Go back 2000 years ago. The Christian scriptures tell the story of a time when Rabbi Jesus tried to take a little time off from his ministry and retreated, with his disciples, to a site near the Sea of Galilee. But Jesus was beloved. And supremely fascinating. So, people couldn’t stay away. They ran ahead of them on foot.
5000 people were waiting, when Jesus and his disciples finally got there.
And Rabbi Jesus, despite his fatigue, could not ignore them. Compassion welled up in his magnificent heart. He began teaching them, healing them; and it was hours later when his disciples came up to him, saying, “Rabbi, look, it’s getting late, it’s time for dinner. You need to send the people away into the surrounding villages so they can buy themselves something to eat.”
But Jesus was mission-minded. Love to God and love to people was his way. So, he said to his disciples, “YOU give them something to eat.” Jesus was always challenging them to do more than they ever thought possible. Thus their reply, which they blurted out: “You want US to go and buy bread for 5000 people? Are you out of your ever-loving mind? That would cost us a fortune, and last we checked, we’re poor.”
This happened 2000 years ago, according to the Bible, but isn’t this the sort of thing that happens all the time in religious communities? Even a church like ours, which is a unique church, which honors the spiritual leadership of Jesus while honoring the spiritual leadership of the Buddha, Mohammed, Lao Tzu, and other saints and sages around the world from all times. Despite the differences among these saints and sages, they are on the same page when it comes to the primacy of compassion and the primacy of generosity.
The hungers of our world are great. The needs for justice. The needs for healing. The needs for spiritual illumination and hope. Jesus challenges his disciples, “YOU give them something to eat.” And we, today, face that same challenge, from our Unitarian Universalist Principles and our West Shore church mission.
And maybe, as a church, we respond just like the disciples. “You want US to do it?” “Are you out of your ever-living mind?” “We’re poor.”
But listen to what Jesus said. “No, no, no—you’re misunderstanding me. How many loaves of bread do you already have, in hand?” They checked, and all together, the disciples had five small loaves of bread and two fish. When Jesus heard this, he immediately turned to the crowd of 5000 people and said something which simply stunned his disciples. He said, in a loud voice, “Everyone, it’s time to eat. We have more than enough to go around. There’s enough for everyone. Please sit down!”
And the people did, in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and blessed the meal and broke the loaves and divided the fish and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. Which they proceeded to do. Five loaves and two fish. Though the disciples could not help feeling that their fearless leader had gone nuts. No sane person could possibly believe that five loaves and two fish would be enough to feed 5000 people.
But such is the difference between the mousy heart … and the heart that is magnificent. The magnificent heart looks at a situation of apparent scarcity square in the eye and says, “I don’t believe it.” The magnificent heart challenges the people around him not to believe it either, and to step up, step out in faith. The magnificent heart—the heart of Rabbi Jesus and (I will say) the heart of our Unitarian Universalist values and our church mission—is satisfied with nothing less than a miracle.
But to this I hasten to add: not the WRONG kind of miracle. Not the supernatural kind, the out-of-thin-air kind, the someone else will do it kind, the Sugar Daddy or the Sugar Momma will come and save us kind, or the Lottery will come and save us kind.
The magnificent heart expects a miracle, but not the WRONG kind.
Essentially, what Jesus did was put a big ask out there, and now it was time for the people to respond. And I wonder how long it took for the people, there at the side of the Sea of Galilee, to get what Jesus was trying to teach. I wonder how long it took them to stop expecting the wrong kind of miracle to happen (the someone-else-needs-to-come-in-and-save-us-kind) and to start doing their part to help make the right kind of miracle happen.
The first person who got what Jesus was really trying to teach did this. He approached the place where the disciples placed the five small loaves of bread and the two fish, reached into his pocket or satchel, and pulled out a part of what he already had: maybe bread, maybe a vegetable, maybe something else.
He chipped in.
How long did it take that first person, then the second, then the third—until the abundance vision caught like wildfire? Suddenly, it’s a scene out of Stone Soup: food flying out of people’s kitchens, faster than you can blink, all added to the communal feast. Everyone chipping in generously until it’s a done deal. Things starting with only five small loaves and two fish—but, despite the seeming adversity of the situation, ending with enough for all, more than enough.
I want this abundance miracle for West Shore. Our Spiritual Principles want it, and our church mission wants it, for all of us here and for everyone.
Do you want it?
At one point in yesterday’s stewardship workshop, Barry and Rachel asked a group of around 40 of us, Think of a time when something good happened to you here at West Shore. So each of us spent a few moments remembering. Then they asked, What is special at West Shore that enabled that good thing to happen? Here’s some of what people said:
A spirit of welcome
Openness to diversity
Permission to be imperfect
Devotion to social issues
Sense of humor
My contribution was to mention something about an angel whose identity I don’t know, who visits my mail slot in the office every month and leaves me a pair of funny socks. Whoever you are, you have no idea how good that makes me feel. I feel loved and seen. And I wear those socks religiously.
But do you see, how what is special at West Shore that enables all the good things ultimately boils down to … generosity? Generosity of welcome? Generosity of emotional support? Generosity of openness?
Generosity on and on and on.
Including generosity of financial giving, without which this community simply couldn’t exist.
Miracles can take place here, when everyone finds a way to chip in generously.
But if we don’t–if we’re counting on the WRONG kind of miracle, the supernatural kind, the out-of-thin-air kind, the someone else will do it kind, the Sugar Daddy or the Sugar Momma will come and save us kind, or the Lottery will come and save us kind—then you know what? We begin with five loaves and two fish, and we end with five loaves and two fish. That’s all.
The 5000 go hungry.
5000 lives, unchanged.
5000, who will never know the miracle.
And who wants to be a part of that?
We are called to so much more, as a leader congregation in the world.
We are called to magnificence.
We, who are a part of the 5000.
Our children, our children’s children.
Folks hungering for what we have, now and into the future.
The 5000 need the miracle!
So let our hearts be magnificent.
Let the miracle happen today.
When you are asked to give, say yes.
When we all step up together in our giving, the sky really is the limit.
Find out how you can be a part of the generosity miracle.
It will change your life, and it will change the lives of others.
In this giving and receiving is the meaning of life.
From you I receive, to you I give
Together we share, and from this, we live.