During this Sunday’s service we will remember the story of the greatest potluck ever – the feeding of the 5000 and we will also celebrate communion. Pastor Elisa’s sermon is entitled “Come and Get Fed.” The choir, under direction of Peter Amidon, will sing two anthems “Still There is Love,” a poem by Edith Newlin Chase, music by Mary Alice Amidon, arranged Peter Amidon and “Love is Little,” a 19th century Shaker hymn arranged by Andy Davis. Hymns will be “Bosold,” music by Ann Bosold and lyrics by Isaac Watts, “Jesus Feeds 5000” a children’s song and a new hymn “Rooted and Grounded in Love” by Colorado based composer Amanda Udis-Kessler. There will also be a special introit by the Amidon family. Organist Patty Meyer will play a prelude and postlude and accompany the hymns.
Come and Get Fed
It was during World War II. Times were hard, really hard. A teenager was riding in a crowded train compartment with five strangers. His mother had given him a sandwich wrapped in a handkerchief for his lunch because rationing made food for travelers hard to come by. Noon came and he was hungry, but he didn’t want to eat his lunch in front of the other passengers. He decided to wait until they got out their lunches, but no one moved. An hour passed and then another. Finally, his stomach rumbling, he decided that he had no choice. He needed to eat, and so did the others sharing his compartment. He reached in his coat pocket and took out the handkerchief. He spread it on his lap and carefully broke his sandwich into six pieces while the other passengers watched in silence. Then he said a brief blessing and gave each passenger a part of his sandwich. Then everyone else reached into their pockets and bags and took out the food that they had brought—and not wanted to eat in front of others who might not have anything. The food was broken and shared around the compartment with a sense of feasting. Stories and laughter were shared along with the food.
“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Do you have any guesses as to who this quote is by? If you know please let others try and guess. Albert Einstein that’s right arguable one of the most important scientist of the 20th century has this to say about miracles. Does that strike anyone else as ironic? A man who dedicated his life to proving the existence of things gave us this powerful quote about things that can’t really be proven – miracles. I would more expect this more from some new age guru right?
The sermon illustration story I just shared with you gives one possible explanation for how our gospel story unfolds but for time immemorial, this gospel story, which appears in all four gospels, has been categorized as a “miracle” story. You know Jesus tells the disciples don’t send these people away, scrounge around and see what we have and then watch me perform the magic trick of the century! It’s a reasonable explanation given that Jesus does in fact perform other miracles – changing water into wine, healing people who are sick and even raising people from the dead! Those are some BIG miracles, so it doesn’t at all seem far-fetched to think here’s just another one, another way for Jesus to show off his Savior skills. We live in a world that is so logically minded that we don’t know how to live into mystery, we don’t know how to let a miracle be a miracle. I have read many scholarly reports trying to debunk this story as a miracle after all there has to be some reasonable explanation for it!
This isn’t a miracle story it is historic record of the very first and greatest church potluck! Right?! You remember how those go there always seems to be more than enough food even though no one ever really knows how many people are coming. One of my favorite possible explanations of this miraculous event goes like this: All the tellings agree that there were 5 loaves and two fish but they were by the Sea of Galilee – what if those fish were something huge – like whale-sized! The revised visual on this made me both chuckle and cringe – you and 4999 of your closest friends gathered in a gigantic circle feasting on Shamu! That’s one heck of a fish story!
So there are some possible explanations however, if we leave it there, we ignore the deeper teachings and perhaps miss the real “miracle” in this story. Within the first two lines of this version of the gospel story we hear that Jesus had compassion for the people. The “miracle” starts with compassion. And what is compassion? It is defined as “concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Compassion embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering. Now it doesn’t say that Jesus pours out compassion on them because they are hungry per se. It seems that many of them were sick and had heard he was a healer. So perhaps they were hungry for some healing, for some care or someone to just give a damn. And Jesus just went and cured them. No questions asked. Then he went beyond that, caring not just for their great suffering but also for their most basic needs.Notice Jesus doesn’t look upon this crowd many of whom must have clearly traveled a long way to see and hear him, to perhaps be healed by him and think “they didn’t prepare very well! Who goes on what is likely to be a long trip, to a deserted place and not pack something to eat!?”
The disciples didn’t know what to do with this big, hungry crowd. All they could come up with was to send them away to find something to eat for themselves. This response makes it seem that the disciples are not concerned enough to get involved. But more than likely they are feeling overwhelmed – a huge, hungry crowd overpowered their sense of agency. They only saw their powerlessness in the face of a large-scale need. I don’t know about you but I can certainly relate to that feeling especially right now. Perhaps there was also some part of them that didn’t want to see the need at all because it made them too uncomfortable so therefore “send them away.” Out of sight, out of mind. Too often we want to “send away” those things that make us too uncomfortable to see but Jesus always responds by drawing nearer to those “uncomfortable” situations, by going toward the suffering.
“Give them something to eat” Jesus says and their response “we have nothing…” Now it is true what they had was meager, they described it as “nothing.” But it’s not true, they did have something. Perhaps it was only a little bit, someone’s leftovers from a previous meal. Maybe we can relate to that feeling right now. It feels like there is only a little left of church. We don’t “have” the building anymore, so many of the other activities that made it truly feel like church still haven’t resumed. For many, there is little left that is recognizable of the life we had before this pandemic. There is little ability left to not see the suffering that has been caused by the systemic racism this country was founded upon. But is there really nothing? What is left over? There is one thing that can’t ever be taken away – God’s love for you. What can you make with those leftovers?
What might have really happened here? What’s the real miracle? Perhaps the miracle comes in the form of a little boy who offers the fishes and loaves in the first place. If that’s all you had left to eat till God knows when, how freely would you give and share it with a crowd sizable enough to clearly leave you with nothing? This angle on the passage made famous by that great commentator and theologian William Barclay. Barclay suggested that the miracle may be simply explained as the crowd, seeing the generosity and trust of the small lad sharing his lunch, themselves being moved to pool their resources to the point of abundance and twelve baskets of leftovers, something like the story I began with. What might have compelled the boy to share his food. Perhaps he couldn’t do math. By that I mean his reasoning mind hadn’t yet gotten the best of him. His imagination allowed him to make the offer beyond what reason would dictate to be possible. The poet Rilke said, “This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love; the more they give, the more they possess.”
Most Bibles give a heading to this story that reads something like “Jesus Feeds Five Thousand.” Actually, Jesus gives food only to the disciples, who then feed the others. Our call is to active ministry that meets human needs and responds to those who are suffering. Jesus feeds the twelve. Jesus feeds us and we in turn are called to feed others. So, what is the real “miracle” in this story? The real miracle is seeing abundance instead of scarcity. It is seeing that we have the power to change a desperate situation if we are willing to let our hearts be changed. The miracle is seeing a situation that would disperse us instead draw us together and connect us in an even deeper communion with one another. The miracle is realizing that you are calling forth the kin-dom of God every single time you are generous with one another not just with your material possessions, no, even more when you are generous with your heart. You are creating a place where all can be fed and nurtured.
So come and get fed. There is more than enough even enough for you. Be compassionate toward one another, be generous and take care of one another. May God grant you hearts to see the suffering of others and to respond with compassion. May God give you the ability to see possibility, where others see “nothing.” May you be generous with the abundance that you have both in your pockets and in your hearts. May you embrace the power and ability you have to do something and make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering, to be Christ to this suffering world. Amen.