Proper 12, Year B, RCL, Track 1
Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21
Back when I was a Boy Scout, our troop had a paper drive. We advertised in the local paper that we would be coming around picking up newspaper bundles on a certain day. When that day arrived, we broke up into several groups and canvased the town. While some homes had fairly small stacks, a few weeks’ worth of paper, other homes had huge stacks that seemed to be years’ worth of papers. Believe it or not, this was a fundraiser for the troop in which all this paper was sold to a recycling center. Now I have no idea how much money we made but at my tender age, I thought we were making a huge difference in collecting and recycling all this paper. But now, I’m a little more cynical as to what we may have accomplished in this onetime event. For how much paper is simply thrown away each day in that town, this town or across the globe.
We can easily get discouraged when we see the needs of the world. What can we do about impactful recycling, global warming, terrorist attacks, increasing access to health care, lowering poverty, increasing education, or feeding the hungry? Any one of these problems seems overwhelming. Even if we go from the world scale to our own country the problems may seem daunting. Any action we take may seem like a drop in a bucket. Or as the Apostle Andrew says about the bread and fish, “What are they among so many people?”
This question that Andrew asks comes from scarcity. A situation in which we believe our resources are too limited for what we want to accomplish. Scarcity allows us to think that if we are more generous with what we have, we will become like the people we are trying to help. Subconsciously we may think “If I give money to every panhandler, I will not have enough money to meet my needs.” Or as Philip feared, “Even six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”
We can also live in scarcity because of our false pride; a pride that tells us very few people in need are deserving of our help or money. My resources are better used on myself or my family. This type of scarcity bring thoughts such as, “What is that person going to do with the money I give them?” So we judge person after person in which very few, if any, are ever worthy of receiving our help.
On almost a weekly basis I hear people speaking in similar ways and often when it comes to the Summer Lunch Outreach. “How do you know these people are in need of food?” I can say many things in response; from the poverty in Eagle Lake to the anecdotal evidence of their living conditions or neighborhood. But in all honesty; I don’t know that the people being fed in our community are in any more need than the people Jesus fed on the hillside.
Jesus didn’t feed the 5,000 because they were going to starve to death before they got home. Jesus didn’t ask which neighborhoods they were from. He fed everyone equally. As Matthew and Mark say in their gospel accounts, “he had compassion on them.” Jesus fed them out of kindness and compassion for their struggles in life. When Andrew asks, “What [is this small amount of food] among some many people?” I can almost hear Jesus reply “What is a little kindness among so much need?”
When we started the Summer Lunch Outreach, a year ago, I had no idea how we would pay for 80 lunches a week. Once it started, donations of food and money came in and kept coming in, even as the program grew to 360 lunches a week. Not one penny came out of this parish’s coffers. This year we knew we would be doubling the number of sandwiches we prepared last year. How did I know it was going to work out? I didn’t. But I knew that there was plenty last year and I had to have faith there would be plenty this year. And we continue to be gifted with generosity even as we have exceeded our estimate.
I have heard many stories about the impact that we are having on people’s lives. At one house a little girl comes running to the door excited and exclaiming that the “Lunch Lady has arrived”. She does this each time we deliver food. I was personally thanked by a mother who works hard and is not home with her children. She said that she doesn’t worry when she is at work, for when we bring lunch her daughter doesn’t have to use the gas stove to cook lunch. We had another family who wondered what the meat was in the lunch the day before. It was explained that it wasn’t meat but falafel. She and her kids enjoyed it so much that they wanted the recipe. When we had a bag of extra falafels, this mother was overjoyed to receive it. I don’t know that everyone is so overjoyed with what we bring but the vast majority seem to appreciate the lunches very much. I doubt that any of these people are truly starving to death but we are helping in in the development of the children by offering highly nutritious and delicious food that many would not have otherwise.
As remarkable as the Summer Lunch Outreach is in some ways, I find it is not that remarkable in others. This program is like many other ministries and personal stories that people have told me about. Demonstrating that through the generosity of God there is always more than we need. A friend of mine recently said, “Jesus takes what we offer and makes more . . . and does more than we hope or imagine.”[i] “When we are fed by God’s grace, there are always leftovers to share and pass on.”[ii] Science has even proven that when we are generous we are happier and over time we become even more generous.
This generosity comes to us as a gift, as love. With this gift, we can see the breadth of Christ’s love in which we are filled with the fullness of God. This power, this love that is at work within us is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine. Living in abundance is what Christ challenges us to do. When we are asked, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” instead of curling up, in not knowing, we are to open up and ask for God’s generosity. We are asked to give what we have; like the boy who gave his bread and fish. He gave his food, not knowing whether or not he would get anything in return. But his drop in the bucket expanded till it overflowed many times over. And all were fed to satisfaction and the leftovers were gathers so nothing would be lost.
[i] The Rev. Robin Kaye Reeves
[ii] The Rev. Ellen Alston