Preached at High Street UMC in Franklin, Virginia on July 26, 2015
6 After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberias Sea). 2 A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. 3 Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. 4 It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.
5 Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip,“Where will we buy food to feed these people?” 6 Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary[a] worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”
8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, 9 “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
14 When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” 15 Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain.
He walked into the pastor’s office with his lunch box. What had began as a conversation about paying a light bill had changed into a conversation about freedom. His lunch box was full. It was filled to the top with bills, collection letters, records, debt. He had a payday loan. He was paying the minimum. The minimum payment was his maximum payment. Most credit cards today will show you in a box on the bill: if you pay the minimum payment it will take you 32 years to pay off this debt. When the pastor and the banker he had called in to the office figured it out, the man would be paying the minimum payment for 300 years unless something changed. Realizing his drowning situation, the man wept. He put his head in his hands and wept, unsure of how to get free from these chains.
“We’re not going to pay your light bill.” The Pastor said.
When Christ came into the world, he did so to bring salvation. Salvation from death to eternal life, Salvation from sin to a resurrection life, salvation from all those things that hold us back from being who God intended us to be. Salvation from self-pity, self-doubt, and anything that holds us back from being fully human, our true selves within the deliverance of Christ.
Debt is a sin. Debt holds us back from generosity. Debt holds us back from giving ourselves fully to God. Where debt causes death, Jesus saves.
They were in a desert place the Bible tells us. We all know what it is like to be in the wastelands of life. Whether we have walked in them or by them, we’ve seen the hurts that society has left along the byways, highways, and sidewalks. Often, we ignore the poor. Our apathy is our defense against becoming too involved, crossing boundaries, being infected.
When I was in college, we took a trip to NYC. One of the young women named Sarah had never left the small town in which she grew up. We were partnered up two by two and sent out to offer PB and J sandwiches to the homeless, sit down, listen to their stories. It was a dramatic experience for all of us. When we got back, all of us were sharing how we had encountered God in the homeless. Everyone except Sarah. “I didn’t see any homeless.” Her partner quickly quipped, “That’s because you were too busy looking up at the buildings.”
So often we are busy looking at the grandness of our society without seeing who it has hurt.
God has a way of pointing out the needs that are right in front of us. Jesus says, “Where will WE buy bread to feed these people?” You can debate whether the government or corporations should be involved with helping people, but when it comes to us, the church: Jesus says it’s our job. It’s our job to feed the hungry. It’s our job to give salvation to those starving for real living. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we’re called to help the least of these.
Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by poverty. We, like Phillip, want to point out that there is just too many, too much. “Half a year’s salary couldn’t dent this debt.” Five thousand people doesn’t sound like a lot. Let’s use global figures. According to the UN, last night 10,000 people died of hunger. Tonight 10,000 more will die. Yet, God doesn’t call us to end world hunger. We could do it. Statistically, the US alone could feed the whole world for three years without planting another crop. We produce and waste that much food. God doesn’t call us to end world hunger; God calls us to end our neighbor’s hunger.
Neighbors include the people we live among. Neighbors include the folks on our street, the child in Bangladesh that works in the sweatshop to sew our Sunday best, the migrant worker in Mexico who picked the watermelon we’ll eat for dessert tonight. Neighbors are everyone we interact with in this life. Neighbors is a big call. But don’t get overwhelmed.
Globalization isn’t the answer in ministry. Get Global isn’t our call. When Jesus walked the earth, people died of hunger. People will dangerous diseases died while Jesus walked the earth. He didn’t heal everyone. He healed those he was among. Get local. God calls our ministry to be local. Get local. God calls us to see people not hunger. God calls us to see the person not the problem. Jesus provided for those needs that he could where he was.
Remember the story of the little boy saving the starfish? He threw them into the ocean to save them one by one. An old man stopped him. “You can’t save them all, what you’re doing doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to this one.” The little boy said picking up a starfish and returning it to the ocean.
If we give God what we can, miracles do happen. One of the things about his passage that really amazes me is the size of the gift that was given. This youngsters mama had packed one whopper of a lunch. Five loaves of bread! Two fish! Well, the fish might have been small, but this youth’s mama expected him to go on a long journey with Jesus and to need provisions for the journey. This child isn’t coming from poverty, yet is willing to share all of it. This child doesn’t get overwhelmed by the masses, she is willing to give all that she has for Jesus.
If we give God our nothing, an abundance will be provided. The Disciples say they have nothing to give, but they can serve. A child gives up lunch – and a miracle happens. The miracle could be one of multiplication. Jesus could have made the bread suddenly become more and more as the folks ate to their fill. The miracle is no less surprising if it is one of sharing.
Can you see it? Jesus stands and points out to the crowd the generosity of this little child willing to share what’s in her lunch box. Suddenly everyone checks their bags. Some were prepared, others were not. They sit down on the grass and begin sharing, sharing so much that twelve baskets full of bread are left-over. The sign of the child’s generosity caused others to be generous.
God provides enough for everyone. Sometimes what others need is in my pocket. Sometimes God gave me extra so that I could live out the gift of generosity to someone else.
The real problem is that we’re waiting for Superman to save the day. We’re looking for a king or president or leader to elect to solve our problems. But Jesus the Cook is looking for waiters to serve solutions. In our American culture we love the idea of one hero rising up and solving everyone’s problems. The reluctant diamond in the rough messiah who will make it all right. John Wayne comes riding tall in the saddle. James Bond shows up as the lone spy against the bad guys. The story of a situation so horrible and so bad yet only one guy has the answer.
Let’s be honest. One person can make a difference, but one person isn’t going to solve everything if elected. It takes all of us together. The reality is that even Jesus, the Savior of the world, asked for help. “Where will WE buy food to feed these people?” The disciples bring the boy to Jesus. The disciples distribute the food. The disciples pick up the leftovers because Jesus says “Let nothing go to Waste.” Have we given God our nothing? Will we be disciples? St. Augustine said, “God who saved us in spite of us will not save the world without us.”
He walked into the pastor’s office with his lunch box. He was in debt so deep he couldn’t tread water. But for two hours the pastor, a church member who was a banker, and he went through income, bills, expenses, budgets, debts. The man sat there, wept, head in hands. The pastor said, “We’re not going to pay your light bill. We’re going to give you an opportunity at jubilee, a chance at freedom.”
The pastor then began telling the man a story. There had been a young man in the congregation who had made similar bad decisions. Too embarrassed to ask for help, too ashamed to face his family, the man took the only thing he thought he had left… his life.
His mother was tormented by this for years. So she went to the pastor. They prayed to God. God gave them hope. After praying, they felt God leading them to set up a fund to help those who came to the church with debt. They called it a “Jubilee Fund” after the Old Testament idea of restoration and renewal. She was not a wealthy woman. She promised the pastor not to cut back her giving, but to give what she could each week. She decided she didn’t need to go out to eat each Sunday after Church. So she gave the money that usually paid for her lunch. $7. Each Sunday, $7 went into the plate. Her lunch money. Others heard what she was doing, and they contributed their lunch money until the fund was an amount able to help.
The pastor and the banker smiled at the man drowning in debt. “We’re not going to pay your light bill. We’re going to give you an opportunity at Jubilee. A zero-interest loan to help get you back on your feet.”
The terms were agreed to. Financial counseling, strict budget living, hard work, monthly payments. The man experienced grace, hope, a new beginning. He took the opportunity at jubilee.
Jesus is still on that mountain. Jesus is still asking his disciples. He is still calling our attention to the needs in front of us, our community, our neighbors, starfish we can save, people not problems. We don’t have to be overwhelmed. God has provided all that we need. If we give God what’s in our lunch box who knows what will happen? If we give God our nothing, God will provide a miracle. If we stop trying to elect Jesus as King and experience him as the cook calling waiters, then maybe, just maybe, a miracle will happen again. Amen.