Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Loaves and Fishes and Parking Spaces...

Matthew 14:13-21

It's such a familiar story before us now that it's hard to hear anything new in it.  Indeed, it rolls around with slight variations again and again.  Even so, while for the most part these are not 'original' thoughts on this story, these are what come to mind today...

One is this.  I know what it feels like to be told, "You give them something to eat..." and to feel as though there is so little to give, it's hardly worth starting to prepare the meal.

Another is this. This all happens in Matthew's telling right after Jesus hears about the gruesome, pointless death of his cousin, John the Baptist.   Perhaps in response to this horrific news, Jesus was heading 'on retreat' --- and I can't think of a more necessary time to seek such solitude.  But by now word has gotten out that this Jesus has something to offer that can't be found just anywhere.  The crowds with their sick and suffering in tow catch up with him.  And then they don't leave.  Like an unexpected guest with no manners whatsoever, they don't leave.  And a handful of disciples are left to carry out the ministry of hospitality which Jesus personifies.

And there is this. I'm wondering about the guy at the back of the crowd.  The one who hardly knows why he is there.  There is no big screen projection to give him a sense of what is going on down front.  Jesus has no way to amplify his voice for the blessing of those five loaves and two fish.  He's only hearing what's going on because the one in front of him is telling him.  In fact, he may never fully comprehend or appreciate the actual source of the meal he is enjoying.  He may never realize it is actually a gift from God's own hand.  But that doesn't make it any less so. Indeed, I wonder how many moments in how many days I am like that.  A lot, I would expect.  I need to remember that and give thanks even when I can't quite put it all together.

And there is this, too.  How does one end up with more than what one started out with?  Twelve baskets full, in fact.  How does that happen?

So here are some initial thoughts on possible directions to take: 

Opportunities to be about the work that Jesus calls us to don't necessarily come at convenient times.
They are, in fact, likely to come when we find ourselves most sad, most tired, most fearful about the future.  Even as Jesus would have every right to have been.

Often we just have to start.  We may not be able to see the ending --- in fact most of the time we surely can't --- but if we don't at least start, we will certainly never get there. For the disciples in this story, the only logical thing to do was to send that hungry crowd away.  They could not, at first, have fathomed the possibility that all those growling stomachs would be satisfied with what began as a meager meal.  But they trusted Jesus enough to hand him the five loaves and two fish and pretty soon it was a party.

And there is this.  This really is a story about scarcity and abundance.  I live in a time and place where I find myself never worried about a scarcity of food. That is not true, of course, for all of my neighbors --- but it is true for most of the people I interact with much of the time.  I do know what it feels like to believe there is never enough though.  I expect we all do.  Indeed, I have known this profoundly of late.  For here is how it has been:

Yesterday morning at 11 a.m. I officiated at the memorial service of one of our dear ones.  It turned out to be one of the largest gatherings of its kind that we had shared in for some time.  At 10 a.m., though, I was next door speaking briefly at our local public library's groundbreaking.

For the library is expanding, you see.  The building is dated, their space is limited, and this dream has been in the works for some time.

Now let me paint the picture for you.  Our church building shares a city block with another church building, yet another church's parking lot and the public library.  Parking is at a premium anyway and now this new construction will permanently close our street, limiting access to and visibility of our building and at least for the next eighteen months, making access to convenient parking a whole lot more challenging than it has been.  And it has always been challenging.

It is a situation which has had me shaking my head for some time.  I have wondered how we would do this.  It has been easy to bow to frustration and fear that there will not be enough --- there will never be enough.

Even so, the challenge was before us and so we dove in in this way: First, we've been talking it up for a couple of weeks.  On Sunday mornings we've been encouraging folks who are able to park further out, or to share rides, or if they're close enough, to actually just walk to church.  We're starting to think about a valet/parking lot ministry for those who are less mobile.  We've begun positioning greeters outside to help people find their way in.  And yesterday morning was our first real test.  

Now normally when the people gather, I'm among the first to arrive.  I'm already inside getting ready. But yesterday morning, I found myself sitting on the other side of the recently erected chain link fence watching the people of First Lutheran Church step up to this challenge. In spite of their own frustration and fear, I could see them there standing at the street corners and welcoming our guests and showing them their way in.  I was, quite simply, proud of them.

Now I don't know how it worked in the marvelous story before us now.  I don't know how it is that 10,000 people and more were fed with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  I do know it was a story about hospitality.  People were there and they needed to be fed and so those who were hosting fed their guests.  I do know that Jesus was at the center of it --- who always saw people and their needs and who always found a way to meet those needs.  And I do know that the story ends by reminding us that they wound up with a whole lot more than what the disciples first placed in Jesus' hands.

To tell you the truth, I still cannot see how there will be --- at least not for some time --- enough parking with easy access to our building.  And it's hard to see how we will ever have the easy visibility we have enjoyed for a hundred years.  But at the same time, this has forced us from behind our doors and out into the street to be even more welcoming than we have sought to be before.  And there is abundance in that which I certainly could not have envisioned all on my own.   Indeed, even now while I cannot yet see the 'ending,' I'm still starting to wonder if this might just find us able to 'feed' a whole lot more people than we ever have before.

  • How do you understand the miracle story of the feeding of the 'five thousand plus women and children?'  What do you think happened here?
  • Is there any significance to the fact that in Matthew's telling, this falls right after the news about John the Baptist's death?  Does knowing this alter your hearing of the story in any way?  Why or why not?
  • I offer one example of perceived scarcity and abundance above.  Can you think of others?