List of Sermons
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - Feeding of the 5000
St Peter's Episcopal, Port Royal, VA
Proper 13, Year A
What do you do when you lack what you need to solve a problem?
People constantly find themselves in situations where they lack something they need.
Some of these things are tangible. For instance, many people don’t have enough money to get through the month. Farmers all over the country haven’t had enough rain. People in Somalia don’t have enough food.
And then there are the intangible things that we lack. Some of us don’t have enough good health, or enough love in our lives, or enough patience, or enough time, or enough energy.
Frequently, people in small churches feel that options are limited because the small number of people in a church can only do so much, resources are limited, and energy doesn’t go but so far.
And we tend to respond to what is lacking in our lives just as the disciples do in the gospel passage we just heard.
Seeing that the hour was late, and that the huge crowd who had come to this deserted place on foot, bringing their sick people with them—this crowd was still gathered around, reluctant to leave a man with such compassion and healing power, and because of the fact that the crowd is still there in this deserted place, the disciples perceive a lack.
These people don’t have anything to eat, and it’s getting late.
So the disciples go to Jesus with the problem defined and a solution already in mind.
Disciples: “So here’s the problem—it’s late, the crowd must be getting hungry.
So here’s the solution—“You send them away so that they can take care of themselves. We don’t have the resources to meet this need and to feed this many people.”
Isn’t this typical of what we modern day disciples do all the time? Faced with the dilemma of “not enough,” we define the problem, come up with a solution and just present it to God.
And our solution involves telling God what to do. Just as the disciples told Jesus what to do—“You send them away”
—we find ourselves praying to God in this very way.
And we’re in great company. Listen to the words of the psalmist who wrote Psalm 83. The psalmist perceives a problem. God’s enemies have conspired against God—the psalmist expounds on this problem in the first part of the psalm. Then the psalmist provides the solution, telling God what to do—“O my God, make them like the whirling dust…drive them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm…Let them be disgraced and terrified forever.”
We find ourselves caught up in this same sort of prayer. God, here’s this problem I perceive—and then I define what that problem is—sometimes the problem is obvious—like the famine in Somalia, or the debt crisis here in our own country, and sometimes the problem, particularly in our personal lives, is a problem simply because we make something a problem.
And so we present this problem, whatever it is, to God.
And then we proceed to provide God with the solution.
And frequently, just as the psalmist who wrote Psalm 83 and the disciples in this gospel, the solution we present to God does not involve us.
The disciples said—“Jesus, you send this crowd—this problem—away.”
Now one of the annoying things about Jesus is that he rarely makes discipleship easy for his disciples.
Instead of giving himself and the disciples a night off by taking the disciples up on their solution, Jesus simply points out to the disciples that there is no need to get rid of the “problem” at all!
Jesus says, “They don’t need to go away.”
And then, trying their patience even more, he tells the disciples that they, the disciples,are responsible for dealing with what they perceive as the problem.
Jesus has a solution. “You give them something to eat.”
The disciples protest, just as we do when we face what seem to be insurmountable problems in our church or in our own lives—because we are lacking in whatever it is we need to deal with whatever it is.
The protests might sound something like this—“I can’t do that, I don’t have enough money, or energy or time to take that on.” We lack resources.
Now disciples were right that they lacked the resources to feed more than five thousand people that night.
Five loves and two pieces of fish, no matter how small the pieces were cut, would not be enough to feed over five thousand people.
And no matter how we cut them, our resources can’t be stretched to solve all the problems that face us.
Now here’s where this gospel gets very interesting –because Jesus says to the disciples “So just bring me what you do have.”
Just as Jesus says to us, the ones who are his disciples today--
Just bring me what you do have—whatever that is—
A little bit of time, a miniscule amount of money, a broken body, whatever it is that you have, a little tiny bit of love, even if it could not possibly be enough to deal with whatever I’m asking you to do.
Jesus says—“Bring it to me.”
In the gospel, Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish that the disciples bring him, and he, in turn, offers this small offering up to God—because Jesus never wants any glory for himself—he is always pointing beyond himself, in everything he does, to God’s indescribable power and glory.
God takes whatever little thing it is that we have to offer to God for use for God’s power and glory in some way so wonderful that we cannot even imagine the miraculous ways in which God will put us to work.
God takes that offering, expands it, and gives it back, complete and full and whole, so that we have all we need to be his true disciples and to do the work that God has given us to do in this world.
In the gospel, Jesus took the offering of the disciples, five loaves and two fish, and offered the bread and fish to God. He blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave the bread and fish to the crowd, and everyone was fed.
You see, as disciples, we get to be part of God’s miraculous, healing, restoring work in the world!
What a joy for us that God would let us help carry out God’s wondrous work in this world!
I want to share the following story with you in closing—a story about one lowly tea bag in the bottom of a cup.
A tea bag—what could seem less valuable and useless than a tea bag full of sodden tea?
Website - Original T Bag Designs
And yet, one tea bag, offered up to God, became the inspiration for what has become an international business called Original Tea Bag Designs, a business that has lifted many South Africans out of poverty.
The story of the beginning of this business is miraculous in its own way.
Jill Heyes, a primary art school teacher from England, moved to South Africa with her family in 1996, and Jill was appalled by the poverty that she found in the shanty town at the end of her street.
Here was the problem (her crowd of over 5000) —a place where people lived in hopelessness and poverty.
So Jill offered to God what she had, and started teaching art lessons to the local women at a nearby church, in hopes that they could develop some sort of craft to sell.
Nothing that the women made would sell. Jill says that nothing they came up with was unique enough—
Until one day, a friend from England came to visit, and as the women drank tea, Jill talked about the problem that she was having coming up with something the women could sell that would help decrease the poverty in the area.
As she gazed into her empty cup at the tea bag at the bottom, the friend suggested that perhaps a lowly used tea bag might be turned into art.
And from that suggestion, and that one tea bag, Jill was able to come up with a craft that has provided a way for men and women who had no chance of employment before to work their way out of poverty by using tea bags as a canvas on which they paint traditional African designs. The small canvases are then used to create cards and a wide variety of other items that people all over the world buy—
Original Tea Bag Designs is now an international business that has enabled people to support their families and even to buy their own houses.
And in addition, this business encourages others to offer up the little that they can do, and God uses the offering to help that person make a big difference.
Maybe some of you remember several years ago a young girl from Spotsylvania named Moira Callahan. Moira was only 15 at the time, but she heard about Original Tea Bag designs, and decided that she wanted to help. She started collecting used tea bags to take to South Africa. She set of goal of collecting thousands of tea bags.
I first heard of this project when I read about it in the Free Lance-Star. Now many of you know that I drink lots of tea. I was so inspired by Moira’s desire to help that I started saving my tea bags.
I dried them, slit them down one side and then emptied out the tea. Just by myself I saved around a hundred tea bags, which I sent to Moira. Eventually, tea bags that I would have just thrown away made it to South Africa and were turned into a product that could be sold to help another person get beyond poverty.
So in a very small way, here in the United States, I was able, through a very simple action, to help people on the other side of the world-thanks to the determination of a fifteen year old girl, thanks to the determination of an art teacher in South Africa, thanks to the determination of the artists who go to work every day at Original Tea Bag Designs.
I hope that during this coming week, you will pause and take stock of your life.
Go to God in prayer, and offer God what you have, even if what you have to offer seems as useless as an old dried up tea bag.
Be open to surprise! And be open to God’s timing! Remember, it took Jill ten years to build Original Tea Bag Designs into the successful business that it is.
Be ready! Because when you offer something to God, God will bless it, and hand what you offer back to you,
Multiplied into something so wonderful and powerful that you will be able take God’s compassionate, abundant, healing love out into the world
And make a miraculous difference in the lives of those God sends your way.