“Loaves Abound”

Sermon

April 22, 2018:  Rev. Dr. Buz Wilcoxon

“It’s supper time.” You know that’s what people will think if you plan your event too late into the evening. Anything past 6:00 PM and you’ve got to serve a meal. How many times have we thought through this timing detail in either a committee meeting planning a church function, or an after work activity, or a family gathering. If you spill into supper time, feeding people is expected and essential!

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle story that appears in all 4 of the gospels. It’s a revelatory story that shows us something important about who Jesus is, who the disciples were, and who we are called to be as his followers today. Perhaps most importantly it teaches us that since the very beginning of the church potluck dinners have always been important.

As familiar as this tale may be to some of us, it holds more than meets the eye. This story is seeping with allusions other biblical stories. Its full of hyperlinks. You know how those work. When you’re reading a website, or email and you come across a word or a name or a brief phrase that’s underlined and usually in blue-colored font. You can just keep reading the words of the website in peace if you want, you can get the main point and move on. But if you desire to know more, to explore deeper what’s going on, you click on that link and it opens whole new pages, new stories, new worlds of meaning hiding behind one little word. This story is full of those kind of hyperlinks:

Jesus sees the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd,” he leads them to sit down on “greed grass,” and he feeds them a meal of overflowing abundance. Each of these details call to mind the beautiful 23rdPsalm, which we sang this morning. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” “He prepares a table before me…my cup runneth over.” These hyperlinks help us to see the connections, that in this story Jesus is not just an inspiring human leader who teaches people to share. No, he is serving in the divine role of “the Lord” from the psalm.

At the same time, sprinkled throughout are other hyperlinks that take us to another pivotal point of the Old Testament story of Israel. The repeated reference to “a deserted place” or a wilderness and the surprising, miraculous gift of abundant bread there draws our minds back to the wilderness of Sinai, when the wandering Hebrews of Exodus would go out each day to gather manna—bread from heaven—provided to preserve their vulnerable community. So now, here in the gospel story, we find new manna in a new wilderness. Again, a theological claim is being made about Jesus’ divine identity as the giver of this miraculous bread.

Jesus is like the heroes and prophets of old but much greater. He is like Moses in the wilderness but much greater. He is like King David, the shepherd poet of the psalms, but much greater. These details, these hyperlinks in the story, reveal that it too is much greater that merely 5,000 simple acts of sharing and filling hungry bellies. It is a proclamation of the divine identity of Christ within the evolving story of God’s covenant with Israel but much greater, grander, expansive, and inclusive than all that has come before.

All of these hyperlinks pull our attention backwards to the past, but there is another set of them that pulls us forward, from the story itself into the worship life of the early church and into this very sanctuary today. Maybe you heard the familiar pattern when I read it earlier: Jesus took the bread, he blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them. That series of verbs is packed with power and memory. It is precisely the same pattern that Jesus will later follow at the Last Super. It’s the pattern that the first audience of the gospel, the early church adopted when they gathered each week to worship on the Lord’s Day around the Lord’s table, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It’s the same pattern that we still follow each time we gather here at the Table, responding to Christ’s invitation, meeting him here as he promised. This story of the feeding of the 5,000 rushes to meet us here today, to connect the broken and scattered pieces of out stories. For it is here at this table that we meet the risen Christ who is still greater than all our hungers and needs today, greater than the greed of our self-serving society, greater than our fears of scarcity and insecurity, greater than the limits of the physical world.

Every time we gather around this table we meet him, the Good Shepherd and giver of manna. And he still calls to us. When we (like the disciples) are weary and worn out, when we need a rest, he calls us here to be fed, nourished, sustained for the journey by his very presence. But just like those first disciples, Jesus doesn’t call us here merely to be fed, but he tells us to go and feed the hungry world around us. To feed those who hunger to be cared for and welcomed, to be included, those who are thirsty to be accepted finally after a life-time of rejection

This call to gather and feed those who need it most reminds me of a story by one of my new favorite authors, Sean Dietrich. He writes under the pen name, Sean of the South, and his books, blog posts, and daily emails are filled with wit and wisdom. I enjoyed his writing from the start, but once I read more I realize that Sean is someone who appreciates the true fine things in life like BBQ, The Andy Griffith Show, Alabama football, and Conecuh Sausage. That’s a man after my own heart. In on of his stories he remembers going to communion for the first time in a long while. He writes:

I am standing in a single-file line of Episcopalians about to take Communion.

I don’t know these people. They wear large smiles on their faces, and they’re singing. They’ve either lost their cotton-picking minds, or I have.

In line ahead of me: the salt of the earth. Adults. Teenagers. Children. The elderly.

I meet two older women who were married a few months ago. A retired commercial fisherman who smells like the night before. Three attorneys, a few construction workers, a banker. A woman with breast cancer.

The bishop is white-haired, wearing a robe. He stands barefoot at the altar. He smiles at an elderly woman, then hands her what looks like a Ritz cracker.

The woman eats, and sips from a cup the size of a fishbowl Margarita. People embrace her. Everyone singing, everyone swaying back and forth.

These people might truly be nuts.

It’s my turn at bat.

The bishop hands me a cracker. “The Body of Christ,” he says.

I haven’t taken communion in years. Besides, my people do things different. We call it the Lord’s Supper—though it’s no supper. We have Tic Tacs and shot glasses of Southern-Baptist-approved Welch’s.

I’m drinking from the cup everyone sipped from. It’s real wine. It burns going down. I wipe my face with my sleeve. The priest smiles.

I don’t feel any different.

Then. I am side-tackled by an old woman. She kisses my forehead. I’ve never met her. She has cropped hair and wears cowboy boots. She says she loves me.

Another man slaps my shoulder. He calls me “brother.” A teenage girl shakes my hand and prays for me.

And I’m feeling something—whether I want to or not. It’s a warm sensation. Maybe it’s the wine.

Or, maybe I’m thinking about the Sundays of my youth. The framed pictures of a shepherd on the church walls of my childhood.

Maybe I’m thinking about ladies who sent poundcakes home with me after potlucks. Or the Kenyan missionaries who taught us to say “I love you” in Swahili.

I’m thinking about the Albertsons—the family of eleven, who wore the same ratty clothes every Sunday. I remember the groceries my father delivered to that family on Tuesday afternoons.

And my father’s funeral. What a service that was. I’m thinking about how hard finances got after he died. I’m remembering the casseroles folks graced our porch with on Tuesday afternoons.

I’m thinking about the clapboard chapel I married in. The leather-bound book Granny read. The miracles I begged heaven for when Mother was sick.

And I feel it.

It’s overwhelming. I think this must be what all the fuss is about.

I’m here. With these people. Black, white, Mexican, Jew, gay, Samaritan, and purple-haired hipster. Young, elderly, Baptist, Methodist, beer-drinker, teetotaller, prostitute, tax-collector, meth addict, and Friends of Bill. Attorneys, veterans, preachers, divorcees, newlyweds, English majors, high-school dropouts, and reprobate redheaded writers.

We are all drinking from the same cup.

Forgive me, Lord, I was wrong. These people aren’t nuts.

They are my family.[i]

 

Friends, around this table we are all family. A family much larger than just 5,000. Jesus calls us here to feast with him, and he sends us out to feed in his name as well.  Jesus calls us to have the heart and the guts of a good shepherd, risking our lives and our livelihoods to welcome and protect those most vulnerable in our community, serving them first and ourselves lasts.

And perhaps the most realistic and relatable part of this story is that Jesus calls us to feed even when we know that we don’t have enough! When our wells have run dry and our own cupboards are bear, when our cup is not running over but is empty and cracked. When we know we don’t have enough: enough bread or fish to feed the multitude, enough time or energy to devote to a cause, enough money or power to think we can make a real difference, enough information or proof to lead us to action, enough love to share after our hearts have been broken, enough hope in the face of disease, death, and grief. When we know we don’t have enough youthful vigor or enough age and wisdom, when we know we don’t have enough, we aren’t enough, and we never will be, and so what’s the point? Lord, just send them away to buy into the worn-out ways of the world. Lord, we just cant’ do it. Not now. Not with only this much to work with. Look at the numbers, it’s not realistic.

And in response, in the face of all our realist reasons why we just aren’t enough, Jesus, the Good Shepherd and giver of manna says to us. “It’s past 6:00, they’ll be expecting a meal. Go give them something to eat. It’s supper time!”

To God alone be the glory.

[i]Sean Dietrich, “Fairhope” on the website Sean of the South, October 2, 2017: http://seandietrich.com/fairhope/

 

Scripture

Mark 6:30-44

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.

 

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