Plenty for Today, Leftovers for Tomorrow
September 4, 2016
If you go to Pulaski, Tennessee, which is in the south central section of the Volunteer State, you can visit Milky Way Farm. Now, Milky Way Farm is not to be confused with Milky Way Farms which is here in the Upstate of South Carolina. Instead, the 2,800 acre farm in the rolling hills of southern Tennessee was purchased in 1930 by Franklin and Ethel Mars who raised thoroughbred race horses and Hereford Cattle there while employing over 800 people during the heyday of the estate.
The Mars also built a beautiful Tudor mansion on the property complete with 21 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. If you are wondering, the Mars made their fortune as the owners of the Mars Candy Company and named their estate there in Tennessee after their most popular item – the Milky Way Candy Bar. If you like, feel free to have one this afternoon, in their honor!?!
About 15 years ago, Ann Marie and I toured Milky Way Farms when we were on vacation in their area. Honestly, while I thoroughly enjoyed the day, there are only two things that I really still remember about it. First, I remember that Milky Way Farms produced a Kentucky Derby Winner. His name was Gallahadion. I’m sure you all remember him. He won the Derby back in 1940.
Second, I remember the huge dining room table housed there. That table was and remains the largest dining room table in a private home in Tennessee. In fact, some say it is the largest in a home in the United States. The dining room table at Milky Way seats 40 people. That’s right, 40 people. Interestingly, there is even a legend that says it is so grand that the Vanderbilts at Biltmore tried to buy it from the Mars Family. But, since no one could figure out how to get it out of the Milky Way Estate without sawing it in half, it stayed where it was built and remains there until this day!
The dining room table at Milky Way symbolizes abundance, extravagance and the idea of a feast. Those same words, I think, are the right ones for the Feeding of the 5,000 which is our text for worship today. Both in obvious and in subtle ways this story, which is the only miracle story and one of the few stories in general told by all four gospels, is about God’s abundant care for you and I as his children. It is, at its heart a tale of God’s miraculous abundance and extravagance that is offered daily to all of us.
On the subtle side of this as a story of extravagance we are told that these events happened during the period of the Passover. The Passover as a Jewish feast and holy period, focused the Israelite people on God’s continual care for them during both their time in slavery in Egypt and while they wondered in the wilderness for 40 years after their slavery. No matter how lean times were, God had made sure that their needs were met in ways that went far above and beyond what was necessary. So, during this time of remember God’s abundance in the past, Jesus acts abundantly in this miracle.
In a more direct way, the story tells of God’s abundance through the way that Jesus cares for the group of people that have gathered around him and his disciples who are working in a remote location on a mountainside near the Sea of Galilee. In the story, there they all were together, a long ways from town, when the time to eat arrived. With a bunch of hungry church people around and evidently no fried chicken available everyone wondered how they were going to feed such a gathering.
In fact, when Jesus asks Philip, who was the disciple from that area, what they should do, you can hear the hopelessness in Philip’s reply. Philip says, “well, Jesus, even if we had a Kentucky Fried Chicken or at least a Chick-Fil-A near here, it would cost us at least 200 denarii to feed all of these folks.” Since a day’s work usually earned 1 denarius in wages at that time, Philip was saying that the bill would be over half a years pay and that didn’t even include the tip!
To further illustrate the hopelessness that everyone but Jesus felt, Andrew, who was another of the 12 disciples, presents to Jesus a little boy who has five loaves of bread and two fish. This little boy appears to be the only one they can find with food. Interestingly, if you dig into the text, what you discover is that the Greek words that we translate here as five “loaves” really is better rendered in English as five “crackers”. And, the Greek word used for “fish” here signifies something akin to a small, tiny fish not a three pound salmon filet. In essence, what Andrew says is “all I could find was this little boy who has a few sardines and some saltines. That is all that we have available to us to feed this crowd!”
The miracle and again the sign of abundance comes when Jesus takes the sardines and crackers and feeds the crowd. Remember, the text says that there were 5,000 men which means that when you added the wives and children there were likely several thousand more who were present. Further, when all had received their fill, according to verse 13, we are told that the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. From five crackers and two sardines, Jesus fed thousands. He fed them until they were full. Further, he fed them so well that there were twelve baskets of leftovers. No, they didn’t get the smallest thing on the kid’s menu. Instead, they feasted at the Milky Way Farm table stuffing themselves on Jesus’ abundance.
So what’s the lesson for us? Well, there are lots of them, but, let me name two. First, we need to be aware daily of God’s provision in our lives. My sense is that most of us are more like Philip and Andrew than we are like Jesus in this story. Philip looked at the crowd and said it is going to cost to much. Andrew looked at the masses and said all that we have is a few crackers and some sardines. Jesus looked at the same crowd and saw the opportunity for an all you can eat buffet. Phillip and Andrew saw the limitations. Jesus saw the wild possibilities.
How often do we look at life and the circumstances of our days and see the limitations or the negative? How often do we miss the reality of God’s abundance, goodness and opportunities in our limited view that says we really don’t have that much? I fully believe that God puts everything that we need for almost every day and any situation at our disposal. But, first, we have to have eyes to see it and to look at life from that perspective.
I have a friend who used to be fond of the expression, “its not a problem, its an opportunity”. If I could tweek that, I would says as Christians we must be those who overlook the apparent limitations in order to see and seize God’s unlimited abundance that is ours far more often than we want to admit.
Second, we need to be aware that we generally have more than we need. I think the statement in verse 13 about there being twelve baskets of leftovers may be one of the most often overlooked and yet most intriguing in this whole story. If God is so generous to us that we receive our fill with some to spare, what does that mean? Well, in light of this story, again, it was a sign of how fully Jesus met their needs. In terms of our lives, I think it is a sign that we have a responsibility to share with others out of the bounty of God’s goodness to us.
Again, for most of us and most of the time it isn’t simply that God has met our needs. Instead, the reality is that God has given us even more than we need. So, what do we do with our abundance – we share it and I mean this in both physical and in spiritual ways.
When we lived in Kentucky, we had a family in our church where the husband loved to cook. It wasn’t uncommon for him to go to the store on a Saturday, buy a lot of items that were on sale or that caught his eye and come home to start cooking for the rest of the afternoon. Likewise, he would often look at all that he had prepared and begin to invite folks over spur of the moment for the evening. If you got invited, it was a spread. When you went home you were full of good food. But, you were also full of friendship, love and a reminder of the grace and hospitality of that family.
Those evening, always started when he looked at what he had in his midst and realized that he had way more than he and family alone needed and thus there was a recognized responsibility to share.
I invite you today to realize how fortunate most all of us are. And, I invite you to start living more each day aware of and in light of God’s goodness. We might be tempted to convince ourselves that we only have a few saltines and sardines, but, usually that is being very short-sided.
I also invite you to recognize that you often have more than you need alone and to begin to think about what it means for you to share – your resources, your possessions, your friendship, your time, you home through hospitality or whatever it might be. God hasn’t blessed you to be stingy. God has blessed you so that you also might be a blessing to others.
Without question, almost all of us have what we need for today with leftovers for tomorrow too. So, how will we view what is ours? And, what will we do with our abundance? Amen.