I am an anxious person. Ask anyone who has been on a mission trip with me. I worry about and imagine all of the things that can go wrong. And I mean, all of the things. Everything from does our group like the food to is this experience shaping our members for the greater good. All of the things.
So, before our trips I make lots of plans. I plan for roommates, car assignments, what routes we will take, how we will travel, who will keep track of various things and how we might anticipate emergencies. And, of course the more trips I have taken, the more situations we have dealt with, the more plans I make for the next trip.
And while all of those plans give me some sense of control as we move into a trip, the reality, of course, is that I still don’t have control and the unexpected will still occur. So while my plans are an attempt to alleviate my anxiety, they don’t. I’m still anxious while I’m on the trip because no one can plan for everything.
So when I read today’s scripture passage I can physically feel the anxiety well up inside. I have flashes to events where I’m anxious about having enough for all who have gathered. I feel myself worrying about letting people down.
What I love about the scripture passage is the calmness Jesus seems to exude. I can imagine him saying, “Now worries. It’s all good. We got this.” And I can imagine saying back to him, “Thanks, Jesus, but I think you are delusional.” My anxiety would definitely have a hard time trusting Jesus at that moment.
As many of you may have heard before, one way to understand this miracle is that the food that the boy shared, the food that was blessed and broken and distributed – did not miraculously multiply into more out of nothing, instead it inspired others to share what they were also carrying with them. That if a boy had food like that on him, others had food like that on them as well and when Jesus demonstrated and gave thanks for the generosity of one boy, it inspired generosity in the others.
I can imagine Jesus saying, “No worries. It’s all good. We got this.” We got this. This story is about the power of inspiration. The power of generosity. The power of community. One boy could not feed the 5000. But the collective community could feed the 5000. They just needed to be inspired – they needed a model to follow.
We have talked about this over and over again and will likely continue to talk about this over and over again, but in our complex world our ability to affect change can feel non-existent. And yet, I think we have power. We have power to make small offerings. To model care for our community. To remind people of what they can contribute. And when we exercise that power, the ripple effect of our actions can feed the 5000.
One of my favorite stories from my ministry so far at First Parish was an Easter service years ago that happened to fall on communion Sunday. In preparation for the service one of the deacons asked how many plates of bread and cups of juice we would need. In the haze of the day, I gave the usual answer and moved on to the next thing. As we sang the hymn of preparation and Kent and I took our places behind the communion table my mistake became a pit in my stomach. I looked at what we had prepared for communion and realized it was nowhere near enough. I had given the amount we needed on a typical Sunday, not on a high holy day. It was Easter and the sanctuary was full to the balcony.
I suppose we could have stopped and pointed out the error and corrected it publicly – but we did not. Instead we chose to continue, not necessarily because we had faith that it was all good, but because in that moment it wasn’t clear what else to do. So we said the prayers and broke the bread and poured the cup and then we gave the deacons the plates to start serving. As they served, the pit in my stomach grew. There was no way we had enough.
And then, I saw a deacon emeritus pop up and quietly go into the sacristy. He returned with a plate of bread and started to serve. This prompted another to do the same. I saw others, break their pieces of bread into two, so there would be enough. And as the plates were passed around a miracle unfolded before my eyes. The deacons finished serving. They brought the plates of bread forward and we had just enough pieces left to serve them.
When we focus on possibility and abundance. When we focus on generosity and love. When we focus on God, we have the ability to do miraculous things.
Take note – I’m not saying you or I have the ability to do miraculous things, I’m saying we. Because this really is about relationship and connection. This really is about how we connect and strive towards the common good. This really is about the recognition that individually we cannot complete the task but together we can do anything.
I wish I could say that this will cure my anxiety. Unfortunately, I’m sure it will not. But, the next time you see me at an event looking a bit nervous, you could do me a favor and say, “Remember the feeding of the 5000. No worries. It’s all good. We got this.” May God bless us on our journey. Amen.