Most of you know that I spent this past week as a counselor at our diocesan youth summer camp. I’m committed to doing this every year, and it’s always exhausting and exhilarating in equal parts. It’s a mix of long days, short nights on uncomfortable beds, and the endless energy of kids from all over Nebraska between the ages of ten and eighteen. There is worship every day, small group time for kids, games like cabin Olympics and counselor hide and seek, and all the regular round of camp activities you’d find anywhere: sports, zip line, swimming, archery, crafts, and on and on. I think it’s one of the most important things we as a church can do. Every year, we form and renew one of the most loving, accepting, and holy communities I have ever been a part of. The bonds the kids form with each other become some of the most important that sustain them in their faith and life through all the challenges that growing up involves.
This year, we were at a new camp, and one of the most popular activities was something called “hammock village,” which is simply a large structure made of metal piping that has probably fifteen hammocks strung around a circle. It was one of about a dozen optional activities every day, and it was always full. You might think that more active pursuits like archery, or something called gaga ball–which is like dodge ball inside a wooden pen—would always be more appealing to these kids with endless energy than lying around in a hammock, but those hammocks always had people in them.
I think part of the reason they were always full is that the young people at camp, like all of us really, have very full lives. Most kids I know, like most adults I know, spend their lives running from one activity to the next. There are so many good options available to us, that we often stretch ourselves way too thin by pursuing every good activity that’s out there. In our culture, sitting and doing nothing is a rare thing. Idling and resting are often seen as self-indulgent luxuries. So I think at least part of hammock village’s popularity was the rare opportunity to do nothing but talk and daydream and even nap.
In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus and his disciples are moving at the frenetic pace of camp. Even though we’ve jumped gospels this week, Jesus and his disciples are really in the same position today as they were last week: the crowds are pressing in, and they can’t get a moment’s peace.
The main story here is simple enough. Jesus takes a few loaves of bread and some fish, and miraculously feeds five thousand people, with leftovers. Almost all of us have heard it before, and in fact it’s the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels.
But there’s a pre-requisite for this miracle that I hadn’t really noticed until I was literally lying in hammock village thinking about this sermon. Before the miracle happens, when Jesus and Phillip are discussing the problem, Jesus says to him: “make them sit down.” The crowd is massive, and they are all trying to manage their kids and make plans for the evening, and do all of the other things that made just getting through a day in the ancient world a huge project, and Jesus says the first thing is to just sit down. I’m acutely aware today of how hard it is to make sixty campers sit down, let alone a throng of five thousand people.
This story is told in every gospel because it communicates what is really the central message of all of scripture: God’s love always finds a way through our shortcomings. God’s abundance always fills up our scarcity. When we share what little we have with Jesus-like generosity, God always transforms what little we have into more than the world needs. But in order for this miracle of God’s love, and abundance, and generosity to happen, everyone first has to stop, cease all the frantic activity of managing every last thing in their lives, and sit down.
God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s comfort are always trying to find a way to us. Miracles of healing, and peace, and restored relationships are always waiting to bubble up from beneath the surface of our lives and our world. We are reminded today that we have to stop, and sit down often enough so that there’s room in our lives and spirits to receive them.
It’s why I’m always going on about the habit of praying for ten minutes every day. Just try spending ten minutes doing nothing else but letting God love you. Try spending just a morning, or an afternoon, or an evening each week with no plans and no schedule. Try giving up one commitment that isn’t feeding you and replacing with time to just soak in God’s love.
Part of the reason I think our diocesan camp is so important is because I’ve seen miracles happen there. Miracles of God’s love, and acceptance, and peace, and joy. They happen because even in the midst of all the energetic fun, camp creates a space for the kids to stop, and sit down.
The abundance of God’s love is waiting to fill up your spirit and your life. The first step in receiving it is to sit down. So stop, and sit down, and let God’s unbounded generosity take what little you think you have, and turn it into more than enough to feed a love-starved world. Amen.