June 30 - “Multiplied by Love"

Reading: John 6:1-14

Sharing is Caring.

The Feeding of the 5,000 is a pretty familiar story. I like John’s version because there’s a boy who gets involved. Jesus asks Philip, and Philip is aware of the costs of trying to feed everyone. This is a small budget operation. Andrew, apparently was a little more resourceful. He’s been walking around the crowd, taking note about who brought food…apparently no one…no on except a small child.

Presumably this child’s parent was concerned about his going out to hear Jesus and was concerned it would go through the dinner hour. So, just to be safe, they packed him a lunch. Interesting back story there, I’m sure, when the child decided that it was important to them to participate.

What a special child this must have been who wanted to go in the first place, and then when a disciple was wandering through the crowd asking if anyone had any food they could share, said, “Here, you can have my dinner, take it. All of it.” A part of me suspects that some of the other people in the crowd also had brought a snack, but they knew it was small and therefore they weren’t going to offer. Yet, the faith of a child willing to share everything he had, provided more than enough.

This past week, I was privileged to sit in as the Associate Minister Search Committee interviewed their top three candidates for our Associate Minister position. While of course I am invested in seeing who is interested in serving on this team, I also relish any opportunity to gather in small groups and learn how PRCCers think, how you operate, what you’ve been up to. So, each night was a gift to commune with the team. The whole team is incredible. I enjoyed getting to know little tidbits about where you work, what you’ve done this summer, how your day had been.

But nothing struck me quite like the dedication of our youth. Four youth: Aiden and Connor Collins, Kendall Battaglia, and Molly O’Brien were a part of this committee, and they were not just participants, they were leaders. After each interview, they were the first to speak, giving their insights. During the interviews, they shared in asking questions and following up with additional questions. They took genuine interest in each candidate and shared pieces of their own lives, hopes and dreams for our youth ministry here at PRCC. They demonstrated courage, faith, hope, and love in ways that left the rest of us in the room amazed and blessed.

I am so proud of them! They could have chosen to not participate, after all every single one was doing sports and summer school, and helping their families. And every single one of them showed up, texted, emailed, watched videos, and gave everything they had. Somehow, when our young people are willing to offer everything they’ve got, God works and moves and it amounts to more than we ever thought possible.

When the hungry are being fed, God is there.

As we pursue our relationship with God, trying to find God in our lives, it’s a safe bet to start looking around meals. Whether manna from heaven, sustenance in a time of drought, or massive potluck, God often shows up around food and fellowship. I appreciate that the disciples were stuck in a scarcity mindset. We can relate, we are there often too. They see the need, know their capacity on a completely rational level and discern there’s nothing we can do. However, Jesus sees the need and invites them (and us) to respond. It had been a long day. The crowd was a multi-generational crowd, many of them were far from home. They’ve been feasting on Jesus’ words, hungering after him so that they just kept walking. Jesus saw their hunger. Jesus saw their need. Instead of looking away because it was so great, he leaned in. He gave thanks for what was given, and commanded his disciples to feed the people.

Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, who has done his work in Latin America writes, “This is what many Christians are now learning in Latin America. To be followers of Jesus requires that they walk with and be committed to the poor; when they do, they experience an encounter with the Lord who is simultaneously revealed and hidden in the faces of the poor (see Matthew 25:31–46, and the fine commentary in PD, nos. 31–39).”[i][1]

When we are willing to step out in faith, to move beyond overwhelmed, to do as much as we can as often as we can with whatever we can…God is present in that. Liberation theology would emphasize that God is with the poor in a mighty way, and I’ve experienced that to be true. Of course that’s not to say that God doesn’t love the middle class or the wealthy. God’s love isn’t pie, there’s more than enough to go around. However, where there is great need, God is present greatly. When we feed the hungry, we meet God. When we minister to the oppressed, we meet God. When we get our hands dirty bringing reconciliation to the world, we meet God.

This afternoon, I will march along with the faith contingent in the Chicago Pride Parade , offering smiles, hugs, “God loves you” to thousands of people. I have sometimes felt that those along the sides of the parade have been hungry for words of affirmation and love from the church, and that’s true for many. But, what I’ve found in recent years is that my own hunger has been filled, as I have been a part of seeing an In-breaking of God’s kin-dom, where lines of difference and diversity aren’t erased or ignored, they are celebrated. God’s creativity and ability to make all of us wildly different is accentuated in a way that I rarely witness…and I find my hunger being filled. And when the hungry are fed, God is in that.

Simple Math gets complicated when you Insert the Faith Factor.

My takeaways from this story today is from the child who shares everything he has, that God is present when the hungry are fed, and lastly that simple math gets complicated and compounded when you insert the faith factor. I have been out of math classes for too long to come up with an equation that would make you cringe.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t try to week to google…and I leave that challenge to you – come up with a cheesy x plus y multiplied by the power of faith = whatever.

But, still, the simple math of 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish isn’t enough to feed thousands of people. And yet, that day on a hillside, faith multiplied that little bit to be more than enough. Sometimes we count and are disappointed – with the number of members, the size of our budget, the number of volunteers, the number of youth…you name it – we can look at the numbers and lose hope at whether or not we could actually make a difference. Yet, multiplied by the faith factor, God does so much with very little.

June 28, 1969, 50 years ago, patrons of the Stonewall Inn, who were among the most marginalized people in the gay community, drag queens, transgender persons, People of color, prostitutes and homeless youth resisted and fought back against the police raids, which launched a movement to form activist groups to create spaces for LGBTQ people to be safe to congregate and exist without fear. These riots gave birth to the gay liberation movement, which still has work to do, as bullying, violence and murder still plague the LGBTQ community. Yet, just a few courageous people, offered everything they had, and we are still marching and working together for justice for all.

May this be a day when we offer ourselves for God’s purposes that our efforts would be multiplied and help transform the world in the name of Love. Amen.

1 Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, O.P., We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People, Paperback, published by Orbit Books, 2003. Originally published in 1984

Resources: Bulletin Sermon PDF Audio

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