Do you ever feel like you don’t have to meet the situation you’re dealing with? Enough time, enough resources, enough energy? That’s how I felt in the story that opens this week’s sermon. You can take heart with me, then, in the fact that the disciples had been there before us! In the feeding of the 5,000, Andrew and Peter (and probably the other disciples) felt like they didn’t have the ability to meet the needs of the crowd. But, when someone offers what they do have, even though it isn’t enough, God makes enough out of it.
Grace to and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I was on internship in Easton, Pennsylvania in October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit. It wasn’t as bad in the Lehigh Valley as it was in New Jersey and elsewhere, but it was pretty bad. That night, alone in my apartment attached the church, the only person on the whole block, I waited as branches were torn from trees and slate tiles flew off the roof.
As we surveyed the damage the next morning, the worst that had happened was a few shingles missing from the church, and one massive tree limb down across the parking lot entrance. A few feet to the left and it would have hit the sanctuary. As we began clean-up, we realized we were among the lucky ones. In downtown Easton, just a block from the main circle, our power lines were underground. Almost everyone not in that lucky four-block radius lost power. So did the surrounding counties. No one could give an estimate of when it would come back on.
People began to arrive. At first it was just a few. A couple from the church, looking to charge their phones. An elderly man, looking for a working power outlet, so he could use his nebulizer. A family that had no power and lived in a basement apartment that had flooded. Then some more came. They told us they had heard on the radio that St. John’s had power and was open. The mayor, who was friends with the pastor, had called earlier in the day to check on the church. We didn’t realize that he was going to share this information with the radio stations.
It was dinner time, and people kept showing up, because they’d heard on the radio that the church was warm and open. Pastor Sue and I didn’t have time to run anything by church council. We couldn’t plan out our response with a helpful committee of volunteers. The people were hungry and had nothing to eat.
We ended up raiding my pantry and fridge, since it was right next door. Like a good Italian, I had plenty of pasta and sauce. So that first night, twenty hungry people ate spaghetti and sauce.
Our makeshift shelter stayed open for a week. From seven a.m. to eight p.m. we were open. We served breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and lots and lots of coffee. Our twenty people grew to forty, then sixty. No one’s power was back on yet.
Church members got word of what was happening and came to help, bringing what they had in their fridges. The local newspaper ran a story, and the next day, two women from the Lutheran church in Nazareth showed up with cases of water, and enough cream of broccoli soup and tater tots to make a dozen casseroles.
By the time the power was restored, and the schools opened again, we had fed sixty people hot meals for six days. When that first man arrived, we had no idea what we were getting into. As the crowd gathered the first night, and it got closer and closer to dinner time, my first instinct was to tell the people they needed to leave. We couldn’t do this, we weren’t prepared, we didn’t even have any food at the church. But we did do it. Four boxes of mismatched pasta became an overflowing pantry of generosity and kindness.
It’s all too easy in these situations to look at what we don’t have. It’s what I did. It was the reaction of the disciples when faced with a crowd of hungry people, too. Philip says that it’s impossible, they could never afford to feed all these people. Andrew finds some food that a young boy has brought, but he doesn’t think it will ever be enough. We’d better send these people home, Jesus, we can’t possibly be expected for feed thousands of people. We didn’t sign up for this.
We’re going to be faced with situations where we feel that way. Where we feel like what we have to offer is not enough, or not good enough, or not important enough to make a difference. It might not be on as large a scale as feeding thousands of people, but those situations will come up.
When we consider the fact that 41 million people struggle with hunger and food insecurity in the United States—just in the United States, that’s not even the world, a six-bed garden behind a church doesn’t seem like a drop in the bucket.
When we think about the level of pollution in our oceans and waterways, bringing your own cup to Starbucks doesn’t seem like it really matters. When we think about advocating for justice, it seems that there is always a new injustice that requires a response. Facing immense need, it’s easy to view what we have to offer, whether it’s money or actions, as not good enough.
It’s easy to view what we have that way, but it’s not the only way to view it. Instead, we can look at what we have to offer and not see what it’s lacking, but see it as a gift and blessing from a God who is able to do great things. I wonder what was going through the mind of the boy with the fish and the loaves. He must have known that this meagre offering was not enough to feed the whole crowd. And yet he offered it anyway.
What we bring to Jesus’ table might seem like it’s not nearly enough to meet the needs around us. The money we bring, the time we’re able to give, the actions we take on behalf of others. It can get discouraging to consider our small offerings compared to the immensity of need. But it is not ultimately the adequacy of our supplies or our skills that makes a difference. What makes the difference is the power of Jesus Christ working in small things, little things, overlooked things, to make a miraculous difference in this world.
In the letter to Ephesians we heard that the power of God at work in us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. It doesn’t have to start with much. And it’s not up to us to perform miracles. What we have, what sometimes seemingly little we can offer—God is the one who can make miracles out of it. In the hand of Jesus little can turn into much.
I saw it happen. Despite my fear that we wouldn’t have enough, enough was provided. More than enough. Do not be discouraged. What you have to offer is enough. What you have to give is enough. You are enough.
The young boy didn’t know what was going to happen to his bread and fish, but he knew he had something to offer and so offer it he did. We don’t always know how God is going to use us, how God is going to use our gifts, but we’ll never know if we keep them to ourselves. Do not worry that it’s not enough. Do not worry that it’s too small to make a difference. See instead the blessing that God has given you: your abilities, your resources, your very self. Gifts from God to meant to be shared. And when they are, miracles can happen. Amen.