From “Membership” to Ministry: Feeding the Five Thousand

Church Floor in Tabgha, next to the Sea of Galilee (From Wikimedia Commons)
Church Floor in Tabgha, next to the Sea of Galilee
(From Wikimedia Commons)

Feast of St. Paraskeva / Eighth Sunday of Matthew, July 26, 2015
Galatians 3:23-4:5; Matthew 14:14-22
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

We are all familiar with this account from the Gospels of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Though we read today from Matthew 14, this story is a special favorite of mine in the version in John 6, because it’s one of the few places in the Bible where the Apostle Andrew is mentioned by name.

In this reading, someone has doubts about the resources available to Jesus and His disciples (in John, we learn it’s Philip). It’s getting late, and the people are hungry, so they need to be sent away to go buy food for themselves. Or so say the disciples. Yet Jesus responds, “They need not go away. You give them something to eat.”

And as John tells us, Andrew brings to Jesus a boy with five loaves and two fish. And the disciples say in our reading, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”

Christians often think this way, and for some reason, this approach can get magnified in parish life. We approach things negatively. Look, Lord, this is all we have. We’re just a few people. We’re just a small parish. Look at what we don’t have.

But where is our faith? Aren’t we Christians?

We can dream big dreams and somehow do what seems impossible when it comes to the achievements of this world in education or business or athletics, etc., but when it comes to church life, where we know that, if we are faithful, we have God Himself on our side, why is it that pessimism then rules the day? Where is our faith? Why are we often so negative?

Church should be the place where the impossible becomes possible, where by faith what is small can become great. Do we not believe in the promises that God has made to us, that if we have faith even as small as a mustard seed, that mountains can be moved (Matt. 17:20)? Where are the Christians who believe when Jesus says, “Nothing shall be impossible unto you”?

It can be kind of discouraging sometimes to work in the church. But it is not because we have nothing. We have something. These disciples had five loaves and two fish. That is not nothing. It may not seem like much, but it is not nothing. It is something.

And we have something. We have this great and holy Orthodox faith that turned an empire upside down. We have this beautiful church. We have our beautiful services. We have the life and love and laughter of our children. We have the power of the teachings of the holy fathers. We have the love which we bear toward each other. We have the dedication of so many who labor and serve here. We have the many years of humble prayer and service that so many have put into this community of faith.

We have something. All the disciples had at that moment was a little offering of five loaves and two fish. And we can make our little offering.

And with a little offering Jesus does the impossible.

He says to the disciples, “Bring them here to me.” And He has the crowds sit down on the ground, while He prays. He takes the bread and the fish, looks up into heaven, blesses them, and breaks them. And He gives them to the disciples. And they begin to pass them around to the five thousand men, along with women and children.

And they eat. And they keep eating. And everyone eats. And everyone gets full. And there’s still twelve baskets full left over.

Why is it that so many churches hear this account and many others like it from Scripture, yet they are not filled with the fire of faith, the faith that sees growth, not just in attendance or tithing but in repentance, in maturity, in service and ministry?

Why? It is because, even though we have a little something, we do not offer it to God. We keep it. We hold it tight. We think that by squeezing tighter and tighter, maybe we can keep it together. I only have a little. I only have five loaves and two fish. So I will hold tight. I’ll send people away to go fend for themselves. I won’t reach out.

But that’s wrong! I have to reach out. I have to take what little I have and give it away! Whatever we have has to be offered to the Lord, even if it seems like it’s just a little bit, even if it seems like there’s just not enough to go around.

I think a lot of this negative, grasping mentality that so many people have in various churches stems from a notion that we have of what it means to be part of church life. We often think that being part of a church means being a “member.” And we go to great lengths to define what “membership” is. There are requirements, there are minimums, there are dues, etc., etc. And as members, we expect certain “benefits.” It’s all a very small, very narrow understanding of church life.

And that’s the kind of understanding these disciples have at this moment with Jesus: Lord, we’ve done our part, these people shouldn’t expect any more from us. They need to go and feed themselves. We don’t owe them anything. We are the “members,” Jesus. They are not.

But Jesus didn’t let them get away with that. He didn’t let them keep their narrow idea of what it meant to be a “member” of Jesus’ following. He expected them to move from “membership” to ministry. Those disciples were to become ministers. They were to take whatever they had, no matter how small it seemed, and use it for ministry.

If we come here to this church, thinking only about being “members,” about what the minimum is we can give and what “benefits” we think we should get in return, then we have ignored the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have ignored what it means to have faith, what it means to be faithful.

We are not here to be “members.” We are here to be ministers. Everyone here has a ministry in this body. Everyone here has something he can offer, some five loaves or two fish that he can bring to the table, to the feast of faith.

Even the little babies here in our midst offer their prayers—perhaps not in a language most of us understand, but in one that God understands!

We are not “members,” brothers and sisters, but ministers. We are called. We are being equipped. We are being given strength and power and authority to serve in this place, to serve one another, to serve the world.

Whatever you bring, God will multiply it. But you have to bring it. You have to minister with it. You have to give it. It doesn’t have to be money, but if you’ve got money, bring money. But money isn’t what’s most important. What we have to bring is ourselves. We bring our prayers. We bring our lives. We bring our hopes and our dreams. We bring our faith. We bring our identity. We are faithful people when we bring whatever little we have in whatever way we have it to be placed into the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ and to see what He will do with it.

We are only as small and as narrow as we will allow ourselves to be. Will we let our five loaves and two fish rot in our picnic baskets, or get divided up into little pieces, handing out a tiny bit to “our own people” while the multitudes stand by us, hungry for what God has given us? Or will we press what we have into the hands of our Lord, and see what He will do with it? We are not members, but ministers. That is what it means to be Christian.

To our Chief Minister, the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

2 comments:

  1. Acts 4:32 ‘All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.’
    is what comes to mind…

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