets on the spacecraft they begin to problem solve in a way that became one of NASA’s greatest accomplishments. They brought three astronauts safely back to Earth.
The same thing happens in the church. We get caught up; our anxiety drives us to begin to think about what’s not possible and it turns our attention away from the things we’ve been blessed with.
Matthew chapter 14 also is a story where Jesus is there on the side of the shores of the Sea of Galilee and this large crowd has gathered. And it’s getting late and the disciples come to Jesus and they say, “Hey, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, the sun is going down. We need to send these people home. You need to ask them to go home because they’re going to have to eat.”
And Jesus said, “That won’t be necessary, you feed them.”
The disciples look at each other, like, “he’s crazy, right?” And they say to Jesus, “That’s not possible. I don’t know if you are aware of this but we only have these two stinking fish and these five loaves of bread.”
Jesus, in that moment, recognizes a teaching opportunity. He says, “bring them here.” So Jesus essentially says bring me what you have and he takes what the disciples are offering and he blesses it and it multiplies enough to feed a multitude of people.
Our anxiety causes us to turn our attention away from what God is already up to. It causes us to focus on the scarcity of the moment. What if we were to turn our attention to the abundance of God? What if we were to bring Jesus what we have?
Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson serves as Director of Strategic Faith Community Development for the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church.
This episode of insideout was e-filmed and edited by Rev. David Valera. Valera serves the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church as Director of Connectional Ministries.