Grace and Peace are yours from the Triune God, Amen.
Alice loves to have me read to her this retelling of a Kenyan story. In this story, “Mama Panya’s Pancakes”, Adika and his mother are on their way to the market to get some ingredients for dinner that night. They’re going to have pancakes. Adika is so excited for his pancakes that, on their walk to the village, he invites everyone that he sees. First it’s their older neighbor, who is fishing by the river. Then some of his school friends who are herding cattle. Even at the market, Adika is telling everyone to come over that night and have some of Mama Panya’s pancakes. And all the while, mama is fingering the two small coins in her pouch, brow knitted, her anxiety mounting with each invitation, wondering how she will possibly stretch the food far enough to feed everyone. “Ay!” she admonishes her son, “You and I will be lucky to split half a pancake tonight!”
When they get back to their village and its time to prepare dinner, Mama is still worried. But as the guests arrive, something holy happens. Yousee, each guest has brought a little something to share. The old man brought some fish from the river. The school children who were herding cattle brought some milk. One friend brought plantains. Another brought extra flour. And one friend even brought an instrument to play. So, by the time everyone had added their little bits together, they had more than enough for everyone. When everyone shared what they had, they all had, as Adika said, “A little bit and a little bit more.”
The story in our Gospel reading today is a story about God’s Economy. It’s a story about Scarcity vs. Abundance. The crowd had been there, all day, listening to Jesus speak. And when it was time to feed the people, you can almost here the concern in the disciples voices, “We don’t have anything for all these people. We should send them home.” And what does Jesus say? Jesus says, “No. Do not send them away. You. You feed them.” The disciples anxiety mounts, much like Mama Panya’s did, and the disciples ask Jesus, “How are we going to feed all these people?!”
John’s account of this same story tells us that a boy offered them what he had:5 loaves and 2 fish. And yet when they were all finished eating, there were baskets and baskets of left overs.
There are a lot of ways to understand this story. Our God is the same God who created the Heavens and the Earth, so I have no doubt in my mind that God could multiply loaves and fish. And yet, I find myself drawn to another understanding of this story.
Another way we might understand this story of Jesus feeding the multitude is this: Most people came to hear Jesus preach and had expected to be there awhile and so they packed for themselves some food. But of course, not everyone in the crowd had thought ahead. Some people may have joined the crowd later out of curiosity. Some people maybe didn’t think to pack food to eat. Some people, maybe,were so poor that they just didn’t have any food to bring. When it came time to eat, those people in the crowd who had brought enough food for them and their families looked down and thought “I only have enough here for just me.” And at first they ignored the cries of the people who didn’t have any food. They hid their food in their robes holding onto their little bit.
You’ve probably heard that quote by Gandhi, “There is enough for everybody’s need but not for everybody’s greed.”
And so, what if the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, was that after hearing Jesus preach the good news to the poor, after hearing Jesus preach about the abundance of God’s economy, instead of holding on so tightly to the little bit they had, each person shared their food with the person next to them. And when each person put together their “little bit” of food, it turned into“a little bit and a little bit more” until everyone was fed.
Adika and his mother could have just had their meal of pancakes. They could have hoarded their little bit. No one would blame them for doing that, for keeping their meal secure. But instead, Adika knew, that if weall share what we have, we can have more than a meal. We can have a feast.
In our secular economy, the more something is scarce or hard to get, the more value it has. We call this “supply and demand.” If not everyone can have something, that thing is elevated in stature. It becomes something elite. Sought after
And we have this fear in our culture, this fear of “enough.” College debt. Retirement savings. Mortgages. Bills. Its a crunch every month…are we going to make it?…is it going to be enough? We operate out of this fear, hoping that if we hold on to our own little bit, tightly, maybe there will be enough. Enough. Enough. Enough. This economy of fear shows up in the way we treat each other. It shows up in the way that we give or don’t give. It shows up in debates about healthcare and social safety nets. It shows up in the way that we talk about the refugees at our borders. The source of our worry is the same: a fear of scarcity. Will there be enough?
But God doesn’t operate in scarcity. God operates in abundance. God’s economy says, “Things are not more valuable based on who can and can’t have them. Things in my kingdom are most valuable when they are shared by ALL.” God tells us, “Ho, everyone who thirsts,come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price”. God’s economy, and the feeding of the multitude tells us, that yeah, we might get by fine if we hold on tightly to our own little bit. But that if we share with one another, and we each give our little bit, we end up with a little bit and a little bit more. This is not to say that God is going to multiply our bank accounts or that we will never worry about paying our bills. The abundance instead seems to show up in our relationships with one another, in our community, in the love that we share.
When we hoard our possessions we might end up with a meal.
When we give to one another, when we live out God’s abundance…we end up with a party.
The good news about this story is that in order get over our fear of giving, all that is necessary is to give. And how fitting is it that in both “Mama Panya’s Pancakes” and in The Feeding of the 5,000, the one to lead the way is a child, a youth. Youth believe that another world is not only possible…another world is coming. A world where it is “on earth as it is in Heaven.” They believe in this world and they are already imagining it and working towards it. Let me tell you something, I travel all over the diocese and when I ask grown ups what we should do to enhance our youth ministry, do you know what they say? The grown ups say things like: Ski trips. We need to take them on some ski trips. Do you know what youth say when I ask them that same question? When I ask youth in our diocese what they want to see more of, do you know what they say? EVERY TIME they say: Opportunities to serve. And so that is part of my job to listen to them and to amplify their voices and to let them mentor ME and mentor you and LEAD the wider church. That’s why I am putting together a Diocesan Youth Advising Committee, made up of youth, whose job it is to advise me about youth ministry in the diocese. And youth are ready. They are ready to lead. Youth want to be a part of this thing that God is doing. They care about justice. They care about service. They want to have their voices heard.
And yet as grown ups we so often miss this. We miss what God is doing in our youth because it doesn’t look the way that we are used to seeing it. We look at dwindling numbers of youth in our pews on Sunday morning and we clutch at our pearls and worry about a “Godless generation” that doesn’t go to church. We’re afraid. We are operating in scarcity, in fear. We are so busy counting our numbers that we are missing out the radical things that God is already doing in the lives of our youth.
I just took 5 delegates from our diocese to the Episcopal Youth Event where we met up with over 1,000 other Episcopal Youth. The high schoolers there gave standing ovations to messages of redemption, of giving, of service, of justice for ALL people. Our youth are our leaders, today, now, in large part because they have the wild audacity to believe in God’s economy of love for all people now and are anxious to put it into practice.
So may we take seriously the call that our young people feel to lead the church in new and directions, in service and justice and love. May we refuse to live out of an economy of fear and instead lean into God’s provision and abundance. And may we find that when we “lose” the security of our meal, we might find ourselves instead at a miraculous feast.