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Feeding a lot with a little

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John 6:1-21
8th Sunday after Trinity
(29-7-12)

I quite often feel that God has a terrific sense of humour. Firstly, in this reading we have a scene in the life of Jesus where He is trying to get some time away from the crowds. I know the feeling only too well having just arrived back (yesterday evening) from eight days on a youth camp.

Secondly, He is faced with an enormous number of people to feed and scant resources to do it with. I also know the feeling – well maybe I exaggerate we only had 70 people to feed but it was in a kitchen with broken equipment and none of the right size of pans we needed.

Thirdly, Jesus is dealing with having to feed people physically when the reality is that they also need feeding spiritually too. Being the leader with overall responsibility for the catering but also having to do 4 talks/workshops was quite a challenge I can tell you. (CYFA = Church Youth Fellowship Association) Having said all of this though I must also say it was a challenge that I greatly enjoyed too.

The week before I went of to the venture someone, sorry but I can’t remember who, asked me why I go off to work on youth camps. The answer is because I enjoy being with teenagers. I really enjoy working with them, which is why many years ago I trained to become a youth leader. I enjoy working with youth. This answer totally shocked the person who asked and they said teenagers frightened them. Surprised as I was at the time I’ve since realized that I’m quite often frightened by the older generation! There we are - horses for courses I suppose.

Or, possibly there’s a bit more to this than just being suited to something? I think that, getting back to our reading, don’t we see that putting something in the right hands can produce wonderful results?

Put a paintbrush into most of our hands, and it’s just a paintbrush. But put a paintbrush in the hands of Picasso, and you get priceless works of art. If you put a trumpet in my hands, you’re going to get a lot of noise. But put that same trumpet in the hands of my son and you’ll get beautiful music. The bottom line is that if you put what you have in the right hands, you will get amazing results.

A little boy put 2 small fish (more like fish paste actually) and 5 small barley loaves (cheap course things) into Jesus’ hands and He produced an enormous picnic for 5000 people with 12 baskets of food to spare. It’s a picture of God’s abundant provision and generosity when we offer even a little thing we have in His service. I have a liking for teenagers, which I offer to God and He uses it.

On camp we had some teenagers who had gifts they wanted to offer: a couple of them offered their love of prayer led a prayer meeting one evening; many of them brought their musical instruments along and went on the music group rota to help lead our worship each day. Leaders offered their skills: conjuring, craft, nail art, one even ran a ‘Boot Camp’. When all of these things were offered together we had one afternoon full of interesting activities.

It’s no good our saying we don’t have much to offer. I can remember declining the first invitation I had to go and lead on one of these CYFA camps. I didn’t think I was good enough. This year’s venture was my 39th and I know, because they either come and talk to me, or write afterwards, that many teenagers have grown in their faith because of the way that God has multiplied my offerings.

This time last week we had a small crisis on camp, a major piece of equipment had broken down, and we discovered there wasn’t any of the pans we needed for Sunday lunch. I was had to go and run a workshop so couldn’t try and solve this problem. Another leader, with no catering experience but with an hour and a half and a bit of petrol to spare drove around finding the right pans and the school caretaker with a willing pair of hands dismantled the faulty equipment and manage to repair it with a magnet he found somewhere in his house. We fed 70 people, and only half and hour late!

It is no good saying that we can’t do anything, we can’t make a difference; that we are too small, too poor, too discouraged. God can take what we have, God can take what we are, and share us with the whole of Willingham. But we need to offer the little we have first.

The practical lesson is clear: whenever there is a need, give all that you have to Jesus and let Him do the rest. Begin with what you have, but be sure to give it all to Him. I’m sure the boy in this passage could never have thought that his tiny packed lunch could feed the whole crowd? No, we never have enough – it is God that provides. The boy just offered the little he had – well done to him!

It’s significant that John twice mentions the fact that Jesus gave thanks (Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say that Jesus looked up to heaven when He gave thanks). By that giving thanks to God, He reminded the hungry people that God is the source of all good and needful gifts and provision. This is a good lesson for us: instead of complaining about what we do not have, we should give thanks to God for what we do have, be willing to give it into His hands and He allow Him to make it go farther.

We know by the Greek words used in this text that those loaves were rough, coarse things which probably wouldn’t even pass the ‘basics’ or ‘value’ standard in today’s supermarkets. But, given to, and for, God, in the hands of Jesus were miraculously transformed into what was needed. And note especially how Jesus gave thanks to God for them first and then used them.

Never think what you have, or can do, is too small. At this moment there’s a job that we really need doing at this church: we need someone with a camera and a computer to photograph and list items of value for insurance purposes. They don’t need to be done to either a Lord Lichfield or a Bill Gates standard, just simple records is all that’s needed. If no-one volunteers it’s either down to me to do it or pay someone. What a waste of my time or our money!

Give him your barley loaves. Give him your time, your talents and your treasures. Put your limited resources into the hands of Jesus Christ, and watch him accomplish great things in your life and in our ministry here at St Mary and All Saints’ Willingham. Amen.

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