Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




Saying the Blessing

Sunday, July 31, 2005



1 Thessalonians 5: 12-22

Matthew 14: 13-21


Rev. Dean Snyder


5,000 people on one hand. It was actually more, but let’s say 5,000 people on one hand. Five loaves and two fish on the other. The five loaves were the kind of loaves peasant women baked for their families – loaves the size, perhaps, of a hoagie roll. The two fish were two small fish – just enough to give a little bit of taste to the bread.


5,000 hungry people on one hand. Five hoagie rolls and two sardines on the other.


This is a story about Christ and scarcity.


Some of us are particularly aware of scarcity these days. Some of us are just back from Africa. Eileen and Katie Johnston and the VIM team went to Zimbabwe this summer and saw scarcity up close and real. Jane and I, a few weeks ago, were in Liberia. Half of the United Methodists in Liberia now have my e-mail address. They have hopes and dreams and, before we got there, someone told them that I was the pastor of a very rich church in Washington, DC. During our time in Liberia, as during the VIM team’s time in Africa, we saw great need, great hopes and dreams in the midst of scarcity. All of them are real and all of them are important. 5,000 people on one hand. Five hoagie rolls and two little fish on the other. 


Well, it’s the beginning of budget building time here at Foundry. Our committees and ministries and missions are dreaming and thinking about what God is calling them to do in the year 2006. They are trying to translate that sense of calling into budget requests. Unless things are different than the last three years that I have been pastor here, as we go into the budgeting process, there are 5,000 hungry people on one hand and five little loaves and two small fish on the other.


The story is about more than material need. It seems that the experience of scarcity is dominant in many aspects of our lives. We have loved ones who need and deserve our love, but the capacity within ourselves to give ourselves sometimes seems so small. We go to work and have co-workers who obviously need our patience and understanding, and our capacity for patience sometimes seems so small.


There are good works that deserve our time and our energy, and the time and energy we have to give to them doesn’t feel like enough. There is so much we want to read and to learn about, but the time to read and study seems so limited. There are so many things we would like to accomplish, but we only have one small lifetime. 


This is the reality of being human and not divine: 5,000 people on one hand and five loaves and two fish on the other. It is the human reality of limitation and scarcity. There is not enough money. There is not enough time. There is not enough energy. There is not enough love. There is not enough of me to go around.


One can certainly sympathize with the disciples in the story who said just let all of those folk fend for themselves. Let them take care of themselves. I’ve got enough to take care of on my own plate. Let them figure out how to feed themselves. This is the way we think realistically in a world where there does not seem to be enough.


But Jesus says to the disciples: “You give them something to eat;” just as Jesus says to us about the hungry people in our world: “You give them something to eat.” The people in need in Zimbabwe and in Liberia – you give them something to help them live and to grow and to develop their lives. The people in our families that we are so tired of sometimes – you give them love. You love them. The people at work who drive us crazy – you be patient with them.


In this story, Jesus shows us how to do it. Jesus shows us how to be generous in a world of scarcity. Jesus blesses the loaves and fishes, and because he blesses them, they end up feeding all of the 5,000 and more, with leftovers to fill twelve baskets full.


This is what Jesus does. This is what it means to bless. He does three things:


First of all, he begins and appreciates what he has rather than focusing on what he doesn’t have. He claims and begins with what there is to work with rather than begrudging what there isn’t. He says: “Feed them,” and the disciples say: “We can’t. We can’t feed 5,000 people. All we have is five loaves and two fishes.” Jesus says: “Bring them to me.” He begins with what is available. Our temptation is always to say what I do have, what little money I have, what little talent I have, what limited time I have is so small. Why bother?


All of us are so aware of what we don’t have, our limitations, our inadequacies, our lacking. But Jesus blesses what there is by claiming it, celebrating it and beginning with what he does have. He doesn’t live in the world that I live in too often, the world of the “if only” – the world that begins “if only,” “if only I were younger,” “if only I could be thirty again,” “if only I were older,” “if only I had more money,” “if only I had more time,” “if only I had done this degree and that thing.”


But Jesus doesn’t begin with “if only.” Jesus begins with what is available, what he has. He celebrates it. He takes it. He claims it. He starts there.


The second thing that he does according to the story in Matthew is that he looks up into heaven. He takes what is available even though it seems small and too little. He receives it, celebrates it and then looks up to heaven. The reason he looks up to heaven, I think, is because he remembers that he is part of a long and persistent process that began before he got there and that will continue after he is gone. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the immediacy of the problems around us that we forget that we are part of a long history through which God has been working before we ever got here. There will be a long history through which God will work after we are long gone, and our only responsibility is this piece of it that we happen to be here for. There is nothing worth doing, Reinhold Niebuhr used to say, that we can accomplish in one lifetime. If you have set goals for your life that you can accomplish in one lifetime, your goals are too small.


The reason we come to church and sit here together and go to Council meetings and participate in mission groups is because we are part of a church that is full of saints who worked hard before we got here. There will be saints who will work hard after we are gone. Our responsibility is only our share at this particular time and point in history. None of us will bring the kingdom of God into existence in our lifetime. But we can take a step in the journey toward God’s dream.

So Jesus began with what was available rather than cursing what wasn’t there. Jesus looked up to heaven to remember that God is at work before we got here. God will be at work after we are gone.


The third thing that Jesus did was that he risked sharing what little he had. Doesn’t it sometimes seem that, when we are feeling that our resources are scare, it is harder to share because we are afraid that there won’t be enough for us tomorrow? It is a great act of faith, when our resources are feeling scarce, for us to share. But that is exactly what it means to bless: to share at the exact point where we are most feeling insecure about our lack of resources. Jesus risked sharing what little he had. This is what it means to bless: to share what little we have.   


The point Matthew was trying to make in this story, I think, is if Christ blesses it, what we bring to Christ, no matter how small it seems to us, will always be enough. There will be 12 baskets full left over if we bring what little we have to Christ.


I, myself, am part of the old school that is not very popular these days any more, the old school that believe what really happened here was that, when Jesus shared freely what little bit he had, others began opening their backpacks and their purses. They pulled out their own lunches that they had brought, but that they didn’t want to eat in front of others.   There was enough food out there in that crowd to feed the multitude and have plenty left over if only people would pull it out of their backpacks and share it. Jesus’ sharing became a blessing so that others might be able to share, too.


Much contemporary scholarship says that this is a reductionist point of view. But I want to ask you this question. Which miracle do you think is harder: to take bread and to physically multiply it or to get people to share what they already have? Which miracle do you think is harder to do?


Scarcity is a human invention. Hunger is a human invention. War, which is basically fighting on the assumption that power is scarce, is a human invention. Prisons, which are basically a way of saying that freedom is scarce, are a human invention.


We have enough food to feed the world; we have plenty of food to feed the world. We have enough resources to make sure that everyone in the world has access to literacy and education. We have enough love to embrace the world. We have enough truth so that there is some for everyone. We have enough. We have enough of everything.


Scarcity is something that we have invented. If Christ is in our midst, and if we bless what Christ and God have given us, then there will be enough for all – whether it be food or resources or time or talent or love. Enough for all, with twelve baskets left over.


Well, Roger, Lee and Yana moving to Denver reminded me of a story a pastor told me the last time that I visited Denver. He was a United Methodist pastor and he told me this story. He said that his mother lives about an hour west of Denver. He and his family live about an hour east of Denver. Every time his mother visits, he had to pack up the car, drive an hour into Denver, make it through Denver, drive another hour to get his mother, drive back, drive through Denver again, and then come home. It would be a full day of work to get his mother to come visit. After the visit, he would have to take her home again.


He asked her if she wouldn’t mind taking the bus. She could get a bus from her town, come into Denver, catch another bus, and go to his home. It would save all that travel. His mother said she wasn’t comfortable with that. She didn’t mind the bus ride, but it was the wait in the bus station in Denver where she said she just didn’t feel comfortable in the bus station.


So, he said to his mother: “Well, this is what you do. When you get to the bus station in Denver, you go into the news shop, buy a newspaper and you hold the newspaper around you like this, you don’t look anybody in the eyes, just sit there behind the newspaper and you will be fine and no one will bother you.”


So, she finally agreed to try it: to take the bus into Denver, have an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes layover and catch the bus to his home. When she got to the bus station, she did like he asked her to do. She went in and bought a newspaper, and while she was buying the newspaper, she felt a little hungry for something. She bought one of those packages of chocolate chip cookies that come in the bright blue packages that you just can’t miss. She got one of those and she went back to her bench.


She sat there and put the newspaper around her so that no one would bother her. Then, just as she had feared, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a man dressed in rough clothes. He sat down on the bench next to her. He was somewhat darker skin than her and she presumed that he may be a Mexican-American. It made her nervous. She just stayed behind her newspaper, pulling it closer and closer around her. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she couldn’t believe it. She saw him reach down and open up and take one of the cookies out of the bright blue package of chocolate chip cookies. This is just how she thought it would be. He was going to eat the cookies. So, she reached over and she took the next one. And, as soon as she had done that, he reached over and took the next one. They each ate one cookie after another, although he did have the decency that, when there was only one cookie left, he sort of pushed it over to her so that she got it and ate the last cookie.


Finally, the bus came. She quickly gathered up her stuff and, without looking at the man, rushed onto the bus. When she got to the bus she looked out the window to get a closer look at this man. Then she opened her bag and began stuffing the newspaper inside. She looked into the bag and saw her bright blue package of chocolate chip cookies. The pastor told me that his mother has never been able to eat a chocolate chip cookie again without blushing.


There is really enough of everything. May we all blush when we eat someone else’s chocolate chip cookies.