Our Deacon, Bob Olsen, gave a very nice sermon to commemorate the 8th aniversary of his ordination this past Sunday (and you can hear it here).  I had forgotten he was preaching (I knew it, but I had forgotten to put it on my calendar).  So I also prepared a sermon, addressing how God supplies our needs, as found in John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000, as we ourselves face difficult times.  That sermon follows:

Does it all just seem overwhelming sometimes?  Like there is just too much expected?

I know I feel that way sometimes.  And that’s certainly how the disciples feel in today’s gospel.

There they are, in the middle of nowhere.  And there is a gathering crowd of some five thousand people – likely not even counting women and children.  Phillip cannot imagine how to feed that many people.  The number is so overwhelming; he knows that even if they had six months worth of income on hand, they couldn’t feed them all.  Andrew knows of one boy with five barley loaves and two fish.  That may be a lot of food for one child.  But it doesn’t begin to meet the needs of the gathering crowd.  There’s no way Jesus can expect them to feed this crowd!

Only he does.  He askes Phillip where they can buy bread for so many people.  With what money?  They simply don’t have the resources to meet the needs of the crowd.

I find myself thinking about this story, as I think about the whole economic mess, facing people around the world today.  I think we’re all feeling it.  I know I am.  Though I also know so many people are having their lives turned completely upside down – like my daughter and her husband for example.  It hasn’t come to that for me.  Not yet anyway.

But how do we meet the expanding needs of people losing their jobs and their homes and their savings?  Everybody is being pinched.  The state can’t pay its bills.

Our gospel is a story about how God provides.  But not, I suspect, by simply creating food out of nothing.  Except, of course, that’s kind of how we have food in the first place.  God created it.

But I’m thinking about the Church Father, maybe it was Augustine, who asked if we had ever considered, that God had provided for our neighbor’s need, in our surplus.  And I suspect our first inclination is to say, “Yeah, right!  What surplus?”

Which is what I suspect everyone in that gathering crowd, in this morning’s gospel, is asking themselves.  I’m betting they, like the disciples, are looking at that crowd, and asking themselves who’s going to feed them all, just like the disciples are.  And I bet they figure they’re going to wait until the crowd disperses, to bring out their own food.  Otherwise they’ll probably have to share it and leave hungry.

That’s how people think, isn’t it.  Our economic models in this country are based on scarcity.  That’s what we plan around.  How do we make sure that what we have stretches to meet our need?  Living through times like these accentuates that thinking.  When things are this tough, we really don’t want to be caught short.

But I don’t think that’s how God thinks.  God has created a world in which there really is enough – more than enough.  Maybe God did simply multiply the five loaves and two fish.  But I don’t think so.  I think God does something much harder.  I think Jesus opens human hearts.

I think that when the disciples take all that they have, and start passing it out first to others, telling them to take what they need …  Well, I think, when they started doing that, people catch the Spirit – and I mean that with a capital S.  I think it’s hard to hold back what you have from others, when someone gives you everything they have and tells you to take what you need.  I think, in the face of this generosity, people start throwing what they have into the pot to share, too.

And when they are finally done eating, and everyone has eaten their full, guess what!  They have more than enough.  They have twelve baskets left over.  God really has provided for their need.

Now, I really don’t expect this kind of response from the state or federal government.  But I think I’ve seen some of this generosity of spirit, in the stories I hear about people providing housing and financial assistance to family members and friends and sometimes others.  And I know some of us are doing this.  I’m sure more of us than I know about.  And I think we’ve caught the Spirit that’s going to see us through all this, and out the other side.

I’m sure there’s a balance.  God does expect us to work.  It’s clear that entitlement without contribution is unsustainable.  But God’s generosity is ongoing.  It is sustainable.  This world we live in is chugging right along, isn’t it?

I think, when we get right down to it, there are more than enough resources available in this country to see us through this mess.  Jesus was living in a country where most people lived hand to mouth and day to day.  And they found they had more than enough to meet their need.  We live in, perhaps, the most prosperous country of all time.  I can’t imagine that amongst us, we too don’t have enough to meet our needs.

It’s a question of what spirit we choose to live in.  God has generously provided for our need.  It’s a matter of getting what’s needed to those who need it.  It’s a matter of stewardship, and open hearts that responds to God’s generosity.