As many of you know, seven of us just got back from a ten-day mission trip to Baja, Mexico. In my sermon today I want to share with you why, out of the five excellent, life-changing mission trips I’ve been on, this was by far the best mission trip ever. But, even more importantly, I want you to know why this should matter to you.
Ready? The strength of all of the other mission trips I’ve been on--the thing that made them so successful and excellent--was that they all followed the same formula, and the formula worked! No matter who you were--no matter how old or young you were; no matter what part of the country you came from or what denomination you belonged to--you were pretty much guaranteed to have an excellent mission experience if the leaders of the mission followed their formula.
As I say, this was the strength of all four previous mission trips. All followed the formula, and all worked, whether in South Dakota, Costa Rica, or Alaska.
But, like in most things in life, the strength of all four of these previous mission trips was also their greatest weakness. Because, you see, it really didn’t matter who you were: it didn’t matter how old or young you were, what part of the country you were from, or what denomination you belonged to. No matter what, as long as they plugged you into their formula, you were guaranteed a successful mission experience. But it had nothing to do with you: with your gifts and talents.
Contrast that with the mission trip we just had. There was no formula. There was no guarantee. But this trip had everything to do with who we were. It had everything to do with where we came from in life, and our gifts and talents.
And that’s what made it the best mission trip ever. But not only that! That’s what also makes it a perfect example of what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel story, and what he is asking from each of us right now!
After Jesus learned about the death of John the Baptist, he sought to take himself and his disciples out of the limelight for a while. He wanted to be alone. But it wasn’t to be. Word about his whereabouts traveled fast and, soon, Jesus was faced by thousands and thousands of needy people.
No problem. Jesus took care of them. He cured the sick and calmed the troubled but, at the end of the day, thousands--literally thousands--of people remained. “Send the people away,” Jesus’ disciples plead. “Let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.”
This is not an unreasonable suggestion. A riot--or at least a panic--could break out at any minute. Dispersing the crowds is a good idea.
Jesus will hear none of it. “You yourselves give them something to eat!” he says.
Right. Food for five thousand coming right up! “All we have here are five loaves and two fish.”
We’re not talking about five loaves of wonder bread and two whole salmon. We’re talking about one person’s lunch bag: five hard, bread-like crackers and a couple of sardines. It’s enough for one, not five thousand, right?
No. That’s the key: no. What that one person brought with him or her--small though it may seem--is enough. And that’s the key, not only to today’s gospel story, it’s also the key to what made this the best mission trip ever, and to why this should matter to you! What that person had with him or her was enough.
“Bring them here to me,” Jesus says. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish--one person’s lunch bag--looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
And everyone ate and had enough.
A little over two weeks ago the seven of us arrived at Lantern Hill mission outside of Ensenada, Mexico. To be honest, I’d been annoyed with the mission. Based on my previous experience, I just couldn’t understand why they couldn’t--or wouldn’t--tell us exactly what we’d be doing during our ten-day mission trip. Every other place I’d been followed a formula. Every other place could say, “On Monday you’ll be doing this. And on Tuesday you’ll be doing that.” Why couldn’t Lantern Hill do the same?
The reason they couldn’t is because we hadn’t arrived yet and they hadn’t met us yet! The reason they couldn’t is because they didn’t yet know who were we and what gifts and talents we had brought with us. They didn’t yet know--we didn’t yet know--how God would speak to each of us and how God could use each of us in a way that perfectly suited us and that perfectly matched the situation.
“You yourselves give them something to eat!” Pete thought he was on vacation, simply visiting his daughter at Lantern Hill. Pete was an electrician from Hershey, however. His “five loaves and two fish” turned out to be enough to completely rewire--from street to outlet--Baja 89, an indigenous Mexican mission to slum kids in Ensenada.
Zack is good with babies. (Who knew?) Brian has the uncanny ability to be open and non-threatening to anyone and everyone. Jonathan has a great ear and could quickly pick up languages. Robin and Judi--where to start?--Robin is good with babies, good with kids, flexible, hard-working, and good at painting. Judi is all that, plus she’s got a grandmother’s wisdom and experience.
Chelsea--from her years in our Sunday School and VBS--is good with figuring out crafts and is good enough with Spanish to be able to sit down with troubled school kids and help them learn.
Even I had “five loaves and two fish”! But, you see, I think that’s exactly what Jesus wants us to realize today. Every single one of us has our own “bag lunch”--our own “five loaves and two fish”--our gifts and talents that, when offered to God, are enough to truly carry the love and help of Christ to others.
Maybe you’re naturally friendly and outgoing. Maybe your gift is to make new people feel welcome. Maybe you’ve got good organizational skills. Maybe you’re good with your hands. Maybe you simply notice people: you notice when they’re happy or they’re sad. You notice if they’re lonely or nearly exploding with excitement.
To you, any or all of these things might seem no more than five loaves and two fish. Enough for you, perhaps, but certainly not enough for others. And certainly not enough to offer for any useful purpose to Jesus, right?
“Bring them here to me,” Jesus says. Give what you have to me so that I can bless it and give it back to you so that you can then give it away to others. Bring it here to me.
The reason why this was the best mission trip ever is because it asked the same thing from us that Jesus asks each of us today: what do you have? What are your gifts, talents, passions, and interests that can be used by Christ in helping and caring for others?
Jesus says, “Bring them here to me!” Then he took what his disciples brought him, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. And everyone had enough. In Jesus’ name. Amen.