Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Our Little Lunch: Reflections on the Feeding of the 5,000

This past week our family went to two events in town that focused on food, and it’s interesting to me that this was the case during a week when the assigned gospel reading is the feeding of the 5,000.  It gave me a lot of food for thought.

The first of these two events was at another church in town that was having a summer block party.  Since we are friends with the pastor and his wife, we went to support them and had a great time.  It was the perfect summer night, and it was fun to see so many different people together in one place, having a good time.

The block party was the idea of the pastor’s wife, Barb.  She has a heart for those who live in the apartment buildings near their church but who don’t have a church home.  She also saw the block party as an opportunity to give some leadership experience to a few teenager girls she has poured much time and energy into over the past year.

The second event was our First Lutheran family picnic and service project at City Park on Wednesday.  That too was a great night and time to be together.  All in all, we had over forty people take part, which is awesome.  We feasted on pulled pork sandwiches and all the fixings and had a good time putting together birthday kits for clients of a local shelter.  It was both a unique and meaningful experience to do something fun as a family that also involved helping others, and I think many other people felt the same.

These events this week were a good reminder that there are people who are hungry in our community—and not just in a physical sense, though that is certainly the case for some.  There are also people who are hungry to receive the hospitality and love of people who love Jesus.  And this type of hunger is not only relegated to a particular income bracket, age, race, or any other demographic.  Just like the people who swarmed to receive from Jesus, there are people in our midst who hunger and thirst for the goodness of God but sometimes aren’t quite sure where to find it.

When I look around at our community, I always think about the students at ATCC, those who speak Spanish as their most familiar language, and even those who work themselves to the bone trying to live a magazine-worthy life.  How are they hungering?  Where and how are they getting filled?

But despite the fact that the opportunities for ministry all around us, the thing that caught my attention when I read John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 was how the disciples must have felt when Jesus told them to get the crowd something to eat.  After all, the disciples have just come back to Jesus from their time “out in the field” so to speak, where they were preaching and teaching and healing all sorts of diseases in Jesus’ name.  When they get back, they are spent.

Jesus could see it in bodies and on their faces, so he told them, “We need to go away and get some rest.”  So they headed out to a deserted place to spend some time away, but when they got there they found that a crowd had heard about their retreat and met them there.

Being the kind of leader that Jesus is, he had compassion on the crowd, because he could tell that they were like sheep without a shepherd, and so he began to teach and heal them, and eventually they all started to get hungry.

That’s where our story today picks up, and as you know, when Jesus asked the disciples to feed the crowd, they were in disbelief.  "You’ve got to be kidding," they must have been thinking. "We’ve got nothing, in more ways than one."  But then Andrew sees a little boy who has some bread and fish, so he offers those to Jesus, though they don’t seem like much.  And that’s when Jesus does the extraordinary.  The five loaves and two fish turn out to be enough food for everyone there, and then some.

What I couldn’t help but notice in this story is that all the boy brought with him that morning was his little lunch—and as someone pointed out to me earlier this week, even that he probably hadn’t put together on his own.  But that little lunch was enough.  All he had to do was be willing to give his little lunch to Jesus and let Jesus take it from there.  Can you imagine how surprised he must have been when that little lunch was enough to feed the entire crowd?  And can you imagine how relieved the disciples must have felt when they realized that it wasn’t up to them to make things happen?

These are words I needed to hear and listen to this week, because for a variety of reasons, I’ve been going at things a bit too hard lately, and though I put up a good fight, it has gotten to the point where my body is literally screaming for me to stop.  Not only that, even though they are incredibly forgiving and supportive, my family needs and deserves more than what I’ve been able to give them for all too long.

The problem is that I have pretty high expectations for myself as a pastor, and when I look around, I always see more good that we can do.  Or I hear someone say, wouldn’t it be great if we did _______, and because I care, I think “Yes!” and then go into overdrive trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Thomas has been trying to tell me for quite some time to be realistic, but I haven’t been a very good listener.  So I think God has been trying to get my attention in other ways, and in addition to my body itself breaking down, this past week I kid you not, five different people came up to me and said, Kari, are you working too hard?  You’ve got to take care of yourself.

The easy thing to do would be to thank these people for their concern but then brush it off and carry on.  I think we do a good job of that as the staff here at church, because we care so deeply for the people we serve.  The hard thing to do is to listen to their advice.  But that’s what I need to start doing.  And what I have realized this week is that the place I need to start is to let go of the expectations I put on myself to be and do it all and trust that the little lunch I bring to the table is enough instead.

The expectations I’ve had for myself go quite a ways back—in seminary, you hear all sorts of things that “a good pastor” should do, which does a number on your ability to really figure out what’s most important.  My high expectations also go back to two weeks into my first call when something terrible happened that shook my confidence for ministry and left me feeling like I had to prove my worth to the people who I had been called to serve.

That experience, I am realizing, has also meant that it is not always easy for me to trust the love and support of members of congregation and to really believe that their love is not based on how well or how much I do.

But the truth is that, unlike Jesus, who could keep going when the crowds pressed in on him even though he was exhausted, I am not God.  None of are, which of course, we know, but we still often act like we are limitless.  But I don’t think God expects any of us to be super-human, even though many of us often get fooled to believe otherwise.  And often, I think we do this without even realizing it.  Because quite frankly, if the evil one can get us to buy into the idea that we need to be everything to everyone and we never take the time to really and truly rest, we will burn out.

Or we will become a little jaded to the idea of helping out at church—we’ve all heard the 80/20 rule, where 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.  And when that happens, we’re no good to anyone, which is exactly what the evil one wants to see happen.  So that’s my confession.  And my challenge, and maybe it is yours too: To be honest with myself and to relearn how to bring my little lunch to Jesus and let him take care of the rest.

After all, that’s all any of us can do, and that’s all Jesus asks of us.  He doesn’t ask us to change the world or solve every problem or take on every good idea that comes our way. 

He only asks us to be willing to share the little lunch we have and let him make of it what he will.  That’s what I saw come to life at the picnic on Wednesday and it was a breath of fresh air.

We had someone who took pictures, another who helped serve food, someone who collected the money, someone who passed out t-shirts, someone who organized the service project, and others who pitched in in some way.  Everyone who came was happy to be there and to contribute.  And together we had a lot of fun while also doing something positive.

This is the type of ministry that I am most proud to be a part of and the type of ministry that, in my opinion, is most sustainable.  Because to me, the best part of ministry is when other people feel equipped and empowered to carry out an idea they have or something they feel good about and saying, "Go for it!  Thanks for being willing to shine your light and share your story."

It takes guts to listen to your heart and step out in faith, but it is also so important that we do, and that we don’t just leave the sharing and shining to someone else.  Because the truth is, God has given each of us gifts and wants us to put them to use.  Sometimes, like the boy with his little lunch, it might not feel like we have very much, but we have to trust that God knows what God is doing, and together we can always do way more than we could ever do on  our own.  

It’s like when you look at the ingredients that go into baking a loaf of bread—on their own they don’t look like much or that they could become much of anything.  But when you mix them together and give them time to develop, something amazing happens and what results is something that I think all of us would agree is one of the best things to eat and smell in the world.

That’s how it is with the gifts we have been given by God.  On its own, the little lunch we bring may not seem like much.  But when we combine our gifts (our little lunch) with the gifts of other people and give them time to develop, who knows what might happen?  As Ephesians 3:20 states, God can do far more than we could ever ask or imagine.

The awesome thing is that when we all pitch in and do our part, whatever that part may be—when each of us brings our little lunch to Jesus and asks him to use the little lunch that we have—that is when great things happen and lives are transformed.  That is when we realize that what we have to give is enough.  And that is when things sometimes even stop feeling like work and instead turn out to be a whole lot of fun for everyone involved.

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