Loaves and Fishes: What's in Your Basket? July 31, 2011, Pentecost 7
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.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Will you pray with me? Generous God, open our hearts so that we might share all that we have and are, even when we think it’s not enough, not good enough or is not needed. Open our eyes to the treasures we have within us—gifts, talents, graces, abilities, parts of us we don’t really think are even worthy of mention—but gifts and abilities our sisters and brothers need desperately. Give us courage to share them, to use them in your service, that we may see your realm on earth. In the name of your child, Jesus, our saviour, guide and friend, amen.
A little more than a year after I moved to River City, a friend called me. She had struck up a friendship with a young man—a youth, really, all of 16 or 17 years old—who hung out in the same coffee-shop she did. He had come to trust her and told her his story. When she heard it, she contacted me. He had been evicted from his parents’ home because he was gay and now had nowhere to go. She and I both knew what often happens to gay youth in that situation and she was trying to help him find an alternative to the streets. I knew of an inexpensive apartment that was available, and when I spoke to the landlord—who had often volunteered with Bog Brothers/Big Sisters and knew the score too—he was willing to rent it for what the youth received for rent from social services. So the young man had a safe place to live, but no employment and nothing to put in his apartment. Another member of the community offered him an apprenticeship in his chosen field and mentored him, monitoring his schoolwork as well as his training. Our church helped furnish his apartment, everything from lamps to towels and dishes. Other community members, gay and straight, brought clothes, furniture, advice and support.This young man was surrounded by caring people who gave of what they had. He thrived and is now on his own, doing well in his chosen profession elsewhere in Canada.
Loaves and fishes.
None of us alone could have helped him in any meaningful way. But together, as a community—a chance friend in the coffee shop, a small business owner, church members, a landlord, neighbours—we came together and offered him a second chance, an alternative view of the world, new options in how to live and how to treat others. When he was first kicked out, living in the only place he thought he could afford, with crack pipes in the tub in the shared washroom and no locks on the doors, I am sure he thought the situation was hopeless, that there was no way out for him. And then he found that many people wanted to help him. There was a way.
Loaves and fishes.
I have some sympathy for Jesus here. He’s just heard that Herod has executed Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. He’s been preaching to his followers for days. He’s tried to go off by himself to mourn his losses and rest, to no avail. And now his disciples want him to feed this crowd?
But patiently, Jesus teaches them that they can do more than they think they can—important preparation for when he will no longer be with them . “You feed them,” he says to the disciples. He wants them to look around, take the initiative, find the way where there seems to be no way—to find out what the people—the congregation—have to share. Not what they, the disciples, can conjure out of the air or make themselves—but what they can find in the congregation, the people.
Loaves and fishes.
We do the same thing—we are so much like the disciples. We think there is no way out—we think there are no options, no solution. We’re hungry for—what? Healing—physical, emotional, spiritual. We are looking for friendship, or hope, a job, spiritual insight, love, or maybe a release from addiction. Maybe we’re in an unhealthy relationship or struggling with grief. We tell ourselves we can’t do what we need to do to change the situation—we can’t leave the relationship because of our financial situation, or our physical illness is chronic and can’t be cured, or we are terrified of life without whatever our chosen substance of abuse is (food, nicotine, drugs, alcohol)—and we’re right. We can’t change the situation, not on our own. But with God, and with a community, there is nothing we cannot do. If we look to our community, we will find the hope and support and love we need. It is there we will find brothers and sisters who also struggle with addictions, who will support us with the tough love we need to leave those addictions behind. It is among our friends in community we will find understanding of the spiritual struggles we face, and new insight—as we can offer them insight. The people around us can offer emotional strength and support as we struggle free of the unhealthy relationship, as we come to terms with our chronic illnesses and learn to live with them. Those around us—in these very chairs, and the ones who could not be here today but whom we know and love—they offer exactly what we need.
And the other side of that coin is that we offer them what they need, too. It is your smile, your hug, that reminds a despairing brother that he is good, and not the terrible person he is told he is by the faith tradition he grew up in. It’s your conversation over coffee that lets the person struggling with cancer know that she is not alone in her fear and despair. It’s your hands helping a person move from an unhealthy living situation; it’s your story, shared over a meal, that gives a sister courage to resist the siren call of her addiction.
Loaves and fishes.
Jesus didn’t turn stones into bread and snakes into fish. He did not provide the loaves and fishes. The disciples didn’t go into town and buy fish and bread. They didn’t provide the food either. The community, the people, those listening to Jesus—they shared what they had. It started with those five loaves and two fish; but it was enough. The disciples went to them and asked—which means they became friends with them, shared with them, were part of the community themselves—because you can’t ask that sort of thing of strangers.
We each have gifts, talents, skills—something we can share with others. Perhaps it’s the gift of music, or of preaching; maybe it’s administration, or simply listening. Maybe it’s the gift of organizing or the ability to analyze a situation and see what path is most productive. Perhaps we are powerful pray-ers, or good cooks; maybe we love hands-on repair and construction work. We may not even think of it as a gift, or as anything special. But every one of us has something to give, and every one of our gifts is needed.
It’s no mistake that we gather around a table to share a meal as part of our community gathering—communion, the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist. Every family reunion, large or small, is focussed on food—Aunt Kay’s potato salad, Uncle Sam’s fried chicken, Mom’s brownies. I visited a website recently that featured churches which had been converted into homes—and they were very creatively done, I must say. Almost without exception, the chancel—the part of the church where the altar usually is—was used in the homes as the dining area. Even the non-religious recognise that sharing a meal is sacred, a way of being intimate, of tightening those bonds of family, friendship and love that connect a community.
Loaves and fishes. Share yours with God’s people.
Loaves and fishes. Receive the gifts of God’s people as they seek to lift you up.
In the name of our ever-generous God, amen.