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When 2 + 2 Aren't 4
July 31, 1988

JOHN 6:1-15

You've probably never heard of Leo Szilard, but he has influenced your life. Leo Szilard was a theoretical physicist, and a key figure in the beginning stages of atomic energy. On September 12, 1933, he was working in London and was reading that morning a report in The Times of a meeting of the leading scientists of Great Britain. These great scientists had concluded, "anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine." The statement upset Leo Szilard. He said, "Pronouncements of experts to the effect that something cannot be done have always irritated me." He tossed down the newspaper and went to lunch.

All through lunch he thought about splitting neutrons. On the way back to work, Szilard stopped for a red light at Southampton Row, across from the British Museum. I don't know what you think about as you wait for a light to change, but Leo Szilard reported, "It occurred to me that neutrons, in contrast to alpha particles, do not ionize the substance through which they pass." The light changed to green and he started across the street. By the time he reached the opposite curb, he had the answer and as the light flipped red behind him the nuclear age had started to dawn.

Back at work, his partner (a fellow by the name of Albert Einstein) asked if he had had a good lunch. Szilard told Einstein his idea. "That's impossible," Einstein said. "This is something that cannot be done." "Well, yes, but I did it." "How did you do it?" Szilard began explaining. Five or ten minutes later, Einstein understood, and exclaimed, "You had an incredible lunch!"

How often have you been told, "It can't be done." Or, "It's a good idea but it won't work." Your typical cynic tried to stymie discussion with the cliche, "It's a good idea but it won't work," and elicited this reply from an older, wiser man, "Young man, I trust you will soon learn life's fundamental lesson: If it is a good idea it will work, and if it won't work it isn't a good idea." And, how do you know if it's a good idea or not unless you try it? How often we limit God by defining reality and possibility in narrow terms, as if 2 + 2 are always 4!

Someone must have told Jesus it couldn't be done when he expected five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men and who knows how many women and children. A church has been on the traditional site of the feeding of 5,000. It is on the shore of Galilee, a short distance from where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. There is a natural amphitheater there where a person can indeed speak to thousands, and be heard. A large crowd gathered around Jesus and the disciples that day, and at lunch time, they wondered how they would feed people. They didn't have enough money to buy anything. Andrew found a little boy with five loaves and two fish, and who was willing to share his lunch. Don't overlook the significance of the boy's willingness to give up his lunch. When I tell this story to children, after convincing them how hungry everyone was, I ask them, "How many of you would gladly give up your lunch?" I rarely get any offers. After all, our children have been taught by us!

How the cynics must have muttered, "Five loaves and two fish! What does Jesus expect to do with that? It's a good idea but it won't work! After all, everyone knows that 2 + 2 = 4! Everyone knows you can't feed more than 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish." End of discussion. End of experiment. Everyone knows, said the renowned scientists, you can't find power in the splitting of atoms!

But, the cynics underestimate the power of God. The cynics underestimated the power of Jesus who not only fed the multitude, but had twelve baskets left over! Don't let the appearance of reality fool you! Don't be misled by your perceptions, and the perceptions of the cynics around you.

The potential was there to feed over 5,000 people. The potential was there in five loaves and two fish. Potential resides in just about every situation. There's more to your spouse than you possibly realize. There's more to your marriage than you realize. There's more in your child than you possibly realize. There's more in your work than you realize. There's more in your faith than you realize. God is able to do far more than we ask or even think, more than we can conceive. Don't be limited by your perceptions. Don't be limited by only what you see. Don't be limited by a 2 + 2 = 4 mentality. An old African proverb states, "You can count the apples on a tree, but you cannot count the trees in an apple."

There is a wonderful story that Leo Buscaglia tells. It is about a study called "Pygmalion in the Classroom." You remember George Bernard Shaw's play, later produced as the musical, "My Fair Lady," where a woman from the slums is transformed into a proper English lady. In the Pygmalion Study, a group from Harvard University came in to an elementary school and said to the teachers, "We are going to go into your classroom and give a test called the Harvard Test of Intellectual Spurts. It is going to measure which kids in your classroom are going to grow intellectually during the year that they're in your class. And it will pick them out. It never fails. We'll be able to tell you, and think of what a help this will be, which of your students have intellectual potential."

So they gave the students the tests, which actually were some obsolete I.Q. tests. Then they took the results, and without looking at them, threw them in the garbage. Instead, they picked five names at random from each class, and sat down with the teachers. They said to a teacher, giving him/her the names of five kids, "Now these are the students who are going to spurt this semester." One teacher looked at a name and exclaimed, "Why, he couldn't spurt if you put him in a cannon!" "Nevertheless," said the experts from Harvard, "the Harvard Test of Intellectual Spurts never fail." Well, you can guess what happened! Every student they put on that list advanced remarkably that school year. You get what you expect.

Where we get confused is in our perceptions. We assume that what we see is what we get. We look at five loaves and two fish, and make assumptions on what we see. But the story is not over. The 12 baskets of leftovers were potentially within the five loaves and two fish. We do not discover what a fully developed reality is by only looking at what it was when it began to be! You cannot look at a seed and assume that is a full picture of reality. Consider the potential that is in a seed that we do not yet see. Don't judge, predict, or limit a child or a youth to what you see! Aristotle was much nearer the truth when he said, "The true nature of a thing is the highest that it can become."

There is potential in most situations. It just has to be realized. And that takes faith. Jesus saw the potential in the five loaves and two fish, and Jesus believed that more than 5,000 would eat. Leo Szilard saw the potential while waiting for a light, and believed it was possible to sustain a nuclear chain reaction. Catch the vision and believe in the potential.

Then, act on your belief. Jesus saw the potential. Jesus believed it was possible, but the equation was not complete until the little boy acted, until the little boy put his faith into action, and shared his lunch. Who knows! Perhaps the little guy inspired others to share. Wouldn't it be something if the miracle was a miracle of sharing, as people, one by one, pulled food out of their backpacks and shared with those around them. Perhaps Jesus walked through the crowd, encouraging, touching, blessing, visiting, and the stingy, the selfish, and the hoarders gradually warmed up, and realized their potential by not only sharing their food, but by experiencing the joy of doing something significant with and for Jesus.

We who are gathered here this morning are the people of God. We are the people Jesus called to do his work. We are called to help Jesus feed the multitudes. We are called to believe and realize the potential of our church. Who can count the trees that are in the apple! If we all participated in God's work, if we all believed in the potential power of our church, if we all acted according to what God has given each of us, would our church have financial problems? We are in the midst of a mid-summer cash-flow problem. The last financial report was sobering! But, what you see is not the entire picture. If we all willingly shared what God has given us, even if it is only five loaves and two fish, think what Jesus could do!

I attended a fascinating two-day workshop this week conducted by Herb Miller, called "Magnetizing and Revitalizing Your Church." He has conducted extensive surveys of growing churches. One survey asked visitors why they came to a particular church. Do you know the # 1 reason, the reason most often given? 77.9% come the first time because they were invited by someone in the congregation. The difference between a growing church and a declining church is that the members of a growing church invite their friends and families.

The second largest group of visitors come because they saw the building. 6.9% come the first time because they saw the building. 4.2% come because they saw the church ad in the yellow pages.

You might be interested to know how our church compares. For the past five years I have asked people who attend our "Introduction to the First United Methodist Church" session the question, "How did you learn of our church? Why did you come the first time?" Now, I have not kept statistics, so I can't give you percentages, but the #1 response given by those, most of whom eventually join our church, is the music. Most of our first-time visitors come because of our music program. Many of them first come to a concert, and then return to a worship service. The second largest group of visitors come to our church because of the yellow pages. They find our church in the yellow pages. The third group of visitors come because they saw the building. The smallest group of visitors come to our church because they are invited by someone in our congregation.

Do you see what this says? We are missing out on the #1 reason given why people come to a church. We are missing a huge potential of new people. Why? Our congregation is not doing a good job of inviting people. In growing churches, 77.9% of first-time visitors come because they were invited. Rarely is that reason given by our visitors! Therefore, we are only reaching persons who are attracted by our music program and the yellow pages. Some of you are doing a great job of spreading the word. Imagine what would happen if each of you began inviting people, if each of you would tap the rich potential in your circles of relationships! Many of your friends are unchurched. Work this question into a conversation, "Say, do you go to church regularly?" If they say, "Yes," then share experiences. If they say, "No," then say, "I'd like to invite you to mine." Isn't that easy! Imagine what would happen if each of us, like the little boy, shared our loaves and fish!

2 + 2 aren't necessarily always 4. God can do wonders! There is potential in every person, in every church, and in most situations. See, believe, and act on behalf of what might be, not what is.

© 1988 Douglas I. Norris