“Feeding The World/ A Boy’s Lunch”
Feasting On Faith 4: October 25, 2020
by Rev. David P. Aslesen
This may be shocking news to you: Old Country Buffet is no more. RIP OCB. Old Country Buffet closed its last restaurant in Illinois due to the pandemic as it threatens the dining experiences associated with the self-service environment,communal serving tongs and the all-you-can-eat experience in American dining culture. The gastronomic tradition of huge portions generously shared by oneself with oneself and only for oneself: gone??? Oh, Lord, no? Such feasting is so different than the lunch of the boy shared in our story. How are we to feast?
Old Country Buffet cannot compare to the abundance of blessings found in this miracle story –the only one found in each of the four gospels -and other stories. God’s generosity is on the menu! When I speak of generosity and abundance I am aware that for many of you and many more in our communities and country and world there is more that may be lacking or scarce in what is needed to feel full or even partially satisfied. We confess there is emptiness in the savings account like there hasn’t been before or emptiness in the refrigerator or emptiness in the heart, too, and so any talk of “abundance”may sound and feel really uncaring. But permit me to offer wisdom and the opportunity to speak of God’s blessings that are with us in all ours times to sustain us even in our scarcity.
Our faith tells us that God’s blessings are unlike those associated with worldly self-service buffets that serve to bloat us up with a diet of self-congratulations or privileges associated with human constructed categories of worth and the misconceived understanding that God’s favor is based upon the world’s broken reward system. No, God’s blessings are different. They do not endorse selfishness or greed but celebrate faithfulnessin which the blessings we received from God become the metaphorical food we choose to receive and to share in order to satisfy each person’s hunger until all are filled. All throughout scripture, these food stories share a common element: a starter!
Bread bakers know about starters. A starter is crucial to making a flavorful loaf of sour dough bread. I’m not one to bake bread but I am one to eat bread but I still get the metaphor. When a boy’s generous nature inspires him to share it starts the process for a multitude to receive the blessings of God. First it is food for their physical hunger and second itis food for their souls’ hunger. Later in the same chapter of John’s gospel it will be Jesus who offers himself as “the living bread” never to spoil, never to diminish, never to run out, available for good and lean times.
Out of our stories emerge more ordinary experiences of life than extraordinary but these shouldn’t be discarded as inconsequential in the least! These ordinary things –like a boy’s lunch –can be the occasions for God to work extraordinary things meant to shape a richer faith for the leaner times of life. God’s story inspires us to consider that it is really the little morsels of life that can serve to reveal the goodness of God.
Read with me between the lines of this story to hear the Spirit speak to us today. No blessing is too small that it can’t be used by God to help someone in need. The goodness of God is revealed by the blessings shared. Our Wesleyan heritage tells us the ways in which we ingest God’s grace are to lead to outward manifestations of the works of mercy, compassion and justice. Such works, inspired and motivated by the abundant gravy of God’s grace, are meant to feed our souls and our appetite to serve the hungry in mind, body and soul.
The Rev. Janet Hunt tells this story that echoes many from my pastoral experience, too. “I was in my office when I glanced up to see a stranger standing outside the church’s back door. Instinct borne of experience told me that he was probably looking for the pastor, so I made my way out to where they were standing.It took but a glance to take in the situation. My guest’s jeans were in tatters. He had new stitches across his forehead and dark smudges under his eyes. He smelled of alcohol. I took a deep breath, introduced myself, and asked how I could help him. When I asked for his name, he told me it was Karl. His name was just the start of a long tale of horror and woe for which I could see no happy ending.Now one’s first thought might be that Karl was looking for a handout. He was not. He only needed to talk. As someone representing God could I help him answer where was his life headed? Drinking problem. Disowned by family. Jobless. What blessing could possibly feed all of the hungers that he had? Hunt says “I’m not sure I offered much wisdom. Although I spoke to him of the promise of God’s love for him, from there I was at a loss and so I have to say.
“I was however especially grateful that a while back someone had handed me a pile of gift cards to McDonald’s for times such as this. “And so finally I asked him if he had eaten that day. He said he had not. I gave him $20 of those cards and told him to go get himself something to eat. He cried and thanked me and went on his way.I told him the door was open should he want to stop back. I haven’t seen him since.”Hunt wonders “What might have changed for Karl with the next day? What might have started in his life through the meager blessing given to him that evening? Who knows but maybe some small part of his hunger was satisfied and I hope not just physical hunger,”says Hunt, “but the hunger we all experience to be treated as a child of God.
”I wonder when such knowledge has served as a blessing to me in my hunger or served as a blessing to you in yours. Could such a blessing be the start of fulfilling the hunger for truth, for promise, for God in someone’s soul that you know? You know the look on Jesus’ face could have been one of hopelessness as to all the mouths to feed. His heart could have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of need. Perhaps our faces or hearts react the same way when we consider all of the hungers in our time across the world. A truth emerges; the fulfillment of need begins with someone who will start…and the rest of the story will be…?
Hunt writes [after all were filled]in Galilee that day,“we don’t know how many of the people left that day with a greater sense of possibility and hope than they had ever had before.We don’t know if in the next meals they shared later that day or the next day whether they experienced a deepened sense of wonder at what can happen in such ordinary moments. And we don’t know if they became more generous with their own blessings either. What we can know is that this story of God’s provision has revealed the abundance of God’s grace such that who are we to ever think we can withhold such blessing from anyone ever or anywhere.
This story also serves to inform our understanding of who Jesus was and what Jesus calls his disciples to do. Later in the gospel Peter will ask Jesus what is a disciple to do? And Jesus will respond “Feed my sheep.” Peter will ask the same question three times and Jesus will respond with the same answer three times. And Peter’s need to know will be satisfied and he will serve and the other disciples will serve and on and on through the centuries to you and me as disciples’ today with the increase of the world’s hunger. How will we respond?
Like I said before the self-serving buffet culture of this world isn’t faithful to our God who has been generous with us in the giving of God’s Son. It is the same God who has entrusted to us the work of discipleship, called as people and church together, to love and serve ones like Karl and those who hunger for goodness and grace. There is a different feast, a faithful feast that we can offer: “all-you-can-feed, all-you-can-share, all-you-can-bless.” How does that work for you? I’ll be working on it more. But perhaps that’s exactly how the God’s people will be fed. Dear Jesus, may such a mission start in me. May it start in you. Let us pray…
Your people have gathered near and far to receive the goodness of your grace, Holy God. From homes filled with good things to eat and drink to households that struggle to find daily bread, we come before you asking for your provisions to be made known to us, giving comfort, inspiring commitment, leading us to follow more closely in the ways of Christ. May your faithfulness to us give rise to blessing of grace, goodness and generosity in all that we say and do towards making for a more just and peaceful world. These things and more we offer to you, O God. Increase our hunger for mercy, for justice and so increase our commitment as church and people together. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen and amen.