Speaking of Life 2036 | Hand’s On Experience Heber Ticas I remember when I taught my daughter how to drive a car. You can imagine how nerve-racking that was. My daughter believed that since she was good at driving go-karts, learning to drive a vehicle would be simple. She even believed that having me teach her wasn’t necessary. Although she picked it up fairly quickly, there was no way she could have learned just with her go-kart experience. She needed to be hands-on with that regular car steering wheel. She needed to feel the road and feel the car hugging the curves. The best way to learn is often hands-on, right? We learn best when we actively participate in the learning process. Jesus knew this about his disciples. You may have heard the story about how a great crowd showed up, and Jesus had compassion on them and healed the sick. At dusk, his disciples thought they should send the people away to buy food, but Jesus had other ideas: That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.” “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered. “Bring them here,” he said. Matthew 14:15-18 (NLT) You probably know the rest of the story. After having the crowd sit down, Jesus gave thanks, blessed, and broke the loaves and fish, and the disciples passed the food out to the 5,000 men, plus women, and children. Everyone ate and was full, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. They had a hands-on experience where they participated in blessing others, and as a result, they learned a lot about how God’s kingdom works. Jesus could have just told them what he was going to do. He could have explained with words how his Father was going to take those five loaves and two fish and feed all those people. Instead, he had the disciples do it. They passed out the food to all those people, and they were the ones who picked up all the leftovers. The disciples got to participate in feeding more than 5,000 people. They saw the faces of the men, women, and children, and they watched them enjoy the food. And as a result of their hands-on experience, the disciples were transformed by being a part of the process. Their own faith was strengthened, and they learned how God’s love looks and feels. God still works that way with us today. He lets us participate in “hands-on” acts of blessing for others so that we are transformed as part of the process. We learn, like the disciples did, that we are part of God’s kingdom on earth when we engage in hands-on participation wherever we see God at work. When we do it, whatever that hands-on participation looks like, people’s lives are changed, and so are we. May you know the transforming power of hands-on participation with God today. I’m Heber Ticas, Speaking of Life.
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 • Genesis 32:22-31 • Romans 9:1-5 • Matthew 14:13-21
The theme for this week is “how God changes us.” In Genesis 32, we read the story of Jacob and how he was changed after wrestling with God. Psalm 17 provides an example showing that we often fail to realize that any good we do is simply God working through us, but we can be transformed whether we realize the source of that good or not. Our sermon outline titled “When One Cries…” features Romans 9, where it discusses how God changes us by helping us to develop compassion for others in our journey of faith. Lastly, Matthew 14 tells the story of feeding the 5000, which illustrates how God uses our participation in working with others to change us and increase our faith.
When One Cries…
Romans 9:1-5 NRSV
You might start with an example of empathy you’ve seen or experienced—something as simple as a time you cried during a movie.
Have you ever wondered how the people who make movies get babies to cry on cue? I recently watched a short video featuring Elaine Hall, who works in Hollywood as a “baby wrangler.” A “baby wrangler” is someone who interprets between what the director wants a young child to do in front of the camera and the baby or young child.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCuvt8wjKX8&app=desktop – You can either show the video or part of it, or you can use the summary that follows.
Elaine noticed early on the empathetic nature of babies and young children. So she used empathy to get the baby to respond as she wanted. When she wanted the baby to cry, she cried—loudly. And when she wanted the baby to stop crying, she stopped crying and reassured the baby that everything was OK.
If you’ve ever had more than one small child at home, or worked around a number of small children, you’ve probably found this to be true. Whenever one started crying, others followed suit. The New York Times wrote an article in 1989 highlighting new research (at that time) showing that babies are born empathetic. Researcher Jean Piaget originally thought that empathy wasn’t possible until a child’s cognitive abilities had developed enough, like around 7-8 years old. The 1989 studies showed that babies from a few months old through their first year “react to the pain of others as though it were happening to themselves. On seeing another child get hurt and start to cry, they themselves begin to cry, especially if the other child cries for more than a minute or two.”
Empathy is not limited to babies. All of us experience empathy. Many men don’t like to admit when they get tears in their eyes from watching a movie, or listening to a sad song, but watch them when their child or spouse gets hurt. We feel for others—and this is one of the greatest gifts God gives us through Jesus.
The idea of empathy for other people is talked about and illustrated in Scripture. Let’s look at a passage where the apostle Paul shows his empathy for his people, the Jews:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5 NRSV)
We can almost feel Paul’s grief and sadness over the unwillingness of most Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. He points out that if anybody should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Jews should have, since they were given the covenants, the law, and the promises, as well as stories of the patriarchs’ faith. The Jews were aware and watching for the Messiah, but they missed him, and Paul is sad about their “stuckness.” The Jews were expecting a Messiah who would deliver them from the political oppression they were in under Roman rule. When Jesus didn’t fit that expectation, he was killed, and the Jews remained stuck.
Paul is demonstrating his love for these who remain stuck. Perhaps you’ve felt the same feelings toward others who are stuck in the law, stuck in the lies that they are not worthy of God’s love or that God doesn’t love them. It’s this love that Paul speaks of to the believers in Corinth when he says this love compels them to view others differently—no longer viewing the world as “us” and “them,” but to see all as people Jesus died for. We want to view all as those whom God loves and to whom Jesus’ sacrifice applies.
What are the key takeaways from this passage?
- Even when we love God, we can become “stuck.” The Jews worshipped God and kept the old covenant, but they became rigid in their understanding of God. They put God in a box, placing expectations on how God should fulfill his promises. We do the same. It’s easy to lump people into categories—saved and unsaved, forgiven and unforgiven, children of God and not children of God, us and them. How have you put God in a box? Who do you think might be exempt from God’s love, or from the forgiveness of the cross? This leads right to the 2nd key takeaway.
- Those who are “stuck” deserve our empathy, not our judgment. It can be tempting to dismiss those who seem stuck in old traditions or beliefs. We might think, “Why can’t they just get it?” Our role, however, is not to demean but to encourage and affirm God’s love for all people, regardless of beliefs. We hurt because they are stuck, we grieve for their unbelief. We cry because they don’t know their Abba/Father.
- Recognize that we all are on a spiritual journey in our relationship with God, and growth never stops. We are constantly growing in our love for God, in our understanding of God’s love for us, and in our love for others.
- Accept others where they are, even as you lovingly encourage them to reflect on God’s love for all. The story of the blind men describing an elephant reveals how all of us only see facets of God. We are at different levels in understanding, and each level is essential toward our continued growth. Just as we wouldn’t expect a first grader to do algebra, so we must keep our expectations about spiritual understanding applicable to each individual’s progress on the journey.
- Embrace your natural empathy. Try to understand what is shaping the other person’s view, even as Paul understood how the Jews’ disappointed expectations of the Messiah shaped their view of Jesus. Ask God to help you see others as he sees them, through his eyes of love.
Babies have it figured out. We’re all in this together, and when one of us cries, we all cry, whether we show it or not. No amount of logical arguing is going to change a person’s viewpoint. No well-thought-out Facebook post is going to finally make a person see their theological error. Empathy—which is based on the love Christ gives us for others—is the answer. If we really have the same heart for other people like the apostle Paul had for the Jews, like Jesus has for us, we will acknowledge it is not “them” and “us,” it’s just us. So we love people, we accept people, we encourage people, and we trust the Holy Spirit to work in all our lives.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Have you ever learned something by doing it yourself? How did doing the activity shape your learning experience, rather than being told about it or reading about it?
- Why might God choose to have us participate in helping others know him? Why would God desire to share this experience with us?
- The idea of empathy focuses on our shared human experience. If you reflect on a time when you went through a difficult experience, you might have found comfort by talking to people who had gone through something similar. Why do you think that is?
- When it comes to religious beliefs, many times people are more concerned about being right than about being loving. If God were to prioritize them, how do you think God would rank right beliefs and lovingkindness?
- Facebook is sometimes used as a forum to try to persuade others to one’s particular political or religious beliefs. Why doesn’t a well-written Facebook post persuade people to change their minds?