The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late;send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Grace to you and peace, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I don’t want to be one to assume thoughts, but I’m sure there are at least a few of you who are wondering about a few things from this service. Among the myriad of wonderings, I’m sure at least a few of you are asking yourselves, “Did we come to the wrong service? It seems more like ‘Storytime with Bryan’ than a Lenten worship.” Let me assure you that I’m not off my rocker completely (although, I guess technically, I’m not really on the rocker anymore either). I have a plan. As a parent of young kids who like to read (or rather have my wife and me read to them), I have been astounded at some of the things I’ve learned in those illustrated pages. They often seem to tell a story that we, as adults, have sometimes forgotten and offer lessons that we all need to remember. So, during Lent, we will be having a children’s book as part of our readings. Some of them you may know, some of them may be new to you. But I think we can all learn something from them. If we really believe that the Word of God is living and active, then that Word can be just as active in this book as it is in the headiest of theological textbooks.
So, today we start with a book entitled Extra Yarn. It was written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen. To make a brief synopsis, in case you were busy wondering what in the world I was doing, here’s the gist of it. It tells the story of a young girl named Annabelle who finds this box, filled with beautiful bright yarn, which never seems to end. She uses this yarn to brighten up the world in which she lives by knitting. An archduke decides that he wants it, so he steals it after she refuses to sell it to him. But, when he opens it, the box is empty. Frustrated and full of rage, he throws the box out the window where is finds its way back to Annabelle, who continues to knit from the yarn she finds back in the box. Whoa, blows your mind, right?
There are a lot of parallels between this book and what we see in our everyday lives. In a very literal sense, we currently are dealing with a world that is filled with the white of snow and the black of soot. But in a more figurative sense, we sometimes feel the world is a bleak place for other reasons, with news of terrorism, crime, death, and funding that is just running out. We don’t need to look too far to see that people have needs that are not always being met and wants that don’t exactly meet those needs.
Before you think that this is a purely fictional or modern issue, we can see a parallel between the Biblical world and our world, too. Elijah (1 Kings 17.8-16) met a mother and son who were getting ready for what they assumed to be their last meal. They had no more flour or oil to make the bread or flatbread cakes, which were a staple for those who could not afford the pricier foods, such as meat or produce. The drought made even that flour too expensive for them. They had decided that they would make one more meal, eat it carefully, savoring each bite, and simply wait to starve. But Elijah comes along and, by a miracle, the flour and oil last, they eat what they must to survive until the rain came and they could get more.
We see that kind of miracle in our gospel for the day, too. This is a better known miracle of Jesus, one that gets a lot of press. It’s a larger scale than our first reading, but it’s the same idea. No food -> miracle -> food enough for everybody. Jesus feed five thousand people with loaves and fish! God fed the widow and her family ate for days from jar that held what they thought to be their last meal! God’s provision, poured out by love, lasts!
Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that if you just pray hard enough, put your trust in God enough, or do the right thing enough that you’ll always get what you want. God isn’t some cosmic vending machine that you go to exchange your prayers for favors like you’d spend quarters for knickknacks. There are people all over the world struggling to get by who pray and trust a lot more than I do. I’m not suggesting that life is perfect for those who come to church each week or anything like that.
But, instead, I want to back to our book, Extra Yarn. Annabelle knit sweaters and hats. She knit them for everyone and everything that looked like it could use it. Her generosity never ended and, every time she finished helping someone, she’d start on someone else. I’m convinced that is why the yarn never ran out. She was generous with it, so it lasted. But the yarn is not just yarn. If she had been given a bundle of sticks, she would have started campfires for cold people. If she stumbled across a never ending supply of dough, warm cookies for everybody! She did what she did out of a loving and generous heart. She was content to use what she had to be a blessing for other people. She knew that there was always something she could do to help people. She knew that love doesn’t run out. Love doesn’t run out.
And that’s why we are here, right? That’s why we come here each week or each month or whenever you happen to get here. We come because we need to be reminded that love doesn’t run out. We have seen that in stories in the Bible and we see that in books like Extra Yarn. Love and fulfillment and generosity don’t come by hoarding it, but by sharing it. God shows love through Jesus’ death and resurrection, taking on our sins. And that forgiveness and reformation, like that magical box of yarn, does not end. You cannot buy it. You cannot steal it. You can only receive it and share it. And, guess what! God is pretty generous with love! Sometimes it comes from miracles, like we’ve seen. Sometimes that love is shown through food or health or money or miracles like that. But most of the time, that love is shown when someone comes to you, meeting a need you didn’t even realize you had. God’s love is shown when someone visits you in the hospital or gives you a smile when you need it most. God’s love is shown in a listening ear or a reassuring sense of space, allowing you to feel something together.
People of God, we get to be a part of that! Why? Because we have experienced that. We have experienced grace and forgiveness. We have experienced community and compassion. And so, we share it with others, because that’s how the kingdom of God and the love of God are shown and known.
There are a lot of bad things in this world that look as though they will last forever. And there are a lot of good and beautiful things that seem to last not nearly long enough. It seems that everything runs out. But God’s love? But, it turns out that it doesn’t. Amen.