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Abundance Over Scarcity

“Abundance Over Scarcity

June 9, 2024 Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 6:30-44

Feeding the Five Thousand

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 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. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

I took this picture in May of 2009. 

 It was southern California along the Pacific Crest Trail and Garrett and I were hiking northbound.  The trail had been closed in this section just months earlier as a wildfire consumed this and hundreds of other acres of land.  It burned trees to a crisp and left the ground desolate and empty of all its underbrush.  It scattered the wildlife and diverted the hikers.   When the trail finally opened back up after the fire, it was kind of like walking into a twilight zone.  I had never been in a wildfire zone so soon after the fire ended.  But what I saw is not what I expected.  I expected the ground to be black and barren, maybe even still smoldering, definitely covered in ash.  

Instead, we saw this.  Yes, the trees were black crispy twigs of their original selves, but the ground was… green.  And everywhere you could see there were wildflowers coming up and the sun was catching their petals like stained glass windows.  A landscape that I thought would only be hopeless and yet the earth responded with something else entirely.  New life.  Hope. 

We’re using wildfire and the unexpected newness it brings as a metaphor this month.  Talking about how God kindles inside of us something at Pentecost that burns into being new potential.  How this itself a gift.  And for each of us, our gifts look different.  What gets stirred up in me might be different from what gets stirred up in you.  But when we collectively recognize that God is giving us the potential to change the landscape, amazing things happen.  

There is really no better story in the Bible to illustrate this point than the story we call “The Feeding of the 5,000.”  We read it from the Gospel of Mark just now, but we could have read it from any gospel because Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all have an account of this event.  And there is no other Jesus story than can claim that status- occurring in all four gospel accounts- not even Jesus’s own birth story! 

It’s a familiar story to us with those legendary five loaves and two fish etched into our mind as the ultimate superfood.  Yet if you are anything like me, you can read this story over and over and it still leaves you scratching your head.  He fed how many people with how much bread and how many fish?  

If you have ever wondered in your mind about how this could have been possible, you are not alone.  Smart biblical scholars have wrestled for centuries over how to make sense of what seems physically impossible.  Some might say it was a dramatic exaggeration of the numbers for the sake of a good story.  Others might say that it was truly a miraculous multiplication done in a supernatural way with Jesus waving his hands over the food.  Still others might say that the whole story as it was recorded and passed down was merely a metaphor for the kind of ministry Jesus was leading…healing and feeding thousands with just a symbolic token meal.  

But for me when I read this story, regardless of whether this account is historically accurate or how exactly the math all worked out, there is a fundamental Truth with a capital T.  For me there is no magic to what made this story miraculous.  

The people followed Jesus into the wilderness.  They were hungry.  The disciples were hungry.  The text literally says- they had no leisure to eat.  They were running on fumes.  And when the disciples come up with not a bad idea- pooling their money and going to town to buy something to eat- Jesus says “no.”  You give them something to eat.  Confused, the disciples again ask “do you want us to go and buy bread to feed all these people?”  But then Jesus says this:  You don’t need to buy anything.  Find out what gifts you already possess and go from there.  

Our story says that the disciples found two fish and five loaves.  It was more than they started with! And so over that small but precious gift, Jesus said a blessing.  And this is where the real miracle gets started.  Jesus blessed the small amount that had been collected and suddenly the baskets began to fill up.  Other pieces of bread and fish started coming out of the woodwork. One little boy started by sharing his own lunch and suddenly others in the crowd were inspired to dig a little deeper into their own pockets to see what they might also be able to contribute to the meal.   Before anyone knew it there were heaping baskets of what had been mere bits and pieces in the satchels and pockets of the crowds now turned into a feast that could feed 5,000 men plus women and children.

It’s an incredible story of God’s provision in the face of scarcity.  Why?  Because Jesus empowered the people to discover their own potential.  If you expect a miracle.  Be the miracle. 

One of my favorite stories about my grandfather is from a bright sunny day in July about 15 years ago when he and my grandmother and some other family met us on top of Max Patch, a grassy bald mountain, while Garrett and I were hiking the Appalachian Trail through North Carolina.  No wildfires in this story, but there was a different kind of scarcity.  It was hunger.  Hiker hunger.  And, yes, I was excited to see my family but you know what else was exciting?  They had brought a big bucket of Kentucky fried chicken.  Garrett and I had been hiking for weeks and we were really craving a meal like this and we put a pretty decent dent in what they had brought.  As we were sitting there eating our picnic, I noticed a couple of other hikers who made it to the top of the mountain and collapsed to catch their breath.  It was just about then that I decided I would eat another piece of fried chicken in their honor, when I noticed that our bucket of leftover fried chicken was no longer sitting on the picnic blanket but was instead in the hands of my grandfather who was making his way across the bushy field to the hikers.  They were just leftovers, scraps, really, from what had been our own private picnic, but my grandfather- who had the biggest heart I’ve ever known-  knew that our own gift of food wasn’t a gift at all until he had shared it with everyone on that mountain.  A preacher by training, he probably wouldn’t have said that he was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in that moment because he is a humble man, but he was.  Because that’s what it’s all about.

It’s about looking at what you have to give and matching it with the need that’s right in front of you. A barren landscape of ash and dust?  The wildflower seeds go crazy germinating.  A crowd of hungry people?  The crowd themselves, blessed by Jesus, dig into their own pockets.  A world where some have and others have not?  Share!  Jesus said, do that, and you’ll watch the kingdom of God grow right before your eyes.

This is the message for us this morning.  Too often we often find ourselves stuck in an attitude of scarcity.  And what I mean by that is, we get caught up in a culture that assumes that there is only so much of anything in the world and that if you want some, you better get it before it is gone. Or if you already have it then you better hold on tight lest someone else try to take what is rightfully yours.  We are living through a political culture right now where it’s more popular to rant about what we don’t have than start imagining what we want.

If you expect a miracle.  Be the miracle.  Don’t just stand around complaining about how the miracle isn’t happening.  If you expect a miracle.  Be the miracle.  God’s fire burns in us to empower us with gifts to make miracles happen.  

What does this look like for us?  

  • It looks like people walking circles around a track raising pennies for each step so that eventually a large amount of money can and will be raised that will change a cancer patient’s life.  

  • It looks like a handful of people saying I don’t mind climbing a ladder and I can use a paint brush and I can make sandwiches and if we combined our gifts what if we could repair our neighbors homes right here in Schoharie County.  

  • It looks like several people getting together after church and bringing their plant starts down so that a little container garden behind the church this summer can produce vegetables for our Summer Lunch Program.  

  • It looks like one person having a dream for what the world could look like and that one person is joined by another person who digs deep down and finds they, too, have something to contribute to that dream.  And then someone else adds and someone else adds.  And together the crumbs become a feast.  

If you expect a miracle.  Be the miracle. 

And never underestimate the power of God’s provision. For where there are willing hearts who say “yes, why not?  we can make that happen,” God swoops in and multiplies our gifts.  If you haven’t yet had a chance, write on your piece of branch bark what kind of dream you would dream for the world if you embraced God’s abundance and let go of a scarcity mindset.  If there were no limits, what would you hope for?  

Grace and peace,

Pastor Anna

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