"All Detroit Has" – John 6:1-21
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
After my experience in Detroit as part of the ELCA Youth Gathering last week, I have a new appreciation for the logistics involved in feeding thousands of people. You see, approximately 30,000 Lutherans flooded the streets of downtown Detroit for five days…and we all had to eat!
On our first day in Detroit we thought we’d be smart and beat the dinner rush around Ford Field, where the evening worship would be held. Channeling our inner Florida earlybird personas, we headed to dinner at 4pm only to find everyone else had the same idea!
I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar: we’d walk past restaurants with lines out the door and think if we walked a little further we’d find a less busy restaurant. The further we walked, the fewer options we found, so we decided to just pick a place and wait in line. Of course, the line at the restaurant next door seemed to be actually moving, unlike ours. So we left our place in line and went next door only to find out that we wouldn’t be seated until the time that worship was supposed to start. Dejected, we walked to worship hungry, resolved to eat something afterwards. That night we got back to the hotel around 11pm. I don’t know what everyone else did, but by that point I was more interested in sleeping than eating.
Surely someone on the staff of the ELCA Youth Gathering was in charge of the logistics of making sure all 30,000 participants would be able to eat. And I’m not even going to claim this person did a poor job. I just can’t imagine the difficulty of the task. I mean, there are only so many places to eat in downtown Detroit. It’s not like the Youth Gathering food coordinator could simply create more food for five days. We were limited by the city’s lack of resources.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus puts his friend Philip in the position of the food coordinator for five thousand people. Jesus asks Philip, with a knowing wink, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip doesn’t realize it’s a rhetorical question. He looks at the crowd and says, “I have no idea; we wouldn’t make enough money in six months to give everyone a crumb.”
After all, there are only so many places to eat on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It’s not like Philip could simply create more food for everyone. He knew they were limited by the lack of resources.
We know, however, a lack of resources is no problem for Jesus. Jesus is the Son of the God of abundance, provision, and limitless resources – a God who delights in giving good gifts to his beloved children.
So, Andrew takes a lunchbox offered by a kid, containing five loaves of bread and two fish, and gives it to Jesus saying, “This is all we have.” What happens next? Jesus takes the “this is all we have” and transforms it into something that is more than enough for everyone.
This story begs the question of us: How then are we to act given that we worship the Jesus who takes our “this is all we have” and transforms it into something that is more than enough for everyone?
What difference does it make that God is defined by abundance, not scarcity?
One of our speakers at the Youth Gathering was Mikka McCracken, a program director for ELCA World Hunger. She began her speech by claiming “Our faith and our church can make a difference so that all are fed.” She concluded with the truth that “Hunger is not caused by scarcity; hunger is caused by inequality.” Our faith in a God of abundance demands us to recognize that there is enough food for the one billion people on earth who are food insecure. Our faith propels us to make our offering of “this is all we have” and let Jesus transform it into something that is more than enough for everyone.
Global food distribution and access is not the only challenge that our God of abundance can overcome. Think of other areas in our lives that are ruled by our fear of scarcity.
What might our immigration system look like if we truly believed that God provides enough for everyone?
How generous could we be with our time, emotions, and material resources if we could face each day trusting that we would not lack for anything?
What would Jesus accomplish through the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America if each congregation spent less time worrying about not having enough butts in the pews and envelopes in plate, and instead offered our “this is all we have” to Jesus, knowing Jesus would transform it into something that is more than enough for everyone.
We will certainly all have a role to play; something surely will be demanded of us. But the grace is in knowing that it’s not all up to us. God has the seemingly-impossible logistics all taken care of. We simply have to be ready to release our fists clenched around the things we claim as ours, and instead offer the open palm of generosity and selflessness.
In a profound way, that’s what the city of Detroit did for our denomination last week. The city opened its hand, revealing its crumbling infrastructure and beautiful architecture, its rough neighborhoods and its smiling faces, its poverty and its pride, saying only “This is all we have.”
And for five days, 30,000 young people launched into their streets with all their brightly-colored t-shirts, obnoxious songs, constant high-fiving, eagerness to serve, belief they could make a difference, and infectious joy. For five days, what Detroit offered was more than enough because it was really God who was providing. We pray that city would continue to offer itself to the world; and we pray that we would continue to offer ourselves to Detroit and all who are in need, because that is where God is at work creating something out of nothing, hope out of despair, and abundance out of scarcity.
And here’s a video to show a little more about our experience in Detroit….