God Feeds the Sheep
Some of you may know I just spent a week as a session director at Camp Allen, our Diocesan summer camp for youth. About 80 fourth and fifth graders arrived last Sunday, some for their first extended time away from home, some with no exposure to the gospel and some from difficult homes. I have done this for about ten years now and must admit, while it is often the highlight of my summer, it is sometimes difficult to get motivated. The two-hour drive sometimes comes with combinations of dread of a long sleepless week, too much time away from home, and a fear that this will be the year the planned program falls apart. None-the-less so, this summer, as I looked at a weather report that included a 105-degree forecast for our first full day of camp. Oh, and did I mention that the Director’s Quarters AC failed on Monday night. On that night, the adult staff would drag our mattresses into the dining hall, where the AC still worked, but the five o’clock wakeup call caused by the kitchen staff’s early arrival made for an unpleasant start to our day.
Anyway, all that said, something is amazing about camp, summed up in the experience of one 5th grade camper, who when he arrived made everyone aware that he had no desire to be there. He would sit in the back during the program, fiddling with his name tag, he would sit off to the side during games or the pool. But something started happening by Wednesday, the ice began to break (or given the 105-degree heat, perhaps melt) and he began to participate and have fun, and even ask questions during program that made me aware that he had almost no exposure to church. By the time he left yesterday morning, he was asking questions about how to come back next year. He told his counselor, “When I came I really didn’t want to be here, but now I don’t want to leave.”
Camp Allen is truly amazing and a jewel for the diocese of Texas for so many reasons, but this, the experience of summer camp, may be its most important feature. No place, include the church building on Sunday morning, am I more aware of the way that God feeds the sheep. Let me put it this way, I know it is not my program that does it, because it is so simple that it is hardly impressive. I know it is not the plethora of camp activities like blobbing, canoeing, paddleboarding, or horseback riding, because none of those things existed when I was a camper, and somehow camp still worked back then. I know that it is not the beautiful wooded location, because I have been to other places that are equally, if not more beautiful. But what I do know, is that there is hardly any place where young adults, teenagers, and adult staff, will consistently gather purely in the hope that the children in their care will experience the love of Christ. I have often referred to Camp Allen as the crucible of MY Christian formation, and I believe it will be the same for many of the children who gathered last week, or for that matter for any summer camp session. But here is the other miraculous thing, I am fed too, even as an adult, I walk away refreshed and renewed for ministry, and even though I may be physically spent, I am spiritually renewed. Because there is nothing, like seeing God work within the confines of the meager offerings we bring forward. God abundantly pours his love into even the most meager of efforts so that many may be fed. EVEN as I am thinking, there is not enough, I am not enough, we are not enough.
It is hard to avoid the parallels to camp, as Jesus disciples scramble about in this morning’s reading, looking for some way to feed the crowd that has gathered fearing that they might revolt or become incited to violence. It is hard to avoid the parallels to the five loaves and two fish that somehow have to feed a great crowd. It is hard to avoid the similarities as the love of God always ALWAYS, adds up to more than the sum of its parts. We get so trapped in our own sense of scarcity, we are convinced that there is no way there is enough to go around. Whether, we are talking about money, food, or love, we feel that there must be a limit. John’s gospel is uniquely tied to this idea of God’s abundance, from the first sign at Cana as Jesus abundantly transforms water into wine, to the abundant anointing of Jesus by Mary with expensive oils, to the preparation of Jesus body for burial with an abundance of embalming ingredients. John’s Gospel insists that Jesus is the way to abundant life, but I, and probably most of us, have difficulty living like that. I, too often, believe there will never be enough, not enough participants, not enough volunteers, not enough of me to make anything happen. I can’t help but think that that can somehow affect the outcome. Are we capable of believing in the infinitely abundant God on an earth that is so bound up in scarcity, with all the haves and have-nots, where wealth seems to skip entire cultures, where some hoard while others starve? What is clear is that we have difficulty trusting God’s abundance.
But what if we all brought even the most meager of gifts forward, what if even the smallest offering of five loaves of bread and two fish were held up as a potential for God’s infinite abundance? What if we believed that even in the smallest of ways, these offerings could reflect God’s abundance in our lives? What if we began to live our lives that trusted in God’s abundance?
Typically, when I arrive at camp on Saturday before the campers, I have some notes scrawled in a notebook, a few arts and crafts projects, and some additional ideas that I am still working out in my head. Over the years I have had some programs work better than others, but here is the truth, I believe that God always works abundantly within the confines of those meager offerings, not because God wants to glorify me, but because God wants to feed the sheep. And if God can work abundantly within what I bring forward, then I have to trust that God can work within the confines of anything, ANYTHING, making them more than they appear on their surface. And just as I am about to flee in fear, because I am convinced that I am not enough, a community is brought together to make it more than I could make it alone. Adult and youth volunteers and of course the campers themselves. Is that not the pattern that we partake of at this table every Sunday? What if we lived this pattern in our lives, what if the world began to live by this pattern. I wonder if we might be like that young camper I talked about earlier, transformed from a desire to flee in fear to a hope that it will never end. May we have a community of people to support even our most hair-brained idea. May we reach out bravely fiercely holding to God’s promise. May we have life and have it abundantly!