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Serving Those in Need

7/26/2015 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost  Text is John 6:1-21.


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Be prepared – I remember being told that from my mother’s knee.  That’s why we were never to leave home without a nickel in the pocket for the phone booth, or with a hole in the underwear (just in case you got hurt and ended up in an emergency room).  “Be prepared,” my mother taught me, for you never really know what’s going to happen and you need to be ready for the worst.

When I got a little older and joined the Brownies, a precursor to becoming a Girl Scout, those words of wisdom handed down from my mother’s knee took on a broader meaning.  “Be prepared” was no longer something to be done for worst case scenarios.  It became a motto for living, a way to adjust to the unexpected and a way to plan for the future.

So, I learned to prepare for just about everything – from taking that spelling test in school to getting ready for that big date.  I learned to get my affairs in order before venturing off.  Before going on a trip, a list needed to be made to be sure I brought everything I needed – the right clothes, sufficient money, adequate food and drink.  If the trip was going to involve a lot of walking, those provisions included a good pair of shoes, spare socks, a hat, insect repellent, Ben Gay, and band-aids for the blisters.  If the trip was long, then preparing meant cleaning the house as well, for if something bad happened while you were gone, you wouldn’t want anyone to walk into an untidy home.

Well, the crowd that followed Jesus out into the wilderness didn’t seem to get the same words of wisdom that I received from my mother’s knee, words that were broadened through experience and became a motto for living.  They followed Jesus into the wilderness totally unprepared.  They didn’t bring along adequate provisions for the day.  Sure, maybe they didn’t have time to gather what they needed as there was little advance warning of Jesus’ presence, or perhaps they wandered off with Jesus without ever thinking about how far they were going or how long they would be gone.  But whatever the case, when Jesus came, they went, prepared only to receive that which the Lord would provide.

As evening fell, Jesus found himself in a dilemma.  There, in front of him, was this huge crowd of unprepared people who had soaked up his words and fed on God’s grace – a huge assembly of over 5,000 souls who were now hungry for food for their bodies.  Sure, man may not live by bread alone, but even Jesus understood that food is needed to sustain life and re-energize the soul.

But how do you handle such a large crowd?  What do you do when you have unexpected company who show up at the dinner hour?  Normally, you just set an extra place at the table.  But, if that unexpected company numbers over 5,000, that’s another story.  What do you do with such a large gathering?  Laugh?  Cry?  Pass the problem to someone else?  Call the police in order for them to disperse?  Whatever you have available would soon prove insufficient to provide for so many.  But, Jesus did not want to send away with empty bellies those whom he had spiritually fed.  So, he turned to his disciples and asked them, “Where are we going to find supper for all these people?”

Where are WE going to find supper for these people?  WE!  The twelve were accustomed to Jesus handling all sorts of things, but Jesus was making it quite clear that this problem wasn’t just his to solve.  WE are invited to be part of the solution.  For, this problem belongs to US.  It is OUR problem too!

In the world today, feeding 5,000 wouldn’t even touch the tip of the hunger iceberg.  There are so many in need of a good meal that we can easily become overwhelmed by the problem.  There is so much to be done!  What little we can give in the way of nonperishable food to pantries and in money for World Hunger seems inadequate.  Even the disciples knew that they didn’t have enough money or provisions to feed 5,000.  Yes, they could pass food around in the same way that we do at soup kitchens.  They could gather up leftovers and in this way they could help.  But, they could not do it alone.  They needed help.

In the end, all the disciples could find was one small boy who was willing to share one sack lunch and they knew that they couldn’t make two fish and five loaves of bread feed over 5,000 hungry people.  But, they offered what they had to Jesus, knowing that it was really all up to him anyway.  For, they knew that Jesus is able to make plenty from the meager beginnings as he gratefully receives whatever we have to give.  Without fanfare, in the same way in which he took the offering of fish and bread, blessing the food and miraculously multiplying it in its sharing, Jesus is able to take our meager offerings whatever they may be.

You realize, of course, that Jesus could have fed the crowd without asking for help and without using the bread and fish offered by one unnamed boy.  He could have produced food out of the air – just like he can wipe out hunger with a wave of his hand – but he didn’t and he doesn’t.  Jesus wants us to be involved and Jesus uses whatever people offer as he invites us to be part of his ministry.

Jesus invites us to get involved by sharing that which we have, how seemingly little as it may be, to help fill the hungry heart and soul and body.  The risen Lord can still get by without our help, but Christ invites all of us, from the youngest to the oldest, to be part of his work, part of the miracles that occur around us.  Alone, we can do little, but together, the big problems can be made small, especially when placed back in the hands of the Lord.

Realistically, what you have to give in time, talent and resources will not make everything right with the world.  It won’t take away world hunger, or cure cancer, any more than five loaves and two fish could feed a crowd.  But, you can truly help by offering what you have.  Leave the miracles up to Christ, do what you can to feed the hungering hearts and bodies and souls.  For, that’s what we are invited to do – to share what we have – ourselves, our time, our experience, our provisions, our faith – with others.  Genuine Christian ministry is not a matter of schooling, certification and ordination.  Ministry is a matter of willingness to do what we can, as seemingly little as that may be, instead of worry about what we cannot do, and this is a willingness to share not only what have, but also what we are.

Are you prepared to do that?  Are you prepared to help those who are unprepared and for whom life’s circumstance are less than ideal?  You know, the miracle in the feeding of the 5,000 is basically the miracle trusting Christ to use whatever you have to give.  It is a change in belief and underlying assumptions which brings forth the freedom to accept the invitation to participate in Jesus’ ministry to those in need.

May we be as bold as the disciples who did not back away from Jesus’ invitation to get involved.  May we be as bold as the disciples who did not back away, but participated in Jesus’ ministry and were awed by the miracle.  May we be as bold as one nameless young man who offered his meager gift of fish and bread for Christ’s use, trusting in Jesus to do the rest.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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