1 Corinthians 1:10-18
St. Matthew 14:14-22
St. Luke Orthodox Church, Abilene, TX
We sometimes get so caught up with our own schedules and problems we forget who we are, where we came from, and how closely we are connected spiritually even to people whom we have never met. Today is “St. Timon Sunday Day” in our Diocese, when we remember Timon, one of the seventy apostles sent out by Jesus Christ and one of the original deacons mentioned in the book of Acts. He became the bishop of Bosra in Syria and eventually became a martyr. All Christians are in his debt as a pillar of the early Church. He converted many Arabs to the Christian faith , and especially we Antiochian Orthodox should remember him with great appreciation. For he played a crucial role in building the mother church of which we are a part and of evangelizing the part of the world where our faith began.
So it is fitting that in the last few of year s our Diocese has established “the Hauran connection,” a way for us to help our impoverished Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters in southwestern Syria. I actually visited there briefly when I was in Syria for a conference a couple of years ago. Life was very hard then, with few economic opportunities and a Christian population of no more than 10%. Life is impossibly hard now for everyone in Syria. In a revolution or civil war, it doesn’t matter what you call it, everyone’s life is at risk. The situation is especially complicated for Christians who have been protected by the Assad regime and typically fear what the future will hold for them. Along with people of other faiths, many of our Orthodox brothers and sisters are now refugees.
I am obviously not a politician and none of us has much influence over world events. If anyone has a good solution for Syria’s problems, I’ve not heard it yet. So it may not seem like there is much that we can do. The collection that we take up here at St. Luke each summer for “the Hauran Connection” may seem small. We are a sister parish to the parish of the Dormition of the Theotokos, a community of twelve families whose church temple was under construction when last I heard. They sound a lot like us. We pray for them every Sunday and make a small monetary donation to them each year. We do what we can to make life a little easier for them. I hope that you will prayerfully consider putting an offering designated for the Hauran Connection in the collection plate in the next week or so.
Our little parish’s connection to another little parish in Syria reminds us of the five loaves and two fish that the disciples collected to feed thousands of hungry people in a deserted place at the end of a long day. It seemed crazy to think that such a small amount of food could have any importance at all in that situation. It was enough food for one person, not for a big crowd. And the disciples knew that, so they asked Jesus Christ to send the people away to buy their own food. But He challenged them to feed the people instead with what they had.
Looking up into heaven, the Lord blessed, broke, and gave the loaves back to the disciples, and they in turn gave them to the crowd. And everyone had more than enough to eat; twelve basketsful of bread were leftover after several thousand people had had dinner. What seemed so small, so insignificant, so inadequate, was more than enough because of the blessing of our Savior.
So much in our lives is like that, a seemingly insignificant offering such as a little bit of money and weekly remembrance in prayer for a small parish in Syria. From time to time, our parish gives a few dollars or a bus ticket to a needy family. We donate to “Food for Hungry People” during Lent and to Pregnancy Resources of Abilene. Our members make offerings through their commitments to teach Sunday School, chant, serve at the altar, clean the church or the yard, host a coffee hour, bake holy bread, visit someone in a nursing home, or give someone a ride to church. We set aside time and expend the energy to pray, to fast, to come to church, or to mend a broken relationship. In the larger scheme of things, all of these acts seem small and incapable of meeting the great needs of those around us. Perhaps they seem barely worth mentioning.
But we have to remember that the point is never whether we have the power or ability to feed thousands or fix the world’s problems. We’re not that great. We’re neither God nor the rulers of the world. We probably struggle enough just to deal with our own problems, much less to set the world right. All that we are called to do is to be like the disciples, to offer what little we can to the Lord for His blessing and trust that He’ll do the rest.
That kind of offering is at the very heart of our worship in the Orthodox Church, for our spiritual fathers have always seen the Lord’s miraculous feeding of thousands with the loaves and fishes as a sign of the Eucharist, of Holy Communion. A couple of loaves of bread and a cup containing wine and water. By themselves, they might make a decent snack, but not even a full meal. They couldn’t satisfy those of us gathered here today as dinner, much less a crowd of thousands.
But in the Divine Liturgy, we pray for God’s blessing upon the bread and wine. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the menu of the heavenly banquet. We receive more than a mere meal, but the forgiveness of sins and life eternal in our communion. We are nourished with heavenly food and raised to the life of heaven in the Eucharist. That’s far more than we could expect from even the finest gourmet dinner.
But have you ever noticed that human beings have to supply the bread , wine, and water for the Liturgy? God works miracles upon the small gifts we offer Him , but these offerings are essential. He requires that we do our small part; we have to make the offering. And then He does the rest, which makes of our tiny gifts far more than they could have been on their own.
We often say in the Church that we are not simply to attend the Divine Liturgy, but to live it. All of our life should be an offering to God. We should participate in heavenly worship with every thought, word, and deed. But sometimes we honestly wonder how we can ever do that. We have a thousand things going through our mind at once. Our thoughts, words, and deeds often seem out of control. Very often we would rather do just about anything else other than pray, worship, or serve God and our neighbors.
When we feel this way, we should remember that small offering of loaves and fish. The Lord blessed this tiny gift and miraculously multiplied it to feed thousands. Perhaps we are barely able to offer God anything. Perhaps we wonder if our offering of prayer or fasting or service of whatever kind really matters. Maybe we are tempted to think that it’s so insignificant that we shouldn’t even bother.
Yes, that is a temptation, for our Lord has always worked through what is small and seemingly insignificant to bring salvation to the world. If we’ve read the Bible, we know that God has always used imperfect, conflicted people like us to do His work. He calls us, like He called them, to be as faithful as we can right now. He accepts whatever offering of time, energy, and other resources we able to make. And how He blesses it is more His business than ours. So in the spirit of the loaves and fishes, let us continue offering our lives and resources to the Lord as best we can, trusting that the same God who make much from St. Timon’s ministry in an obscure corner of the world will do the same with ours to His glory. And let us remember all the people of Syria in our prayers and do what we can to ease the suffering especially of those in the Diocese of Hauran.