I recently attended a service where the minister recalled a teaching aid used by another minister in all-age worship to illustrate the feeding of the 5,000. We were told that four empty cloth bags had been provided and four young people were asked to take one each, and help feed those present. To no surprise, they looked somewhat confused as to what to do, but were then let into a little secret that, sometimes during worship, adults were known to indulge in the eating of sweets - the rustling of paper usually gives the game away! (does that ring true to you?!).
The four volunteers were given the task of going around the assembled group to seek out donations, and, sure enough, they discovered on their return to the front that their bags contained a generous selection of sweets. They were then instructed to go back among the congregation and make sure that everyone had a sweet. To their amazement there were lots left in the bags. A valuable teaching aid that demonstrated, in practical terms, that there is usually more than enough for to go round if those that had were prepared to share with those that hadn't.
What we discovered on this occasion was that there were other lessons to be learnt. The minister, rather than gamble on producing an empty cloth bag, decided to be less courageous and produced one that was already full of sweets ['The Lord provides for the good and the bad alike'? (refer Matthew 5: 45)]. He then suggested that a young adult present 'give one to each person present' - which they literally did by digging their hand into the bag and handing out a sweet to each person. This immediately caused a stir as people wanted to choose their own sweet, with voices becoming quite vocal. The young person took note and the handing out was changed.
If that wasn't bad enough, on returning the bag back to the front, we discovered that some rows had been inadvertently missed out! People were shouting out in protest, so an adult took charge of the distribution, only to find that they too left a row out, and this time the reaction was for the whole row to stand up and shout so that they could be identified.
My reaction was to initially say 'it's only a sweet', and to recall a tradition back home in the village (whether in the home or chapel) that, when entertaining guests, the cry would always ring out 'FSB' which means 'Family stand back'. This was to ensure that invited guests had all that they needed before the hosts participated. We readily understood the consequence of having more guests than anticipated, but that didn't matter as generous hospitality was key to the enjoyment of the occasion.
I'm reminded of the time that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and continually complaining and shouting out loud about their situation, declaring even that they would prefer to go back and suffer terrible hardship than persevere with limited supplies of food. The Lord's answer was to send manna and quails for them to eat - and gave everyone sufficient for their daily needs. But again, scripture tells us that some greedily claimed more than they needed, only to discover that their hidden stash went mouldy before they had chance to eat. Valuable lessons needed to be learnt on their journey to a land of promise that they needed to be satisfied with what the Lord provides, for there is enough for all.
These are the wise words of Jesus: 'Do not to be anxious about food and drink to keep you alive and about clothes to cover your body. Surely life is more than food, the body more than clothes'. (Matthew 6: 25) - spoken in the context of a God who richly supplies all our needs with enough to go around for all to share and enjoy.
Some years ago I was told of an incident in Moldova. A group of volunteers had gone over to support a number of villages, and came back with lots of stories. One that made an instant impression, was of a young girl outside her home who was given a bottle of pop as a gift. Rather than take a drink, she first called her younger siblings, who lined up and each took a drink from the bottle, with the young girl waiting her turn at the end of the row. Now that's what I call true sharing, and having a concern for others before self. Far better than making a commotion for fear of missing out!