St Luke 9:10-17
On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured. The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
Providing food is a common way in which churches can serve the wider community. The last few years has seen the enormous rise in the number of foodbanks. They are a very practical way to express God’s love for everyone. But they are also a stark reminder of the inequalities in our society where some benefit at the expense of others.
We don’t have the resources to organise a foodbank at the church where I minister here in Glasgow. Such initiatives require an army of regular volunteers and considerable storage space. However, most of the community activities held in the church building involve food and eating together. Even at the regular film nights, popcorn and hot dogs are served to all who come along. Feeding people is rarely the main aim of any of the activities although there is little doubt that many do welcome access to a meal or a snack for which there is no charge.
Those who are physically hungry often find themselves marginalised and excluded. Therefore, many who come along to the Church are hungry for more than food. Being fed is important but the opportunity to meet and socialise with others, to be in an environment where they feel valued and heard is equally, if not more essential. A former Synod Moderator, the Rev’d Peter Brain, used to say, “A community that eats together, grows together.”
Jesus not only cared for the physical needs of those who encountered him, but also their emotional or spiritual needs. He included the most marginalised outsiders in his ministry and we should follow this example. We must find ways in which we ensure that all are fed, cared for and brought into community with others.
Christ our companion and example,
Help us to share our bread,
Not simply in response to the physical needs that surround us,
But as an expression of what you invite us to become,
Through belonging in you. Amen
(adapted from the Joint Public Issues Team)