Date: January 18, 2015
Title: “Anything Can Happen!”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Mark 6:30-44
Shel Silverstein has written a poem entitled “Listen to the Mustn’ts”, which goes like this:
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child, Listen to the DON’TS. Listen to the SHOULDN’TS,
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS. Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me – Anything can happen, child, ANYTHING can be.
I just returned from five days in Seattle, meeting with various groups of United Methodist leaders from around the Western Jurisdiction. I met with all the active bishops. I met with the Directors of Connectional Ministries from each annual conference. Then there was the Inter-Ethnic Coordinating Committee, and the Congregational Developers, the Leadership Developers and the Episcopacy Committee and the Leadership Team. I just returned from all that, and I have to say, how happy I am to have returned!
While I moved in and out of all these meetings, I was struck by the big scheme of things. I realized again the enormity of our task – sharing the love of God, helping to make the world a more kind, loving, and just place. All the while witnessing to a kind of Wesleyan theology which is deeply rooted and grounded in personal relationships, and insists upon an inclusive welcome to all people of the West – and indeed, of the whole world.
Struck by the enormity of our task, I thought about how little one person can realistically accomplish in the big scheme of things, and of how critical it is that we find ways to join our efforts, to work collaboratively, and to celebrate the fact that we are in this together. Because God has given us the grace we need to make a difference.
The Scripture text we read this morning is a very familiar one. It is Mark’s version of the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. And we can honestly say we know a couple of things about the crowds in this story. We know they were numerous, and we know that they were hungry. But Mark reminds us that Jesus understood something more about that crowd. Jesus saw something beyond their huge number and their big hunger.
Jesus saw a deeper pain, a spiritual and emotional anguish which led him to say they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus saw that they were looking for guidance, and needing direction as they sought a refuge from all they felt closing in around them. And the disciples? They just didn’t get it. They didn’t see it at all. And all too often, neither do we.
When we look at the smallness of our offering, when we can see only the insignificance of our abilities, or the inadequacy of our treasure – and when we measure that against the greatness of the world’s need, we all too often get stuck in a place of shame. We think we are not good enough, because we mistakenly believe that smallness, inadequacy and insignificance are things that would never be worthy to bring before God.
Just think for a moment. Just imagine for one moment what would have happened if Martin Luther King, Jr. had thought about himself and his own gifts this way. What would have happened, if he had said, “I am only one person – and not a very important one at that.” What if he had decided he could not make that much of a difference. After all, he was not the president, or a senator. He had not been elected to office nor did he start out his justice-making career with a big following or even a popular affirmation. What would have happened if Dr. King had measured himself against the world’s need and decided it wasn’t enough to bring before God?
And then, think of what Nadia Bolz Weber reminds us of God’s economy:
Every parable about God’s kingdom, every teaching Jesus had about how God creates something glorious, starts with something small. Never once did Jesus say “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a Fortune 500 company with super happy shareholders.” It is always something small, insignificant, easily over-looked, that reveals the glory of God.
Just last week we heard the apostle Paul reminding us that “God’s grace is sufficient, for God’s power is made perfect in weakness.” So this morning I want you to hear me when I say “Anything can happen!” Anything can happen – people can be fed and housed and mentored and loved because of you. Anything can happen – systems can be challenged and changed, because of you. Anything can happen – children can learn and grow in faith and hope because of you. Anything can happen – music can feed our spirits and friendship nurture our hearts because of you, communities can be supported to care for the one and the many, because of you. Anything can happen because of you, when you get together with God.
I am reminded of a story Booker T. Washington used to tell:
It seems a ship had been lost at sea along the northern coast of South America for many days. Suddenly they sighted a friendly vessel and sent this frantic message, “Water! Water! We die of thirst!”
The answer from the friendly vessel came back at once, “Cast down your bucket where you are.”
A second time the hapless ship signaled, “Water! Send us water!” And again the answer came back, “Cast down your bucket where you are.”
This exchange went on a couple more times until finally the distressed captain heeded the injunction and cast down his bucket right where he was. Up it came, full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River, which amazingly extends several miles out into the ocean, in what is called the “River Sea”.
Sometimes we have to find the courage and even the faith, to cast down our buckets right where we are. Right here, within this city, where we live and move and do the work of ministry. Right here, within the gifts and abilities of our brothers and sisters. Right here, within our own life stories and our own rich heritage and our own wildest imaginations. We need to cast down our buckets right where we are, trusting we will draw them up, filled to overflowing with wisdom and energy, with inspiration and hope and love.
Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that Jesus tells his disciples the crowd doesn’t need to be sent away:
“You give them something to eat”, Jesus says; “Not me, but you; not my bread, but yours; not sometime or somewhere else, but right here and now. Stop waiting for a miracle and participate in one instead.”
Jesus seems to be suggesting this morning that if we are to do that, a good place to start is by bringing what we have to God. Bringing whatever we have – however much or however little it may be – we are called to bring it to God, where we will find that it is enough. It is enough, because it is never all that there is.
Do you remember how the Gospel story ends? It doesn’t stop with the miraculous distribution of food. It doesn’t just say “and everyone ate.” No, the Gospel writer takes pains to point out that “they all ate and were filled.” Even still, it doesn’t stop there, but goes on to say, “They took up 12 baskets full of leftovers.”
There were leftovers – because that’s the way it is with God. Even in the middle of nowhere, at the close of day, with night falling all around us. That’s the way it is with God, when we cast down our buckets right where we are and when we bring to God whatever it is we may have. Thanks be to God! Amen.