Every so often, I pack our grandchildren’s lunches for school. Little boys can get hungry, and so we pack cheese sticks, sunflower butter and jam sandwiches, little carrots, cut up apples, a cookie, and a thermos of water. And, when we pick up the boys in the afternoon, every last item has been eaten, not even a crumb remains, and they cry out for a treat – which of course, I always have waiting for them as we drive home.
In today’s scripture, Jesus and his disciples were facing a crisis of both faith and food. After a long day of preaching and teaching, the sun was setting and the crowd was hungry. The only problem was that nobody on Jesus’ leadership team planned for such a multitude. In fact, the disciples were hungry themselves. “What are we going to do?” they anxiously ask. “There are no caterers around and even if there were, it would cost thousands of dollars to feed everyone and we would have to draw on our endowment to pay for this.”
Someone in Jesus’ leadership circle notices that a boy has a knapsack containing five barley loaves and two fish. But, everyone knows that such a meager amount can’t feed a group this size. Still, Jesus says, “Bring that boy to me. He has what we need.” The boy marches up, joyfully willing to share his lunch. Jesus shows the five loaves and two fish to the crowd, says a prayer, and everyone eats.
We honestly don’t know the mechanics of this miracle. Did Jesus really multiply the loaves by some sort of quantum energy? Perhaps! After all, scientists claim that our universe of 125 billion galaxies emerged from a flash of energy no larger than a walnut. Or, did members of the crowd, once they saw the boy’s generosity, pull out their own lunch boxes and bring them to Jesus, no longer worried about whether they would have enough to eat, but focused on the common good? In either case, a miracle occurred! From a few morsels, a great crowd was fed.
It’s easy to focus on what we don’t have and to complain about what we lack. That’s what the disciples did – they only saw scarcity and sometimes that’s all I see, too. I’m pretty conservative financially: when I was 11 years old, my father lost his job and for a while our family received food baskets from a local church. I’m prone to become anxious when we have an unexpected expense at home. My childhood fears threaten to overwhelm me. It is at such moments that the story of loaves and fishes inspires me to trust God and let go of my feelings of scarcity. I remember that my parents survived the tough times by faith and hard work, and eventually bought a home, and helped me with college. When I get anxious now, I remember my parents and then choose to be generous, trusting that a way will be made: the mortgage gets paid, the utilities are paid, and food abounds, and more importantly my heart opens. As a matter of fact, when I am generous, I discover I have more resources than I previously imagined. When I trust God with my time, talent, and treasure, I always have enough to flourish and share with others.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, we remember the bounties of life and the gifts of our congregation. We have made it – no, we have flourished – for over two hundred years. We have survived tough times and yet we have a lovely building that serves the community, we are active in mission, we have inspiring worship, a loving fellowship, excellent programs for children, youth, and adults, and a steeple to guide pilgrims on their way, and we are planning for the future. We are a home for people at every stage of life’s journey, and there is more to come.
Small is beautiful! A child’s lunch can feed a multitude. An act of courage, like Rosa Parks’ refusing to give up her seat on a bus, can change a nation. A kind word can change a life, and a congregation can change the Cape. Thanks be to God!