Monthly Archives: August 2014

Bread to Share

English: Jesus feeding a crowd with 5 loaves o...
Jesus feeding a crowd with 5 loaves of bread and two fish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I made a mistake during the children’s lesson. We had just read Matthew 14:13-21, the feeding of the five-thousand, and I neglected interpreting this as a multiplication of loaves, that somehow five loaves had become enough to feed five thousand men plus the women and children.

I should have considered that people would prefer the idea that with Jesus five loaves could become enough to feed everyone. The passage fails to explain how five small loaves and two fish had fed everyone plus had yielded twelve baskets of leftovers. The abundant leftovers shows those present did not merely take a tiny taste. Did the loaves miraculously expand as one family passed them to the next? Did a new loaf spontaneously appear as people took a piece from those serving?

Interpreting this miracle as a physical multiplication  of loaves would show Jesus as creator of all that is seen and unseen, as able to create something from nothing, as one who can ignore the laws of nature to solve our mundane problems.

Alas, Jesus did not say: “I’ll take care of this;” instead he commanded: “You give them something to eat.”

Four baskets filed with pieces of bread
Multiplied Loaves

We had demonstrated this story in 2012, when we had asked families to bring a piece of bread from their table at home to share for communion, thus connecting our communion table with our personal dinner tables. I was anxious. What if people forgot? Instead of a loaf of bread to break, our communion table had four empty baskets. As our deacons collected the offering I had invited families to place their piece of bread in the baskets. When they had finished the four baskets held enough bread to serve communion to several congregations. Apparently other people worried about having enough to eat.

I suspect the disciples had felt anxious when Jesus had told them: “You give them something to eat,” and they could only come up with five loaves and two fish. Would the people riot when the bread ran out?

But just as the disciples had hidden a few loaves and fish in their cloaks, I suspect many people in the crowd had a little food with them. I imagine the crowd getting anxious feeling their stomachs growl while doubting that those sitting near them had any food.

Imagine going to a sporting event and finding all the food vendors closed, would you pull a candy bar or a water bottle from your coat if you thought the people near you were hungry and had nothing to eat?

Thus I interpret the feeding of the five-thousand as a miracle of sharing. As people broke off a piece from a loaf or fish handed to them, they reached into their cloaks and added to what the disciples and their neighbors had shared. Their generosity not only fed everyone, but yielded abundant leftovers.

Sharing remains a miracle for scarcity often drives human responses rather than recognize and rely on hidden gifts already in our hands.

The miracle of sharing fits within the laws of nature (conservation of matter) and keeps the opportunity for solving mundane problems in our hands. Feeding those who are hungry is not merely a divine problem but also our problem.

“You give them something to eat.”

Stop

“Even the machines benefit from a day off,” a farmer told me at the first congregation I had served.

English: The Sabbath Rest
The Sabbath Rest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While sabbath keeping, stopping all unnecessary work for 24 hours, has a religious origin, do we benefit as a society from having a day when most people can enjoy a long dinner with friends and family?

Three or four times a day we walk our dog. Frequently we merely circle the block, but usually once day we walk a mile or two waving and pausing the chat with our neighbors on adjacent streets.  If we had a day when most people would be home, who would you get to know? How might his improve your security?

As a pastor, I get to spend significant time reading and reflecting about what I read. Studies show that people who read one or more book a month earn more and are better prepared when faced with stressful situations and keep their cognitive abilities longer. If you had a day to sit and read then talk with friends and neighbors about what you read, how might this enrich your life?

Such a day would need some prior planning: Gas stations, stores, and restaurants might be closed. Not due to secular law, but due to lack of customers; customers concerned about clerks enjoying a day with their friends and family. Such a day can only exist in the ideal for even Israel during their sojourn through the desert lacked faith to set aside their work for a day (c.f. Exodus 16).

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
— Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)

 

What’s Right with Church?

St Andrew's church - box pews. Thurning, Norfolk
St Andrew’s church – box pews. Thurning, Norfolk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All across this country fewer and fewer people attend worship on Sunday morning. This is not merely a mainline problem with people leaving to attend new mega-churches, for surveys increasingly show that the fastest growing religious preference is “spiritual, but not religious” or “none of the above.”

Churches build during the 1950’s or earlier can tell of times when the pews were so full that they shifted children to separate classrooms during worship so adults would have places to sit. Many of these congregations also have photographs showing all their pews filled. Yet today, many of those churches now attract only a tenth of their former attendance. Churches had built grand structures to fill a need only to have the need shrink while the population grew. It is like the bridge builder who spanned a mighty river, only to have the river move.

It seems that our mode of being the Church of Jesus Christ in the world suddenly and unexpectedly stopped working. Many congregations strive to hang on to Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, and committee meetings by chasing people who now attend infrequently. while other people explore not merely new music styles in worship but new modes for ministry, including coffee shop discussion groups and blog sites.

instead of scraping what the Church has done for hundreds, if not thousands of years and inventing a new mode of doing “church”, what about the old mode still works? How can we enhance those aspects of being a worshiping community?

  •  In our increasingly digitally connected world, Church still provides a place to meet WITH other people who know you beyond your username. A place where someone you know will greet you with a handshake and listen genuinely to your joys and concerns.
  • Church still provides opportunities to use skills beyond one’s profession. Want to practice your public speaking skills or play a musical instrument? A congregation may welcome your services helping to lead worship.
  • Church still encourages and equip members and visitors to connect with the One who is greater than all creation.
  • If spirituality can be compared to the colors and decorations on the walls of a house, Church provides the framing and walls, theological structure and guidance that have helped people connect with God for thousands years.

I was glad when they said to me,
 “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
— Psalm 122:1

Wait

Yes. No. Maybe. Wait.

Of all the answers I have received ‘wait’ is the hardest to accept.

A nice clear ‘no’ is far better. ‘No’ sends me back to researching other possibilities, retesting possibilities I had previously considered.

Even a mushy ‘maybe’ is better than ‘wait.’ ‘Maybe’ says there is stone I need to overturn, a variable I need to consider, a possibility I need to prepare to handle.

Rotating balls mergin at apex
Waiting

‘Wait’ says only that something beyond my control needs to happen before I can get the answer I seek. Only after some undetermined interval can I begin the step.

We wait daily: Behind a slow-moving truck on a narrow winding road waiting for a place to pass; In a line of customers waiting to pay for a purchase; After a medical appointment waiting for test results. These daily tests of patience can become moments of frustration, or opportunities for prayer, opportunities to chat with a neighbor, opportunities to trust God’s plans for us.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.
— Psalm 130:5-6 (NRSV)