Saturday, July 30, 2011

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Loaves and fishes

Scripture for the day:  Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145:8-21; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

Loaves and fishes always remind me of Sharon.
I was organizing my first Trunk or Treat at Zion Lutheran in Lima.  It’s a Halloween party where there’s a meal, carnival games for the kids and the kids go trick-or-treating in the parking lot.  Sharon had agreed to manage the kitchen for the meal, and she asked what I wanted to serve.

“What do you usually serve for Trunk or Treat?”

“Usually we do hot dogs and shredded chicken sandwiches.  Last year the gal that organized it wanted to do Mexican food – enchiladas and tacos.  It was a nice change, but everyone had both tacos and enchiladas and she didn’t have enough prepared for that.  But we managed; we just grabbed some hot dogs from the preschool freezer.  Everyone got something to eat – just like the loaves and fishes.”

I laughed, said we’d go with the usual menu and left Sharon to figure out how much we’d need.

“Loaves and fishes” is Sharon’s motto.  Sharon is a firm believer that there is always enough, and if not, then the good Lord will provide what’s needed or give someone an idea on how to make what’s on hand stretch.  No matter what, God could take your little bit and make it become enough.

You know, I saw a lot of meals served at Zion – the monthly after-Saturday-evening-worship meal, the monthly Sunday potlucks, Lenten soup suppers, Alpha course meals, meals for the kids between youth choir and confirmation/youth group, teacher appreciation breakfasts, Easter morning breakfasts, dinners for the VBS volunteers – and I never saw a meal where there was not enough for all.

Not even when we had no idea how many people would come. 

Not even when more people showed up than expected. 

Not even during the huge ice storm in the winter of 2005 when Zion became an impromptu shelter for those without power.  Even that first day, before congregation members could get out and bring us food, we had enough to feed our guests - the preschool director offered the contents of their pantry for our use.

Now, I tend to be a little obsessive when planning – I like all my ducks in a row and all possibilities accounted for.  Over the years, I came to relax under Sharon’s example of trust
in the miracle of loaves and fishes.

Would there be enough food for the community block party?

Loaves and fishes.

Would there be enough craft supplies for VBS?

Loaves and fishes.

Would there be enough money for the new ministry we wanted to start?

Loaves and fishes.

Would enough people want to volunteer to help with the Easter egg hunt we were holding for the first time?

Loaves and fishes.

Sharon’s confidence in the miracle of the loaves and fishes taught me that Jesus could take my meager offerings and turn it into enough to do the ministry he set before me.

The story of the loaves and fishes is found in all four gospels. The gospel writers felt this was an important story about Jesus, the kingdom of God and Jesus’ followers.  It’s a living parable – the kingdom of heaven is like a man who took dinner ingredients for himself and a few friends and created a buffet for 5000 people.  It’s about the God who provides food in the wilderness.  It’s a sign pointing to Jesus, God’s son.

It’s also a teaching moment for the disciples.

The disciples had worked all day with Jesus as he healed the sick.  They knew he was tired, and grief stricken – he had just gotten the news that morning that John the Baptist had been murdered by Herod.  He came to this deserted place to pray and mourn and heal a bit, and instead he spent the whole day healing others.
They could see just how much Jesus cared for the needs of these people.  And wanting to be like their Master, they wanted to care for the people’s needs too.  Let’s see – what do the people need now?  Hmmm…it’s getting late, and there’s no place here to get food.  These folks must be hungry, so let’s suggest to Jesus that he ends this healing session, so the people can get into town and get something to eat. 

Yup, that’ll do it.  We’re caring for their needs too.  And we’ll be caring for Jesus’ needs as well – he most certainly needs a rest!

After a round of mutual pats on the back they go to Jesus with their caring suggestion.

Imagine the disciples surprise when Jesus, instead of agreeing with their compassionate course of action, simply says, “You feed them.”

Disbelief, shock showed on their faces.  I bet some mouths gaped open for several minutes.  Someone had to be thinking, “That’s it. He’s crazy!  The day’s hard work and grief have driven him over the edge!”  Judas starts mentally tallying up the cost of purchasing so much food and comparing that to the small sum in their common purse.  James and John are probably thinking about how much work it will be to cart all that food back from the several surrounding towns.

Maybe one of two of them are thinking, “Wait! After everything we’ve seen you do – healing the sick, the lepers, the blind and the deaf, driving out demons, calming a storm – we know that YOU could feed them.  Why not just whip up some bread right here?  Ask God to send us some manna. Don’t ask us to do the impossible!”

“You feed them.”  Jesus tells the disciples that it’s time to step up to the plate and start doing the job he’s been training them for. 

They feel inadequate for the task.  They are well aware that they have so little, and the job is so big. They hear the challenge in his words, but they miss the promise in them.   

Jesus takes what they have: 5 loaves and 2 fish, enough for a light supper for them but nowhere near enough for 5000 families.  He blesses it and gives it to the disciples to pass out to the hungry families.

I can just imagine what they thought when the little bits they were given didn’t run out after the first family, nor after the second family, nor the third.  Even after the group with grandma and grandpa, a few aunts and uncles and a dozen or more kids, they still had food to hand out.

In Jesus’ hands, those 5 loaves and 2 fish are enough – enough so that everyone ate until they were satisfied, more than enough so that the disciples filled 12 big baskets with the leftovers.

Amazing stuff!  It should have changed the disciples forever!  You would think this would seal their trust in Jesus.  He could do anything!  But it wasn’t so simple.  Matthew and Mark tell of a second time Jesus tells them to feed a crowd of 4000, and again they ask how they can do such an impossible task!
The disciples lived in a world where it was believed there was only so much to go around.  There wasn’t enough for all.  It was a world of scarcity. 

That’s the kingdom of earth thinking.  That’s not kingdom of heaven thinking.  In the economy of kingdom of God, there is always enough, always more than enough.

In the economy of God’s rule, 5 loaves and 2 fish are enough to satisfy 5000, a bit of bread and sip of wine is a life-giving feast, and there is abundance, enough for all.

The gospel writers were right – this is an important story as much for what it tells us about God as for the teaching moment it is for us modern disciples. 
Because we still struggle with kingdom of earth thinking.  We fret that we don’t have enough – people, money, programs, talent, energy, you fill in the blank – to be able to do the work God calls us to.  We get focused on the little we have (or don’t have) and miss out on the promise and the challenge Jesus makes.

We miss out on the blessing God has for us. Even worse, we miss out on being God’s
blessing to others.

Loaves and fishes are a challenge to us.  Loaves and fishes dare us to act on our faith.  I read in a blog this week:  Jesus' words "You give them something to eat," are a "divine jest." They are a daily dare. He's saying "I dare to you take me at my word, and see what happens.”[i] 

"I dare to you
            take me at my word,
                        and see what happens.”
Like the disciples, we look at the need around us.  Then we look at what we have and say, “But Lord, all we have is just this little bit.  And we are so tired and over scheduled.”

It’s right then, we need reminding about the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

It’s right then, we need to remember what Sharon knows: God takes our offerings, tiny in comparison to God’s vast abundance, and blesses them and makes it enough, more than enough.

It’s right then, we need reminding that Jesus dares us to step out in faith and see what happens.

But more about stepping out in faith next week….


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