What a joy it is to be back here with you all this morning! When I saw Gordon’s email about needing a supply person for the end of July, I felt like I was a kid back in gym class again . . . pick me, pick me! J. So I was excited when he said yes because it’s always a delight to be in worship together with you all.
So what a great couple of readings this morning! First, Paul’s beautiful prayer to the folks in Ephesus that Sue read for us and then John’s telling of the feeding of the 5,000. This is the one story that is common in all four of our Gospels but John’s version, in typical John fashion carries a lot more dialogue. In fact, there is so much dialogue that the folks who put together our lectionary readings have devoted the next 4 weeks to this single chapter!
So after hearing the Gospel reading, tell me, what stood out to you? An image? Theme? Character or Characters that maybe you identify with?
For me, first and foremost it was bread. Bread both literally and later in this chapter, metaphorically, but nonetheless . . . bread. So much so that even though it is not communion Sunday, I think we need a loaf of bread up here for our focus point . . . [place bread on the table].
As for characters, I must say I identify with Andrew. My wife I think would agree. You see, Tracie is an idea person. She can throw out hundreds of ideas with the knowledge that one of them is going to stick. I hear them and immediately begin the litany of what is the “challenge” or “issue” with them. She say’s I’m being negative, but in my mind I’m just trying to figure them out. But to her ears it must sound a bit like Eyore . . . “It will never work”! That is what Andrew is doing. A possible plan is in place to feed all these people, but his response is “what are these 5 loaves and 2 fish among so many”. I hear him. Seems a bit impossible to me too. In his mind, there does not seem to be enough food to go around.
The other character that sticks out to me is the boy. How did he end up with this bread and fish in the first place? Where are his parents? Well, if you will indulge me, in true Jewish “midrash” fashion, I would like to read a letter that our young man “might“ have written if he had been given the opportunity to share his story.
[read the letter from Omar] . . .
Hello everyone at Chester Presbyterian Church. My name is Omar and at the time of this story that you have just read, I was 12 years old. I lived with my mother, older brother, and two younger sisters. Our father had died the previous year so my mom was one of the widows in our little community out in the backcountry of Galilee.
Mom is supposed to re-marry my uncle or something, but every time it’s talked about, she gets a little sad, I think because she misses our Dad. I miss him too. He was a fisherman and that is what I’m going to do too. In fact, I’m a good fisherman already. Better than my brother that’s for sure, but don’t tell him I said so.
Mom does her best to keep us fed. She bakes Barley or Peasant bread for the people in our town and helps out in other ways in exchange for food. My brother brings home some fish too so we always have something to eat even though my little sisters are always complaining. I guess you could say that we were poor, but we were happy, at least I thought so before the night I heard my mother and brother fighting. I could not hear all the details but mom went to bed crying and my brother left to go fishing. I hated hearing my mother cry.
I decided right then that I needed to do something drastic. I was old enough. I could help out our family in some way that was more important than just fetching water and playing with my sisters.So I grabbed all the bread and dried fish that I could put in my satchel and I took off in the night. I was not sure where I would go, but I knew there were shepherds in the hills outside of town and I hoped that they might let me help with the sheep in exchange for some money. Or maybe I could sell the bread and fish. Either way, it would make my mom happy.
The moon was full when I left and I remembered that the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem would be beginning in just a couple days. I thought of Moses as he led the Hebrew people away from Pharaoh and into the desert. Did he have a nice moon like this one to guide him? I bet he did.
I saw the fires on the hillsides and knew that was where the shepherds were, so I headed in that direction. The sun was coming up when I got there and the shepherds were finishing their breakfast as I approached. I asked them if I could help but they said I needed to go back home. I tried to argue, putting on my grown up face, but it didn’t work. They shooed me away. At least they bought some of the bread. That was a start.
But unfortunately, it was the same with all the shepherds. “Too young boy. Go home”. I tried to argue that King David was just a little boy when he started shepherding but they just laughed at me. “When you are a King, come back and we will let you help”, they snickered. It was no use. But, they bought some bread.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted and I was missing my mother and sisters. I had a little money but it was not what I was hoping for. I covered myself with my cloak and fell asleep, dreaming of my father and his fishing boat. I slept past daybreak and awoke to the sounds of a huge crowd of people. Had I fallen asleep in the path of the Passover pilgrims?
No, this was something else. Everyone was hurrying to hear someone talk. They said his name was Yeshua or Jesus and that he was a prophet like Moses! I had just been thinking of Moses and the Passover so I had to see this for myself. I fell in with the crowd and before you knew it, I was right up close to where he was standing.
He looked so peaceful but there were others around him that seemed concerned. I could not hear every word but it sounded like they were talking about food. Next thing you know, a couple of men, maybe they were his disciples, started walking through the crowd asking if anyone had anything to eat.
I remembered that I still had 5 loaves of bread and a couple fish in my satchel, but I was hoping to sell them. However, when this man came up to me and asked if I had anything, I just gave them to him. It just felt like the right thing to do.
Next thing you know, he is handing them to Jesus and pointing at me. I swear that Jesus gave me a little smile, but I can’t be sure because the next thing you know they are asking us all to sit down on the grass. There must have been thousands of people. We looked like sheep before a shepherd. I wondered, how was my bread and fish going to help?
Jesus held up my mom’s bread and said a prayer and then they started passing it out. He did the same with the fish. I figured this would not last long. I probably won’t even get a taste of my own bread. But when it came by, I took a piece of each and there was plenty more. How did that happen? As I watched, everyone was getting something to eat. Was I still dreaming?
In a little bit, they came around with baskets and they must have filled up 12 of them. I was sitting there perplexed when I heard a familiar voice calling in the distance. “Omar!” It was my mom. She ran up and hugged me and then I started crying. “I’m sorry mom that I ran away. I just wanted to do something to help. I did not want you to cry anymore”. She said she understood. My brother slapped me on the top of my head but he was smiling. It was nice to see him too.
“Mom, did you see all the bread that came from your 5 loaves”? “This must have been a miracle like the story of the manna from heaven with Moses. Can you believe it”! “There was enough for everyone!”
While the crowed kept getting closer to Jesus, my mom just smiled and led us home.
Thank you for listening to my story. Sincerely, Omar.
P.S. Mom eventually did marry my Uncle who treated us all good and I became the greatest fisherman ever, but that’s a story for another day. For now, it’s just nice to remember that day when Jesus made sure we all had enough to eat.
What a great story! Now if you’re like me with an “Andrew” mind, you probably want to figure this out. How did this happen? Some have speculated that as the bread and fish started circulating among the crowd that others began to feel a bit guilty and pulled out their own food to supplement and low and behold, everyone was feed with the 12 baskets of leftovers. A little like the story of the Stone Soup where everyone pitches in and you end up with a feast.
Could be. But maybe we have to keep a sense of wonder like Omar in the story. It’s a wonderful miracle, just like the manna from heaven. And I wonder if maybe the real miracle is not in the feeding but in the abundance of leftovers after everyone was filled. As Westerners in the 21st century, we seem to be conditioned to see our world from a position of scarcity. “There’s just not enough to go around so by golly, I have to make sure and get what’s mine”. With this mindset, we directly or indirectly feel threatened by anyone who challenges this position.
It seems to be what drives our xenophobia. “We must hold tight to what is ours. Don’t let anyone else get it”. Through this miracle of food and the later metaphors of Jesus referring to himself as the bread of life, Christ is calling us into a different worldview; a mindset not of scarcity but of abundance. Now this is not the prosperity Gospel type of abundance where IF you just believe it; you will have abundant riches to your heart’s desire. That’s greed. Rather Christ-like abundance realizes that there is enough to go around. It’s a frame of reference that views others AND the resources of our world in a way that say’s there is “enough for everyone”.
It’s a perspective where we start to separate our needs from our wants. It realizes how Madison Avenue marketing can manipulate us to create a desire for things that, until we saw the commercial or advertisement; we did not even realize we needed it!
Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly”
So how do we get there? How do we recondition ourselves from the worldview of scarcity to that of abundance? I know I struggle with it. Put me in this story today and I’m not sure I give up all the bread. “Maybe” I part with a couple loaves but certainly not all of them.
I think it’s a daily process of prayer and sanctification; that big word that means by the power of the Holy Spirit we are just trying to become more like Christ day by day. Jesus told us to “love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind; AND to love our neighbor as ourselves”. Once we start to see our neighbor; the other; as an extension of ourselves, then I think we are on the right track.
May we all have the child-like faith of little “Omar”.
Thanks be to God!