In the series “Everlasting Life: Now and Forever”
By Rev. Becky Schofield Motter
Have you ever had someone tell you a story that you had an inkling was a fish story? Maybe you even heard a person tell the story multiple times and the fish keeps getting larger and larger and larger. Seems we have all heard someone tell a story that continues to grow rather more impressive with each telling.
Do you suppose we get a bit overzealous sometimes with our stories because we want people to be impressed by our tales? we exaggerate because we want people to know that we have something significant to offer? we sometimes just want to feel like we are able to fit in? We might think we need to prove something to others? These are examples of a mindset of scarcity. God would have us realize in our lives there is nothing we have to prove … no matter how we come, we always come to God with enough and God always provides us with more than enough.
There is much that our scripture passage has to offer us this morning, one thing I really appreciate is the little boy. He willingly shared what he had with Jesus. Some might have thought, ‘well, this is not enough for 5,000 people, so why bother offering it,’ but the boy simply gives. Many in the crowd likely had a mindset of scarcity, yet this boy believes that Jesus could provide an abundance. I was wondered this week, what if he had not shared what he had? What if he had decided that he needed to eat that day and everyone else was just going to have to fend for themselves?
I think we often cannot imagine sharing in this way because of the culture we live in. We are surrounded by messages that tells us that we should not share, we should hoard what we have. We are told at every turn that we deserve this, and we should have that. Consumerism is suffocating, and we forget that as God’s chosen ones we are called to something very different than a life as a consumer. We are called to share, to give, and to provide for each other.
We live in a culture that weaves a lens of scarcity when, actually, we have a God who has a vast abundance.
Several years ago, in the midst of a baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers, one of the players threw a ball into the stands. Several young fans were all reaching for the ball, one nearly caught the ball, but did not have enough reach to clutch it. The ball fell and was recovered by an usher who threw it up toward the group of boys. The boy that ended up with the ball, Ian, was not the one who initially was not able to keep hold of the ball, his name was Nicholas. With a minor reminder that Nicholas had almost caught it, Ian walked down a few steps and returned the ball to Nicholas. The sports commentators were flabbergasted. They commented that they had seen adults who had taken balls away from kids and here was this kid setting a great example for everyone on what real sportsmanship looks like. Needless to say, those commentators pulled Ian and Nicholas up into their booth and rewarded both of them with an abundance of things that made that ball seem much less important. But it is a great example for us in doing the right thing of share with those around us; a modern-day example of the boy who shared his meal with Jesus.
Our culture tells us we are living in scarcity, so we have to keep it to ourselves, but God has revealed that we have an abundance.
The events in our scripture takes place right before the Passover, which means many people would have been traveling to celebrate this important Jewish holiday. As people were traveling, they would have planned accordingly and would have had food provisions with them. Some have said of this passage that the actual miracle was the transformation of the people. At first, they were unwilling to share, they saw the number of people and knew there would never be enough food for everyone.
When they saw that Jesus was sharing such a small amount with so many people, they were moved by this sacrificial act of sharing and adding what they had to what was being passed around. So, the miracle was that people who were unwilling to share were moved and transformed at the act of hospitality offered by Christ and this boy. People were as cautious and protective of their possessions then, as we are today.
They went from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance.
While for some this helps to explain this amazing miracle that they shared, I’m not sure the gospel writers were concerned if we could make sense of it in our modern mindset. The purpose in writing the gospels was to reveal who Christ was and what Christ, as God’s son, was able to do. I think the writers were hoping to reveal yet another miracle that Jesus performed, however that miracle happened. And I think the writers wanted us to hear that Jesus is the Messiah and was able to provide exactly what the people in that moment needed. Jesus was in the practice of providing Enough for All!
We are told a story of scarcity, but God has revealed there is abundance.
The many miracles that Jesus performed revealed that there was abundance. People came to Christ because they had a need, not because they had something to share. But often, as they came, and were healed, loved and offered grace they realized they had something to share when they experienced transformation in their encounter with Christ. They walked away with the knowledge that they had so much more than when they approached him.
The boy who so willingly shared what he had, came with a mere five loaves and two fish and it feed how many? We can come to Christ with what feels like nothing, and Jesus can transform it into something we could ever imagine, to provide a need for another that we could never foresee. We don’t have to exaggerate what we come with to Christ, because God receives it and multiplies it, because what we come with is always enough for Christ and what Christ offers to us is always an abundance.
When we face challenges in our lives, we often wonder if we are a burden and we cannot imagine how we can serve God. But the reality is, when we offer ourselves to God, no matter what condition we find ourselves, God reveals opportunities. Take for instance this story from George Ross, in his book “The Wilderness Word of God”
Yesterday I visited one of our dear friends of this parish in the hospital. The word from the doctor was not good. The days ahead for him are hidden in a cloud, but in that cloud there is a glory, and already he is living in it. Yesterday morning he awoke to find a note from the night nurse pinned to his pillow: “I did not want to wake you,” she had written, “but I want to thank you for our talk last night. It meant more to me than I can tell you.” The talk was about her life, her sorrows and some of the tragedies that had come her way and of her many, many years away from God. In the night season they had talked of these things. Out of his faith and through his waves of pain, our friend spoke simply of the Lord he knows and trusts and loves. In the wilderness of the night before last at Akron General Hospital the Word of God came.
From scarcity to abundance.
When I was younger, I struggled to understand the instructions we are given before taking off in an airplane when it came to the part about the mask. I thought it rather rude to put your own mask on before assisting others. Should we not put others before ourselves? At some point it dawned on me why they gave those instructions. If you are in the process of helping others without putting your mask on and something prevents you from breathing, you could pass out or worse and therefore unable to help anyone.
That is part of what we see Jesus doing in our scripture this morning. He had just been followed and surrounded by 5,000 people. He took the time to recognize and meet their physical need for food. His disciples did not understand exactly who he was and what he was capable of, and he had to instruct them at the same time he was meeting the needs of the large group of people. I can only imagine the level of exhaustion he must have felt. And then the crowd misunderstands what he came for and they come to get him to make him their King. He was providing for their needs, he cared for them more than he cared for himself. Jesus knew that his purpose in coming was not to be a king. And he needed time to be renewed, be refuel and connect with God so he could care for the many who were seeking his help. So, Christ goes off to seek the quiet and the solitude of God. By going off by himself, JC was not selfish, it was necessary for him to continue providing ministry to so many people who needed the grace, mercy and love he came to earth to provide.
Not only is it important for Jesus to go off and have time to connect with God for energy for ministry, it is also important for all of us to have a time when we are connecting with God. We often go into this time feeling like we have scarcity and come from that time with a mindset of abundance.
I think it is particularly interesting that most of the focus in this passage is on the disciples. We do not know about the events of Jesus on the mountain praying, but we know that the disciples waited, got into a boat, sailed, were frightened by a sight they were not expecting, and were brought to the shore by Christ.
We sometimes forget that Christ provides and cares for us in the way he cared for the disciples. We know we have new life, mercy, forgiveness, love and grace, but we also have the ability to face the world unafraid. When we feel like we are in the midst of scarcity, God reveals we have an abundance.
Part of our challenge as Christians is to trust that Christ will be there, when things are going well and when things are not going the way we hoped our life would go. God does not prevent bad things from happening in our lives (that is the part of free will that is so challenging for us), but God is always with us when we are facing our fears and challenges we wish God would take away. When we focus on the fear or scarcity, we are unable to see the ways that God is there offering an abundance.
Karl Wallenda spent practically his entire life on a high wire, thrilling crowds with his daring high-altitude act. That all ended in 1978 when Wallenda plunged 75 feet to his death before an audience of thousands in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
When Wallenda’s widow began to sort out what might have happened that dreadful day, she noted that recently her husband had become more and more concerned with little details of safety. His precautions became a preoccupation. Instead of all his energies being channeled into performing his act, his purpose had now become how to keep from falling.
Out of this terrible story has come a new label – the “Wallenda factor.” It cautions us to beware of being so afraid of failure that we dwell only on the negatives. Life is a risk we must take. While we should be careful in a prudent sort of way, we cannot allow ourselves to become paralyzed by the fear of failure. Just this week I had someone say they read that if an adult is asked to walk on a two by four on the floor they have no issues doing it. But if you put that same two by four up ten feet off the ground, many adults are suddenly unable to do the same thing they did when it was on the ground. We can be cautious and not be filled with fear, because there is a difference. Cautious means that we proceed with caution, where fear can fill us so much that we refuse to proceed.
Fulton Oursler said “We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow.”
Part of dealing with our lives is realizing that God is in the midst of all of it, the past, the present and the future. When we have regrets or pain from yesterday, we have the opportunity to turn it over to God for transformation. You see regret or pain does not get us anywhere, but when we are able to turn over the situation to God, with our hearts filled with sorrow, God can take those experiences and transform them into experiences that are able to glorify God. I have seen that again and again in ministry. It is usually not an immediate transformation, but God works in the midst of our stained past.
Gathering at the table is a significant theme that comes up repeatedly with Jesus; he shared table fellowship with many where they discovered the transforming grace of abundance. In our scripture this morning Jesus is described as doing something special with the loaves and fish. He takes, give thanks and distributes; a similar formula that we experience in another practice we have in the church. At the last supper we find Jesus uses the pattern of taking, giving thanks and then giving to others. Just as there is enough when Jesus is feeding 5,000, there is also enough grace provided for us who approach the table for communion. No matter what we have done, no matter how bad we feel, when we gather at the table, we are enough, and we walk away with an abundance. God does not ask us to be anything other than what we were created to be.
When we are willing to share the gifts that God has given, we often find that Jesus turns these offerings into a miraculous outpouring of love. This week as you take worship into the routine of your week, take with you not a mindset of scarcity, but rather one of abundance. As you relate to others don’t use the lens of scarcity our culture tell us, but rather, claim the abundance God offers of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, so that others might sense the miraculous presence of God in your lives as those 5,000 did with Christ. May it be so. Amen.