Sunday, July 26th, 2015 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21
Hymns: “These Thousand Hills”, “All Creatures of Our God and King”, “Your Love, O Lord”, “Spirit of the Living God”, “Break Thou the Bread of Life”, “Fill My Cup, Lord”, “The Trees of the Field”
If You Teach a Man to Fish
I have a confession to make. This is a confession that may shock you, horrify you, scandalize you.
You see… I have never been hunting. Or fishing.
As a matter of fact, the only experience I have in taking down game of any sort comes from two sources: 1) the arcade game Big Buck Hunter, and 2) driving my little blue Chevy Cruze into a 250 pound buck at 70 miles per hour. I will admit, I don’t much recommend the second source, as it led to a $9300 insurance claim, two weeks without a car, and a trip to the doctor to have a mild concussion treated.
Also, for what it’s worth, I never found the deer’s head.
Now, mind you, if any of you would like to teach me the PROPER way to hunt deer (or anything else), I would be more than happy to be your willing student. Just let me know when and where (and give me a moment to check with Caitie, of course).
Now, my Uncle Ray, on the other hand, is an avid hunter, and he makes the most out of what he does. Every last little bit of the deer he kills gets used. He has been dating and/or married to my Aunt Theresa for over twenty years, and has therefore been at many family reunions. At those family reunions, he always has some sort of tasty venison-based food, whether it be jerky, sausage, steak, or even meatloaf. The sausage casings are made from the deer’s own intestines; the hides and antlers decorate his hunting cabin in Iowa. He lives fully into the ethos that if you kill an animal, you should be prepared to use as much of it is as possible.
Really, it’s a good ethos to live by in general: waste not, want not, essentially. But it’s an ethos that has largely been forgotten in our collective consciousness. And I feel bad about it, I do. I’m somebody who spent an entire school year as an environmental educator at a camp in Southern California, and yet, when Caitie and I go to Hy-Vee, the NUMEROUS reusable cloth bags we own get left in a cabinet, while we come home with another eight or nine plastic grocery sacks that end up getting stuffed in an overflowing drawer.
Admittedly, the plastic sacks ARE good for scooping out Tyson’s litter box.
But that’s just one example of our wastefulness. How much food gets wasted every day by restaurants and grocery stores? It’s gotten so out of hand that in France, one entrepreneur has started a business that goes to the grocery stores, purchases all of the food that’s due to be pulled from the shelves the next day and thrown out, and turns it into high-quality pre-packaged meals. Granted, the business then sells the food at a ridiculous markup, but hey – better people with money to spend should overpay for it than for it to be thrown away, right?
We’ll leave the monetary wastefulness for another day.
Now, you see, Jesus was the kind of guy who used every little bit of something. Take the apostles, for example. With the exceptions of Matthew and Judas Iscariot, these were not well-educated, high-class men. They were mostly rough-and-tumble fishermen, and in the case of Simon the Zealot, either a political activist or a terrorist, depending on if you asked the Jewish people or the Roman government.
Perhaps the best example you can find of Jesus using every last bit of one of His followers is in the case of Cephas of Galilee, a.k.a. Simon, a.k.a. Peter, a.k.a. the Rock upon which Jesus built His church. And sometimes, Peter was indeed a rock, and I don’t mean that in a good way. He was loud and brash, tempestuous and impulsive. If you’ve ever seen the picture of Jesus covering half of His face with the palm of His hand, a pained look on His face, I can only imagine that Peter caused that look on more than one occasion.
But Jesus found all the best bits of His apostles and used them to the utmost of their ability. Peter may have done some dumb things, but he was the best bet when it came to declarations of faith. The same brashness and impulsiveness that led to some really bad choices also led him to boldly proclaim that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, and that he had faith that Jesus was the Son of God.
The apostles, of course, weren’t the only people in whom Jesus located, brought out, and used even the tiniest bits of good. Consider the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus shouldn’t have been talking to her alone at all – he was a man, she was a woman; he was an Israelite, she a Samaritan. He was a rabbi; she had a reputation for promiscuity and loose morals. But Jesus looked past all of that to the fact that she was also somebody who was lost and searching for something, somebody to guide her. He gave her the living water she was looking for, and in return, she became one who would proclaim His name to the people.
So I think it should come as no surprise, then, that when Jesus was confronted by His apostles over the presence of 5,000 men (and their wives and children!) who had come to hear Him preach, saying that they needed to be sent away to eat, Jesus said, “No, you feed them.”
Now, I said it should come as no surprise to US, but can you imagine the surprise to THEM? 5,000 men and their wives and children would probably, all together, fill the Sprint Center. And I’m pretty sure that if I got Jean Biondo and eleven of her kitchen volunteers together and said, “Now, go feed those people,” they’d probably call me crazy (and perhaps a few other choice words) before making a very quick and discreet exit from the scene.
Well, the apostles had a very similar reaction, although perhaps without the choice words, so Jesus told them: go and see what we have here.
Go and see what we have here.
On the morning of Saturday, June 5th, the group of us who had gone on the mission trip pulled into the parking lot of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank in south-central Los Angeles, California. It had been an early morning that day, as we had had to drive to the food bank from Loch Leven Disciples Camp, an hour or so away. The youth were definitely tired when we arrived.
When they finally gathered all of us into the food bank’s front reception area after nearly half an hour of just standing around the parking lot, the first thing they did was show us a video – not talk to us about what we would be doing. Things were not off to an auspicious start, and the youth were growing restless.
Eventually, though, the work did begin, and for us, the work was initially unpleasant. Over a dozen pallets were wheeled into the work area. On each pallet was a 144 cubic foot box – six feet by six feet, four foot high. Each 144 cubic foot box was full of oranges. And these weren’t just any oranges, either – these were the oranges that were left in the orchards after the citrus companies had come through. These were the ugly oranges, the ones that couldn’t be sold in stores because they weren’t “good-looking” enough.
The thing was, they were still perfectly edible. And granted, while there were plenty of squashed or moldy oranges in the boxes, most of them had nothing wrong with them. And interestingly, not long after we started sorting the oranges, it went from being a dreary chore to being fun. The youth began competing to see who could fill their boxes the fastest. Zack Craft had set up a garbage can in the midst of all of us for reject oranges to go to, and go to it they did – for the most part. You see, the youth had decided that launching the reject oranges at the garbage can like an artillery barrage would be the best way to get them there, and not all of them made it in!
But through the fifteen pallets of oranges, and then an additional six pallets of plums, what could’ve been an onerous chore turned into a truly fun morning of serving the people of southern California. And this service came through working not with a wide array of choice food items, but simply with what we had. This fruit was the leftovers, not the prime pickings, but we took it and we turned it into something good, something that would provide fresh fruit to people who often struggle just to find any food at all. We took that which had been rejected, cast off, and we turned it into food for the needy.
Now, the needy were likely present in strong numbers among this crowd that had gathered to hear Jesus. Though His teachings attracted a few of the rich and powerful, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, they mostly attracted the disenfranchised, the poor and downtrodden. He gave them a message of hope and redemption, and for a people who had long suffered under the persecution of both the government and the religious authorities, His message was one that they would indeed travel a long way to hear.
So it is likely that the apostles were not particularly hopeful when Jesus told them to find out what food they had in that gathering. After all, many of these people were probably poor. What meager food they had brought with them had likely been consumed on the journey, and none more would be forthcoming until they returned to their homes. And indeed, after the apostles conducted a search of the crowd, they were able to find nothing more than the lunch of one boy: a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
As it turns out, having that small amount was no problem for Jesus. You see, much like a group of teenagers in a Los Angeles food bank, He took just that little bit and turned it into something wonderful. Indeed, on that afternoon as Jesus taught His followers, He took the bread, and He blessed it, and He broke it, and He gave it to them, saying, “Take, and eat, this bread that has been broken for you.” He did the same with the fish, and as the Biblical account tells us, every single person there ate their fill, and when the apostles collected the leftovers, they filled twelve baskets full.
Jesus took a little bit, and He did a lot with it. It’s something with which we’re very familiar. Perhaps you noticed the wording that I used for the blessing and breaking of the bread. It doesn’t say that Jesus said that in John 6, at the feeding of the 5,000, but there is another place that He did say it – on the night He celebrated the Passover with His apostles, the night before His crucifixion that preceded His glorious, victorious resurrection.
Yes, Jesus took just one loaf of bread and one cup of wine, and with them, He created a meal that has fed literally billions of His followers in the two thousand years since. With just a very little, He did much. That day when He fed the 5,000 was just a precursor to the night when He would feed every person who has followed in His name. On that night, He gave to us this meal, to be done in remembrance of Him. And like the millions of Disciples of Christ who have gone before us, and the generations of Christians who came before this movement began, we share in the feeding not just of the 5,000, but of all.
Jesus didn’t necessarily come to give us a fish, but to teach us how to fish – to be fishers of men. But once we’ve gathered together all those people for whom we’ve fished, He provides a meal for us. He takes the bread, He takes the wine, He blesses them and gives them to us, and with just a little bit, He does much. He leaves nothing to waste, but gives every last bit of the meal and of Himself to us, His people, out of love and mercy, for us to receive life eternal.