Monday, September 26, 2011

Doing the Loaves and Fishes

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. -Mark 6: 34-43

Yesterday, about 65 people at our small country church got together and did something wonderful.  We packaged 10,122 meals to send to a school in Uganda.  In this part of Uganda, parents send their children where they can get fed.  Usually that means into the fields to work or into the streets to beg.  But if they are guaranteed a hot, nutritious meal at school, well then they will be sent to school. 

So this group called Stop Hunger Now supplies schools with meals in places like Uganda to give kids a meal a day and to give them an education and a chance to break through the crippling cycle of poverty.  The folks at Stop Hunger Now, who coordinated our event, shared some sobering statistics with us – about 1 in 6 people alive right now are hungry (a BILLION people are hungry) and don’t know where their next meal is coming from; 25,000 people die per day from hunger or hunger-related illness; half of those that die are kids (about one kid every six seconds); and yet the world produces enough food for each person alive to have 4.3 pounds of it per day (more than most of us could eat).  So a retired Methodist minister started this program to try to get much of that surplus food into the bellies of hungry kids across the world.  They do this for just 25 cents per meal.  And they are having success. 

And yesterday, our church plopped down $2,500 to participate in that.  Our fellowship hall was filled with people in hair nets manning stations – a packing station that would put rice, soy protein, dehydrated veggies, and a vitamin and flavor pack into a bag that had enough food in it to feed six hungry people; a weighing station where we added or subtracted a little bit of rice to make sure each bag weighed the same so they could be easily processed and shipped; a sealing station that sealed the bags to keep moisture out and all the goodness in; a packaging station that counted bags and loaded them into boxes ready to be shipped across the ocean.  All the while we had people buzzing from station to station, refilling what was empty and moving the meals through our holy assembly line.  Before we knew it, a loud gong rang out signifying that we’d packaged 1,000 meals, and we all cheered.  Ten joyous gongs later, we were out of bags to fill and we’d loaded over 10,000 meals onto the Stop Hunger Now truck.

To repeat the first sentence from that last paragraph, we came together “to participate in that.”  In the story of the loaves and fishes, it always seems to go unnoticed that all the work is being done by the disciples.  YOU “give them something to eat,” says Jesus.  YOU “go and see” how much food we have, and YOU “get all the people to sit down,” so I can give YOU the food “to set before the people.”  This story is as much about participating in what Jesus is doing as it is about what Jesus is doing.  It is a call to action – to do what we can with what we have.  And it is also a promise – if it passes through Jesus, it will always be enough.  In fact, the story tells us there will be more than enough.

Jesus does with the loaves and fishes exactly what he does with the bread and wine at the last supper (read it above): He takes the food, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it.  And at the last supper he tells us, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  So in holy remembrance of him, let’s see who needs to be fed, or clothed, or visited, or comforted, or noticed, or loved (and it’s a lot of people!).  And rather than be daunted by the task and tell Jesus to “send them away,” let’s answer his call – “You give them something to eat.”  Let’s take what we have (ourselves, our time, our resources), offer it to Jesus who will bless it, and let’s give it.  We are promised that not only will it be enough, but that there will be plenty left over.  And the question for us is - do we have the faith to act as if this is so? 

Whatever your answer, find 50 people and $2,500 to host one of these events, and my promise to you is that you will grow in your faith in this story.