Tuesday, July 24, 2012

JOHN 6.1-21 Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of the little boy with a sack. You know this story. Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and the crowds followed him. His reputation was growing and they followed him everywhere. They saw his miracles and they came the sick, the troubled and the curious. They filled up the whole mountainside. John's gospel says there were five thousand of them. Toward evening they grew restless. They had no food. And the disciples began to wonder what in the world they would do. He turned to his disciples and they just threw up their hands. We don't have any money. Even if we had a lot of money it would not be enough to feed all these people. They did not know what they were going to do. And then Andrew, God bless him, saved the day. He didn't know he was saving the day. But he told Jesus there is a lad here he has a sack. Inside the sack is his lunch: five loaves and two fishes. I hate to mention it. It is so little. It's just a tiny, tiny sack--but he says you can have it if you wish. Andrew adds: "But what are they among so many people?" 

The little boy came with his sack. Jesus took it. Opened it up and saw five little barley loaves his mother had packed. Two fish--well, not really fish as much as a little relish for the bread. It wasn't much--just a sack. Bread and fish. A little boy's lunch. And Jesus told the disciples the strangest thing. He told them to have the crowd to sit down. 

Loaves and fishes--but what are they among so many people? That's always the question, isn't it? What you and I might just do with our own sacks. Does it matter what I do with the stuff I lug around? Does what I have really matter or count?

In the story the crowd sat down. Jesus opened the boy’s crumpled sack. Took the bread and the little fish relish. Jesus closed his eyes and blessed what he had. And then the gospels say he broke it and gave it. And the strangest thing happened. What Jesus had taken out of that little tiny sack was enough. In fact there was so much left over that it filled twelve basketfuls.

What We Have Matters

All four gospels tell this story. Matthew and Mark tell it twice. I think I know why they kept telling. I think they told it and kept telling it, the gospels and the church, because it matters what we do with what we have in the sack. We all have a sack. If you were to open it and peer down into the inside—what would you see? The Gospel says it is a great mystery. It matters what we do with what we have in our sacks.

Let me tell you another story. Ever heard of Rigoberta Menchu? She tells her story in a book called, I Rigoberta. She was a Guatemalan woman. Poor. Dirt poor. Couldn't read or write. A member of a tiny little Indian group that had nothing. Watched her brother's stomach swell and finally he died of malnutrition. Watched another brother get sick when the pesticides they sprayed the fields with came over while he worked and he died of poisoning. Watched her father and mother and brother killed by the soldiers because they were trying to organize. She had never been to school. She taught herself Spanish. She helped organize her people for their rights. Just to stay on their land and work and have some simple dignity. She kept working. She speaks for the voiceless all over the world. In 1992 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with her people.

Now what about your sack? The one you have. It’s different from everybody else’s. I don't know what is inside. Only you know that. Some of you may say oh, I don't have anything worth giving. Just a lot of pain and disappointment and suffering. I have a friend who felt that way. One day his wife just left him and his children. Just left. Many reasons as there always are. But he was just devastated. But he has gone on and raised his kids and pastored his church and kept going. And people come in droves when they have troubles. He counsels a lot of couples with troubled marriages. And he tells them there is nothing more important in your life than you relationships. He tells them do whatever you have to do to make it work. It is just too painful to split and sort and parcel out the kids and your stuff and your life. He has taken the painful stuff and God has used it wonderfully. We all have something in our sacks. The youngest and the oldest. Take your sack and remember the power of those things nestled down in your sack.  It matters what we do with what we have in our sacks. 

God Can Use What We Have 

The second point is that God dignifies whatever it is we bring and always works a miracle. The little boy's gift of his sack opened the way for a miracle. John Belushi said in "Animal House": "Nothing is impossible for the person who will not listen to reason."

From time to time I spend five days working with a group of ministers and their wives and husbands. Each one of them has been terminated from their church. Statistics say that every week that over 1500 ministers in some church somewhere will go through a forced termination. And these are just the ones we know. This problem is epidemic. And so our organization tries to help, as best we can. One young couple, co-pastors had four children. Another minister was 60 years old and wondering if anybody would have him. Another had been in his church for ten years and it had grown and grown. And the people were so worried about all the “new people” until for three years they made things so hard for this man he finally just resigned in frustration. And to sit there and listen to their stories would just break your heart. Almost of them were on medication because of depression. But one of the things that stood out was when they began to tell what kept them going. A little lady would come by the office every week, knock on the pastor’s door and say: “Pastor, I want to pray for you. I know being Pastor is hard.” Someone else told of a leader that stood up at church and said: “This is a Christian church and this is a good, good man and we are not going to do this to him.” And the point:  you can take what you have in your sack and use it in your own way to enable your minister to make it. Everybody can do something. And listening to those stories I was struck with the power of a word or a prayer or an affirmation that kept these people going in a hard time.

John Sanford has written books on spirituality and one of those books is called The Kingdom Within.  He tells about an old well on their family farm in New Hampshire. Over the years the house was supplied with water from that well which stood just outside the front door of the house. The water was unusually cold and pure and a joy to drink—and even in the driest of summers the well never ran day. Later, the family got a little more affluent and decided to modernize their house. Electricity replaced the old oil lamps. There was a new electric stove where the old wood stove had been. And they installed an indoor bathroom and running water. So they had to drill a new well, a deep artesian well. So the old well near the door was sealed over and kept in reserve in case something happened to the new artesian well. 

Years later the author said he went back to the old home place and remembered the old well. He removed the cover and expected to see the same dark, cool depths he had known as a boy. He looked down and the well was bone dry. He couldn’t understand it and so he began to ask around from people who knew something about wells. He learned that a well of that kind was fed by hundreds of tiny underground rivulets and brought in a constant supply of water. As the water was drawn more and more water moved in along the rivulets and these tiny apertures were kept clear and open. But since the well had not been used and water was not regularly drawn, the tiny rivulets just dried up. The well which had never, ever failed was now dry because it had not been used.

The point? We have to use what we have. And everyone here has something in your sack. And if we don’t use it we will be like that man that buried his talent in the sand. This church and this community and nation yearn for people to open their sacks and use what they have.

Remember a little boy with his loaves and fishes. Remember Rigaberta, a Guatemalan woman who is making a difference. A divorced friend who is preaching faithfully somewhere in another state after a great deal of pain. Remember those ministers who, this morning are not standing in a pulpit, they are wondering what they are going to do. But even in their anxiety they remember those who hold up their hands and pray for them and believe in them. Remember your own sack. There is something in there. Jesus says it matters what you do with what you have. Do you believe that? Do you really believe that?

(The Organization mentioned about that helps troubled minisers is Ministry to Ministers. The last few years this group has helped over 1000 clergypersons in need. Interested? Pull up their web site. )

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