Enough and More
I’ve been offered the opportunity today to make a plea for First Friends. In the bulletin you may have seen a snapshot of our current financial condition.
If I were the CFO for a public company and had to defend the financial position to investors, I might rightly be sweating bullets.
And you might think that I’m up here because I drew the proverbial short straw.
And, yes, the current state and trends for the meeting seem pretty dire. In the first three months of 2016 we are running an outsized budget deficit far in excess of the deficits that we have run in the past. At the rate we are currently running, without a change, this deficit could very well be an insurmountable challenge.
But I stand before you this morning without sweating bullets and with an incredible amount of hope and faith. I believe with all of my heart that we not only can come together to provide enough financially to close the gap, but that we have the wherewithal and ability to provide more. And by providing more, I’m not speaking merely of finances…considering not just closing the gap financially but providing more to make the Meeting its most thriving ever.
In the history of religious institutions there have been a variety of creative ways to fundraise. In Jesus’s time sacrifices were sold at incredible mark-ups to which Jesus repeatedly responded with great anger. In medieval times—and yes in countries like Germany even today!—taxes, albeit optional, are levied to support churches. Indulgences were sold by the Church centuries ago that spawned wholesale reforms. And after all these changes the challenge continues to fundraise. We continue to see pledge drives, bake sales, carnivals, raffles, fish fries, bingo, and a variety of other means to help income match the expenses of different ministries.
But this morning I am going to try a different approach altogether. I am going to explore a story:
- A story about The First Friends,
- A story about First Friends, and
- A story about us.
We read today in the Scripture this morning a story about The First Friends, Jesus and his Friends the Twelve Disciples. This is one of the stories that is so important and impactful that it is found in each one of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I particularly like the version in the Book of John because it provides not only the most detail but helps us realize how we also can make miracles happen with our own efforts along with God’s help.
Harkening back to this morning’s Reading, the story takes place towards the beginning of Jesus’s ministries. He has healed many, and many have come to hear him during the Passover Celebration, the Feast of the Jews. Coincidentally, this same Celebration has been celebrated as it has for millennia by our Jewish friends this very weekend. And during this Passover celebration two millennia ago 5000 people have gathered on the other side of the Sea of Galilea to see and listen to Jesus’ ministry. In the Story, none of Jesus’s parables told that day or other words that may have been spoken outside of those associated with the Miracle are recorded. I wonder what he might have said…Could there have been a parable with as much impact as the Lost Shepherd, the Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan that I have found so guiding on my spiritual journey? Perhaps…However, the Miracle which occurred and was captured was the Story of the day.
Again, it was the Passover Celebration…a time which according to Jewish tradition and as recorded in Exodus 12:14 would be “…a memorial day…[a day that shall be kept] as a feast to the Lord” and a time where bread is an integral part of the story…unleavened bread that is. Bread that the Hebrews didn’t have the time or materials to leaven during their Exodus from Pharaoh and Egypt.
And in the Story of the Fishes and Loaves it seemed during this Passover Feast that bread was a scarce commodity.
As we read in the Scriptures:
“Jesus went up to the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘How are we to buy the bread, so that these people may eat?’
Jesus essentially posed this rhetorical question to The First Friends:
“Will we have enough?”
How many times are we asking this very same question? In fact, I essentially started this message this morning with it.
How many times do we ask this question in a lot of areas of our lives?
- To worry about having enough of something… that something must be counted.
- And what can be counted in our lives?
- And for it to count… we must possess it.
- And for it to suffice for our needs… it must be ours.
But what can really be ours?
Of course we can commonly think of having many things:
- Tangible, physical things like money, houses, clothes, and cars.
- Temporal things like time, health, skills, and earthly life itself.
o Things that we may have at one moment and suddenly lose.
- Relationships such as family, parents, children, friends, and community.
- And spiritual gifts such as faith, hope, and love. [I Corinthians 13]
Our culture promotes a steadily growing need for more and more of the first two categories of what can be seen and measured: the tangible and temporal. And it does so, all too often, at the expense of the latter of relationships and spirituality.
…The culture promotes an appetite for more and more.
More…so that we may buy the “bread” so that we may “eat”.
So that we can satisfy our material wants and physical needs.
But can these material wants and physical needs ever be satisfied while walk the earth and our souls are incarnate?
Will we ever have enough?
What holds us back from feeling secure that we have enough?
As I have pondered this question these past few weeks, I have concluded that Fear is what holds us back – or at least what holds me back.
Fear of running out of what we need or will need. Making ends meet. Saving enough for college expenses. Saving for retirement.
Fear of running out of what we want. A new car. A nice vacation.
Fear of losing what we have and hold dear. Losing a house and home or the lifestyle to which we’ve been accustomed due to some unforeseen financial crisis.
Now Fear is a real emotion and sometimes can be very useful to protect us from some very real hazards. But when I think of it, Fear is also really a fiction. For Fear to manifest itself, we must imagine a negative potential action or outcome in the future. And that future could be immediate or years away, but being the future the action or outcome is still in question and uncertain.
And what is the best way to overcome Fear?
We read throughout the Bible and experience it ourselves that Fear is conquered with Faith. [Psalm 23, Matthew 6, John 3:16, etc. etc.]
Faith is a certain belief in a positive future state.
And it is places like First Friends, and Meetings, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other houses of worship where communities like ours can gather to meet with friends to explore, develop, restore, and strengthen our Faith.
Faith in the future…Faith in each other…and Faith in God’s Promises.
Will we have enough?
Back to the Story of The First Friends from the Scripture Reading…
The First Friends were bewildered by Jesus’s question. They answered that it would take 200 denarii or a day laborer’s wages for an entire year to buy enough bread to feed the five thousand gathered to hear Jesus.
The First Friends still did not have Faith.
Andrew, one of the Disciples, was distraught when he spied a boy [lad] with five barley loaves and two fish during the Passover Feast.
This one of The First Friends, Andrew, doubted…just like Thomas later in the gospels… and just like us today.
But Jesus provided the answer…after accepting the gift of the lad’s five loaves and two fish and giving thanks, Jesus and The First Friends not only provided enough, they provided more. As we read in the Scripture, after everyone ate, twelve baskets were filled from fragments of the barley loaves left by those who had eaten enough.
This story not only happened in all of the gospels This story happens every day when we share with each other as a First Friends Meeting, with our friends in the wider community, and strangers throughout the world who are simply friends that we haven’t met yet.
Will we have enough?
Knowing the answer, Jesus is still asking us this rhetorical question and testing us today as he did Philip in the The First Friends Story of the Fishes and Loaves. And he continues answering as he did in the gospels:
We will have more when we realize we have enough.
When we realize we have enough to share our physical, temporal, familiar, and spiritual gifts, we as a broader community will have much, much more.
We collect things out of fear, and it is places and communities like First Friends that catch us when we may find or feel that we don’t have enough—not necessarily not having enough in material things but in a desperate need for more…
This was certainly the case for Beth, me, and our family a few years ago when we were separated from each other by the Atlantic Ocean with me in Germany and Beth and the kids back home her in Indiana. During this difficult time, we benefitted greatly from our time at the Meetinghouse on Sundays, and visits and meals and love from Friends in the Meeting. We appreciated the Meeting so much, in fact, that we left immediately for the airport after attending the Meeting the first week of June in 2012. And our Friends in the Meeting were an essential part of our healing when our adventure was cut woefully short, and we found ourselves living in a hotel suite back home again in Indiana a few months later in August. The Kay family’s Story with First Friends is full of similar opportunities to both give and receive in our last decade since we first walked in the Meeting House on a beautiful September day in 2006.
That is one quick story of First Friends Meeting.
And Now for the Story of Us….as a Meeting…
I invite all of us to reflect during unprogrammed worship on how we have been integral to the Meeting’s ministries to provide more when we didn’t have enough and when we in the Meeting have likewise been provided support when enough was in doubt….