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Sunday, August 2, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 17:1-7, 25 & Matthew 14:13-21
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce
In the beginning of the shutdown it seemed like everyone was making sourdough. Low-carb diets seem to have been momentarily brushed aside. Many claim sourdough starters were the thing to do because packaged yeast was hard to find. You don’t need packaged yeast to make sourdough. All you need is about 1 cup of flour and a ½ cup of water to make what’s called a sourdough starter.
While it’s a fairly simple process, conditions such as the temperature of your kitchen and how clean the container your starter is in can affect the quality of the end product. You can end up with a loaf like this (flat bread pic.) vs. something like this (good bread pic.). Ours ended up looking more like the first slide, but honestly it was still so good.
In addition, for about 5-7 days you need to “feed” your starter with new flour in order to cultivate the “wild yeast” that’s created by combining some flour and water. It’s a pretty amazing process. The starter comes alive with bubbles being formed and certain smells it emits. (example of good starter pic.) You also have to discard a part of your sourdough starter to make room for the wild yeast to grow when you add more flour each day, but also because you probably want to avoid a volcano of sourdough starter. Like so (pic. of overflowing starter). You can also keep a sourdough starter alive, potentially forever, and make as many loaves of sourdough as you’d like.
And to think a delicious loaf of sourdough bread started with a small combination of a bit of flour and water. As for ourselves, we may think we don’t have a lot for God to work with, but like a sourdough starter, God can make a little go a long way.
In our passage today Jesus only has 5 loaves of bread and 2 measly pieces of dried fish to work with. But with just that he was able to feed a crowd of thousands. Not just a crowd of 5000, as the traditional title of this passage “Feeding of the Five Thousand” indicates, but because women and children weren’t included in that number, some Biblical scholars believe the crowd to be closer to 25,000 people. So while you may think you don’t have a lot for God to work with, what we learn from this passage is that God can use whatever we have to offer and do with it things beyond all expectations.
Furthermore, with what we have to offer, no matter how insignificant we think it may be, God will not only use to provide for us, but to provide for others as well. In the Gospel of John, the loaves and fishes were brought to Jesus by a little boy. When this little boy packed his food that morning he was planning to feed just himself and never thought in a million years it would be used to feed thousands. Yet this little boy dutifully, yet probably as full of doubt as the disciples, brings what little he has to Jesus because he too wants to help those who are hungry.
The Disciples, acting pragmatically, suggested to Jesus to send away the crowd to the nearest village to buy food since it was late and the crowd was growing hungry. In response Jesus says: They don’t need to go away. Give them something to eat.” It would’ve been such a shame if the crowd had left because they would have missed out on how Christ would provide for them with so little. For us to experience the amazing things Christ can do for us with so little, we, like the crowd, need to accept Jesus’ invitation to “stay.”
For about 2 years my friend, Keith has been mentoring a child who I’ll call Robbie at Mary A. White. Kids like Robbie are paired up with mentors from our community in order to have a consistent adult in their lives, as their home lives are not stable. Before Keith first met Robbie he was told that Robbie was a “runner.” This is why Robbie always wore his coat as he was always ready to make a break for home. Keith was told to sit with Robbie in a way that Keith would always be between Robbie and the nearest exit. Robbie barely spoke at their first meeting. But as time went on and Keith kept showing up each week to spend time with Robbie whether it was playing a game or helping him with his school work, Robbie began to open up to Keith. Sharing more about what he actually liked about school, what movies he liked and worries he had about his family. If Keith hadn’t continued with the simple act of showing up for an hour once a week he wouldn’t have earned Robbie’s trust. Had Robbie chosen not to stay and continued his reputation as a “runner” he would’ve missed out on the amazing friend and mentor Keith turned out to be in his life. Just the look on Keith’s face as he shared this story with me showed his relationship with Robbie was just as much a blessing to him as it was for Robbie.
Sometimes accepting Jesus’ invitation to “stay” simply means praying for a different perspective. Our church staff has started the practice of sharing the good things we’ve seen God do at our weekly staff meetings. This came about after quickly realizing that it was easy for us to get stuck on what and who we missed pre-Coronavirus, which we’re all in danger of doing at this time. This is not to say we don’t acknowledge what makes us sad or disappointed, which is also important and healthy to do. However, in the midst of our sadness and disappointment if we’re intentionally looking for the good God continues to do in our lives and in the lives of others, we’ll be encouraged by the fact that Jesus is still present, still at work and still cares for us. If we truly believe what James said: “Every good and perfect gift is from our Father in heaven,” then we need to view every good thing in our life as a gift from God. From the roof over our heads to quality family time to having a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend. All of these are gifts. All of them are from God, and all are worth acknowledging as examples of how Christ’s goodness continues to be multiplied in our lives.
While Jesus doesn’t need us to do good work in the world, Jesus desires for us to be a part of what he’s doing. Jesus could have asked the Disciples to step aside and with a wave of his hand make a loaf of bread suddenly appear before each person in the crowd. Instead he instilled the help of the disciples to serve the crowd the bread and fish that kept on coming. I think Jesus did this because we are meant to experience the goodness of Jesus Christ in community. God is big on community. We see how God works within, through and for communities all throughout the Bible. Jesus wants us to be a part of both the distribution and the receiving process of his goodness within the context of community.
I realize that’s hard to do in the age of Covid-19 when we need to remain socially distant from one another. And even if we do gather we’re limited by how many can gather safely. Community looks a bit different in this day and age. Churches all over the world have been forced to ask the questions: Who are when we can’t gather together in worship? Who are we when our worship looks different? I’ve had conversations with many of you over the past few weeks where you’ve shared that it was the “people” in this church family that made you decide to make First Pres your church home.
It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I’m grateful we have the technology that enables us to still connect with one another. Even if it’s through a screen it’s still something and it helps us remain a Christ-centered community. Let’s also not forget the power of a phone call. Even when we gather in person for worship next week without singing, wearing masks, and remaining socially distanced with a cap of 50 people in the sanctuary it doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s still something. It’s still worship. None of the above seems like enough for God to work with, but neither did 5 loaves of bread and two measly pieces of fish.
While we’ve lost so much in terms of physical connection with others, let’s continue to offer up to God the seemingly insignificant ways we are able to connect. Let’s be surprised by how God can use Zoom, phone calls, streaming worship, small gatherings in person, and other ways to connect with one another that at first don’t seem like “enough.” From the feeding of the thousands we learn that from the little we offer to God, God will use it and from that will create more than enough to provide what we need. Let’s also be sure to accept Jesus’ invitation to “stay” so that we are able to experience for ourselves how God will provide in ways that are beyond all of our expectations.