Action of Grace

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Bread by Bob Probst on Picasa, 2009
Proper 13 Year A: July 31, 2011
Isaiah 55.1-5; Psalm 145.8-9, 14-21; Romans 9.1-5; Matt. 14.13-21
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Jesus blesses what is already present…the bread and fish…and gives the food to the disciples to distribute among the people. Jesus knows the gift of food comes from the Creator, thanks God for it, and trusts that what is needed will be provided.

 

(Photo of bread, courtesy of Bob Probst from Picasa, 2009)

Grace and peace to you from the One who feeds us in order that we might feed others, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I spent this last week on a lake in Minnesota with my family. Tough life, I know. This summer was our 21st year of going on this same vacation. It is unique because we stay at a “resort” (now, when I say, “resort,” I hope your mind does not go plush pillows and pina coladas by the pool, but rather they are spider infested cabins with dirty floors, no air conditioning, and no TV or internet. It is fantastic). This resort has 14 cabins. We have been going for years with family friends and of all the people who know each other, we take up 13 of the 14 cabins. Friday is known as the feast day, which includes all the cabins putting all their snacks and left over food on the picnic tables outside hoping everyone would eat it so they don’t need to pack it and take it home. There is always way more food than anyone could ever eat. Scarcity of food is never an issue.

This morning we hear the story of the feeding of the 5000, where for the disciples, scarcity of food is thought to be their issue. The story of the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story to be included in all for Gospels. It is a miracle story because we all know that 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish cannot feed 5000 men, not counting all the women and children. What a task asked of the disciples who knew it was impossible.

On the surface, the disciples’ problem with the situation appears to be scarcity of food. However, lack of food is not the primary issue. The issues, rather, were the disciples’ lack of motivation to share with and serve the hungry multitude, and also their lack of trust that Jesus had the power to provide what they needed to carry out what he asked of them.

Like the disciples, our tendency as human beings is to think that what is asked of us is impossible and also that there will not be enough of something, whether that is food, money, insurance, even love. We collect possessions, money, food, and other things around us to make us feel safer or give us a sense of control and stability. Don’t get me wrong: To have the feeling of living pay check to pay check, not having money in savings, or actually feeling the pains of hunger and not knowing where the next meal will come from is so tough. Yet, at the same time, it can strengthen faith because one would not have the illusion that it is by their own power that they get what they receive. There is reliance upon God the Creator who gives and others who share that creates an incredible cycle of giving and receiving.

What I find so interesting about this story is how Jesus doesn’t ask the disciples to wave their magic wand to get more food, Jesus blesses what is already present…the bread and fish…and gives the food to the disciples to distribute among the people. Jesus knows the gift of food comes from the Creator, thanks God for it, and trusts that what is needed will be provided.

Jesus is so active in what he asks the disciples to do. He has compassion, cures, asks, blesses and breaks bread, and gives. This communicates to us that Jesus is providing for and active in the service and ministry he asks of all of us to do. We need this reminder again and again and again. We are not out here on a limb by ourselves. We are rooted in Jesus, whose gifts of love, grace, mercy, and food, flow through us through the power of the Holy Spirit, in order that we might open our hands and give.

We have got a lot going on in ministry, Heart River, and it is fun. We get to spruce up Hope Chapel, our worship space after worship today. Bishop Narum is coming August 7th to install our called diaconal minister, Shera. VBS is next week. Groups are meeting for Bible study and theological conversation. All of you here at YCC come and participate in worship, sing, read, usher, and feed us here with bread and wine, those of you who assist with Holy Communion. I have witnessed you encourage one another and celebrate with your friends when they get sent home. These are all sharing of gifts that have been given to you by God.

At the same time, while engaging in things that are fun, God asks us to do things in which we reply, “What?! I have nothing. I cannot do it.” I am sure you have a laundry list, like me, of things that seem overwhelming and impossible. For example, there are many of you here at YCC who will face going home. I can hardly imagine the temptations, difficulties, and struggles you have yet to face in your lives. Will you be able to maintain the changes you have gone through while you have been here and have the courage to do what you know is right? So tough, but not impossible, for nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1).

For me, and probably many of us here, there is the alarming statistic of 16,000 children in the world who will die of hunger-related causes today, tomorrow, the next day, and the next day after that unless something changes Hunger Statistics. What an incredible task to hear the words of Jesus to us, “You give them something to eat.” It’s not that there isn’t enough food in the world for everyone; it’s that there is not an equal distribution of it. How do we even begin to be part of the solution to such an enormous, complex problem?

Well, for starters, we recognize that all we have is a gift from God and that we are really care takers, not owners, of what has been given to us. We use what we have to do our part to care for those around us, and know that we can always do more when we work together. Above all, we are to trust that God will give us what we need to do seemingly impossible tasks.

I finished a book this summer by the name of Aftershock by Kent Annan. It is a book of stories and his reflections and experiences in Haiti after the earthquake of January 12, 2010, where hundreds of thousands of people died in seconds and devastated the country. One month after the earthquake, Annan’s Haitian friend, Enel, held what is called an “Action of Grace,” in the community in which he grew up. Enel was injured in the earthquake, but soon after he started doing his small part to help people and Haiti.

Annan writes: “Enel invited the local community and nearby churches to the (Action of Grace) service. He had bought five hundred paper plates to use in feeding everyone; seven hundred people came. It cost a lot, but he had life itself to celebrate and be grateful for. This was his gratitude to God. For three hours everyone worshiped, prayed, sang, and ate…During the service was the first time that Enel wept after the earthquake. He was personally grateful but made sure that that overflowed into the community. It was a celebration of life—but of course any celebration of life in the weeks after the earthquake was also a grieving for the dead…It’s complex being grateful for grace in this world. How to be grateful to God for what you receive when the person next to you goes without? I sometimes spin around and around like I’m on a roulette wheel, moving between gratefulness, disappointment toward God and survivor’s guilt. Enel didn’t understand what had happened or why. He, his wife, and their young daughter and son knew only to receive it as a gift and a responsibility (Kent Annan, Aftershock, p. 121).”

Even for this Action of Grace meal in Haiti, there was enough. There was enough for the meal even in a place where people, especially children die every day of hunger.

What is so moving about our story today is Jesus’ response to terrible news. Did any of you wonder what Jesus heard to cause him to withdraw to a deserted place? The story opens with, “Now when he heard this…” What Jesus heard about was the murder of the one who baptized him, his friend and cousin, John the Baptist. The crowds follow Jesus to his place of grieving, and what does Jesus do? We are to
ld “he had compassion for them and cured their sick,” then he cared for their basic need of food with his disciples.

Today we have an “action of grace” meal too, where Jesus feeds us with himself in the bread and grape juice in Holy Communion. We gather together at the table of love and mercy where there is enough, as we remember those who are hungry and pray for God to provide and move us to action in the world.

There is enough of God’s compassion and grace for you in the bread and grape juice. You take it into your body and God’s grace and love becomes a part of you. Then guess what Jesus says? “Now I send you out into the world to feed those who are hungry, to care for those who are sick, to do our part in caring for the earth, etc.” We are fed in order that we can live and care for others.

When we need it most, God will give us the power to do what God asks of us. The disciples had more than what they needed to do the work God asked of them, even though they though it to be impossible. And they did it! When the multitude of people were fed and healed they had stories to tell and could become witnesses to God’s love and compassion.

Like the Fridays at the cabin, I have experienced an abundance of food more than I have experienced hunger and I am so grateful. Yet what I know is when Jesus says to us, “You give them something to eat; you care for those who are hurting; you witness to God’s work and love in your life,” it is then in which we joyfully and yet trembling say, “We will and we ask God to help and guide us.” Amen.