Our church’s recent tag sale revealed faith lessons for Christian discipleship from the way that it was organized to the way we cleaned up.
Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” ~ John 6:1-14
The tag sale had been on our calendar for a while, and we had set up the advertising for it, but we were a bit late in getting someone to organize it. Should we try this at all, we thought? Would there be adequate donations? There were any number of reasons that we could have said “No.” It was a big test of how a “churchless church” could come together as a Christian community. The gospels provide many instances of Jesus encouraging his disciples to feed the thousands of people who had come to hear him speak, but all of them seem to point to Jesus challenging a handful of people to reach more people than they thought possible.
‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ ~ John 6:9
Fortunately, we moved forward. We kept on announcing the tag sale, and soliciting donations. The donations from our members started to fill tables that we set up in the parsonage. No one brought a huge amount of items, but everyone’s contributions mattered. You could see that many items had a history attached with them: these were things that were valued that were ready to move on to new value.
Perhaps the boy in John’s gospel felt the same way. He knew that there would be worldly meals ahead, but that this spiritual meal from Jesus was precious. People wanted to feed our church by feeding others, even if their contributions seemed to be insignificant.
Be prepared for miracles!
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. ~ Matthew 14:19
We had a great turnout of people from our church to set up and manage the tag sale at our parsonage. It’s a good thing that they came: we had many dozens of people come by to the sale, with hardly a moment all day without visitors. We were greeting people warmly, pointing people to where they could find things. There are many gospel accounts of the feeding of crowds of 5,000 and 4,000 people and families listening to Jesus. Most of them emphasize that Jesus called upon the disciples to feed the visitors with the scant supplies that had been provided. Already our “loaves and fishes” of donated items from individual disciples had been divided, and their value was being multiplied by our faith in action through serving them.
Food is just food, and tag sale items just items, until faith in action brings them to life as spiritual food.
Sometimes feeding means, well, feeding
“You give them something to eat.” ~ Mark 6:37
One discussion we had as a church about the tag sale was turning it into an outreach and mission event as well. This seemed to have floundered as a concept at first, but on the day of the tag sale, coffee and donuts were there from a local store. Someone had brought them for the members to eat, but we placed them on a table for guests to eat as well. Soon afterwards, drinks and cookies were added. Many people were surprised that we were offering them for free.
It’s important to remember that everything given and received in the feeding of the multitudes in the gospels was through God’s grace – and that people were actually fed! There are real needs that people have, not just desires. That reminds us to be ready to meet people’s needs as a church with an offering of grace for the moment.
Discipleship for the multitudes flows both ways
And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. ~Mark 6:42-43
I have been working on amplifying the awareness of one of our church’s mission projects. Each year, our church is one of many United Methodist churches assembling health kits used at disaster relief sites by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
I decided to have a table at the tag sale to invite members of the community stopping by to help us to assemble them. A few simple personal health and grooming items that fit into a one-gallon freezer bag go a long way towards keeping disease and despair from sinking in when people have lost everything else.
These health kits generated strong interest at the tag sale, and people picked up fifteen shopping lists for collecting items for them. The health kits also generated a lot of important discussions about the mission of our church, and of how others are in mission to the world. I placed the display next to the refreshments, and it seemed to set the right tone.
The multitudes receiving food at Jesus’ assembles in the gospels had spiritual abundance, and in turn created their own abundance as budding disciples of Jesus. Disciples calling others into discipleship to transform the world is the core of the church’s mission, and it seems to create a desire to share our abundance. We were not just raising funds at the tag sale, we were raising disciples.
Serving everyone passionately to the end
‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ ~ John 6:12
As the tables began to empty gradually, so did the crowds. Everything we had was of some value. But how could be make people see its value? First we let people know that everything was now half price; then we realized that all of the boxes that had held donations could make handy totes for people to carry items off – instead of us toting them off to a donation center. So we started telling people that they could have as many items as they could fit into a box or bag for $5.
It was a brilliant idea at just the right time – people who might have been browsing for just an item or two began to fill up boxes. We ushered the last of the visitors in with as much enthusiasm as we did the first ones. We took away only a small number of items to donation centers at the end.
It was a strong reminder to me that expressing the value for coming to faith is important, no matter where people are in their life journey. “Is it worth going?” is a question that many people have about going to church events. How we treat the value of their coming makes all of the difference, and the people who think that they would be least welcome must be treated as precious “fragments” worthy of grace and redemption.
Let’s do it again!
The feeding of the multitudes listening to Jesus is told in all four gospels. There are at least two distinct events of this kind that are told through these stories. This tells me that discipleship that grows the church through grace-filled service – and calling others to offer this service – is very much at the core of the church’s life and purpose. We made over $500 from this tag sale – but, more importantly, we grew our disciple-making discipleship, and called our community to join us in it. Let’s do it again! And again, and again…