When I was a boy growing up my mother use to tell me not to leave any food on my plate. She’d encourage me to think about all those poor starving children in some foreign country who didn’t have anything to eat. I loved my mother who has transitioned from this life but I never could understand the logic of eating all the food on your plate if you are full.
I had a 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Hobbs, who would try to make us eat all of our food on our plate at lunch in the school cafeteria. Well there was some food I was disgusted by and I just couldn’t eat it no matter what. Like sweet potatoes or fish which they seemed to serve every Friday. So I devised a way of mashing the food down and covering it with a napkin so hopefully it looked like I had eaten every bite of food on my plate.
And I confess to you that I never have liked drinking pure milk. And that was the only choice of drinks back in those days of school. And my teacher insisted we drink our milk. So I opened it up and put the straw in the little pint carton to make it look like I had been drinking the milk.
I got Mrs. Hobbs back one time though for trying to force me to eat everything on my plate and drink my milk. I felt ill one day and tired to explain that to her—my stomach was upset and I just couldn’t eat. She insisted and demanded—I finally ate some food–and after that—well just let me say the janitor was soon in the lunch room with a mop and bucket.
My mother and Mrs. Hobbs had a thing about leftovers.
I wonder what my mother—who was a very devout Christian by the way—and my teacher—I don’t remember her religious orientation—I wonder what those two fine ladies, my mother and my 1st grade teacher, thought about this story recorded in the gospel about Jesus and all these leftovers he had in the feeding of the large crowd of people who had come to hear his teaching and stories? He was Jesus—God incarnate--why he didn’t he make just the right amount of food for that crowd? What a waste—all those leftovers. There was no refrigeration in those days so all those leftovers were just going to mold and rot. You’d think Jesus would know better.
A little girl Judy was leafing through a children’s book of illustrated Bible stories. When she came to the story in today’s Lesson she stopped turning the pages and began gazing intently at the illustration of Jesus standing before the great crowd, and breaking bread. Seeing the child’s fascination with the picture, her mother explained that this wasn’t the real Jesus, only an artist’s conception of Him. Still staring at the picture, the child replied, "Well, it sure looks like Him."
Right on Judy! In the story of the loaves and fishes, the New Testament writers have given us a picture of the real Jesus: the Jesus who shares His Bread of Life with us; the Jesus who heals our brokenness; the Jesus who has compassion on us, the Jesus who sees abundance where his disciples see only scarcity or what’s lacking in the situation before them.
But what would Mom and Mrs. Hobbs think about all those leftovers?
As I have thought about their concern that I eat every crumb of food on my plate I have realized that they had grown up in what seemed to be an insecure, threatening world. Both My mother and my 1st grade teacher had grown up during the great depression of the 1930s. And I know that my mother and her family continued to struggle even after the depression was over.
My mom lived in an environment where the focus was on scarcity or lack of economic security. If I left food on my plate I’m sure I was tapping into my mother’s anxiety about the days of scarcity in her childhood years. She and her other family members would have never had any food leftover—maybe some days had barely enough to eat.
But at a deeper level I know that my mother’s faith in her later years helped her to see more of God’s abundance—not just financially—but in every way—spiritually and emotionally. I know that because I observed her following the command of Jesus as we heard in his words to his disciples today—you give them something to eat. Out of her meager resources my mother shared the abundance of the divine spirit within through her love to her family and her sharing of what she did have with others.
There was a man who was cleaning up his desk one Friday afternoon when he noticed an envelope that had been opened. Someone must have placed it there while he was on the phone. He opened it and read it and to his shock and dismay it was a notice of being terminated, being laid off from his job. His entire department was being eliminated along with his position. After all the years he had given to his corporation he found himself filled with resentment and the sense of being victimized. The man sat slumped in his chair in utter despair.
He began to think of all the terrible things that were going to happen to him. His entire lifestyle would have to be altered. He thought, “I’ll have to sell my house; I’m too old to get another job; I’m useless; I’m all washed up.”
At that moment the man noticed a spider on his desk and without thinking he brushed it off. He was amazed though as he watched as the tiny creature automatically spin a strand to bear its weight and swing gracefully to the floor.
He pondered: If this tiny creature could draw forth from within itself some reserve of resources to meet its emergency, why could he not do as much? For many hours he sat deep in troubling thoughts that turned gradually to creative mediation.
The man moved from the anxiety of what he lacked to the abundance of the God-given inner resources he had been blessed with. He thought: “My security is not in my job or in my money or in my house but in my connection with the God of grace who has seen me through all circumstances in my life. They might take me off the payroll but no one can take away the flow of God’s abundance in my life.”
This man had secretly been longing for an opportunity to tap into his creative ability and interest in writing. Now here was the opportunity before him. A whole new way of thinking possessed him. He thanked God for the new door that had opened before him and even blessed his termination form his job. He left the office with an enthusiasm and zest for life that surprised even him self.
To make a long story short, the man had some writings published and earned some money. Now he didn’t become a financial giant but more importantly he had a new found faith in the abundance of god and became less anxious about what he lacked in his life.
I want to share with you another example of a person who has inspired me. He learned how to view the abundance of his life instead of what he lacked in dire circumstances.
You may have heard about the death of 47 year old Carnegie Mellon University computer-science professor Randy Pausch last week from pancreatic cancer.
Pausch was most famous for his "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" speech made last fall just after he learned he had months to live.
With wisdom, good humor and a total absence of self-pity, he ruminated on his life’s lessons. Audiences loved it and, within weeks, his "last lecture" became a giant YouTube hit and led to a best-selling book, The Last Lecture. He was interviewed on ABC’s Primetime in April and much of that interview was rebroadcast this past Tuesday.
He told the packed auditorium during his speech that he fulfilled almost all his childhood dreams - being in zero gravity, writing an article in the World Book Encyclopedia and working with the Walt Disney Co.
The one that eluded him? Playing in the National Football League.
In the talk, Pausch also talks about the importance of tenacity. "The brick walls are there for a reason," he said. "The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."
Do you sometimes perceive that you are imprisoned in wall built of bricks? Are you sometimes like the people in the crowd in the today’s gospel story? You think that it’s growing late. You are hungry, and tired. You feel like you are sinking into quick sand.
Or you might identify with the disciples in the story. You are overwhelmed by the problems in your family or loved ones or just people in general. What do I have to offer my co--worker in trouble, my friend in fear, my relative in pain?
You prefer to recommend sending the multitudes away. Jesus says to you too: “You give them something to eat.” You ask, "Where on earth, with these scant resources, do you expect me to find food for so many? My meager little 5 loaves, two fish-that’s no match for so great a need. Jesus you are off your rocker!”
Are you prepared today, even now in this moment to finally respond as did his disciples and turn over to him everything you have--everything you have counted on for your own security?. Will you give it all to Jesus?
Leftovers—not a symbol for scarcity but a symbol for the gracious, extravagant abundance that is offered at the hand of Jesus. What will you do with the leftovers?