(October 2014 Newsletter Article)
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 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?” (John 6:1-5)
“Where we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus’ question to his disciples (both then and now) seems to operate under the assumption that the crowd’s lack of planning is somehow their (i.e., his and his disciples’) responsibility. Really, Jesus? Don’t you know the phrase, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”? I’m pretty sure Darth Vader (or many a not nearly so scary leader) wouldn’t feel the same way. And yet this is precisely the posture Jesus takes with his followers. The people are hungry. They’ve (mostly) forgotten to bring something to eat. It’s our responsibility to feed them.
It would appear that the disciples of Jesus at St. John Lutheran Church take Jesus’ expectation here seriously. For starters, our soon-to-be approved vision (“We envision a world fed and led by God”) and mission (“Fed and led by God, we live as a neighbor—to the West Central community, the city of Fort Wayne, and all the world”) statements suggests a greater responsibility for the feeding of the world, both physically and spiritually, through partnering with God to be a good neighbor to those around us. Of course, one way we live this out is by offering a free meal every Wednesday evening, where we feed the ‘large crowd’ that comes toward us from our immediate community (vs. 5). We further help some members of this crowd each week through our Good Samaritan Fund, which provides up to five food vouchers and/or all day bus passes to those who ask. (By the way, this fund is getting dangerously low, so contributions would be most welcome.) On a more spiritual level, we provide three worship opportunities every week and numerous other Bible / book studies where people can relate with God and grow in faith and life together as Jesus’ disciples. So in many important respects, the sign I recall seeing at JP’s BBQ in urban Columbus (across from the church I served during two years of seminary) is true: “We feed the people.”
But probe a little deeper with me, if you will. Where does the money come from to provide these meals, help people, and maintain the space for these worship, study and community development opportunities? First off, since neither Sharing the Joy nor the Good Samaritan Fund are supported in any way by our annual budget at this time, any money given toward these two important ministries should be considered ‘offerings,’ or giving to God and God’s work beyond one’s regular commitment to one’s local Church. This latter regular, annual commitment, in ‘church’ language, is called your tithe, or firstfruits, giving—often understood as being a certain percentage (10%) of your income. The firstfruits idea comes from ancient Israel, where the culture was agriculturally centered. You literally gave the first fruits of your harvest back to God in gratitude for all God had given you (including the harvest!), trusting God to provide in the rest of your harvest all you would need for the coming year, until the next harvest. This ongoing commitment, which at St. John we note on an “Estimate of Giving” card each fall, is what ‘keeps the doors open,’ so to speak, for the ministries described above that ‘feed the people’—physically and spiritually, both within our congregation and among the surrounding community.
So my question is, how’s your giving? How has it been to date, and how might you respond to Jesus’ expectations of feeding seen here in John 6? How might God’s Spirit be nudging you (“led by God”) to take on a greater responsibility in God’s ‘feeding ministry’ (“fed by God”)? These are the sorts of questions the Pony Express Stewardship team would like you to consider as the Pony Express gets ready to ride again, right here at St. John, October 19-29th. MayGod go with us all in this exciting journey of faith!
In His Grip,