Monday, July 27, 2015

The 1%

JOHN 6:1-15
1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

I am a failed atheist.
I really think this is true. 
I have tried and tried to not believe in God.
It’d be so much easier for me if God just didn’t exist. No more thankless, less-than-minimum wage job. No more existential crisis. No more questions of theodicy. No more parsing out the trinity or the afterlife or slavery or the Holocaust.

On any given day, I can sit alone in my car at the bottom of the driveway and recite all the ways that I can’t believe in God. And certainly not in a God who is loving, personal, approachable.

I mean, can there be a God when John Stewart is retiring from The Daily Show and America’s Next Top Model is still on the air? When 80s fashion is coming back with the bedazzling and the tight rolling and the big hair? When McDonald’s has started selling kale salads? When pizza counts as a vegetable in our public schools?

How can there be a God when guns still get in to movie theaters? When beloved comedians turn out to be misogynists and sexual predators? 
Where’s God when children in Syria are being abducted and beheaded? When corporations are “people”? When you can get caught driving while black and then end up hanging in a jail cell?

We are so small. The galaxies are so big. The earth is this tiny blue marble swirling with pain and violence and car accidents. It’s full of brokenness and fear and drone strikes. It’s full of climate change and Walmarts and AK-47s.

If we’re keeping score, I’d say I’m 99% atheist.

There, I said it. Don’t tell the presbytery.

But 99% of me can’t imagine a God who loves, who creates, who lets there be depression, and hepatitis C, and methadone babies, and Donald Trump presidential campaigns.

This 99% can be so overwhelming. It covers everything. This godlessness is the very air we breathe. It’s the nitrogen and the oxygen of our atmosphere. Except. Except that pesky, persistent 1%. 1% of argon and carbon dioxide and those “other gasses.” That tiny speck of lint wandering the universe, hoping, searching, for God. 

It’s my tiny toe of faith that keeps me tripped up, stubbed, that pesky hang nail of an annoyance that, no matter how small or trivial, I can’t seem to ignore. 

I’ve got two small fish and five loaves of faith, and thousands of mouths to feed.

So. There’s this huge crowd following Jesus everywhere he goes. It’s full of poor, needy, weak, hacking and coughing, body-fluid-leaking, limping, DNA spewing people. They’ve heard that this Jesus guy can fix them, can make all this all better. And they want a piece of that.

And Jesus is up on the mountain with his friends, trying to get a little space to breathe, a little perspective, a moment with his friends. And he looks down at the crowds in the valley. He knows what they want. But then he tells the disciples to go give them what they need. They want a quick fix, an easy cure, a winning lottery ticket, a free pass, a cruise to the Bahamas, a new marriage and polite kids. 

But Jesus wants them to have what they need - something to eat, something that takes time to digest, to nourish them to their very cells.

And Philip, thinking just like the crowd, thinking only in terms of fixes, and “enough,” and economies, says, “we’d never have enough money even if we used six months’ wages to even give them a little, to even offer them 1% of what they need.

“Well, there is this boy,” Andrew says, “He’s brought his lunch. But that’s it. That’s all we’ve got. I don’t even know why I mentioned him.”

But I wonder what made Andrew mention the boy? Why mention to Jesus that there is this little boy with two fish and five loaves of bread? Was there 1% of faith deep in his marrow - so deep he didn’t even know what he was saying? 

And he quickly backtracks on his 1% of faith. “But what are these loaves and fish among so many people?” What’s the point of this measly 1%? 

“Someone else feed them,” Philip says. 

But I think Jesus wants to pull out the 1% hidden deep inside of the disciples. To get them to see that that a tiny toenail of faith is there. “Go to the town and buy some bread.” he tells them. Maybe "testing" isn't the right word here. Maybe he's helping them see what he knows is already there. 

There are crowds and crowds and they’ve been waiting and listening and aching for some attention. And now they’re hungry. They’ve come to be cured, to be fixed and healed and fed and they won’t give in until they’re satisfied. They want Jesus. They want what he has to give them. The mob is getting hungry and the disciples are getting nervous, and before they plow him down to touch the hem of his garment and to hear him say the words that they have been healed, they need to eat.  And Jesus says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” You do it. What have you got?

Nothing. We’ve got nothing, they say. 
“But there’s this boy.” But that’s pretty much nothing. 

“Nothing but about 1% of what we need,” they say.

1% of the fish.
1% of the bread.
1% of  what we need to feed this whole crowd.

“There’s this boy who’s got a tiny bit. I don’t know why we mentioned him, but that’s all we’ve got. It’s so little. So very little. It’s not nearly enough. It’s almost nothing among such a crowd. Among such doubt. Among such hopelessness and fear and despair. Why even bother? It’s so much nothing.

It’s just 1%
And what does Jesus say? Does he say, “buck up, believe harder, and more fish and bread will appear”? Does he say, “you’re right, that’s not enough, let’s go home and eat our tv dinners and  sit alone and watch America’s Next Top Model”? 

Nope. He says, “Have them sit down.” 

And they sat down. They didn’t go fishing or plucking for grain. They didn’t raid the marketplace and hoard all the fish and bread for themselves. They didn’t flaunt how they came to the mountain prepared with their sack lunches. They didn’t show off or tell the crowd that if they just believed more, harder, just 2%, 3%, 25% more, then they, too, would get lunch.

No. They sat down. 
And Jesus makes the 1% enough. Somehow. The 1% was enough. More than enough. 
Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost. So that nothing may be lost. Even the fragments of 1% are important. Are vital. The tiny leftovers of the 1% are still more than enough.

Every morsel counts. Every percent. Every half a percent. Every tiny speck of dust of faith in the galaxy. Even your tiny speck. They gathered up the fragments and they filled the galaxy.

But like a speck of dust that mixes with gas and explodes into star, the 1% of fish, of bread, of faith, is only great if you let it go. 1% is only enough if you don’t hoard it in your freezer and heat it in single servings in your microwave while you watch Wheel of Fortune. 1% is only enough if you don’t tie it down and call it king.

And that’s what the crowd does with their 1%. They hoard it. Then they chase after more. They want more - not more of Jesus, not really - but just more of what Jesus can do for them. They want more miracle cures and magic lotions and low interest rates and cheap clothes made in Singapore and a king who will fix it all for them. They’ve filled their bellies and then insisted that what they’ve received isn’t enough. They’ve bought the lie that 1% isn’t enough.

When we tie it down, that 1% of faith or hope or love or Jesus, when we tie it down and try to make it what it’s not - a religion, a dogma, a set of rules, a code of conduct, a way to vote, a line that is drawn, a community of ins and outs, then it will definitely look as though Jesus has withdrawn again to a mountain by himself. 

But 1% is enough if we let Jesus be big enough to make it so. It’s Jesus’ faith in us that saves us. Not a measuring tape or a graduated cylinder or a tire gauge to measure how much faith we have in Jesus. 

Here ya go, Jesus. Five loaves. Two fish. That’s all I’ve got. And I know it’s nowhere near enough.

But for Jesus, 1% is enough. It’s enough. If we let it go. If we let it breathe. If we let it expand into the atmosphere. 1% is enough, unless we try to hogtie it into something that it’s not. 

But even when it feels like Jesus has withdrawn again to a mountain by himself, even when it feels empty and alone and like the 99% of this world has plowed us under, somewhere, there is a little boy with five loaves and two fish, waiting for Jesus to make it more.

Oh, please Jesus, let it be so. Jesus, feed us.

Thanks be to God.


  1. Wonderful Jenn. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks Jenn! I love this line...

    "I wonder what made Andrew mention the boy?...Was there 1% of faith deep in his marrow - so deep he didn’t even know what he was saying?"

    Thanks for the reminder of the grace that is surely happening everywhere even when it's not visible on the surface!