August 3, 2014 Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
I was inspired recently by a twelve year old boy. If I am really honest with myself, I would have to say I was both shamed and inspired. His name is Robby Eimers. I first heard about him on the nightly news - one of those human interest stories they do at the end of broadcasts to remind us there is still good in the world, after bombarding us with all the evil and destruction.
Robby lives in New Haven, a suburb of Detroit, which, if you’ve been paying attention, is not the most desirable of cities to live in. There are about 19,000 people who are homeless in the Detroit area.
Robby has a mission. The seeds of that mission were planted four years ago when he went with his grandmother to drop off clothing at the Tumaini Homeless Shelter in Detroit.
On the ride home he was unusually quiet and his grandmother asked him what was the matter. His response was: “I never knew there were so many homeless people. We have to do something.” So he started saving his allowance, his Christmas and birthday money, and money he earned washing neighbors’ cars and doing odd jobs for them.
Today, either Saturday or Sunday, you will find Robby using that money to grill hot dogs and dish up potato salad for the line of nearly 50 homeless people across from the Tumaini Center. HIs grandmother also chips in and drives him there in a van filled with clothing, toiletries, water and food he has gathered. Robby’s immediate goal is to fill stomachs. His long range goal is to end homelessness.
He and his younger sister Emma - she’s eight - have started the Eimers Foundation. They have a Facebook page. They don’t actively seek donations, but site visitors sometimes donate food and other items. The Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera donated Triple Crown t-shirts and a signed baseball to the foundation. During the school year, students at the school where his grandmother is secretary, make sandwiches for him to hand out. Volunteers show up to help serve.
Shauna Johnson, one of the people Robby serves talks about him this way:
“It is amazing that a child so young would be out here shaking hands, talking to everyone and caring. … Robby is right out there in front.” Others added: “He’s always thinking of new ways to try and help.” “There is a phenomenally huge spirit in this little body.”
I wonder if Robby heard Jesus’ story of the feeding of the 5,000 in Sunday school” - because he sure got its message.
There are six versions of this story in the New Testament - the only story included in all four gospels, so it must have been an important one to the early Christians. They would have drawn parallels to other stories from their scriptures:
In Exodus God provides manna when the hungry Israelites needed food while crossing the wilderness; or the miracle credited to Elisha in 2nd Kings, where 20 loaves of barley bread are shared with 100 men, who ate and still had left overs. Yes, this story has a familiar ring to it - a continuation of the bread miracles in the bible.
Did it happen? Did Jesus really cause that bread to miraculously multiply? What would that have looked like? Matthew doesn’t tell us. Neither do the other gospel writers. If you were talking to a conservative or fundamentalist Christian, they would tell you “Yes, it’s historical fact.” They might have different versions of how it might have transpired, but rest assured that it did.
Then there are the skeptics, those of us who are not so sure about miracles, in the traditional sense, but are looking for a deeper meaning within the story; a message that speaks to our hearts, that instructs us in how to live our lives so that we can create little miracles in our own lives and those of others. That’s how this story speaks to me.
Have you ever been out walking with a friend, in Boston, say, and you pass by someone asking for a hand out so they can buy some food? You walk on by, and your friend stops and pulls out a dollar. Little pangs of guilt wash over you, and you go digging in your pocket for something to contribute.
Could something like that have happened among those 5,000, or 20,000 if you include women and children? When I read this story two phrases grabbed me: “he had compassion for them.” Jesus wasn’t about to send them away hungry to fend for themselves. There were enough people there to fill a village, and not a Trader Joe’s in sight.
And then he says, “YOU give them something to eat.” “Wait a minute Jesus, let’s get real. We have only five loaves and two fish. That will scarcely feed us. What do you expect us to do?”
Jesus knew better. He called the crowd to him, blessed those meager rations and sent the skeptics out to distribute what little they had; and after they ate, we’re told there was a surplus.
Maybe - just maybe - as people in the crowd saw the disciples willing to share what little they had, maybe they started reaching in their pockets looking for that small piece of bread or fish they had wrapped and tucked away for their journey that day.
Maybe - they were inspired to share it with those sitting around them who had nothing. Maybe - that spirit of generosity took hold and spread over the crowd, becoming infectious.
Maybe - just maybe - that was the real miracle that day. Maybe that is what this story is here to teach us.
Robby didn’t have much to begin with: his meager savings, a big heart and lots of compassion, combined with a mission. But what he had multiplied as he inspired others who rallied to his cause and opened their hearts and wallets, and gave of their time. In a country where so many are looking out only for themselves, that too might qualify as a miracle.
What would this story have to say to those in Massachusetts who are rallying against our governor for inviting 1,000 children who have crossed over our borders illegally, to find temporary sanctuary in our state? - who say “I moved here to get away from people like that!” “Just send them back. They don’t belong here. Let them fend for themselves. We don’t have the resources to take care of our own. We can’t take care of them. (ignoring the fact that our state would not be footing the bill).
What would Jesus have to say about showing compassion for those in dire circumstances, for children wanting to be reunited with their parents in this country; for parents trying to protect their children from drug lords and gang violence; for those who would risk their lives to escape a life of unimaginable poverty and violence in hopes of finding a better life for themselves and their children?
What would Jesus say to those who buy into a culture that tells us we need to protect what we have - it’s never enough - all the while grasping for more - oblivious to the common good?
I was shocked and saddened to read that half of those in our state are opposed to Governor Duval Patrick’s act of generosity and compassion. People may have differing views on how to solve the larger immigration issue, but this is a humanitarian crisis. These are children whose lives are at stake.
How is Jesus asking us to respond when the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC calls upon us to donate clothing, books and toys, and give of our time, if and when the children come to be housed here? If a 12 year old boy can rally people to help him feed the homeless in his town once a week, then surely the people of Massachusetts can reach out to 1,000 homeless children for a few months.
And while we wait to see if we will be called upon to serve, there are more ways to serve right here, right now. There are baskets in the hallway to be filled with food for the Arabic Baptist Church food pantry across the street. They would especially appreciate toilet paper, peanut butter and juices.
There will soon be a container to take your clothing donations for the Savers Second Hand Store. The money we receive from those donations will go to a non-profit who sends books to prisoners.
On September 3rd you are invited to help serve the Community Dinner at our Alston Brighton Church.
October 12th you are invited to join the CROP walk to support Church World Services, who are helping with humanitarian aid to those children crossing our borders. If you’re not up to walking, you can support a walker.
You can volunteer to help with our Second Sunday Service projects this fall, that inspire our children and youth to reach out like Robby has and serve our wider community.
My hopes and prayers for the Eliot Church in this coming year is that each one of us will discover a passion to serve: those in our congregation, those in our community, and those in our world. There are so many needs out there. Which one will touch your heart, open the flood gates of compassion and move you to action? We live in an affluent country. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.