Living in the Present
“Here’s a little boy who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are these for so many?”
How much time do we spend stuck in the past? How much of our life is bogged down by yesterday? John Lennon said it best, “Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play. Now I need a place to hide away. Oh, I believe in yesterday.” Are we, indeed, “believers” in yesterday, worshippers of yesterday, so haunted by the past that we can hardly live in the present? "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts... encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'today" (Hb. 3:8,13). Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6). What can you and I possibly give to God? We can give him today.
Five thousand men were gathered. A huge crowd had come out to the desert to follow a Prophet, and they were hungry. So Jesus turns to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip answered, “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Andrew follows, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” I’d pay anything to be there for that passing moment and see our Lord’s face. You can imagine a quiet, coy smile, as He told the crowds to take a seat. “He took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, He told His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ They gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets” (Jn. 6:1-15).
Five barley loaves and two small fish…that was all they had. It was so little, yet it was enough. It was trivial, yet monumental. What a scanty offering for the King of heaven and earth. Yet, a few seeds grew a forest. God accepted the small offering from the small boy. He used it to make heaven and earth marvel.
Remember the widow’s two mites. Our Lord and his disciples watched while the rich put their gifts in the temple treasury. They were so magnanimous, with their princely robes and dazzling show. Then an old widow wandered up to the plate and put in two small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had” (Lk. 21:1-4).
Remember Elijah and the widow’s flour? The prophet was traveling to Sidon where there was a great famine, when he met a widow gathering firewood. He hadn’t eaten all day so asked for water and bread. Starving, she replied, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread…only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah was not concerned. “Don’t be afraid…go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for your self and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’” The woman had faith and made him bread, and from that moment on her home never went without food (I Kgs. 17:8-15).
The barley loaves, the widow’s mites, the handful of flour…there is a theme here. God is not concerned about how much we have to offer. He is concerned that you simply offer all you have.
What do you and I have that we can offer to God? We have today. There is a message here that is striking: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts (Hb. 3:8,13). “Today.” There is something in the present now that is precious to God. Why is this? Imagine a husband who has long since stopped talking with his wife. When the wife chides him, he reminds her of all the pretty things he gave her while courting. “Don’t you remember all the flowers and elegant dinners? Don’t you remember the ring, the diamond?” “Yes,” she responds, “but that was 40 years ago.” Is that how we treat God?
God is not concerned with the past. He is concerned with the present. The past no longer exists. If we try to cling to the past then we are clinging to illusion. It is gone. It has slipped through our fingers like sand. We can cling to the past, but we will lose God, for He is not there. God is in reality, in the now. We must go there to encounter Him.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has said, “One of the main tragedies of the Fall is that we can no longer be fully present in the moment in which we live.” Archimandrite Meletios Webber echoes this. “We can only meet God in the present moment. This is an area where God chooses to place limits on His own power. We choose whether or not to live in the present moment. Because we can encounter God only in that present moment, whenever we live in the past or in the future, we place ourselves beyond His reach.” This is the point of all our spiritual practices, our liturgy, fasting, confession…Everything in the Church Life exists for this purpose, to reorient us, to realign our thoughts, to bring us to God in the now.
Lets bring this down to earth. The heart tugs us in two directions. It pulls us into the past. We dwell on hurts or regrets, or else, long for yesterday. John Lennon’s words become our theme song, “Oh, I believe in yesterday.” Then the thoughts drag us to the future. We want to worry. “What if so and so happens? What will he or she think? What will become of us?” We can spend our whole lives suffocated by worries for what has never happened. In both cases, trapped in the past or future, we have fallen out of reality into fantasy. We never begin to live today.
"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts... encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'today" (Hb. 3:8,13). Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6).
God has given us a great gift. He has given us today. So what can we do? We recognize the problem. We are addicts to fantasy. Our thoughts wander away from the present like a goat when the fence is down. Yet, we are free. We can choose to come back. We can plant our feet on the ground. We can breathe, listen, and be still. We can turn all our thoughts of past and future, regret or worry, into gratitude and prayer. The now is far more beautiful, and God is waiting there all along.
The boy only had so much, just two small fish and five barley loaves. Yet, he offered up to God what he had, and God fed five thousand. We have today. We can offer that up to God, and He will work as great a miracle.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.