It all started with a boy.
Well, the way John tells it, it does.
The story of the feeding of 5,000 shows up in all four gospels. In all four a crowd has followed Jesus and stayed to listen to him teach. In all four, Jesus asks the disciples to provide a meal for this lingering mass of people. In all four, the disciples give a meager inventory report as evidence that this is an impossible request.
In the first three gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – that inventory comes from the entire crowd. 5,000 Jesus followers and only 5 loaves, 2 fish.
Which sounds (forgive me for this…) fishy to me. Were there no parents in this crowd? My husband and I won’t leave home for thirty minutes without some Goldfish in hand. Did no one at least pack a snack?
Or… was no one willing to share?
In John’s version of the story the inventory comes from a single boy.
Andrew points to the one person who has come forward and is ready to contribute his little picnic to the cause: five loaves and two fish. It’s the kind of ridiculous offering that children do best, giving so little believing it could possibly help. The disciples point to this packed lunch as proof of extreme scarcity. “What is this among so many?” they ask.
And they’re absolutely right. You simply cannot feed 5,000 people with fives loaves and two fish.
But Jesus takes that picnic basket,
and blesses it,
and gives it out to the enormous, hungry crowd…
and it becomes twelve baskets of leftovers.
It becomes… abundance.
This is a beautiful story about how God turns scarcity into more than enough – which is so often what God is up to. We’re thinking about how we have too little; meanwhile, God is scheming about how to give us more than enough of the right things.
And the way John tells it implies that it might be a miracle in more ways than one.
That one boy… he’s intriguing, isn’t he? He’s the one person who stepped up to volunteer what he had.
What did the crowd think of him?
Imagine the boy standing up to give away what he could have kept to himself.
Imagine the crowd looking on.
Imagine their minds going to the food they had packed, food intended only for the people in their own groups.
Imagine them seeing his act of faith – turning over to Jesus all he had – and feeling a stirring in their own souls.
Imagine them reaching into their bags, shyly pulling out what they had to share.
Imagine Jesus blessing the original five loaves and two fish. Imagine him walking them around to the crowd. Imagine, as he does, that people begin to chip in.
Imagine the great surprise at the end of the meal: together, they had a super-abundance. What seemed like too little was in fact too much.
It’s a miracle, whatever way it happened. Maybe Jesus simply spoke and made the food multiply. Or maybe Jesus blessed one boy’s small offering and it caused a miraculous movement of sharing.
This is how the kingdom of God works. Like a mustard seed that starts small and spreads like crazy, in the kingdom of God one offering can become a super abundance.
This kind of multiplication miracle is still happening today; I know, because I’m seeing it here in Andrews, NC.
On September 17th, we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our “Family Life Center” at Andrews UMC, a $1.6 million facility built to serve not just our congregation but our community. One among us had an idea that we prayed over and got excited about: What if the end of our first decade in ministry would also mark the end of our loan? A great idea… but we’d need $34,000 in about ten weeks to make it happen.
We’re not a huge congregation. This was a pretty ambitious goal.
A multiplication miracle began to happen: One family pledged $10,000 if the congregation could come up $20,000. In essence, every contribution became worth 50% more than its original value right there.
The church was inspired by that first act of generosity. Gifts began to come in, some surprisingly large but many in small denominations. And something amazing happened:
We hit our goal of paying off the debt within two weeks of announcing the effort.
I shared this with a task force at our first meeting, happily scratching my head. “What do we do now?” I asked.
We prayed and talked together and wondered: maybe God wants to do more here than just pay off our debt. The Family Life Center desperately needs sound reduction (estimated cost: $9,000) and a permanent sound system (estimated cost: $5,000). What if, together, we came up with $14,000 beyond the debt repayment?
I have prayed carefully over this, not wanting to greedily or foolishly move beyond what God is calling us to do. The kingdom of God does not always multiply funds. Many of us can testify to that fact personally. Jesus was poor; many of the most faithful Christians have literally been paupers.
But if God would bless our efforts – as Jesus blessed that boy’s basket – then we could raise $14,000 more than our original, already-ambitious goal. And as of right now, best I can figure, we’ve got about $3,750 left to go.
Which simply blows my mind.
Whether or not you’re connected to Andrews UMC, there is some way near you to invest in the kingdom of God. God may be calling you to make your own childlike offering. Here’s how to get started: First, you need to know what’s in your basket; then, you can decide how God is calling you to share.
In church we handed out a worksheet that you might find helpful in making an inventory of your own basket.
|What’s in my basket||What a tithe would look like||My intended regular offering|
|Monthly||$||x .10 =||$||Monthly||$|
|Weekly||$||x .10 =||$||Weekly||$|
The first column gives you a chance to think about your income, whether it’s from salary, pension, Social Security, or whatever. What do you have to work with each week, or each month?
The second column is calculating a “tithe.” This is the Christian and Jewish tradition of giving 10% to God, based on Scripture passages such as 2 Chronicles 31:4-5. I like tithing because it feels like a genuine sacrifice but not a crippling one. My family is left with 90% to live on, but we also feel like we’re giving our first and best to God. If you don’t tithe now, it might be interesting to do the math and see what that number looks like.
The third column is your actual regular giving. Maybe it’s the same as the second column, the tithe. Or maybe you are going to come up with a smaller number for now, but one that you want to be intentional about. What’s most important isn’t what percentage or dollar amount your regular giving is, but that it’s something you give with intention.
You’ll notice that we’ve worked our way through this table and haven’t even talked about the special effort to invest in the Family Life Center yet. That’s not a mistake. We at Andrews UMC know that it’d defeat the purpose if we raise thousands of dollars for a building but can’t pay to keep its lights on. We need the general giving to stay the same.
That means, after all the consideration, someone’s contribution to the Family Life Center might be relatively small. That is perfectly OK. Because do you know how the kingdom of God works?
Like a mustard seed.
Like feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Like a little boy coming forward to give his picnic lunch for a hungry multitude… and having the faith that it would work.
Whatever church you’re connected to, whatever needs there are in your community, you may be tempted to think: my small contribution won’t make a difference.
Don’t let yourself think that.
God is ready to take your gift, and bless it, and let it multiply.