The day after VBS ended, I got an email from Miss Janet: “Let’s have a mini-VBS on Rally Sunday!” Still in recovery mode from volunteering during VBS, I groggily typed, “What’s the theme?” “The little child’s contribution of fish and loaves to feeding the 5,000!” “Uh huh,” I replied…then went back to my annual post-VBS coma.
When I awoke and determined that I hadn’t dreamed that message from Miss Janet, I looked in the Bible for the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. It’s one of the few stories that appears in all four Gospels. Which to choose?
I went first to Luke–that’s the focus Gospel for the current liturgical year. I read it. No child. Then I went to Matthew, the focus Gospel for next year. No child. Then I went to Mark, thinking surely the child was hiding there! Nope. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s versions of the story, the loaves and fish just appear; we aren’t told how or by whom they appear.
That led me to John’s Gospel, where–as we heard–when Jesus asks where they’re going to buy bread for all those people, Andrew says, “There is a child here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Ding! Ding! Ding! Found him!
Now that we’ve found him, what do we do with him? Do we celebrate the little boy’s sacrificial giving? Do we put him on a pedestal and honor him for being wiser than the adults? We could do that…but if we did, we would be reading our own perceptions into the story, because the Gospel writer doesn’t say anything about the spirit in which the child surrenders his lunch. Did he offer it willingly? Or did he feel like he had no choice because an adult had asked him for it? In the text, the child says nothing. So any guesses about his intentions are just that–guesses.
What we can do is look at what is in the story as it’s told in John’s Gospel. A great crowd has followed Jesus across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus takes his disciples up the mountain… whether trying to get away from the crowd or seeking a higher perch from which to address them, John doesn’t tell us. From that vantage point, Jesus looks out over the sea of people and asks Philip: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip answers: ‘Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ Basically, the needs are too great. It’s simply not possible for us to meet them.
Do you ever feel like that? Overwhelmed by the world’s needs? A couple weeks into our summer theme of acting the world into wellbeing, someone playfully re-named it (at least I think it was playful): “Who aren’t we doing enough for this week?” For those of us who want to make a real difference in people’s lives, the weighty needs of the world can overwhelm, even paralyze us. What’s the antidote to that paralysis?
One approach might be to follow Andrew’s lead. While Jesus and Philip are looking up at the crowd, focused on the big picture, Andrew is looking down, seeing what resources are at hand. What does he see? A little boy with some bread and fish.
A lot of people looking for resources at hand to help act the world into wellbeing would not have seen a child as a potential resource. None of the other Gospel writers sees them, right? And even though he does see the child, Andrew’s not convinced the boy’s offering will do any good. “What are the loaves and fish among so many?” he asks. But Andrew does see the child. He does entertain the possibility that this child might be able to help in these seemingly insurmountable circumstances. The little boy has gifts to give, but in order to give them, first he has to be seen. Andrew sees him.
How many children have contributions to make in acting the world into wellbeing but don’t get to make them because no one sees them? One way of acting children into wellbeing is to help them give their gifts to the world. We saw that demonstrated beautifully just a little earlier with our youth’s report on their “Random Acts of Kindness.”
When I heard about Christy Stanley’s decision to go back to a high poverty school after teaching in a school in a more affluent area, I was curious. After talking with Christy, I realized that she and the disciple Andrew have a lot in common: Each of them sees children. I’ve invited Christy to tell us a little bit about why she’s chosen to go back to a high-poverty school. [Christy]
Because this teacher sees children that many others do not see, they too will be empowered to offer their gifts to the world.
When I came to the UCC, the one thing I really had to think about was infant baptism. Like UCC churches, Baptist churches also are radically congregational. Adherents of both denominations believe in freedom of conscience, the priesthood of all believers, and the ability of every believer to interpret Scripture for himself or herself. The major point of difference between Baptists and the UCC is baptism. Baptists practice believer’s baptism, which means you’re baptized only after you make a confession of your faith. If that’s the way you understand baptism, then infant baptism doesn’t make sense. How can an infant make a confession of faith?
So before I became a minister in the UCC I had to give the whole idea of infant baptism some thought. It didn’t take long. When I read the liturgy for baptism in our UCC Book of Worship, especially the part where the congregation “promises their love, support, and care to the one being baptized, as he or she lives and grows in Christ,” it made so much sense. In infant baptism, the community claims the child, nurtures him or her until—at the time of Confirmation—the child is able to confess his or her own faith.
One of my favorite memories of Betty Roth was the time she came up to me and said, “Baptism means we’re supposed to take care of all the children!” It was like the lightbulb had just come on; she’d really gotten that baptism was about nurturing the children in our midst, seeing them, then creating space where they can claim their gifts and give them to the world. That declaration from Betty echoes in my mind every time we baptize a child here at Pilgrimage.
As we seek to act the world and its children into wellbeing, we’ll do well to follow the example of Andrew, Christy, Wayne with our youth, and Betty Roth: See the children in our midst, nurture them in ways they are able to recognize their gifts, then get out of the way and let them give those gifts to the world.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2016