On Sunday, July 19 the participants in the 2009 Fold Mission Trip to West Virginia led the worship services at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon.
University of Oregon student Caitlin Jarvis gave a homily about her experience and why she chose to go on this mission trip and I then preached from Mark 6:30-44, the title was “You Give Them Something to Eat!”.
Here is the text of both messages:
Before summer vacation started I was talking with my friends in Eugene about our summer plans, when I mentioned this summers mission my friends at home asked me why I was going on a mission trip to West Virginia of all places, why I was spending one week in the heat and humidity, building houses and spending time with people I didn’t know. They weren’t criticizing me for my decision, just curious on why I would choose it for a vacation. The fact is that it wasn’t going to be a vacation, I knew that, vacation implied relaxation which I knew there would be very little of. The reason I decided to go on this mission is because I wanted to help people. I am fortunate enough to have a home, to be working on a college education; I am blessed in many ways and possess countless things that I don’t truly need. In my opinion, one week of completely selflessness, out of fifty-two weeks in the year, didn’t seem like a sacrifice.
I don’t have millions, or even thousands of dollars, and I know I won’t be the one who finds the cure for cancer, or discovers the way to feed all of the worlds hungry. I have asthma and I struggle to carry a gallon of milk from the trunk of my car to the fridge, but the idea and importance of getting off my butt and doing something, anything, was installed early in my life by my grandparents. I have always been encouraged by them to help those less fortunate than myself and they are the reason I became involved with Mission in the first place when I went to New Orleans with the church in 2007. This year, in West Virginia I learned that the largest tasks weren’t the most important. The small ones were just as meaningful, if not more so.
The third day in West Virginia at our worksite, we ran out of things to do. Jackie and I found ourselves getting in the way more than we were actually helping. After about twenty minutes of sitting on the cooler in front of the house, we gave Greg a call asking if there was anything we could do down at their site to help out. There wasn’t, so Joan, the pastor of the church in Montgomery, came and picked us up and took us back to the church to help Bryan and Alex who had stayed behind to work at the churches Tuesday Coffee Ministry. There, we found ourselves working with a lively bunch of ladies, washing dishes, filling cups with ice, making lemonade, and serving the people that came in looking for something to eat and drink. As we joked around and bonded with the women in the kitchen, I started to feel guilty.
Here I was, working inside the cool church with my best friend, having fun, getting in bubble fights with the woman I was washing dishes with and laughing with some of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life, while there were members of our youth out sweating and working hard in the sun on a house. Once everyone had filtered out of the kitchen and we were all cleaned up, the four of us folded clothes in the churches clothing closest (which is just like a Goodwill except everything is free) and after that was done, Joan gave us another task, cleaning out a room in the church for a new intern that was coming to live there. As Joan listed all the things we could do to help she paused and said “Now let me tell you just exactly what you have already done today. I know you may feel like you aren’t doing much because you aren’t out working on the house, but what you have done today for these people is just as important.”
She then went on to tell us stories about all the ladies we had just worked with in the kitchen. It turns out that the woman I had been working with washing dishes was only working at the church because her brother convinced her it was court-ordered community service because she was caught driving without her license, he felt like she needed more human interaction and people to talk to, someone to listen to her. Another one of the women we had worked with had been addicted to drugs but has been clean for a year and the church was there for her throughout her entire recovery.
It was at that point I realized that it wasn’t just the physical things we were doing that was important, it was the little things that meant just as much, the simple things, like having a conversation
Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Whether it was painting a broken porch swing, replacing an old roof, installing new appliances, pouring coffee, folding clothes or having a simple conversation, every thing that we accomplished in West Virginia was just another drop in the ocean, one simple selfless step that anyone is capable of doing.
One day as I was painting the trim of Cathy’s house I overheard her telling her son how much of a blessing we were to her and how much she truly appreciated us.
I learned that while we were a blessing to Cathy, Cathy was a blessing to us as well.
During our last bible study Jackie and I passed out little cards that had a Winnie the Pooh quote on them that read, “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think, but the most important thing is even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.” After this years mission that specific quote means more to me now than it ever has before. While that week I spent in West Virginia could have been spent thousands of other ways, like at the beach with my friends, or working and making money, I know that I made the right decision for me, by getting off my butt and doing something, not for myself, but for others. Like the quote from Winnie the Pooh, as cheesy as it sounds, the memories I made in West Virginia and all of the people I met and relationships I made will always be with me.
And the audio…What I Did This Summer
A month ago this week I had the honor and pleasure of accompanying 15 youth and 2 other adults from First Presbyterian to West Virginia for a week long mission trip. On our trip, we had all kinds of experiences, from whitewater rafting, to roofing, to four square, to painting, to lost baggage, to cleaning, to football, to plumbing, to Tudor’s Biscuit World, to electrical work, to five hour devotions. Even something called stippling which was new to me, in short it involved putting sheet rock putty on the end of a big round wire brush and putting a texture on the ceiling. If I remember the instructions correctly, they were to be “consistent but without a pattern”, hearing those instructions reminded me of something Steven often says, “Clear as mud?”
Needless to say our week was full.
I’m from West Virginia and one of my personal joys of the week was getting to return to my home. My parents and sister still live in Charleston, where our flight landed. When we got off the plane, my sister was waiting with a sign that said “Welcome to WV” and my mom was waiting with a cooler full of homemade cookies and milk. My mom’s most obvious spiritual gift is hospitality and truly I think it is the thing that brings her the most joy even when it seems crazy to go out of her way for someone else, she always seems to be willing to help if she can.
It had been a long day when we arrived in West Virginia, we started at about 5:00 AM Pacific time in Bend and landed in Charleston at around 10:30 PM Eastern time, unfortunately most of our bags did not land with us. In fact, only 7 out of the 17 people we had traveling in our group had their bags.
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking “shiver-me-timbers, what now?!”
Luckily, my sister and mom were already two steps ahead of me. My sister, the travel agent, rounded up all our baggage claim tickets, (which I believe was a miracle…who keeps their baggage claim check? I sure don’t make it a priority, but EVERYONE had theirs readily available) and writing down descriptions of all our bags. She then talked with the airline about where the bags were, when we could get them, and where were the toiletry packs. (Another thing I didn’t know…if the airline loses your bag they can give you a little pack with travel size toiletries in it.) As she rounded up that info, my mom and dad jumped back in their vehicle and drove home (about 15 min north of the airport) rounding up all the extra blankets, sheets, pillows, sleeping bags, and towels they could find while we drove 45 min south of the airport to Montgomery Presbyterian Church where we met my parents and Tim, our site supervisor.
I don’t know if it was a miracle, the fact that my sister just recently moved some stuff back home, or that my parents have apparently been stockpiling linens, but we had plenty of everything, with a little bit left over. We finally got calmed down and in bed around 1:00 AM Eastern time. At that was the first day.
Our scripture lesson today from the gospel of Mark is a familiar story…well it was at least familiar to the writers of the gospels. It is the ONLY miracle story that is recounted in all four gospels. In fact, the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitudes is told in six different ways…if you count the Feeding of the Four Thousand in Mark 8, and Matthew 15. The writer of Matthew was so enamored by this story that he told it twice in consecutive chapters.
Right now…I want us to focus on this particular version of the story. Just before our passage for today, Herod kills John the Baptist fulfilling a promise to Herodias’ daughter. The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.
Because I’m a bit of a Bible nerd I beg your indulgence for one second…this is the only use of the term “apostle” in the book of Mark. An apostle describes “someone who is sent out with a special commission”. These people, presumably, were sent with the distinct purpose of telling Jesus that is cousin, John had been killed.
At this point, Jesus gathers the disciples and they withdraw to a deserted place for some much needed rest and reflection on the death of his friend. Picture this…Jesus hears of the death of his cousin, his colleague in ministry, his friend and he just wants some time alone to rest. He is crushed by this news. (As I am sure most of us would be, if we heard our close friend (who we had not heard from in a while) was killed) Jesus just wanted to be alone with those who he was closest to in order to collect his thoughts, cry, and pray. I am sure at that point he didn’t really want all the attention of the crowd, but…
People saw them and recognized them. They ran on foot ahead of Jesus and his disciples to meet them when they arrived on shore. The image that flashes in my mind is of paparazzi cutting the corner of a park so they can get the best angle when the celebrity and their entourage pass by. Instead of getting angry with them and saying, “LEAVE ME ALONE FOR JUST A SECOND!” He has compassion for them. Jesus realizes that they are lost, they are in need, and they are desperate. The disciples, ever the practical bunch, realized that they were in the middle of nowhere a “deserted place”. They suggested that Jesus sent the crowd away to get some food. I always pictured this crowd as weak, hungry, covered in rags but it seems that this was not a crowd of beggars but a crowd of people who could probably afford a night out if the need arose. But Jesus (as he is want to do) stops his disciples and says “You give them something to eat.”
“You give them something to eat.”
I’m sure the look on the disciples’ face was something like, “Are you kidding me?” and they questioned Jesus, “you want us to buy 200 denarii worth of food for these folks?’ (200 denarii was about 2/3 of a year’s wages for the common working folk…we aren’t talking chump change here). Jesus, or at least I imagine it this way, calmly responds to a question with a question. “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” All the disciples could muster was five loaves of bread and two fish, not nearly enough to feed five thousand men not even counting the women and children (you would think). Jesus then asks the disciples to organize the crowd a little, he took the loaves and fish blessed them and broke them, and gave it to the disciples to distribute.
Everyone ate and was filled; they gathered up the leftovers and filled twelve baskets. Some would say that it was an overabundance of leftovers, but when you stop and think about it having twelve baskets leftover after feeding five thousand people that is a pretty narrow margin. God had provided enough for everyone to be filled…enough. Kind of like the few towels and sheets we had left over on the mission trip. God provided enough for the thousands to eat and the few to sleep. God can provide for us, but only when we are willing to use what we have to get the job done.
“You give them something to eat.”
This story as you might have guessed has developed a lot of different interpretations over the years. Some say that is really a story about generosity. The people were so overcome with compassion when they saw how the people around them gave, they gave, and all were fed. Some say that this is a miraculous event that happened just as it says…Jesus magically multiplied the bread and fish until there was enough for everyone. Some say that this didn’t really happen at all but, was merely a symbol of how God’s act in Christ meets the needs of humans. Regardless of which of these or the thousands of other interpretations you adhere to the charge to the disciples remains the same. “You give them something to eat.” As one commentary says, “The source of the feeding is God, but the resources are human. The work of the disciples, the “bread” of human effort, is honored, used, and magnified by Jesus.”
“The source of the feeding is God, but the resources are human. The work of the disciples, “the bread” of human effort, is honored, used, and magnified by Jesus.”
This quote got me to thinking and I realized at no point does Jesus create something from nothing. He uses water and turns it into wine. He uses his spit to make mud to heal a blind man. He uses loaves and fish to feed a multitude.
What gifts, what bread, what human effort is Jesus using in you to feed the multitudes?
Sitting here in front of the sanctuary is an empty shopping cart. It is waiting to be filled. The Deacons, those charged with ministering to those in need, are focusing on those who are in need of food. They are sponsoring “Christmas in July”. Food banks here in Bend are called to feed those in need throughout the year, yet July in notorious for bringing the smallest amount of food donations. The Deacons, on behalf of the congregation of First Presbyterian Church, are attempting to restock the shelves of the St. Vincent De Paul Food Bank. They are asking that we bring in food donations this week and next week to reach this goal. There are grocery carts like this one in the narthex and in the commons that are always available for donation.
You might be saying to yourself, “how on earth do you suppose that we can restock the shelves of St. Vincent De Paul?” We do that by be willing, be willing to give what we can and only what we can. Like God has done and will continue to do. God will magnify our food, our bread, our human effort. Jesus said it very plainly to his disciples, over and over again.
“You give them something to eat.”
When Jesus says that, he is talking to you, to me individually and to us as a community of believers he is commanding us to get up off our seats and to do something. Don’t wait for Jesus to magically make something appear, listen to what God is leading you to do and as the Nike ads used to say, “Just Do It.” I almost wish it was more complicated that that. When you feel called to respond to something in your community or in the world, respond. It can be as seemingly small as greeting someone by name, talking with a friend while doing the dishes, or placing a can of food in a basket. It can be as seemingly large as traveling across the country to fix houses, leaving the country to learn about the struggles of another culture, or becoming a missionary.
The question, for me, is not IF God is calling you, but WHERE is God calling you.
Who is God calling you to feed? What is God calling you to do? Who is God calling us to feed? What is God calling us to do? I don’t have the answers to those questions, sure I have some thoughts, but once we figure out who it is we are called to feed it is incumbent on us to put in the work. Work that will be honored, used, and magnified by Jesus, work that will be enough with a little left over.
In the name God our Rock, Jesus Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our Friend…Amen.
And the audio…You Give Them Something To Eat