9 Pentecost, Proper 12 – July 26, 2015

John 6:1-21

So, do you all know Dorothy?

Dorothy Gale, an orphaned teenager who lived with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry on a Kansas farm in the early 1900s. Like most teens, in fact, like most adults, if we’re honest, the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. Or, more specifically, for Dorothy, it was brighter somewhere over the rainbow.

If Dorothy’s life wasn’t bad enough, always daydreaming about better days, her life became miserable after her dog, Toto, had an unfortunate encounter with Miss Gulch. To make a long story short, Dorothy ran away with Toto – seeking that elusive rainbow. After meeting an itinerant and phony fortuneteller, Professor Marvel, Dorothy realized that she really missed her family, even if things weren’t the way she wanted them to be.

Dorothy immediately returned home with Toto, only to find a tornado approaching. Unable to reach her family in their storm cellar, Dorothy entered the house, is knocked unconscious by a loose window, and apparently begins to dream. Along with her house and Toto, she’s swept from her sepia-toned world to the magical, beautiful, dangerous and Technicolor land of Oz.

Often, our lives are like Dorothy’s. We wander aimlessly in life wondering what is to become of our lives and what God might want of us. We dream for the best but realize, through the twists and turns of life, wandering through woods full of lions, and tigers, and bears; that our lives often don’t turn out the way we expected them to be. We learn, as Dorothy did, that after our journeys, what we often longed for was right in front of us.

What is right in front of us? The story of Jesus feeding thousands with five loaves and two fishes is told in all four gospels.  Let’s start by putting ourselves in the place of the crowds following Jesus. In particular, let’s imagine just how disappointed and confused those folks must have been when Jesus left them. Disappointed because they had just witnessed an incredible miracle and so they expected such great things from this young prophet only to have him abandon them. Confused because they could not understand why Jesus would leave them, why he would run away in response to their appreciation and adulation.

The people who witnessed Jesus’ miracle saw in him their salvation from political tyranny and wanted from him more of his miraculous power, healing, and nourishment. And it’s at just this point that Jesus withdraws. For he would not be king on their terms…or on anyone else’s. Christ’s word to these faithful people was harsh; for it was the word, “No.” No to all their ambitions and delusions of power and control. They were missing what was right in front of them in their quest for the proverbial rainbow.

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker speaks about a game called “Disqualification”.  He explains how it works. People disqualify themselves because of who they are. They consider themselves not old enough, not young enough, not smart enough, not wealthy enough, not something-or-other enough to give a gift.

Individuals can play this game Disqualification. It can also be played by teams. A congregation can function as a team, and many do. When that happens, then the congregation says, whether by word or action: We’re not big enough, or wealthy enough or devout enough, or educated enough to give a gift, to make a difference in the world. So we’ll just wait until we are.

Disqualification is also the name of the game when a person or a group says:  What we have isn’t worthy to be called a gift. It’s small and simple and poor and laughable. It’s not enough. They wouldn’t want it. It’s pitifully small and slight compared to the needs of the world.

Yet another form of Disqualification happens when people question their own motives, and that keeps them from giving. If I have some connection with the recipient, if I feel some passion about what causes that person to need my gift, then I may have doubts about the supposed purity of my motive, and that may keep me from presenting my gift. Now do you recognize this game called Disqualification? Have you seen individuals and groups play it, and keep themselves from giving? Have you perhaps played the game yourself, and kept your hand closed, and squelched your desire to take action? Many of us have.

There was story about a Michigan resident who—thank God— had not learned to disqualify herself from giving. Her name is Krystal Teichow, and when she was ten years old Krystal gave of herself to others in several ways. She volunteers for the Humane Society and the American Cancer Society. But above all, what seems to have put her in the spotlight was a very simple yet very generous action she decided upon. She took her collection of Beanie Babies, sold them, and donated the money to the Autistic Society of Michigan.

Krystal’s generous nature caused her acting coach Ernest Werth to nominate her for the Millennium Dreamer’s Awards. She was one of 2,000 children around the world to win this honor. She’s somebody who knows how to dream and act on her dreams. Or, to put it differently, she refuses to play a game that’s far too popular among adults and children, the game called Disqualification.

She could have played the game, of course. She could have said:
I’m not old enough, I’m not wealthy enough, I’m not something-or-other enough, to make a difference. And maybe none of us would have noticed had she done this. She could have indulged in a quick game of Disqualification by deciding that what she had to offer wasn’t much of a gift.
Beanie Babies may have market value, but it’s not like turning over adult stuff like jewelry or stocks or cash or real estate. When it comes to funding medical research, Beanie Babies are not the first thing that comes to mind, unless, of course, your name is Krystal Teichow.

Then, too, this young girl could have played Disqualification by questioning her own motives. For you see, her interest in autism research comes from living every day with her brother Joshua, who is autistic.

She knows about autism, and her experience has not led her to despair, but has kindled in her a passion, a readiness, to do what she can.

Disqualification is a game this girl refuses to play. For that we can give thanks. And maybe we can avoid playing the game ourselves. Instead of Disqualification, we can give what we have to give, and leave the rest to God.

Today’s Gospel presents us with a young boy who gives what he can give: five barley loaves and a couple small fish. We don’t know the boy’s name, where he comes from, or who his parents are, but we know about his gift to hungry people. He hands over his little lunch. He gives the gift. Then something happens. Something that players of Disqualification never take into account. The gift is mysteriously multiplied. One little lunch becomes a catered meal for five thousand, a picnic in the wilderness. The mystery factor is this: When we give, we don’t give simply to a hungry crowd or to the Autistic Society of Michigan. We give to God. And, strange to say, our gift sets God free to do something, to burst forth in new, unexpected ways.  Beanie Babies cashed in to help medical research. A little lunch given up to feed a crowd. With God in on the act, who knows how far the ripple effect of such choices will reach? Who knows how many times these stories will be told?

Notice that when Jesus offers hospitality, on the road, he feeds by receiving the gifts of others, their barley loaves and fish, their generosity. It’s a different kind of hospitality, one that seeks, it’s a radically welcoming one, a dependent-on-others, non-coercive one, a hospitality that blesses what people offer. So, what is right in front of us? What do each of us have to offer? We are God’s beloved and holy children.  Amen.