August 6, 2017 – Getting a Lot from a Little
13 When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. 14 When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. 15 That evening his disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
16 But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.”
17 They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.”
18 He said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves apart and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. 21 About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten.
Imagine, if you will, that you are living in a community that has been affected by a disaster and is living in crisis. Supplies come whenever a truck can make it, which isn’t often. People are forced to ration food, supplies, even clothing. How would you feel? You’ve probably known the people around you for a long time and consider them to be friends at the very least, if not surrogate family. How difficult would sharing food and water and blankets be if you knew everybody?
Let’s say you were new to the community – only there for a few months. You’ve met neighbors but haven’t really connected with them yet. Would you be okay sharing then? What would your line be? I can share wood and building supplies but not clothing. I can share some food but not water. What would you send – the best stuff or whatever you felt okay living without?
A mind exercise like that doesn’t mean much to us. Our area by and large has not dealt with famine and loss of supplies in well over one hundred years. On occasion disasters cause weeklong and days long outages, but outside of something the size of Katrina, most of us have never been there. If you have, what was it like? How did you navigate what to keep and what to give to the common good?
These questions were on the minds of the people that surrounded Jesus on the afternoon that they gathered after hearing stories of his healing. We are told 5000, but that’s only men. Women and children were there. Assuming every man had a wife and one child, give or take those who were single and those with multiple children, we can expect at least 10,000 people. And many of those people were sick and hurting and needing a miracle.
That sounds a lot like being in crisis. If you have nowhere else to go that you will go away from the safety of the city to the outlying hills and valleys, out where robbers and bandits sometimes roam, you are desperate. 10,000 of such people would count as a crisis community.
When Jesus sees all of them and recognizes the time it will take to get to them all, he knows the first thing to do is give them something to eat. He tells his disciples this. They walk out and find anyone who has anything to give. Out of the thousands, the find five loaves of bread and two fish.
Everyone had a choice: give what they had or keep what they had.
When I was in college, I got used to the homeless population in Athens. We had a lot of people who managed to end up in our college town by bus from Atlanta or Greenville, so some faces changed often among the regulars who would ride up and tell their story. Some guys were famous for their panhandling. One, a guy named Jazzy Jeff, would make up raps on the spot. Some would avoid eye contact, some would walk away, and others would pay him. He was the outlier. Most of the transient would sit on the sidewalk – hair dirty and skin showing the wear of the wind, sun, and heat. Those were the ones we knew would have to find shelter at night. Every time I saw one of those people – sign or not, belonging on the street or not – I had the choice to give what I had or keep it for myself. Whoever acted first in the giving or the walking away, others always followed suit.
I don’t care to hear rationalizations of not giving money to homeless so they buy drugs or alcohol. If you are so callous to go there first in your mind, allow this to be a wakeup call – I never said give money. Sometimes, giving what we have is as simple as recognizing that being kind and offering a smile, a shred of dignity, is giving what you have. Was I willing to give of my humanity and my vulnerability to accept that some people have crises I don’t understand and cannot in good faith judge? Was I willing to give of my sympathy, my prayers, my words, and even my pride if they did turn out to be a fraud? It takes real maturity to not get jaded whenever you are burned giving in good faith.
However, at those times we do have something to give, as far as money or resources, we are even more convicted. Jesus talked about money and giving a lot. Here, he shows what happens when people give what they can. He performs miracles. We also know what happens when people don’t give – others follow suit. The miracle cannot happen.
I have been in a lot of meetings and conversations where we talk about what is wrong in our community – drugs, alcohol, undeserved poverty, people who take advantage of social services, kids without enough food or school supplies or clothes. Almost every time, somewhere along the way, I hear the “well, we can’t fix it all.” Um, yes, yes we can. We, as in 100 people at Charlotte-Fagan can’t, but we can start it. We can offer our bread and fish, no matter how small it may be. If we try, others will try. If we say it isn’t possible, others say it isn’t possible.
All of us have been tasked with making the world better. I have been told that sometimes I push too hard or think the church isn’t good enough. If that were true, I wouldn’t push. I have faith that we can do more than we do. All it took was the willingness to try: Are you going to let Jesus perform miracles, or are you going to leave God’s work to someone else?
When I told you earlier that you have a choice, I imagine many of you thought I was equating you to the 5000. A number so big isn’t by accident. Even back in Jesus’ time, people were unwilling to help out others in their community, mostly due to the same distrust of the stranger that I see in so many places. Many of them needed a push to try. Some wouldn’t try at all. It’s not your job to push people to give you loaves and fish – it’s your job to ask. It’s your job to take on the role of disciple. Are you going to give of yourself by asking others to help you feed the 5000? Are you going to give what you have to your church and to your community and to those who do God’s work? Or are you going to hold back because you don’t think others are good enough to be fed, or the task isn’t worth the efforts?
The message of the gospel today is that it only takes a little bit of a start to get a lot back. This past Sunday, Judy, Clay, and I marveled at how our 5th Sunday Harvest grew so much only on the second attempt. I could feel Judy’s soul bursting with hope and excitement. All she did was ask, “what do you have?…what can you give?” Her whole car was packed with food last Sunday. If we can do that, I know we can do more.
And I hear the pushback: Nick, we’re a good church. Yes, if you weren’t, I’d stop asking you to give more of your time and resources. If we don’t have the bread and fish to feed them ourselves, then why not go out and find it? Maybe we all need to take a second look and ask if we are holding back somehow from living out the gospel.
The feeding of the 5000 is the perfect way to reset our hearts for the new year, student or not. As Advent looms closer, we have to ask, are we really, truly giving our best effort to God? Are we offering what we have of our hearts, our resources, and our humanity for the good of our community? Would the 5000 be welcomed by us?
Give a little, church. See what can happen. If something is near and dear to your heart, let me know. I will help point you to the right people so we can find our miracle. Ask Judy – it’s possible. But we, those of us here right here and right now, have to be willing to try to give a little to get a lot.