I am getting ready for church tommorow and see that the Gospel lesson is the feeding of the 5000. I suddenly remembered my first visit to Kibera, Kenya, a slum where one million people are stuffed into an area about the size of Grand Forks North Dakota.
Kibera – Nairobi, Kenya East Africa December 2003
How to describe this place – the first thing you notice is the sound. Like the murmur of a thousand bees. Noise that moves around you like a cloud. You cannot identify it at first but it is there in the back of your mind like an unfinished not quite forgotten errand. Something is there but you cannot put it into context until it develops full blown that this is the sound of human voices. Children laughing and crying; mothers calling those children; men cajoling one another, and as these sounds coalesce into what can be identified as a crowd of human beings the second thing that you notice is the smell. It too moves around you like a cloud, not always easy to identify but there. This time it is in the front of your mind because it is an assault upon your senses. Nothing subtle here at all. Too much that easily identified; burning rubber, charcoal, perfume, human waste, wet dog, old goat, rotting vegetables, and here and there food, shoe polish, and people packed together until the identifiable becomes the unknowable and again it coalesces into the smell of misery. But is it really? Is it really misery?
Moses must have heard something like this. – The murmur of thousands that coalesced into one voice that shouted its misunderstanding to heavens – “at least inEgyptwe ate meat and cucumbers and leeks without price but now all we have is this bread from heaven and you have led us off into this wilderness to die”. The murmur of thousands of voices that forgot in their freedom that slaves must get everything for free. Slaves must get the essentials of life for free because their souls are forfeit. And the smell, certainly not the sweet smelling incense of prayer, but the stench of unbridled freedom not recognized, of grace not acknowledged, of mercy not appreciated, all coalescing into something that my Bible says causes the nostrils of almighty God to flare.
Jesus must have heard and smelt something like this too. The murmur of hungry thousands waiting to be fed by 12 flustered men with 5 barley loaves and two small fish (or was it 5 fish and two barley loaves?) . The angry shouts of those who believed their freedom was political and religious, not life lived in a kingdom where man does not live on bread or fish alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
And the smells must have been much the same – the reek from a house of prayer that was also an abattoir for rams and lambs and doves and bulls. The stench from a place outside the city walls where the garbage was dumped and one lamb took away the sins of the whole world. And there is misery there. Real misery. End of the world misery, depths of hell misery.
Which leads us to this place where once again we are shown our sin and are reminded again of God’s cure – always through means. Manna and quail, flustered Moses and Aaron, flustered 12, bread and body, blood and more blood until a blood arrives that speaks a better word than Abel’s. Manger crib where blood is spilled. Temple8 days later where again blood is spilled, and a name given that spells out the means; Jesus – Savior – Anointed One – God with us and for us. Always means. Seedtime and harvest, God’s hands open to satisfy the desires of every living thing. By these means he means to change our desires into His. To take multitudes of flustered disciples and through simple means, word and Sacrament, body and blood, wine and bread and water cause all of us to say, “ we have the bread of heaven and it is enough”. To bring through and to flustered disciples the recognition of freedom, the acknowledgement of grace, the appreciation of mercy. To bring to this place called Kebera and to the whole world that spiritually is this place, through those means, the bread of heaven till we want and need no more.
The tasks of the followers of Jesus are to take his gifts that he gives us, let him multiply them and then serve our neighbor.