Act Like You Own The Place
NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST July 25th, 2021 JOHN 6:1-21
So how do you climb the greasy pole that is your career? What is the secret to getting ahead at work, impressing the boss, being promoted? Well, you’ll be surprised by the answer. According to the people who know these things, and published on a website called Dubaicareerguide.com the number 1 way to get ahead in your career seems so out of kilter with what you would expect, that you may even wonder if what you’ve been told all your life – work hard, respect your employer, obey your boss, don’t rock the boat – has been wrong. Here is that advice. ‘Act like you own the place’. So, I tried to imagine how acting like you owned the place would further your career. In most jobs acting like you owned the place would be a surefire way to end your career. So, you walk into work wearing your slippers and your dressing gown, you glance out of the window and shout out at the kids to get off your lawn, you go to the staff fridge and help yourself to that fancy yogurt your colleague brought in, and then you slouch at your desk playing video games on the computer for the rest of the day. That is acting like you own the place, and I can’t see how it will boost your career.
Turns out I didn’t really get the point of the article. It explained that what you would do when act like you own place is to think like your employer and take responsibility for their success or failure. Taking responsibility for finding solutions to problems. Taking responsibility for mistakes and for applying what you have learned through them. Taking responsibility. Hmm. That will work, I guess.
I love the simple voice of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. It is a famous story. It is, actually, the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels. The transformation of two fish and five loaves into a banquet for 5,000 people. With enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets.
Jesus is making his way around the towns and villages of Judea. He has received rave reviews. He has healed people, he has wowed the crowds with his wisdom and his insight into God, and life, and everything. And he has shown his power over creation. So, not surprisingly, he has attracted a busload of groupies who are now following him wherever he goes. And on this particular day Jesus and the twelve cross the Lake of Galilee, hoping to get a few hours’ peace and quiet away from his adoring fans. How do we know this? Well in Matthew’s version he says that Jesus has just heard the news of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. And he ‘withdraws to a solitary place’. Of course, he does. Jesus is shocked by this murder. He needs space alone to grieve. Imagine, then, the frustration and even anger of the 12 disciples when having accompanied Jesus to the other side of the lake they look down and see hordes of people getting out of boats, others clambering up the hillside, still others trekking along paths with their donkeys, and all of them – 5,000 of them – making their way to Jesus. But Jesus, grief-stricken though he was, tired as he was, emotionally wrung out though he was, looks with eyes of compassion and his heart, that big, passionate, giving heart, is moved to give once more. Actually, 5000 times more.
Round numbers are so satisfying, aren’t they? They’re perfect. And 5,000 is more perfect than most round numbers. I’m aware that some of you may never have pumped your own gas, having lived all your life in New Jersey. But in other places, where people pump their own gas, there’s living proof that people like round numbers. According to the Journal of Economic Psychology, psychologists analyzed over a thousand self-pumped gas purchases at a convenience store in upstate New York. And they found that almost 60% of them ended in .00 (zero cents). Another 7% ended in .01, which may be due to not being able to stop the pump in time to hit double zeroes.
This miracle isn’t a cut-price 499.99 kind of miracle. It’s a 5,000 type miracle. The sellers of luxury goods don’t do that 49.99 thing in their pricing. It appears cheap. What may attract customers when it is a tin of beans (99 cents) will actually turn away buyers of luxury goods. So, Gucci sells a handbag for $5,000. Because 5,000 shows quality.
I said that I love the simple voice of Jesus in this story. This is a scene of anxiety. There are huge problems. There are thousands of hungry people – many of them sick or disabled. The disciples are rightly concerned. It’s getting late. The shops will soon be closed. They need food or some folk will struggle to get home this evening. Jesus, what should we do. And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, in control of his emotions, trusting in God’s unseen plan, simply says, “Give them something to eat.”
Act as if you owned the place. Take responsibility for the problem. Be part of the solution. Don’t merely point out how things are lacking – Give them something to eat. In the training manual for the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain there is a motto. It goes, “if you see a problem, own it.” Saying ‘it’s not my responsibility, it’s someone else’s job; he or she should do something about this’ is not good enough. There is a cartoon we’ve all received in our email inboxes of Jesus sitting on a park bench next to a man who says to him, “Lord why do you let the hate, famine, war, suffering, disease, crime, homelessness, despair, exist in our world?” And Jesus replies, “That’s strange; I was about to ask you the exact same question.” Sometimes we say to God, “Lord, do something. Don’t you see the mess the world is in? Don’t you see the suffering right here in our town, our state?” And Jesus looks at his disciples and says “you give them something to eat. You take responsibility. You do something about it. Act like you own the place.”
I wonder whom you identify with in the feeding of the masses. Maybe you are one of the twelve. Lord, there’s a problem please do something. I think that is usually me. And we need to hear Jesus’ response – you, give them something to eat. Take responsibility. Act like you own the place.
I’m sick of the culture of blame we live with. If there’s a problem, there must be someone to blame. If only we used the energy, we spend on blaming others to identify how we can be part of the solution, I think we would all be less stressed, more unified, and more fulfilled.
If you are one of the twelve, maybe there’s lesson here for you – don’t sweat the problems. Don’t doubt your resources. Simply take what you’re given and put it to good use. As we give, so we will discover that our resources will not run out. We will complete the task God has set before us, and we will have twelve baskets full left over. We will see the miracle; we will experience the lavish generosity of God. Because the Christ who made two fish and five loaves enough to satisfy thousands of people’s hunger is the same Christ who is with you and in you. God has an endless supply of whatever it is you need – patience, peace, contentment, material things, time, love. Name your resource – the resource you feel low on and you’re wondering how you are going to make stretch to meet the demands of the post-pandemic life. Hand it to God for his blessing, then just go and experience the God of endless resources.
Maybe you are one of the five thousand? Hungry, empty, needy, pained, curious, intrigued by Jesus and eager to know more. Maybe you are still, after all these years looking for a miracle – an emotional healing, forgiveness, a sense of peace. Maybe like the five thousand you’ve made a real effort to get to Christ to receive what you need. Well, if so then this morning, don’t be nervous about asking. God’s love is unlimited, and his heart is compassionate.
Maybe, though, you don’t identify with the crowd or the twelve. Maybe you don’t have any great needs at the moment. Life is going well, you’re comfortable in body, mind and spirit, there’s nothing worrying you or causing you distress, relationships are good, health is fine, you are living with peace of mind and joy of heart. So, you’re not one the 5,000 searching for Jesus, and you’re not one of the twelve with a responsibility to meet their needs. Instead, you identify with the boy on the hill. Remember him? That lad who had brought his brown bag lunch to eat while he listened to Jesus. His mum had packed him five bread rolls and two small fish.
But something amazing happened to that lad’s lunch. Jesus wanted it. All it was was five rolls and two sardines, but Jesus needed them. And so, he gave them up. And in the hands of Jesus that meagre lunch was transformed into a mighty feast. Bring to God all that you have and all that you are. God will use you in a way that exceeds what you can imagine. God can use even us to do great things. Look what can happen when meagre resources are offered to Jesus. And as we offer to God our money, our time, our enthusiasm, our energy, our gifts and abilities, so we can expect him to take them, bless them, multiply them and distribute them to a needy multitude.
The boy, you see, was from a humble family. John tells us that the loaves were made from barley, and barley is what lower-status people ate because it was cheaper than wheat. The ancient philosopher Philo wrote that barley “is of somewhat doubtful merit, suited for irrational animals and men in unhappy circumstances.” The boy didn’t bring an expensive offering. He didn’t hand over anything precious or refined. He handed to Christ something of ‘doubtful merit’.
These are momentous days. God has placed us here at this time for a purpose. It was for this moment that we were born. As we emerge from the pandemic, let us assess what we have to offer God. It may be, in Philo’s words, ‘of doubtful merit’, but let us offer it without reservation and without fear. Take responsibility. Act like you own the place and God will use us.