Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Just Like Loaves and Fishes

“Just Like Loaves and Fishes….”

Several years ago, I was part of a youth mission trip to Chicago. The youth were going to be in Chicago for 8 days and during those 8 days they worked in various missions around the Chicago area - every day there was a different kind of work. They worked at a food pantry helping to sort and stock food; they worked at a woman’s shelter where they worked with the women as they studied for their GED; they worked in a soup kitchen staffed by two nuns and supported by restaurants in the area who would drop off the food left over from their kitchens from the night before.
This was the project which made the most impact on these kids because what we had to do is essentially go through food that was spoiling and cut out the good portions of aging fruit, we picked out the good portions of left over lettuce from salad bars, we picked through vegetables to get the pieces that were still edible. By the time we were done and we assembled these left overs into meals and we were amazed at how many people we served. From leftovers and a morning’s hard work came enough food to feed an overwhelming number of people.
We are part of a denomination where 80% of the churches are 80 members or less. And in a culture where the first question that is always asked when there is an activity is ‘How many were there?’ ‘How many came?’ ‘How big was it?’, we often try to add qualifiers to our size as if we are defensive and embarrassed that we are small; that we have fewer numbers.
But the story of God as recorded in scripture teaches us something quite different. If I preached a sermon on all the times God used something that had a lot of people or a large number of anything or something big, the sermon would be over already because there weren’t any times when God began anything with something large or numerous. We need to shout for joy that we are small and that God chose us and gifted us to be this small congregation that is a bright light in this community.
Look at the history of God’s people - God started of with one man; well one man and his wife. That was it. God said I am going to have followers as numerous as the stars and I am going to start doing that with 2 people….. 2 people and from those 2 people came a great nation. The point - God always starts his work with something small - something small and with faith. From the time of Abraham through the teachings of the New Testament we are reminded of Abraham, time after time, with the lesson that God started small with Abraham and Sarah - but that the other important element was faith. Abraham is held up before us as the example of what faith is to be like….. “Hey Abraham. There is only you and Sarah and from you will come a great nation if you will trust me enough to pack up everything you own and head off into unknown territory; if you will only have faith.”
Faith seems to be the key and we as a small church need to remember that. We need to keep in mind that yes we are small, but if we have faith - if we truly trust in God - then nothing is impossible; there is nothing we can’t do if God lays it before us.
Our short passage from Deuteronomy earlier in the service, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other people, for you were the fewest of all peoples” was said by God to Moses who in turn relayed it to God’s people. God’s people had been freed from Egypt and God was sending them to the promised land. But, God said through Moses, there are 7 nations who already live in the promised land and you are going to have to defeat them. Each of those 7 nations, God says, “are greater and more numerous than you.” And God says ‘It is going to be your job to defeat them and take over the land.” What? We are this small group of people and we not only have to defeat one group of people who have more weapons and more people than we do? We have to defeat 7 nations with more and better weapons and more people than us? What? “Won’t be a problem” God says, “As long as you have faith that I will help you.” And what do we find out as we continue reading this story in the Biblical account - they did it. God’s people were able to conquer the 7 more numerous and more powerful and better equipped nations who lived in the land of Canaan - the Promised Land. God tells us then that the whole reason that he did it this way was to show the world that with God helping you, the small can achieve great things.
We could go on with these stories the rest of the day. Bible story after bible story glorify the small and the weak and the unusual and the makes no sense - able to do great things for God because of their faith and trust in him.
Jesus was the same way. Jesus had a fascination with all things small and humble - mustard seeds and sparrows and grains of wheat and yeast and on and on…. and the remnants of a boy’s lunch. There is a German proverb that says, “You can’t make bread from crumbs.” Well, don’t tell Jesus that. The whole message of the kingdom, the message Jesus kept hitting over an dover, the sermons he physically demonstrated were “Start small and see what God can do.” And Jesus’ response to that proverb, “You can’t made bread out of crumbs’ Is to promptly make dinner for 5000 (which was really closer to 25,000) out of crumbs.
We know the story - and in fact this is one of the very few stories that occur in all four Gospels - which tell us the importance God places on this teaching. Jesus has been teaching all day to this huge crowd and it getting to be late in the day and Jesus realizes these people have not eaten this whole time. So he gathers his disciples and says, “It is getting late, we need to feed these people”. The disciples solution was to send them home and to let them get their own food, but Jesus says, “No. We’ll feed them.” But, but, but, - the disciples were full of excuses as to why this was not possible. Jesus did the Jesus eye roll at them and said, “We will feed them.” Just then Andrew shows up with a young boy who had some fish and bread - just what his Mom had given him for his dinner. These are little fish, maybe 2 or 3 inches in length and small rolls - “but we can’t do anything with that.” Again with the Jesus eye roll….. “Sit everyone down.” And Jesus took the loaves and the fishes, he asked for God’s blessing on the food and he began to break up the bread and give it to the disciples and the disciples distributed it. And not only was there enough, there was an abundance. We are told that it wasn’t that everyone had food, everyone had enough food to fill them up. They were full. You know that full when you say, “I’m SO full….” and you rub your belly cause you know it is full. And not only is everyone full - but there are 12 baskets full of leftovers. From the small, 5 small loaves and 2 fish, came an abundance.
Over and over again God tells us that he does this deliberately. God deliberately calls the small things of this world to do his work - why? We sometimes think it is to work us to death….. but he does it because on the surface, it doesn’t appear that this would be possible. He does it specifically because in actuality we can’t do what we are called to do on our own. If we, as a small church are to do what we are asked to do, we can only do it through God’s provision. But through God’s provision, we can do it.
I hear this all the time from other people in other churches, “How can you all do all that you do?” - meaning how can we provide the ministries we do with the number of people we have. You are a generous bunch but when you realistically look at what we accomplish, “We really can’t on our own. But God can….”
Now I know there are days when you are tired and burnt out and you just don’t think you can do one more thing or go shopping and bring in one more thing to donate to someone else and God says, “I need you to……”. And we grumble - and it gets done because God gave us that one more zap of time and energy and resources.
1 Corinthians says, “God specifically chose the powerless and the things the world counts as nothing” to do his work so that the world can see that if we, the small and powerless, trust in God; if we have faith; if we truly believe in God’s provision; If we remember we aren’t like other clubs or organizations or groups - we are the church of Jesus Christ, chosen and gifted and ordained by God; if we follow through on what God calls us to do and then give God the credit for what we are able to accomplish, there is nothing we can’t do for God.
But our broken world right now needs so much. We need understanding and peace and reconciliation; we need healing and wisdom and cooperation. As a small church we think we can’t do anything about those huge reforms that need to come about.
But God tells us something different - God says “Look what I accomplished with 2 people, with my 1 son; look at what I did with only a few loaves and fishes… imagine what I can do with you.
We need to never say, “I wish we were bigger; I wish we had more”. We are exactly who God chose us to be - We are the small churches of our communities, chosen so that we can show the world what is possible if we live and serve with complete faith in God. Celebrate! Give praise to God! For we, the small churches, are his and with his power we can make a difference.