Give or Take
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; July 29, 2018
10th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:1-15; John 6:1-21
Did you know that the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels? No doubt, you are quite familiar with the story. Still, I urge you not to wander off, but to stay with me—in body and mind—for though there is fish and bread on the menu, there is spiritual food, as well.
In the story, we come upon people who are hungry—very hungry. They have followed Jesus and have become so engaged in what he has to say and what he is doing before their very eyes, well, they cannot pull themselves away. To leave his presence, to miss something extraordinary—oh no, they simply cannot. So, they stay, and they stay, and they stay, until, truth is, they may be too weak to return to their homes. Now what?
Jesus recognizes the problem. And the solution? Well, it begins with a boy who has a little food that he is willing to share. As adults, we would likely do the math, much as Philip does, “Six months wages wouldn’t make a drop in a bucket toward what we need.” But children, well, they are better at imagining abundance than we are. They are better at God’s math! So, the boy gives all that he has, and Jesus takes it, multiplies it, and uses it to perform a wondrous miracle. The result is a feast so great that people are patting their tummies and saying, “Oh no, thank you but I simply can’t hold another bite.” (Much like those of us who attended our Session Retreat felt after feasting on both breakfast and lunch at Kinderlou Clubhouse yesterday.)
Through it all, Jesus appears relaxed. He knows his Abba Father will not fail him. Here we see Jesus at his best. It’s one of specialties, really. With a blessing of his hands, he turns the weak into the strong, the blind into the sighted, the loser into the winner, and the little into the large. In desolate places, with hungry souls, Jesus transforms hopelessness into delight, and hunger into fulfillment. There is food aplenty because of the power of God working through Jesus and the generous nature of a little boy.
A generous nature, however, is not what we see in the person of King David. I’m sure you’ve noticed that over the past few weeks our Old Testament readings have followed the life of David. We may recall how Israel’s first king, Saul, falls out of favor with God. Then we learn about young David having to be called away from the sheepfold for the prophet Samuel to anoint him. He’s ignored, altogether, being the runt of the family and all. After a time, David becomes the official king of Israel and his popularity grows. But then, David succumbs to sin. David is chosen by God to be the king of God’s people. He can have anything he wants. Already, he has wives aplenty; and God seems bent on filling David’s every longing, until, that is, David’s heart longs for the wife of another man.
The deed is done. Then, as if adultery isn’t bad enough, when David learns that Bathsheba is pregnant with his child, he tries to cover it up by devising a plan to make the baby appear to be fathered by Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband). When the plan fails, David makes matters worse by plotting to have Uriah conveniently “killed” in battle. What a shameful episode in the life of God’s chosen king. Out of lust and greed, David takes what is not his to take. Then, his sin is multiplied when he causes the murder of an innocent man. Sin is like that, you know. We never sin in a vacuum because, ultimately, our sin effects other people.
It is quite a contrast to go from David the great king to David the great adulterer and murderer, isn’t it? Nevertheless, the Bible boldly tells of this sordid affair. And there’s hope in that. For although David’s sin makes a dark mark on his character and his future, it is not the end of his story. God still walks with David, still loves David—and that is good news for us. For everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That is David’s story. It is our story, too. As one preacher puts it, “The margin between standing tall and falling is often as thin as glad wrap.”[i] While we may not be planning to commit murder, still we face our own demons—greed, gossip, pride, holding grudges—sin comes in endless packages.
That is not to say that sin is okay or since we all are tempted, there is no use trying to live a godly life. Not at all! The important thing is to recognize our frailty and then accept the grace-filled news that our sinfulness is not the whole truth of who we are. Our sinful nature may, from time to time, lead us astray. But just as David was graced with God’s saving hand, so have we been. The ultimate truth is that we are precious in the eyes of our Creator and Redeemer. Broken, yes that is our universal story. But forgiven—that can be our story, too.
If we examine this chapter in David’s life, we might say that he is a taker. He takes what is not his to take without considering the cost to himself or to other people. In stark contrast, we might say that the little boy who shares his bread and fish, giving all that he has to give, well, he is a giver. Such is life—give or take—take or give. These two figures demonstrate generosity placed alongside lust and greed.
In the warp and woof of life, it behooves us to consider in which camp we stand in this chapter of our own story. Are we givers or are we takers? It’s worth considering. Some people go through their entire lives looking for ways to contribute, to add goodness to the world. While other people go through life with an attitude of greed, blind to the needs of those around them, always asking that ever-important question, “What’s in it for me?” In this world filled with the abundance of God’s creation, isn’t there enough for everyone? To be greedy, well that is really a part of our worldly nature. Living like David, taking what’s not ours to take—that the world knows full well. But to live a life of generosity, in our day and time, we might call that counter-cultural.
Think about it! On most days, can you tell a difference between people who go to church and people who do not? It seems the church is in danger of losing her identity. Getting back to the basics of our faith may be a way to find it again. Living out of an attitude of abundance instead of an attitude of scarcity may be the best witness we can make as faithful Christians.
And in God’s mathematics, whatever our gifts or talents, whatever efforts we make to better the world in the name of Jesus will be received, blessed, and multiplied. Giving whatever we are able to give may not seem like a big deal unless we remember the time Jesus faced 5000 hungry people and created a bountiful feast out of nothing more than a child’s gift of 5 loaves and 2 small fish.
With a willing, generous heart, God can transform hopelessness into delight and hunger into fulfillment. In a world where people tend to miss the extraordinary in the ordinary, the often-quoted Elizabeth Barrett Browning may say it best:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes—
the rest sit around and pluck blackberries.[ii]
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[ii] Quoted by Douglas John Hall in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 288.