…everyone had had enough, [and Jesus] said to his disciples,“Collect the pieces left over, so that nothing may be lost.” And when this was done there were twelve baskets filled with what remained of the five barley loaves.
All of a sudden that for me became a wonderful thing. After giving everyone enough what remained was more than that with which Jesus started. We give ourselves away. We do. But when it’s done it is time to collect the fragments of ourselves, to gather together the pieces left over and it is in that moment what we discover is that more of us exists than before. This is truly the work of believing, the doing and trusting God as we do. It is in the doing that the Bread of Life sustains us and those to whom we give ourselves in service and in the process we discover that in giving ourselves away, we have lost nothing….
We give ourselves away. We give ourselves to other people and to various causes and organizations. I’m a bit exhilarated – the project I’ve been working on for the Yearly Meeting Board on Global Outreach just launched. It took three months to put it together. But there is also planning for the East African Peace Keeper Training Conference bringing together young Friends from four Evangelical Yearly Meetings that demands some attention. And then there has been Northwest Yearly Meeting itself.
Here in Spokane Caritas is developing ways to reconnect with the churches of northwest Spokane. We’ve got plans in the works for Diane Randall, the new Executive Secretary for Friends Committee on National Legislation, to be here in Spokane in October for a Legislative Conference and that involves working with Friends on the west side of the state to make her travel to Washington fruitful. Working with Faith Action Network, locally and State wide helps make that possible. And that involves, both here and there, leadership from a variety of other organizations to put it all together. Some of you who know Lorraine Watson would be interested to know that North Seattle Friends will be the site for that event.
I meet with a small group of pastors of other denominations to study the scriptures – it’s like cross fertilization, seeing passages from the Bible from other’s perspectives. For our own Meeting, plans are laid for Becky Ankeny, our new Yearly Meeting Superintendent to be with us for our weekend at Twin Lakes Friends Camp. Preparing for and planning regular Meetings for worship and the activities of the various committees of the Meeting continue as well as traditional pastoral duties. And somewhere in that I try and find time to be a homeowner and partner with my wife.
And I doubt that the complexity of my life is too much different from yours. There are times when we all feel, well, scattered.
In preparing for this morning I found myself in John’s relating what happened after Jesus fed the five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish. You can read it for yourselves in the latter part of John 6. It is a watershed moment for Jesus and his ministry. You recall that Jesus had taken compassion on the enormous crowd who had gathered to hear him and be healed by him along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Instead of sending them away hungry the loaves and fish the disciples found were blessed and distributed to them. John says that the people were so amazed at this sign performed by Jesus that they wanted to proclaim him king. Rejecting that, Jesus withdrew from them.
The disciples piled into a boat and went farther north up the coast line and the crowd noticed that Jesus did not go with them.
The next morning the crowd returned to the beach and not finding Jesus there began a search. Commandeering boats they found where Jesus had rejoined his disciples. “When did you come here?” they asked Jesus. Jesus ignored their question and told them that they hadn’t come looking for him because of the signs they saw but only for the food for another free meal. “You must work”, Jesus tells them, but “not for perishable food but for the food that lasts, food of eternal life”. “This food”, not more bread and fish for your stomachs, “the Son of Man will give you.” “What must we do?” they ask. And Jesus says “This is the work that God requires: believe in the one whom he has sent.” And this strikes you as so ridiculous – after being fed a feast the evening before, after which they wanted to declare Jesus king, they ask: “What sign can you give us to see, so they we may believe you? What is the work you do…?” Jesus corrects their understanding that is was God, not Moses, who had provided for their ancestors in the desert and declares to them “The bread that God gives comes down from heaven and brings life to the world.” They asked “Give us this bread….’ To which Jesus replies “I am the bread of life”. There is that wonderful verse which follows where Jesus says: “For it is my Father’s will that everyone who looks upon the Son and puts his faith in him shall possess eternal life;….”
Jesus was never again as popular with the crowds and as for the Jewish leadership, they began to plot how to rid themselves of him.
I think, sometimes, I’m not much different from that hungry crowd that takes what God gives and then, instead of acknowledging who it is and what it is that I’ve received I show up the next day wanting more. The whole idea of having to work – isn’t that what Jesus told them, “You must work, not for the perishable food but for the food that lasts, food for eternal life”. And what is the work? To believe in the one whom God had sent!
For us, in our day, the word believe has been corrupted and dumbed down to mean accepting someone else’s formulation of doctrine or concocting something of our own to which to give mental ascent. But Jesus words suggest that believing is to place one’s confidence in the one whom God sent. And that can be pretty risky. It can tax our capacity to trust God with our lives, especially when they already seem fragmented and out of control.
Among the more the liturgically oriented Christian denominations there is a prescribed prayer in their regular worship experience called “The Collect”. At the beginning of the mass the priest would say to the assembled worshippers “Let us Pray”. Then after a time of silent prayer he would sum up the prayers of the faithful with the ‘collect’. Here is an example that dates back to Leo the Great (A.D. 483):
Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. And the people would say: Amen.
So the goal of the collect was to gather together the prayers of the people and connect them to the experience of liturgical worship. There are prescribed collects for special events, feast days for certain saints, specific concerns like peace and justice and collects for every Sunday of the church year beginning, of course, with Advent.
When this rather lengthy story began, right after Jesus blessed and then distributed the food among this large gathering of people, after everyone had had enough, he said to his disciples, “Collect the pieces left over, so that nothing may be lost.” And when this was done there were twelve baskets filled with what remained of the five barley loaves.
All of a sudden that for me became a wonderful thing. After giving everyone enough what remained was more than that with which Jesus started. We give ourselves away. We do. But when it’s done it is time to collect the fragments of ourselves, to gather together the pieces left over and it is in that moment what we discover is that more of us exists than before. This is truly the work of believing, the doing and trusting God as we do. It is in the doing that the Bread of Life sustains us and those to whom we give ourselves in service and in the process we discover that in giving ourselves away, we have lost nothing, but gained. It’s a bit more work to be done, this collecting what remains of us, gathering our hopes and prayers, our intentions and our endeavors. No one can know as we can know that God’s steadfast love endures for ever. “Collect the pieces left over, Jesus said, so that nothing may be lost.”