Loaves and Fishes
By Rev. Fred L Hammond
This is an edited version of a sermon I gave regarding a generosity challenge to the congregation in Tuscaloosa, AL.
Of all the miracle stories told in the gospels, the story of feeding the five thousand seems to be the most probable. The story isn’t about yet another miracle, even though on first reading it could be and has been interpreted as such. It is instead a lesson on generosity.
Jesus’ disciples assume that the five thousand men, not including the women and children present would have nothing with them to eat. They urge Jesus to send them away so they may find something to eat in the villages. Jesus’ response is you feed them. You give them something to eat. The disciples only had enough for themselves, five loaves of bread and two fish. You can almost hear his disciples whine as they tell Jesus this fact.
If this story of Jesus multiplying the fish and loaves is in any way an historical account, then I believe that something other than the miraculous occurred. I believe it was his modeling generosity that multiplied the loaves and fish. In that crowd of people others also brought food. There is no way that the disciples were able to survey the entire crowd of 5,000 plus people to know that only 5 loaves of bread and two fish was the only food. Perhaps they were hoarding it and not letting others know they had some food. But when Jesus blessed the food he did have and began giving it away, this act was enough for others to follow Jesus’ lead in sharing the food they had brought. There was enough. In fact, they were able to fill 12 basketfuls with the leftovers. This wasn’t a miracle; it was instead how generosity works. …
The sharing of what we have does go further than when we hoard it for ourselves. Every time. And it seems to be enough. Every time.
I have noticed in my own life, perhaps you have noticed it in yours as well, that when I share of the bounty I have I am more open to the possibility of receiving… I know I have said this before, but I truly believe that money is nothing more than a symbol of the energy flow of life. It is always flowing. Sometimes it is a monsoon and sometimes it is the evaporating morning dew. And both ends of that pole are filled with challenges. I have known both ends of that pole, and when I am in the monsoon end, I have the ability to share and willingly do so from my abundance. I feel good being able to do so.
And I have known the feeling that what I have is evaporating like the morning dew and I want to cling on to every last penny. The difficulty I find with myself is that even in my clinging to the morning dew; I always seem to have enough for that movie, large soda and popcorn at the Cobb theater and I always seem to have enough for that Starbucks cinnamon dulce venti coffee but nope, nada for the church, nope nada for the food pantry, nope nada for Breast cancer research.
There is a quote I came across that states, “Don’t tell me where your values are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.” And it is at those times when I seem to have the money for Starbucks, which is not a necessity, and no money to support the micro loan program that aids the economic development of women in third world countries or the Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring program that my values, my shamefully self-centered-what-about-me-values begin to surface. Because truth is, even when I am feeling I have no ability to share my financial resources, I still find the money to purchase that bottle of wine or bag of chips or MacCafé or popcorn at the refreshment stand.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with purchasing these things. But if you are like me and feeling like money is evaporating like the morning dew, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate how necessary to the enjoyment of life are these extra non-essential items.
People in the 1% of the wealth of this country are not any happier or more fulfilled than those at the bottom 1% of wealth in this country. I know the Sophie Tucker quote, “I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” But the key to enjoying life and having happiness seems to be not the amount of money we have but the richness of our relationships with others. It is the values that we live out in our daily lives that will add to our happiness quotient.
I enjoy treating others. I am grateful that I have the income to enable me to pay my obligations and to have some money to set aside for later expenses, money set aside for causes that I find important and to be able to treat my friends every so often. I don’t live extravagantly. I am not trying to keep up with the Joneses by getting the latest iphone or wii gaming box. But I have enough. Enough to do the things that I feel are important, essential to my living my values, of how I want to be in the world.
How do you want to be in the world? I want to challenge this notion that we cannot be more generous than we are because of… name the reason. This simply is not true. We, regardless of the life challenges we are facing right now, can all be more generous than we were yesterday.
So last fall, I introduced a challenge to this congregation. I took $500 from the minister’s professional expense account and broke it into ten amounts. Four people received $25, four people received $50 dollars and two people received $100. The challenge was this: To find a way to grow this money into more money and then to give that money to a charity of one’s choosing.
How to grow the money was entirely up to the person. They could simply choose to match the money and give it to their charitable cause. They could use the money as an entrance fee to a walkathon for one of their causes. They could make something to sell and the profits could then go towards their cause. There was no restriction on how they were to do this. I gave them six months to do this. I did not keep track of who received the envelopes and I had shuffled the envelopes so I did not know who received what amount. The only thing that they had to do was to then report back to me in April with a report of what they did with the money. How they came up with the process of growing the money. What was the amount they began with and ended with, and something about the charity they gave the money to.
There were some interesting lessons learned along the way. Three of the projects are still incomplete and the reasons for the incompletion are interesting. They required the work, the generosity to be done by others. Generosity, it turns out, cannot be delegated. Even if it seems to be in the best interest of the other, generosity has be initiated by the self. One person realized after waiting several months for a group he was involved with to implement his idea, began to grow the money by himself and was able to increase the funds that he is giving to Breast Cancer Research. This project at last report is still ongoing. We will wait and see if the other projects will be completed.
One family did something interesting. The daughter took one of her art projects for school, a yarn picture of a butterfly and made this into note cards. Then she sold these cards. They turned their $50 dollars into $260. The daughter learned about the international women’s organization, the Soroptimist, which helps women to rise out of poverty and abusive situations. She is also very committed in the beautification project here at the church. So the money is being divided between two organizations, one being the church. The other is FINCA.
The family writes, “For some time we had been considering donating to a charity that does micro-loans to promising entrepreneurs in developing areas. We learned about FINCA, which supports women’s small growing businesses. When the loan is repaid, and some of the profits are saved, the entrepreneur has the possibility to apply for a second and larger loan. In this way a donation to FINCA can actually be used over and over again, helping to provide food, housing, schooling, and other basic support.”
The donation this family is making to FINCA will continue to grow with each new micro loan that is made to a woman in a developing country. This international charity has consistently for the past seven years received 4 stars for excellence as being one the best run charities in the world and in achieving its desired goals.
There are Unitarian Universalist congregations that have as a congregation chosen to help FINCA establish and support new micro loan banks in new communities in third world countries. This is something we too could do as a congregation.
It is no secret that [Name removed] loves to shop for clothes and shoes. You may be wondering what her secret is to her wonderful and attractive ensembles that she wears. Well, she shops at the various charitable consignment and thrift stores in the region. So she is already supporting the services that many in our region need to receive. Yet, with this challenge, she took this to another level.
She writes, “I made a deal with myself that whenever I wanted to buy clothes or shoes I would instead put that amount in the envelope or, if I bought something, I would have to match the amount and put it in the envelope. I came upon this idea because I’m a woman who likes clothes (or should I say “one of those women”) and have more than I need, and don’t need anymore. So, deflecting that desire to spend on clothes into a fund for charity seemed like a good lesson for me.”
This became a spiritual practice of generosity. Her practice grew her $25 into $320 and she decided to give this money to our congregation as a gift.
Another lesson that was learned is sometimes life gets in the way of our good intentions. Frequent business travels, family concerns, and the ever ubiquitous procrastination can derail our best efforts. But even with these barriers generosity can rise to the fore.
Two years ago, a couple visited their daughter in Mexico. She was working as an encargada or caregiver at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos orphanage in Miacatlán Mexico. They were very impressed, not only with the service their daughter was providing but with the orphanage as well. This organization, started by a priest in the 1950’s, has grown into an international organization that has served close to 16,000 orphans. The initial $25 was used towards paying for the initial month of support to one person. They write, “[We] will contribute an additional $30 per month until the student graduates, providing funding for the purchase of clothing, school supplies and personal items. We have recently been given the name of our “godchild,” who has just celebrated her 15th birthday. We will support this student until she graduates in approximately three years. In addition to the monetary contribution, we will be corresponding with the young person and can visit the home in Mexico.” The $25 will have yielded approximately $1,080 in generous support. …
The generosity challenge was, in my opinion, a wonderful success. Lessons were learned. New experiences are unfolding. And the grand total of money raised for charitable causes from the $500 to date is $2,575. Margaret Mead stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Blessed Be.