10 Pentecost B—7/29/18
Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Pr. Scott Kramer
A week and a half ago there was a knock at the door and it was Sam, who works for Full Circle Farms. Full Circle Farms is a cooperative of 15 farms in the Northwest that together provide fresh, organic produce that they deliver to households that have signed up for regular delivery.
Sam was enthusiastic and convincing. He’s only 23 years old and it was obvious that he wasn’t just a salesman but believes in the company he’s working for. I signed us up for a delivery a week later. Well, the box of produce arrived this past week and it was beautiful! The fruits and veggies were very high quality and in good condition.
Thing is, it was too much! We’d ordered the smallest box but I could hardly cram it all into our refrigerator!
Today’s reading from Mark is the well-known story of Jesus feeding 5000 people. Thousands of satisfied people, piles of leftovers where before there seemed to be nothing. Hearing this story over and over, we might get the idea that this is a story of God miraculously creating abundance out of scarcity.
That is one way to read this story, but it doesn’t get at a deeper truth: This is a story not so much of abundance out of scarcity. It is a story of God’s ability to take abundance and create vastly more abundance.
I’ve been preparing for weeks to go on a long backpacking trip and I’m using as a guide “Ultra-light Backpacking Tips.” One of the cardinal rules of traveling light is taking seriously every bit of added weight. The author writes, “Never say that something doesn’t weigh anything. It absolutely does weigh something!” He’s right of course. Eight years ago, in preparing to summit Mt. Rainier one of my guides put it this way: “Ounces add up to pounds. And pounds add up to pain.”
No, this feeding of 5000 people is not a story of something out of nothing. There absolutely is something to start with, and what is it? Five loaves of bread and two fish! Even if the fish and the loaves are small they’re more than one boy can eat. He has more than enough. He has abundance.
But notice that the grown-ups in the story don’t say anything about that. They do what probably all of us would do and jump straight to their anxiety, with practical questions, mathematics, economics. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” says Philip. Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” As usual, the best teachers in these stories are often the least likely: women, lepers, foreigners, and in this case, a young boy.
Mark tells us that Jesus sought to test his disciples. I wonder if he continues to test us. Which do we see around us each day, abundance or scarcity?
Last Sunday you may recall that Jesus and his disciples faced a crush of people desperate for healing. As in today’s story, too many people, too many problems. It seemed to be a case of scarcity—not enough resources. But Jesus invited his disciples into a quiet place where they could deal with the challenges of life swirling around them. They didn’t escape the problem and they didn’t fix the problem, but they were able to draw on spiritual resources to respond with calm and compassion in the midst of the challenges they faced.
How do we respond to the challenges around us? Do we see abundance or scarcity? Are we usually overwhelmed and discouraged, or, do we see the power of God in a little, trusting that it might yield a lot?
What if there had been no feeding miracle on that day? What if nobody had gotten fed? Would it have been the end of the world? It’s the Middle East but it’s not like these thousands of people were out on the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, hundreds of miles from nowhere! Mark goes out of his way to tell us that “there was a great deal of grass in that place.” Abundance!
Imagine–even if there had been no food provided, the people weren’t that far from towns and villages. They might have gone home missing a meal or two, but they’d gotten to see and hear Jesus while sitting in a place with a great deal of grass. Sounds pretty nice! Is this a story of scarcity, or, of abundance all around—with or without the loaves and fishes?
One test of our spiritual life might be to hold it up to the witness of scripture. Today’s story from Ephesians is loaded with the language of abundance. I’ve highlighted the reading to emphasize the extravagance of God’s grace and the gratitude of a heart that reflects that abundance. To what extent do we experience the love of God in Christ, and to what extent do our lives reflect that abundance?
Jesus once said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” Here is a key to the abundant life: It is not to be hoarded but given away. Our language, our attitudes, our perspectives reflect into the world that abundance. And it happens one person at a time. The boy with the loaves and fishes gave them away. When the crowd saw what happened they wanted to take him by force and make him king. Jesus could’ve taken that abundant power and influence for himself. Instead, like the boy in the story, he gave it away. He withdrew to a quiet place by himself.
The great miracle in this story is not so much the multiplication of food, or Jesus walking on water. The miracles of scripture usually have something to do with spiritual transformation, with a change of perspective that opens our eyes to the abundance of God around us.
The second part of our gospel reading may be just one such an example. Notice that the disciples are rowing away in a storm. He appears to them walking on water and they’re terrified. Are they afraid of him, of the storm, or both? We don’t know. We do know that suddenly they were at land. Who knows—maybe Jesus was just standing in shallow water near shore. Maybe in their fear they thought they were in deep water when they weren’t!
The life of faith, as we heard last week, is about embracing gifts of God, spiritual practices that lead to transformation. The miracle of faith is a heart and a mind that is always growing, learning, being transformed to see God’s abundance all around. Not more material possessions, necessarily, but people who give their lives away, as an example for us all.
After we received that box of food last week we kept some and gave some away to the Renton Food Bank. And then we canceled our subscription to the delivery, because it was all too much for two people.
But we don’t cancel our subscription to God’s love. We can’t! We find ways to give it away.
We live in a time of gun violence, anger, greed, hate, and above all, fear. These are symptoms of souls who have not heard and embraced the gospel of abundance, the gospel of God’s love. It is these crowds, which sadly include Christians, to whom we are called to bring our overflowing abundance of joy, hope, and love. It is this that God miraculously multiplies.
We are to be the presence of the one who says to all his disciples, and all the world, “Don’t be afraid.”