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Stuff and Nonsense (1): We Got Nothing

. 4 min read

2014/11/02
Christ Church, Mountain Top, All Saints, Communion
Message,
Matthew 14.13-21
I
really identify with the disciples in this story. “You give them something to
eat.” What?! “We’ve got nothing but five loaves and two fish.” “Bring them
here.” And the first verb that is used to describe what Jesus does with the
bread is TAKE. But that’s MY lunch! Notice that Matthew doesn’t tell us
anything about a little boy offering his meal. In this version of the story,
the only children are the childish disciples who seem shocked by the entire
experience.
Hoarders: “We’ve got nothing”
I’ve
never seen the show Hoarders. I think,
though, that all of us have a hoarder in us. All of us have stuff that we
believe we can’t live without. Money is the thing we hoard (or spend) the most,
the thing we most struggle to give away. We also hoard some odd things. For me,
it’s paperclips and pens, specifically the Uniball pens I prefer. Robin came to
me yesterday at the turkey dinner asking for a pen for someone to write a
check. And, I hesitated. She knows me, “Well, I’ll get one from Suzanne’s
office.”
Have
you ever hesitated when Jesus asks, “Bring it to me”? That hesitation reveals
our poverty of soul. That hesitation exposes us as hoarders, as slaves to
stuff. After all, they might forget to give me my pen back. On the other hand,
when we give up our five loaves, when we give up our 10%, when we give up our
stuff … we expose ourselves, we become vulnerable. Henri Nouwen expresses the
vulnerability this way – “the fear that we cannot be vulnerable without being
used” (37). Exposed as a hoarder, or exposed as vulnerable – the choice is
ours.
      We’ve got nothing. We hoard so carefully
that all we can see is what we don’t have. OR – We’ve got nothing. We give so
recklessly that we have nothing left. The choice is ours.
      “We’ve got nothing but five loaves and two
fish.” “Bring them here.”
Community: “Bring them here”
That
hesitation to give, that hoarding impulse, isolates us from other people, and
even isolates us from God. We may connect, but only in a limited way. We are
suspicious of motives. We calculate trustworthiness. All to protect ourselves
and our hoard from other people or from Jesus himself.

      But not our greatest saints: Barbara. Creating community.

      And not our unexpected saints: UPS driver.
If you want to know how I learned to welcome others without judging them, so
much of that started with the generosity of a man I judged. Generosity, in the
words of Henri Nouwen, invites and involves conversion. And generosity creates
community.
      The practice of generosity is about so
much more than vulnerability. It is about community and conversion. While other
people may need our gifts, God doesn’t need anything from us. Like the parent
of a three year old, the gifts God receives do not enrich God. They connect us.
And I’ve saved a number of those gifts from my boys because I value the
community of our family.
Liars: “We’ve got nothing”
The
disciples believe they have nothing. At least, for the sake of reporting all
the facts, they do inventory the five loaves and two fish, after that
contradiction word “but”. “But” that’s really nothing. “But” that doesn’t go
far. “But” that’s only enough for one or two if we stretch it. And, as Jesus
“takes” the bread, I hear them muttering, “but, but, but”.
      All of it is a lie. Now, I don’t believe
the disciples were intentionally lying. Intentions aside, they were not
speaking the truth. Five loaves and two fish are not nothing, certainly not
when placed in the hands of Jesus. They were lying, lying to Jesus and
deceiving themselves. Not to be too hard on them, I realize that I do exactly
the same thing: That ball point pen I picked up at my friend Larry’s church has
a pretty neat design and reminds me of Larry. I could get another one at any
time, but … There’s that word again!
      But, I just didn’t have time.
      But, don’t I have the right to be happy?
      But, I just can’t afford to be obedient to
the call of Jesus in my life. Maybe we become a little more honest when we
phrase it that way. So, I ask myself, what do I need to do so that I can be
obedient? What do I need to do so that my five loaves and two fish, my pen and
paper clips, my finances, my time, my relationships, my job security … What do
I need to do to place it all in the hands of Jesus? Only then will I be telling
the truth when I say, “I’ve got nothing” because everything is already given
away to Jesus.
Opportunity: “Bring them here”
The
practice of generosity is about so much more than truth telling and obedience,
however. It is about a unique opportunity to participate in the kingdom of God.
Jesus didn’t need the loaves and fishes from the disciples. He could have
started with stones and sticks. He could have started with nothing.
      The disciples needed to give. If they had
not given, even with all their “buts”, if they had not given, they would have
missed the opportunity of participating in the miracle, in the kingdom of God
at work.

      Henri Nouwen: God’s kingdom is the place
of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes
part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world (Nouwen, 46).
Resources:
Henri
J. M. Nouwen, The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. 2010. A Spirituality of Fundraising. Nashville: Upper Room Books.
Willimon
& Hauerwas. Resident Aliens.