Loaves, Fishes, and Hope – Sermon for July 29th 2012

John 6:1-21
6:1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.

6:2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.

6:3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.

6:4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

6:5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

6:7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

6:8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,

6:9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

6:10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.

6:11 Then Jesus 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.

6:12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

6:13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.

6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

______

I sometimes worry about not having enough of something. A few years ago, when I was still living on the Cape, I was hosting a bonfire on the beach. And, there were a lot of people coming, and for the most part they were bringing their own stuff to eat, but I wanted to have s’mores for everyone.

So I went to the grocery store, and I stood in the aisle doing this complex calculus where I tried to figure out the perfect ratio of graham crackers to Hershey bars to marshmallows to people. And I put it all in my cart and, when I wasn’t sure it was enough, I threw a few more in to boot.

That night more people than I thought came to the bonfire. I was worried I didn’t have enough. But the supplies I had so anxiously stockpiled held out, and by the end of the night I ended up going home with more graham crackers than I could ever want.

I was eating graham crackers for a long time. And I don’t even particularly like graham crackers.

I think we are prone to doing that a lot. Maybe you’ve never had my particular smores problem, but maybe something similar has happened. You’ve worried that you can’t stretch what you have out enough to cover your own needs, let alone the needs of others. It might be something as small as graham crackers and marshmallows, but more often it’s something bigger.

It’s something like looking at the retirement account, or even just your monthly paycheck, and wondering if it will be enough. In times like that I think it’s natural to want to protect what little you have left. Especially in an economy like ours. You want to safeguard everything that you have. Probably the last thing in the world that you think you can do, even if you really want to, is share it with others.

The people who came to Jesus that day knew what that was like. They’d come to hear him preach, or to seek his healing, and they had been there a long time. They were tired, and hungry.

The disciples were getting worried. They looked out at them, about 500 in all, and they went to Jesus. Jesus asked them, so, where are we going to buy enough bread for all these people.

They probably thought he was out of his mind. Philip says to him, “Jesus, it would take six months wages to feed all these people. We can’t feed them all.” And Andrew says, ‘there’s this boy here, but all he has are five loaves of bread and a couple of fish…that will barely even touch this problem”.

But Jesus decides, “I can work with that.” He has the people sit down, and he gets the bread and he gets the fish, and he gives thanks for them. And then he starts to pass them out to all of them. And it’s not only enough to feed them all. There’s plenty left over. In fact, there’s twelve baskets full of bread. More than they had even started with.

The feeding of the 5,000 is one of those miracles that we hear about a lot. It defies comprehension, and it calls on us to believe something inexplicable happened. So, of course, many through the centuries have tried to explain it away.

There are many who say that on that hill that day, there weren’t just five loaves and two fish. Instead, there was just one boy with five loaves and two fish who was generous enough to share them with the crowd. Once the boy shared, and Jesus started to break the bread and distribute it, a few others got brave too. They opened their bags, pulled out the food they’d been keeping for themselves, and shared it with the rest. Then more people, realizing it would be okay, did the same. Then more. Until finally, there was enough for everyone.

Now, I would argue first that that’s not so much explaining a miracle, as it is a miracle. In times of scarcity, inspiring people to share what little they have is nothing short of miraculous. And Jesus, and that boy, did that. And hearts were opened, and people were fed.

It sort of reminds me of the new mission we are undertaking here at the church. We are about to start offering this once a month free meal in September. And when the idea came up, I know some of us were wary. We wondered if we had enough money. We wondered if we had enough energy. Enough volunteers. Enough interest.

But then, people started signing up to help. And then more people signed up. And now it looks like this could really be a success. And because people have stepped up, and shared what they have, our neighbors will be fed. Just like the neighbors on the hill were that day.

Now, we could end the story there, and it would be, in many ways, good enough and miraculous enough. But there’s more to it.

I do believe that people opened their bags that day. I do believe they dared enough to share what little they had. But I also believe that an even greater miracle happened. I believe Christ really did turn a little into a lot, and that those five loaves and two fish would have stretched out to feed the masses had no one else come through.

I think there is a tendency for those of us in the church, particularly in traditions like ours where we value intellect and we value reading the Bible with common sense, to try to explain away the miracles sometimes. We try to look for plausible explanations for what happened, and we point to the miracles as lessons on right behavior rather than evidence of who Christ is.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the end if that’s all churches believe, they might as well be just another ethical society, teaching a secular humanism that, while not bad, is not any different than you can find in a number of other places.

It’s important that we not lose the mystery of faith. It’s important that we not dismiss the inexplicable. It’s important that we not forget that Christ was not just a good man. Christ was God incarnate, sent here to transform us all.

What happened that day on that hill was not just an example of the idea that, to use a line from my elementary school teachers, “sharing is caring”. It was something more. It was Jesus doing something s unexpected, and so inexplicable, that it inspired hope. It was Jesus inspiring us to do more. To give more. To open our hearts and serve one another.

He doesn’t need us to respond. But in the face of such grace, needed or not, we can’t help but to respond anyway. And the good news is that when we do, Christ blesses what we give, and he makes it enough.

I know what it’s like to live life as a pessimist. And, more recently, I know what it is to live as an optimist. I know what it is to think that it will never be enough, that it won’t make a difference, that it’s not worth even trying. That’s a pretty horrible way to live. And it’s pretty uninspiring. And the things that you hold on to, the things you keep to yourself out of fear, often become about as useless and unappealing as all those extra boxes of graham crackers that I talked about earlier.

But to live in optimism, to live in hope, can come easier when we believe that it’s not all on our shoulders. It can come easier when we believe that Christ will take the little that we have, maybe as little as a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and transform them into a feast. And it can come easier when we know that the ones who see that change, will be changed themselves.

And so, we ask ourselves this question: What are the limits of our hope? What are we holding back because we do not believe God will bless it and make it enough? What are we reluctant to even try?

I’ll close with this. Like many of you I’ve been watching the Olympics, and one of my favorite sports to watch is men’s gymnastics because I am so blown away by their sheer strength and grace. But one story this year has captivated me. John Orozco is a gymnast from a particularly rough part of the Bronx. His family didn’t have a lot of money and, unlike most Olympic caliber kids whose parents can afford to sign them up for expensive gyms, he was enrolled in a free class in his neighborhood.

It turns out he was pretty good, Olympic good, and after a while so his parents drove him an hour each way to a gym in Chappaqua where they paid for his training by cleaning it for free. Back home in the Bronx, he was mocked mercilessly for being a boy competing in what many saw as a girl’s sport.

Yet there he was last night in London, his mother in the stands so nervous that she couldn’t uncover her eyes, nailing his routine.

Can you imagine all the voices of “no” he heard over his life? Can you imagine all the times he was told, “what you have will never be enough”? And, most important, can you imagine growing up with that, and doing it anyway? Can you imagine faith like that?

I’m not saying you have to be an Olympic gymnast. Which is good, because I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed for all of us. But I’m just saying we all have something inside of us that hope can transform. We all have enough to give, one way or another, that Christ can work with it and do incredible things. But we have to have enough faith to give, and to not hold it back. That’s true faith. It’s the kind of faith that brings two fish, and five loaves of bread to Christ and says “use this”. It’s the kind of faith that can end up transforming everything. And it’s the kind of faith that doesn’t let your fears hold you back. And that’s miraculous, no matter how you understand it.  Amen.

One thought on “Loaves, Fishes, and Hope – Sermon for July 29th 2012

  1. I was impressed. It is always interesting to me to see how someone else deals with a subject & you can learn a lot from reading sermons. I preached from the point of view of the worlds hunger. I will look for more inspiration from you.
    Blessings……….Paul

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