By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: John 6:1-13
This morning at Trinity we continue with our Stewardship series entitled: Building, Growing, Connecting: Living God’s Vision for Trinity. This morning we begin to look at what is necessary for growth. I can only assume that all of us want Trinity to be a growing faith community: growing numerically, growing spiritually (bearing spiritual fruit), growing in our outreach to our community. Growth, for any living organism – including the Church, is normal and healthy. But, growing requires resources. When I was a child, we had dogs; but they were small, generally under 30 pounds. A few years after Britt and I got married, we adopted a puppy. We got her from the pound and she’d been found on the streets. She was scrawny. As best we could tell she was a shepherd, setter, Collie mix and her paws were enormous. The first six months we had her, we could not believe how much food Charis required. Eventually, she would grow to be about 78 pounds. When she lay on the floor and stretched out, end to end, she was longer than I am tall. That girl could eat! Charis required enormous resources to fuel fer growth. Some of you have had this experience with children; particularly, a teenage son in the throes of a growth spurt. Mom or dad has barely finished loading the dinner dishes into the dishwasher and wiping down the counters. They turn to leave the kitchen and their teenage son is in the doorway: “I’m hungry. What do we have to eat?” And you think, “You just ate. How can you possibly be hungry?” It takes enormous resources to keep a teenage boy healthy and strong. In any situation, growth requires resources.
This morning’s gospel story is about how life can be sustained, fueled, when we are willing to offer up our resources to Jesus… even if it seems we have little to offer and the need exceeds what we have to give.
But before I unpack the bible story, it might be worthwhile to ask the question: “Why is it important to give our resources to the Church anyway? After all, there are a lot of good and helpful organizations in the world. What’s so special about the Church?”
Well, the Church is the organization entrusted with continuing Jesus’ work, Jesus’ mission. In the gospel of John, Jesus explains his mission, the reason for his coming: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”[i] There is insufficient time this morning for me to point out all of the places in John’s gospel that relate to this message of life and the description of the nature or character of this life. But in a nutshell I can say this: the life Jesus came to give has to do with intimate relationship, a connection, with God through Jesus that completely changes the way we live; the way we do life. And it changes not only how we live, but what we give. It replaces fear with courage. It replaces sorrow with joy. It replaces death with eternal life. It replaces anxiety with peace. It is a life that is characterized by abundance, not scarcity. Think for a moment of all the dreadful things happening in our world today: wars, famine, broken relationships, political bickering, addiction, abuse, poverty. I believe we can trace the origin of most of those things back to the way in which those that hold the majority of resources view life and how their view impacts the way they manage (or steward) their resources. One nation fears another nation will take something from it; get the better of them. This concept of scarce resources is the theology behind sanctions, right? Take resources away from people in order to force good or compliant behavior.
When food is in limited supply, the powerful hoard and control it resulting in – or at least contributing to – famines.
People refuse to offer forgiveness to someone who has wronged them out of fear that, in that gesture of grace and vulnerability, something more will be stripped away from them.
I think sin can be boiled down to this: Choosing to live in a way that reflects a lack of trust in God’s willingness and ability to provide for us and to be generous with us, especially in times of need. We fear immigrants because we think they will steal our jobs. We fear opposing political parties because we think they will rob us of our values.
But John’s gospel proclaims a different experience of life. Jesus came as an expression of God’s grace: grace upon grace, grace stacked on top of grace, as John’s prologue tells us.[ii] This is not a story of scarce life, but abundant life. Jesus demonstrates the heavenly Father’s love by offering up even his own life which results, ultimately, in his resurrection and ours. The way to experience life in abundance is not to fearfully guard what we have but to generously give up what is in our grasp – to release it – so that we and others might experience abundance of life. That is the message of resurrection. So Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”[iii]
So, what about this morning’s story? The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle told in all four gospels. We often forget that Jesus lived in a culture where food security was a significant problem. A very small number of people controlled most of the land. Roman taxation was a brutal burden. Most of the population was peasants. So it is easy to understand why preserving the story of this miracle was of such critical importance to the early Church. But John’s account of this story has some unique and significant details. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the disciples report to Jesus that all that they have to work with are five loaves of bread and two fish. But, we don’t know where that food comes from. John, however, tells us that all of it, 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 fish, all come from a child. So we learn that one person, a boy, will need to surrender everything he has – while others contribute nothing – in order for this miraculous feeding to take place.
Now, keep in mind: children had little worth in the ancient world. They were not adored as we adore children in our culture today. They were seen as bundles of chaos that needed to be beaten into submission. They were a blessing only in that they had the potential to grow up to be productive adults. Also, this boy’s bread is made of barley flour. Barley, in ancient Palestine, was the grain of the poor. So, Jesus’ partner in this miraculous work is not someone wealthy, important or powerful. It is someone who is socially insignificant and someone who has few resources of their own. But, what little this boy has, he surrenders. And that, my friends, was an enormous risk. Most of us would have been tempted to hide one loaf under our tunic just in case things didn’t work out. But, this boy hands over all that he has; and his willingness to risk it all results in a miracle of abundance.
And there is one more thing unique to John’s telling of this story. In John, it is Jesus, not the disciples, who distributes the bread and fish. People of God: whatever we have in our lives, we have received from the hand of God. We might think it comes from our employer, the government or a generous relative, but in truth “every good and perfect gift is from above.” Jesus is our provider and he is an abundant, lavish, provider at that. Jesus doesn’t multiply this food so that there will be just enough. Jesus gives so abundantly that there are twelve baskets full of leftovers.
And that, my friends, is in keeping with the message of John’s gospel. In John’s gospel, the very first sign or miracle Jesus performs takes place at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.[iv] When the wine runs out at the reception, Jesus turns water into the very finest wine. When the steward taste tests the wine, he is amazed. The general practice was to serve the best wine first and then serve the cheaper wine… after the guests had already had too much and weren’t so discriminating anymore. Jesus could have gotten by with turning that water into something economical – 2 buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. But instead, he turned it into something you’d find aged and auctioned off for thousands of dollars from a French wine cellar. When Jesus gives, he gives abundantly and lavishly.
The last miracle Jesus performs in John’s gospel is also a miracle of abundance.[v] It is after his resurrection, but before his ascension. His disciples are out fishing all night, but they haven’t caught a thing. By morning they must have been pretty frustrated and hungry. Jesus appears on the shoreline, but they don’t recognize him. He calls out to them and tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. When they do, they catch so many fish they can’t even hoist the net into the boat. They have to drag it along behind them. Now scripture tells us there were seven disciples in that boat. So, they certainly didn’t need that much fish. But it is in the nature of our Lord to provide for our needs in an abundant, even excessive, fashion. Our God is not a stingy God. Our God is generous beyond our wildest imaginings if we can only learn to trust him.
Friends, our God is a generous giver: “God so loved the world that he gave…” And when we are willing to give and share generously of our resources, God uses those resources to sustain and to nurture life; God uses those resources to make things grow. The resources God has entrusted to us as stewards hold the potential to bring life to the world if – if we are willing to trust Jesus enough to offer them up in bold and risky ways like that boy gave up his fish and bread.
And it’s not just physical stuff that we’re called to share. Resources are more than physical objects and money. Each and every one of us has valuable resources in the form of our experiences, our time (an increasingly precious commodity), our skills, our knowledge, even our passions. Even painful and difficult experiences you have had in your life can be transformed into a meaningful, life-giving resource to benefit others. Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting God inflicts tragedies on us so we can learn something. I’m not saying that. We live in a sinful, broken world. Sometimes bad things happen and, when they do, we have a choice. We can choose to become bitter; angry at God and the world. Or, we can seek to learn and grow through our experience. We can offer that experience back to God so that it can be redeemed and used to help someone else. Catholic Father Richard Rohr, like the apostle Paul,[vi] reminds us that nothing that we experience is wasted by God.
Friends; Trinity has the resources we need to do the ministry Jesus has called us to do. The money, the talents, the knowledge and experiences, the passions and skills needed to do what Jesus asks of us is already here. But the ministry can only happen if we, like that boy with his bread and fish, can find the courage and take the risk of offering what we have to Jesus. Initially, Jesus’ disciples could only see scarcity. They were in the presence of the embodiment of God’s grace and life-giving abundance; they just didn’t see it. They’d taken inventory and named their resources as inadequate. But, in the hands of Jesus, the inadequate becomes miraculously abundant.
Friends; at the end of October, you will be asked to bring forward your commitment card, your estimate of your 2018 financial giving to the church. But I hope that over the next few weeks you will be praying and reflecting not only over what you can contribute to the church’s ministry financially; but about the wealth of your talents, your skills, your life’s experiences; giving of your time and sharing your passions…. All those things are the resources Jesus has already given us. And all those things – placed in the hands of Jesus – can feed a hungry world; bring growth and life; and fulfill our God-given vision of growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.
[i] John 10:10.
[ii] John 1:16
[iii] John 12:24
[iv] See John 2:1-11.
[v] See John 21:1-14.
[vi] See Romans 8:28.
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