Enough: Sermon for August 3, 2014

Matthew 14:13-21
14:13 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.

14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

14:15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him 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.”

14:16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

14:17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

14:18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

14:19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

14:20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.

14:21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

When I was a college and seminary student in Atlanta there were two churches, both from the same mainline denomination, located on opposite ends of town. One church was very small. It only had about 35 active members, and it was located in a neighborhood that for years had been down and out. And for the life of them, no one could tell how that church managed to stay open year after year.

Loaves and Fish Roundel Zunti and Doepker, Saskatchewan

Loaves and Fish Roundel
Zunti and Doepker, Saskatchewan

The other was a very large church. In fact, it was the largest church in the denomination, not just in that city, but nationwide. And on Sundays, in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Atlanta, thousands of people streamed through its doors to worship.

You might think from this set up that I’m about to preach on David and Goliath here. The small engine-that-could little guy versus the huge monster no one could stop. But this isn’t a story about good guys and bad guys. And it isn’t about one defeating the other. This is a different story. This is a story about what it means to have “enough”.

I’ll come back to those two churches, but first I want to talk about the story Lynne read for us. Jesus and the disciples are being followed by a large crowd that wants him to heal them. And as it gets later in the day, the disciples look out at the crowds and they start getting nervous. They see all these people and know they are about to get hungry.

They say to Jesus, “send them away…have them go and feed themselves”. And I’ll bet that deep down the disciples were worried they weren’t going to be able to hold on to the little they had for themselves. Especially when Jesus tells them “give them something to eat”. And all they have with them is five loaves and two fish. Which when you think about it, was probably just enough for the disciples and Jesus to have at least a little something. And Jesus is trying to give it away.

So about now, if you put this in corporate terms, people could be saying that Jesus didn’t have a very good business plan. He clearly did not have adequate supplies, and hadn’t budgeted well. Here he was at the height of demand, and he didn’t even have the supplies he needed to meet the basic needs of the people who worked for him, let alone the consumers.

In short, Jesus simply did not have “enough”.

But the thing is, in Christ we find that our own definitions of “enough” rarely hold up. He tells them to bring the bread and fish anyway. He tells the thousands of people to sit down, and he blesses the food, and gives it to the disciples. And they give it to the people. And, somehow, everyone on that hillside eats. In fact they eat until they can’t eat anymore, and they end up collecting baskets of bread that hasn’t even been touched.

Enough.

It turns out that Jesus didn’t just have enough. He had more than enough.

But how often does that happen? Here’s a question to answer for yourself: Do you have enough? Could you use “just a little more”? Have you ever said to yourself “if only I made a little more” or “if only I had this” or “if only I didn’t need to deal with that” then you would finally have “enough”?

If so, you’re not alone. Few people I have ever met, including people with extraordinary wealth, have ever thought they had “enough”. In fact, sometimes those of us who have never questioned having access to what others might feel is extraordinary, things like clean water and enough to eat and a home free of violence, are the ones who seem to least appreciate how close we really are to having “enough”.

And when times are the tightest, we want to hang on to what we have even more. We become a little less generous with what little extra we have around. We squirrel away what we don’t really need in storage units. We hunker down, and make sure that at the very least, we will be okay. And slowly we stop focusing on our neighbors, and start to look only at ourselves.

I think that Jesus knows what that was like. And so did his followers. As they watched Jesus literally take their dinner out of their hands and give it away, I’ll bet they were pretty anxious. Times hadn’t been good for them either. In fact, they had found themselves heading out to this deserted town all by themselves because Jesus needed a break. In the passage immediately before this one in Matthew we find out that his friend, and family member, John the Baptist has been killed, and the writing on the wall for Jesus, and for all of them, is becoming clear. And so, they wanted this time alone. To mourn. To pray.

But Scripture says that when Jesus saw the crowds following him, crying out for healing, he had compassion for them. And he doesn’t say “I don’t have enough to give right now” and he doesn’t send them away. He instead finds what he does have to give. And he serves them with it.

Those two churches I told you about at the beginning of my sermon both did amazing things in their ministries. They touched many lives. But that little church, the one with 35 members, did something nearly unbelievable every night. They invited homeless men in from the streets, and let them sleep in cots in their sanctuary. They fed them hot meals. They helped them secure housing and healthcare. They walked with them on their journey.

The pastor of the larger church occasionally used to invite the pastor of the smaller church to speak in worship. And the big church pastor was a good Christian man who inspired great things, but he always struggled with the fact that his church never seemed to think they had “enough” to do more. Despite thousands of members and millions of dollars, there was always this sense of scarcity, and not abundance.

And so when the small church pastor would come, and tell the congregation about his ministry, the big church pastor would then slip in this fact, hoping his congregation might hear it. “You know,” he said, “this little church manages to do all this ministry every year on a church budget that is less than our own church’s electric bill.”

It was a sobering statement. And it brought into sharp contrast the difference between living a life ruled by the fear of scarcity, and one driven by belief in God’s abundance.

Just about every doubt we have as individuals comes from the fear of not having, or being, “enough”. Not rich enough. Not smart enough. Not good enough. Not creative enough. Not old enough. Not young enough. You get the picture.

But just about every extraordinary thing that is accomplished comes from trusting that we can make what we have “enough”. And it’s not recklessness or foolishness that gets us to that place. It’s faith. That little church had stepped out in faith and started their ministry even though everyone had called them foolish or crazy. And yet, somehow that little they had was blessed. And the world was blessed for it. And, somehow, there always seemed to be “enough”.

There’s an alternative version of the story of the loaves and fishes that I’ve heard told by well-meaning commentators who want to give a more plausible explanation for what happened that day. They say that maybe Jesus didn’t somehow made those loaves and fish multiply. Maybe instead what happened is that people saw the first act of generosity, Jesus giving away those loaves and fishes, and their fear that there wouldn’t be enough ended. And they reached in their own bags, and pulled out their own loaves and fishes, and started to share. Maybe, the fish and bread were there all along on that hill.

I don’t think that’s actually what happened. I like to let Jesus’ miracles be miracles. But it’s an intriguing thought, isn’t it? The idea that maybe when we finally understand that abundance we have been given we can’t keep it to ourselves. The idea that we had “enough” this whole time and now we can share it.

You and I may not be sitting with that crowd on that hill, waiting for some bread and fish, but my guess is that we are all wrestling with what it means to have “enough”, and what we would do if we ever had it.

The good news is that like that crowd we find that when Christ is around we sometimes always seem to have enough…in fact, if we look closely, we might just find that we have abundance. Just like the overflowing baskets that were filled even after everyone was full, we find that Christ somehow has blessed what we refused to hold back. And we find don’t have to hold on out of fear anymore.

So here’s my question for you today? What would you do, if you finally believed that you had “enough”? Whatever that “enough” means to you, whatever it is “enough” of, what would you do if you felt like you had it? And how might that “enough” bless the world?

As we prepare to come to a table where a simple meal, begun in a time of great uncertainty, has for centuries proven to be “enough”, may we be strengthened by the bread and the cup to ask ourselves that question, and then to step out in faith to answer it. Amen.

Loaves, fish, and you. – A sermon for August 31, 2011

I’ve been watching what is going on in Washington this past week. The debate about the debt ceiling and what we should do now has been all over the news. It’s inescapable. Now, don’t be alarmed. I’m not about to preach about politics. The fact is I have no idea how we solve this problem, and I’m not sure anyone in Washington does either.

 

But as I listened to the news this week and read this passage, I was struck by the fact that both had to do with crowds of people in need, and few resources to go around. In both situations people were trying to figure out a way to make a little stretch into a lot, and in both situations, they were baffled.

 

There was one key difference. In one situation, Jesus was there to figure out the answer. In the other, no offense meant, we have members of Congress. And as much as some members of Congress probably think they are God incarnate, they are not. In many ways they are much closer to the disciples, bringing forward a couple of fish and loaves of bread and saying “we have no idea what to do now”.

 

Jesus had headed down to the lakeshore to escape the crowds, but they followed him anyway. He saw them coming to him sick and hungry and in need of compassion and, because he is Jesus, he couldn’t turn them away. And so he healed the sick all day.

 

That night the disciples said to him, “this is a deserted place” and told him that there was nothing there to eat, so he should send the crowds away, back into the villages. Now many of us know what it might feel like to be in a deserted place. We might know what it is like to make a hard journey, to come to the lakeshore, and to seek out healing, and teaching, and meaning, and maybe even salvation. And we know the fear of making that journey, and being afraid that even though we are in the right place, we might not have enough to stay there long.

 

When the disciples came to Jesus that night they were surrounded by people who must have felt like that. They had followed Jesus out into the wilderness, and now they were hungry. And the disciples only had five loaves of bread and two fish on them. And they told Jesus that because of that he would have to tell the crowds to go .

 

Now part of me thinks that the disciples must have been scared too. Five loaves and two fish and thirteen people makes for a pretty lean meal. I’m sure they looked out at that hungry crowd and realized that the little they had was about to get devoured pretty quickly. And the best way to ensure that they’d at least get something was to get rid of that crowd.

 

But of course, Jesus doesn’t send the crowds away. We know from the Last Supper, and from the sharing of Holy Communion, that Jesus’s dinner parties are always extraordinary and there is always enough there to fill us up. And this day was no exception. Jesus takes those loaves and fishes, and blesses them and breaks them, and starts to hand them out to the crowd.

 

Everyone was fed that day. Not just fed, but fed until they were filled. And there was such abundance that twelve baskets full of food were collected afterwards. Five thousand hungry people, just a little bit of food, and in the end not one hungry soul.

 

I heard a story once of another view of what happened that day. Some say that when the crowds saw that Jesus was making sure there was plenty, they opened their own bags. They dug deep and pulled out the bread and fish they had been carrying, scared to share with anyone. And now, knowing that they would be fed and there would be enough, they shared it with their neighbors. Christ’s generosity inspired their own, and they were not afraid to give.

 

There’s something that rings true about that. In times of scarcity, in the times of our neighbors’ greatest need, we are, perhaps understandably, the most inclined to protect what is ours. When we see people in need we are often uncomfortable and embarrassed. But mostly we are afraid. We are afraid that they are not so different from us. We are afraid that we could become them. And so we create stories in our heads of how they got that way, or what they did wrong to deserve this fate, and how it could never happen to us because we aren’t like that. And it makes us feel safer. At least for a little while.

 

But the reality is that “it”, no matter what “it” is, could happen to us. Poverty, foreclosure, addiction, illness, unemployment. All those things and more. They could all happen. Not because we are bad, but because we are human. And we know that. And that is what makes us even more afraid to share what little we have.

 

We’re a lot like those disciples, wanting to at least hang on to those few loaves and fishes. We’re a lot like those people in the crowd, protecting what little they may have had. We’re like that, because we are afraid.

 

It’s no secret that giving to charitable organizations goes down when the economy is bad. Non-profits, religious institutions, schools, all suffer when the economy is unstable. It’s not that we don’t see the need of our neighbors. We do, but we are so afraid that it’s going to happen to us too. And so when we trim our budgets, the first thing to go is often our generosity to others. The irony, of course, is that when economic times are hard, that’s when your neighbors need you the most.

 

But sometimes, even when we are afraid that we might not have enough, we get it right.

A friend of mine, not much older than I am, had a headache for four days last week. She didn’t understand why it wouldn’t go away. On the fourth day it turned out she had a brain hemorrhage and had had a stroke. It was shocking, and the recovery will be long, but she is, thankfully, showing signs of progress.

 

My friend is an artist who works incredibly hard, but she has never had much expendable income. Neither have many of her friends. And her recovery process will mean she can’t work for a while. Things will be extremely tight financially. But this weekend her friends started to do they only thing they knew they could do. They started to pool together their money, organize food delivery schedules, and come up with a plan  to help her get through the next few months.

 

Now, these are not wealthy people. These are not even people who know that they will have enough to make ends meet this month, let alone whether they will have enough left over to help others. And yet they are digging deep because they love their friend, and because they can do none other.

 

I stole a line from what the pastors say at Old South in Boston and now on Sunday mornings, when we take up the offering, I tell you “don’t give until it hurts. Give until it feels good.” My friend’s friends are giving not until it hurts, though surely it will make some of them tighten their belts this month. They are giving until it feels good. Because they could never feel good in a world where their needs and wants were met, and she was left on her own.

 

I don’t know how many of them are Christians. I actually doubt most would claim that title. But the reality is that they are demonstrating the love and generosity and hope that Christ taught us that day on the lakeshore far better than many who are Christian do. They believe in the abundance that comes from love in a real way. They know the risk to themselves, and they give anyway. Because they simply cannot not give.

 

Christians are called to be that way too. And sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t. We are human, and we are often afraid. And this economy is a perfect example of that. But we have something that we can put our faith in that is greater than a stock index or a mutual fund return. We have something with a guaranteed return rate that outperforms any investment we can think of. We have Christ. And we have reason to believe that what happened on that lakeshore 2000 years ago can be, and has already been, repeated over and over again.

 

We are all here, in this church, because at some point at least on person claiming the name of Christian was generous to us. It may have been financial, it may have been a gift of love, it may have been a gift of time. But whatever it was, that person dug deep, put aside their fear that a couple loaves and fishes wouldn’t last them long, and decided to give to you anyway. And hopefully, years from now, pews in churches near and far will be filled because you have chosen to give too. Our generosity to one another, our sharing of Christ’s love, is the most tangible reminder of the legacy Christ gave to us that day at the lake. Let’s not that that legacy die, even when we are afraid. There are enough loaves. There are enough fish. They are out there, and we will find them. Deep in our hearts, we will find them. Amen.