Saturday, August 2, 2008
Feeding the Five Thousand
August 3, 2008
During the awful years before I came to St. Luke’s, when I was not allowed to work at my vocation, I was working for a grocery store—a job that paid not much more than minimum wage and demanded long hours. At the end of the month, I didn’t have enough to pay all my bills and we like so many people in the US became mired in debt.
Finally we went to a debt consolidation place and today we are almost out of debt. But we have learned to do with much less. We do not buy on credit. And we are living well now on two part-time salaries. It has required us to be creative, to make much more of little. And I would say that J and I live more reasonably now with less than when we both had full-time positions and credit cards. It has been a hard lesson to learn, but I believe that we live more in line with what Jesus teaches than we were before.
I am convinced that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples the same thing in today’s reading. Jesus had been followed into the countryside and it was time for supper. The disciples suggest to Jesus to send his followers away to get supper but Jesus does not. “You feed them,” Jesus says. Jesus does not feed the people; he empowers his disciples to feed them. They have little, but it is enough: Five loaves and two fish. All too often we think that we do not have enough—we conserve and save when we need to be sharing.
In this story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus takes what he is given, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. It is the same action that we do at each communion service. We take bread, bless it, break it and give it. This is not an accident. By the time that Matthew writes this gospel, the action of taking, blessing, breaking and giving was already part of the ritual of the Christian community. It was the sign of Christ’s presence with them.
The words ‘take, bless, break and give’ already had meaning for the hearers of Matthew’s gospel. Just as they have meaning for us today. The story of the feeding of the Five Thousand is a story about Eucharist. It was not just a nosh on the hills around Galilee. It was not merely a way of providing sustenance to the body. It was to have life meaning, faith meaning. The Feeding of the Five Thousand has to do with making something out of nothing by God and giving sustenance to the soul as well as the body.
During the summer I have a bit more time to read some of the new professional works that come out about Scripture or church mission. A series that I have been reading have to do with the life and times of the first century folks in the Middle East. The Gospels are written with very little explanation of what the local customs were in Jesus’ day. Several social anthropologists have gathered together to make the first century more accessible. Slowly but surely we are learning in the religious world that we cannot take the Gospels at face value—that there is needed a good bit of explanation necessary for the Gospels to be understood. For the people of Israel, eating had to do with God.
“The power of the Lord is manifested in his ability to control food: to feed is to bless, to confer life; to feed bad food or to starve is to judge or punish, to confer death. Acceptance of the power and authority of the Lord is symbolized by acceptance of his food. Rejection of the power and authority of the Lord is symbolized by seeking after food he has forbidden. People "limit" or "tempt" the Lord--that is, question the extent of his power or authority--by questioning his ability to feed them. The Lord's word is equated with food. Eating joins people with the Lord or separates them.” (Neyrey)
Food and eating is not just a mere formula for bodily sustenance. The taking, blessing, breaking and giving of food was a holy act. It was taking something common, bread and wine, and being creative because God was creative with it. The power of God is before us when we break bread with one another.
Jesus calls the disciples to be creative with five loaves and two fish—to make more of them than is initially seen. The disciples share these small bits with those who need to see God’s power in their lives. And all are fed; all are nourished. Is it a miracle? Of course it is! Whenever God’s power is seen, we are in the presence of miracle! Jesus calls the disciples to make something out of little and they do. They create community out of the simple acts of taking, blessing, breaking and giving. They nourish the body and the soul of those who have come to follow Jesus.
Over the past few months of my pastorate here, I have come to realize that we at St. Luke’s don’t have a lot of money to pass around. We are not a wealthy church. But we are resourceful. One of the things we do have is a sense of community. I have found that if I take away our coffee hour, I meddle in something very important to our life together—our community. It is something that is very precious to us—it is where we work out what it means to live together. It is where we practice what we preach. Sometimes we can use coffee hour to learn, sometimes we can have specific parties, but for the most part our coffee hour is as much a part of our Eucharistic lives as what we do here around the altar. We can recognize in our coffee cake and juice the same power God has in our lives to make us more than the individuals or families that gather for word and sacrament.
I am wondering if we can share the promise of Christ by sharing our coffee hour—our sense of community with the larger community of our area by inviting people to come to a meal without buying. Could we invite the five thousand of our community to feast on the largess of God that we can offer just as surely as did the disciples? I am not talking about evangelizing people. I am just wondering if we could invite everybody to a meal here at St. Luke’s and share what we have from our gardens, our baking, our farms, our trips to Sam’s. Yes, it would be work—but this congregation is not afraid of work if yesterday is any indication. Instead of having a fund raiser—perhaps we could have a FUN raiser (!) to share what God has given us with others. Certainly our towns and communities here along the Susquehanna need to know what it means to have community. They need to know of God's power to feed us all.
I would like to see us practicing what it is that draws us together. I would like to see us share what we have as a sign of God’s power working among us. I am not sure if it can be done, but it is something that might be different and put the accent on what it is that Christ’s does in the taking, blessing, breaking and giving that is a the center of today’s Gospel reading. I like to see us getting creative in making something big out of the little we have. Because it is there that we who have been given so much, can share what we have. AMEN