Eulogy for Kyle
Written & Presented by Rev. Brian Combs, 5/4/2019
In the restaurant business, there are two kinds of people. Front of the house and back of the house. Up front, staffers revel in the extraversion of hosting, delight in the small talk of waiting tables, and enjoy mixing it up with customers in the dining room. In the back, standing on concrete instead of carpet, bar backs and bussers, line cooks and potato peelers, runners and stockers hustle out of sight. Kyle Franklin Allen had the talent of an executive chef and the humility of a dishwasher. He preferred the dirty apron over the bleached white button-up shirt. He was a back of the house kind of guy.
The disciples were back of the house too. As fishermen, roughnecks, and grunts, they arrived with sturdy backs, calloused hands and worn sandals. After a few months on the job, they learned quickly that faithful ministry is exhausting ministry, and they were ready for a few days off. But when they arrived at their weekend retreat, it became evident that human need doesn’t keep business hours. The hungry crowds had found them out, anxiously jockeying for the front of the line holding empty plates and clutching even emptier bellies.
Turning to Jesus, the disciples tried to convince him of the obvious, “There are so many of them and just a few of us, we can’t possibly feed this many people. Send them away.” Believing in the twelve more than they believed in themselves, Jesus replied, “Check your pockets for bread crumbs and your lunchboxes for sardines and bring it all to me.”
What transpires next becomes arguably the most famous biblical story of all time, the only supernatural account recounted in all four Gospels. But even as well as we know the feeding of the five thousand, we can never ask too many times, what exactly is the miracle? In today’s text from Mark, what’s the miracle?
Mark 6:30-56 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Years ago, a woman from Candler was pronounced clinically dead in the operating room. I remember the story continuing something like this: At Mission hospital, while doctors were trying to revive her, she felt the embrace of eternity. On the other side was her beloved grandfather waiting. After being wrapped up in his arms, he whispered in her ear that she would not be staying, but that she could take a tour before leaving. Heaven, it turns out, was nothing like she expected. There were no poolside recliners; no retirement parties; no games of shuffle puck. Instead, everyone was working his or her favorite job. Carl was a gifted mason and he was stacking block to build a foundation. Janet felt led to teach, and she was instructing at the blackboard. Jamie was always good at threading the needle and she was hemming a garment. Everywhere they went, the same thing… working. Before the tour ended, the woman reentered her body and woke up. Alive back here on earth, she was stabilized and wheeled into her room to recover. When a pastor came to visit, she couldn’t help but recount the trip. After listening, he asked, “What do you make of this whole experience? She answered, “I realize I’ve been wasting time trying to advance a career rather than give myself over to a vocation. I realize that you don’t have to wait for heaven to do heavenly work. And I realize that I don’t want to die again to be reminded.”
Word was out that Jesus had already calmed a raging storm, healed countless people of incurable diseases, and resuscitated a little girl. When the starving masses found him and his followers, they were expecting a supernatural display of satiating power. Instead, he stepped aside and commanded the twelve saying, “You give them something to eat.” And somewhere in the rolling of silverware and filling of pitchers, the slicing of lemons and plating of fish, the breaking of bread and filling of baskets, the food started doubling and tripling. As the disciples stepped it from countertop to cutting board, they must have understood that it was their cooperation multiplying the meal.
The most miraculous thing about the feeding of the five thousand is that God’s miracle requires human participation. That we, disciples of every generation, are the ones who have been trusted with the most basic labor of faith: loving others through food.
I never heard Kyle recite a Christian creed or argue an orthodox dogma or confess a Lord and Savior, but every time the double doors swung open, you could find him already there with a megawatt smile, a generous spatula, and a dirty apron. On this side of heaven, Kyle figured out his created intent and gave himself fully to it.
If God is always seeking help in back of the house, then, Kyle, thank you for listening to the divine calling on your life, thank you for following it to the kitchen, and thank you for your holy work feeding the world and all of us.