Sermon of the Week
Words to Build a Life On:
You Give them Something to Eat.
Due to technical problems, there is no sermon video available for this week.
We’re about halfway through this sermon series that we’re calling
Words to Build a Life On.
These are basic ideas of the Christian Tradition expressed in just a few words
Ideas that can become the building blocks for a vibrant, living faith.
We had a bit of a break last week
And a rest is sometimes good for the spirit.
How many of the first five themes do you remember?
The first phrase was “The Greatest is Love”
We borrowed those words from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth
And Now Faith, Hope, and Love abide
And the Greatest of these is love.
It is a reminder to us that God is love
And we are to read scripture and to look for God’s movement in the world
Through the lens of love.
Then we explored a beautiful passage in the Hebrew Scriptures
With the words:
Seek Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly with your God
Which, according to the prophet Micah
Are Requirements of our faith
And humble walking.
Week Three looked at the sermon on the mount
And particularly the blessings of God
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness
Blessed are the meek.
Our word that week was Blessed…
A reminder of the spiritual geography of Jesus’ teachings
The way that the life of following Jesus
Has us standing with those that God stands with.
The next phrase to build a life on
Was a favorite passage of Clay Cook, our pastor emeritus
Live Peaceably with All.
We looked at the real challenge of that sort of ideal for our life:
How living peaceably doesn’t mean living passively
But seeking justice, always seeking justice,
while honoring the humanity of ALL people
Even those we disagree with, even people doing horrible things.
We explored Jesus describing the greatest commandments of them all
Including the commandment to
Love your Neighbor as yourself
Meaning, of course, that we have to love ourselves in order to love our neighbor.
Five important phrases
Each of which we can draw upon today
As we live our life here in Kansas City
As we go to work or walk around school or shop in the grocery store
Or watch the evening news.
Words to build a life on.
Today we are looking at one of the most well known stories about Jesus.
This is a story that, in one form or another, is told six times in the gospels.
This story, today’s story, is in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Sometimes we get stories in those first three.
Not very often do we have the same story in all four.
(The Gospel of John has a mind and a plan of his own, as it were.)
But there it is, in each of them: Jesus and his disciples, feeding the 5000 thousand.
And then, as if to put a punctuation on it,
Mark and Matthew tell another story,
A separate story,
Where they feed 4000 people. Well, at least. Not including the women and the kids.
(That exclusion is another sermon for another day).
As I mentioned last time:
Long Form Writing, writing something like a gospel,
wasn’t all that easy during Jesus’ day
You needed special material: animal hide and scarce writing implements
Not many people knew how to read, much less how to write.
It took time and focus and not much margin for mistakes
There was no word processor, no ancient white out
And so you needed to pick and choose rather carefully.
All that is to say:
When the gospel writers include the same story
The feeding of a multitude of people
Who are out in the middle of nowhere
And are seeking the presence and the power of God
People who are growing hungry
Feeding them with just a few loaves and some fish…
When they EACH tell THAT story
And some of them tell a version of it two different times
It is something for us to pay attention to.
And it mattered rather deeply to them and their communities.
This story would have been well known
Part of the legend about this Jesus fella
That people whispered back and forth to each other…
Hey, did you hear about Jesus of Nazareth
You know, that guy that fed 5000 people out in the sticks
Yeah, let me tell you something I heard about him…
So, lets turn with fresh ears
To this story in the Gospel according to Mark
As we open our heart to God’s word:
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus,
and told him all that they had done and taught.
31Jesus 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.
32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
33Now many saw them going and recognized them,
and they hurried there on foot from all the towns
and arrived ahead of them.
34As Jesus 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.
35When it grew late,
his disciples came to him and said,
‘This is a deserted place,
and the hour is now very late;
36send them away
so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages
and buy something for themselves to eat.’
37But Jesus answered them,
‘You give them something to eat.’
They said to Jesus,
‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread,
and give it to them to eat?’
38And he said to them,
‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’
When they had found out,
they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’
39Then Jesus ordered them
to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.
40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.
41Taking the five loaves and the two fish,
Jesus 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.42
And all ate and were filled;
43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.
44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
And may God bless to us our reading
And our understanding
And our applying of these words
To how we live our lives. Amen.
Sometimes sermons end up going somewhere I don’t expect them to go.
You sit down to work on them and they surprise you.
That’s where this one ended up. We should talk a bit about all those broken pieces.
The reason we’re focusing on this phrase:
You, Give them Something to Eat
Is because you find that phrase
In each of the versions of this story of the Feeding of the 5000.
They’re out there in the wilderness.
Exactly Why they’re out there in the wilderness differs from gospel to gospel.
But in this one, the disciples are exhausted.
They’ve been working overtime, sent out in groups of two to serve
And they just heard about the death of John the Baptist
And so they want to get away for a breather.
They’ve been working so hard
They’ve not been able to attend to their own needs
Hardly time for themselves to grab a bite to eat, Mark says.
But they’re spotted
And the crowds come
Out there, in the wilderness
Away from the busy-ness, and the food trucks, of the city
To hear more from this Jesus fella
The one teaching and healing and sharing the kingdom of God.
And it gets late.
And the disciples don’t know what to do.
They panic a little.
They want to send the crowds home to get something to eat.
Instead, Jesus tells them:
You give them something to eat.
Jesus has them organize the thousands into groups of hundreds and fifties
The same size as roman army units
The same way that Greek culture organized groups of people
after hearing a notable public address
These were called a symposium: which translates in other contexts
As a drinking party,
or convivial discussion group
and they pass out the bread.
And, somehow, everybody has enough.
We call this the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes,
But the bible doesn’t say it is a miracle.
Scholars will argue forever
About whether the food somehow multiplied like bunnies
Or if, in fact, people there really had brought their own food with them
Once they were in those smaller groups
And were looking each other in the eye
The way you do in real community, you know,
When you see the face of your neighbor
And decided that rather than hold onto that food they brought
They were going to share it with others in their symposium.
We aren’t going to solve that mystery today
And that’s not what I want to focus on.
What’s interesting is that Jesus tells the disciples
To give the crowd something to eat,
But the disciples don’t really do anything special.
They organize the people, and they hand out the food.
And then, they gather the broken pieces.
That seems to define the church’s ministry pretty well, in a nutshell.
We gather God’s people into groups of people, congregations, families, churches.
We provide one another with nourishment
Spiritual food—through worship and study and service–
As well as, sometimes, Actual casseroles…
We provide one another with nourishment
And something happens.
Maybe it’s a miracle that Jesus does.
Maybe it’s the result of the gathered resourcefulness of God’s people.
Most likely, like the multiplication of the loaves and fishes
It’s some divine combination of both.
And then, afterwards, it’s the church’s job to gather up the broken pieces.
There are always broken pieces when the church is being the church.
I’ve experienced this a lot, actually
The church talks about serious things
And invites people to take up weighty challenges
And not everyone is comfortable with that.
The church stands where Jesus stands
Offering the same welcome that Jesus offered
And not everyone is comfortable with that
I’ve seen people leave congregations
Because the church spoke out on gun violence
Or started a food ministry for the homeless poor in their neighborhoods.
Or I remember the youth mission trips that I led for many years.
Every time: we leave excited and enthusiastic
And we did important work together and we returned home changed and renewed.
But in the process, I knew: someone was going to get hurt.
There’s a falling out with the leadership
Or a kid acts out
Or an adult volunteer overreacts
Or a couple breaks up
And someone comes back discouraged or angry or disappointed or hurt.
But it still was always a great mission trip.
And we still had to gather up the broken pieces.
Or sometimes well meaning church people
And I count myself solidly in this little illustration
Sometimes we mean well
But we ask impertinent questions
Or say the most innocuous things
And it really hurts.
I’ve seen a single mom visit a congregation
And four different people ask when she’s going to get married again
Even though she’s been smarting from her recent breakup.
In the first church I served
I actually saw someone shush a fussy baby
During a worship service
In a congregation that knows, in its soul
That we need babies in here, that they give us life and joy and vitality
That they are welcome in worship
That they are a vision of the kingdom of God…
Gathering up the broken pieces may be our most important job in the church.
Its our job
To be a community of healing for those who are broken
By our own actions.
Even by ministry.
Even by being the church.
Because when you dare to do ministry,
You are certainly going to have your share of disappointment and frustration.
You work with the homeless
And discover that some don’t seem super-motivated
to do what you think they ought to do
Or you work with case workers
That seem not to care about their clients
Or the school you’re working with changes leadership
And we don’t quite know where we fit for a while
Or some of the people who are interested in the same work you are
Are hyper critical and judgmental and want you to be too
Or you get frustrated that there are never enough resources—
And there will never be enough resources.
You work on anti-racism work
And you come face to face with an intractable system
And your own advantages within that system
This is the real world.
Every ministry and service project and well-intentioned plan
Has the potential of falling short
Because we’re still learning
We’re still working at it
We’re still experimenting and failing and learning from our failure.
Every attempt to be a faithful, loving community is going to be flawed and imperfect
Because we are not angels
We are human beings.
But, when we’re faithful
We put all of that into perspective.
We understand that we can get weary
And that our weariness can tempt us to abandon what we’re all about.
Jesus, send them back home to feed themselves.
They’re not supposed to be here on our retreat anyway.
Lets do this again tomorrow.
You, my friends,
You give them something to eat…
And they did.
And they ate, and were satisfied.
And then they gathered up the broken pieces.
Gathering up the pieces and starting anew.
The miracle, if we want to call it that,
In the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes
Is not that all those people were fed,
But that there were so many broken pieces to gather up.
And that they were gathered up at all,
Rather than just left lying in a field
For the birds to eat
Or to be taken home for a late-night snack by the crowd.
The pieces were gathered up,
And they were brought back to jesus.
That’s who we are.
That’s the church.
We’re the broken pieces gathered up
And brought back to Jesus.
We don’t know what Jesus will do with us,
But that’s ok.
It’s Jesus. Jesus will figure it out.
But we aren’t meant to be on our own,
Struggling with our brokenness by ourselves.
We’re supposed to be gathered,
With all the other broken pieces.
And we’re supposed to gather up
All the other broken pieces,
The people we’ve hurt
The people who have hurt us
The hurt and broken people of this world
And together we,
In our brokenness,
Return to Jesus.
We’re simultaneously the broken pieces of bread
And the disciples who carry them.
That’s the miracle of Christian community.
We are wounded and feel helpless at times.
But Jesus calls us to be disciples
And says to us: you, give them something to eat.
Somehow, we’re both the patient and the doctor,
The homeless client and the social worker
The ministered to, and the minister.
One of my favorite bands, the Irish rockers U2
In one of my favorite songs of all time, One,
Talks about all of this
Bono sings this great line that rings true to me:
“We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other…”
Despite the fact that we don’t feel capable
Or even necessarily very willing sometimes,
We get to carry each other,
Broken pieces of bread, each of us
And offering it up to Jesus.
Because Jesus knows what to do with broken pieces.
Jesus told his followers:
You give them something to eat.
They looked out at so many people
Such a huge challenge
Such a weighty responsibility
Only Five Loaves of bread? Only Two Fish.
And they go and serve
And its enough
And they gather up the broken pieces again
These are words to build a life on.
You: Give them something to eat.
Love one another as God has loved you.
And bring yourself back to the God who made you and who loves you
And, through you, mends the broken and fills the hungry with good food.
May it be so.