A Sermon for the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
Rev. Reebee Girash
September 25, 2016
In Sunday School, our kids are learning about Communion this month - and about the ways food was central to the life and ministry of Jesus. They are connecting those tiny cubes of bread dipped in juice with the life of Jesus, with 2000 years of tradition, with their part in a worldwide Communion. Today they are learning this story, and seeking connections. Do you hear a Communion story in this passage? Listen for God’s word to you.
10 On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida.
11 When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.
12 The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, "Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place."
13 But he said to them, "You give them something to eat." They said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people."
14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each."
15 They did so and made them all sit down.
16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
17 And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
It was a simple meal,
long awaited, served by a leader,
enough to fill their hungry stomachs.
The people had followed the pillar of fire by night, the cloud by day. They crossed the parted Red Sea on their way to freedom. Moses sang and Miriam danced, they were free. But the people, in the wilderness, in the deserted place, hungered still. It was a simple meal, quail in the evening and manna like dew on the grass at dawn, enough for all. The taste of it was like wafers made with honey. It fed them for forty years. (Exodus 16)
It was a simple meal,
long awaited, served by a prophet,
enough to fill their hungry stomachs.
Elisha had only 20 loaves of bread, and a hundred people to feed. And yet there was enough. Indeed, there was plenty. There were leftovers. (2 Kings 4)
It wasn’t even a meal, but it became a feast. A wedding feast. They thought there wasn’t enough wine to celebrate, but there was an abundance of wine.
It was a simple meal but they knew who was supposed to be there and who wasn’t. They asked, why are you eating with tax collectors and sinners? They asked, why is this woman of ill repute at the table? They asked, why would you talk to children?
Jesus knew more about the kingdom of God than they did.
In God’s kingdom, from God’s perspective, there is enough. There is plenty. There is abundance. Everyone has a place at the table and every heart and stomach can be nourished.
Leonard Sweet says it like this: “Every time you turn around, Jesus is eating and drinking. The feasts are significant. They tell us of a God of joy and celebration, a God of life and health, a God who offers us soul food - the very bread of heaven.”
Today’s story, the feeding of the 5000 (men, plus uncounted women and children), today’s story comes after Jesus hears about the death of John the Baptist. No wonder he has gone away to be in private. “When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.”
Of the kingdom of God, he told them. There is enough. There is plenty. There is abundance. And he healed them.
But there was a twist in this story.
The disciples, they could not imagine. They could not imagine. They could not imagine that there was enough, for thousands of people,. Send them away, Teacher.
If you come from a place of scarcity, you only set the table for a few. You send the rest back to town, hungry, to find their own way. But Jesus came from a place of abundance. Jesus came from a place of abundance called God’s kingdom.
So Jesus put them in God’s kingdom. That’s the twist.
And he said: you feed them.
Do you love me? Feed my sheep.
You feed them. There’s enough.
“And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” Do this, do this, in remembrance of me. You feed them. There’s plenty.
“When God’s in charge, the hungry are satisfied.”
-Bryan Moyer Suderman
In a quiet deserted place, as dusk fell, he saw the crowds with compassion,
even when his own heart was breaking.
He called his followers to leave behind scarcity and believe, in spite of everything, there could be enough. Do this, feed them, do this, in remembrance of me.
It is a simple meal,
served by four congregations and a bank,
enough to fill hungry stomachs.
Six or seven or eight times you have done this. Corn from one donation and hamburgers from another. So, so much ice cream. It seems like we never know who is going to be there. Sometimes the volunteers outnumber the guests. Sometimes the borrowed van’s battery runs out. Sometimes one set of guests says they’re coming, and another is the group that actually comes.
A lot of times, it is holy chaos.
A lot of times, a ball game will start on the lawn.
A lot of times, a toddler will go up and down the slide 42 times.
A lot of times, an assumption will be corrected.
A lot of times, a teenager will stay glued to his phone - but his plate will be empty by the end.
A lot of times, a story will be shared.
A lot of times, a mother will take home the leftovers (not quite twelve baskets full).
A lot times, a barrier will come down.
A lot of times, there is laughter in the kitchen.
A lot of times, a child will put on two scoops of sprinkles and also the hot fudge.
My friend and colleague Stan Duncan talks about the miracle of the feeding of 5000 this way -
“Which is actually the greater miracle: for Jesus to change those few loaves into an abundance of loaves, or for Jesus to change the hearts of the people there to teach them how to share? What’s the greater miracle for us? For Jesus to do all of the work for us, or for Jesus to change our hearts to enable us to do it?” (http://homebynow.blogspot.com/2014/07/enough.html)
The blessing of these meals -
well, yes, it is good that people who are hungry are fed, and it is good that families living in the confined space of motel rooms receive hospitality -
but perhaps there is just as profound a blessing for those who prepare the food, for those who scoop the ice cream, for those who play with the toddlers.
For some of us the blessing is one of revelation and for some the blessing of reminder.
If we cannot imagine that there is enough, entering this story, we see a vision of plenty.
If our world view begins from scarcity, we are moved toward a kingdom of abundance.
Jesus told the disciples to feed the five thousand, not just so hungry bellies would be full - but so the disciples could see themselves within the kingdom of God. And that is what made the moment holy. That is how a miracle happened in that deserted place, as dusk fell.
I leave this question before us.
If our neighborhood, our Commonwealth, our nation, our world operated from a worldview of
abundance and compassion -
if abundance and compassion outweighed scarcity and fear -
would our headlines be different?
Let us pray....
Loving God, help us to be Christ to all those whose lives touch ours.
May we see others as Jesus did, with eyes of compassion.
May we listen as Jesus did, to the cries of broken hearts, and a broken world.
May we reach out to others, as Jesus did, with healing and hope.
May we serve others, as Jesus did, with no strings attached.
May we break bread with others, as Jesus did, that the hungry may be fed.
May we celebrate with others, as Jesus did, your abundant provision.
Loving God, help us t be Christ to all those whose lives touch ours.
Amen. (Prayer by John Slow, in Kneelers: Prayers from Three Nations, quoted in Resources for Preaching and Worship Year A)