Read John 6:1-15.
A teacher once asked the students of their class to bring something to school that symbolized their religious faith. The next day the teacher begins to go around the room asking each of the students to share what they brought. The first little boy says, “I’m Jewish, and this is a menorah. We light it to celebrate Hanukkah.”
The teacher says, very good, now who’s next? A little girl stood up and said “I’m Muslim and I brought a prayer mat we use to kneel down as we pray.” “Excellent,” said the teacher, “now who wants to share?” A young girl stood up holding high a dish and declared, “I’m a Methodist and this is a casserole!”
We United Methodists do love our potlucks do we not? I mean it’s honestly one of the things the United Methodist Church is known for in our popular culture isn’t it? I remember when I announced at First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica that I would be moving to the Mid-West, a whole group of transplants from across the region came up to me after worship and said, “Robert, you are going to love the United Methodist mid-western potlucks, they are the best.” And they were definitely right on. The welcome potluck hosted by the United Methodist Women of this church was an incredible feast of deliciousness, fun and fellowship.
Now there’s a reason I bring all of this up today. Not just because I love thinking and talking about food, but there’s more to it than just all that. Food, meals, eating together is a sacred act.
Think about all the traditions and holidays we have throughout the year which revolve around food? Pretty much every single holiday includes some sort of special meal, some sort of sacred dish, something for all of us to gather around, remembering and acknowledging in some way the connection we share with one another and the connection we have to our God.
Food is crucial to our life as a people, as families and it is absolutely essential to our life of faith. A meal represents so much more than just the food itself. It represents, life, connection, hope, memory, both personal and communal. A meal represents abundance, provision, goodness blessing, it represents mercy, satisfaction, contentment and ultimately it represents that we are part of this tapestry of life, this creation woven together by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Which brings us to the gospel reading for this morning. The reading for today may be a pretty familiar story to some of us. This one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles where he feeds 5,000 hungry folks. This story was so well known and well circulated in the early church that it is one of the few miracles stories of the New Testament that is contained in all four of the gospels.
Jesus is in the region of Galilee, next this large lake called the Sea of Galilee. He’s preaching, teaching and healing folks all around the lake. He’s moving from place to place, and people from all over the region are responding to his ministry. They are following him around from spot to spot and there’s this movement that’s forming around him.
So in response to this momentum that’s kind of picking up, Jesus retreats up to a mountain, as he often does, for some spiritual renewal and reflection as the festival of the Passover is approaching. As he looks out upon the crowd that has gathered around him he asks his disciples “where are we going buy bread for these people to eat.”
Jesus knows the hearts of his disciples. He knows that they are living in the scarcity of the moment. And so one of Jesus followers, Philip, replies to Jesus, “six months wages would not buy enough bread to feed all of these people.”
Now I have to admit I can see myself in Philip and in his response. He’s looking out at the crowd and he just sees a mass of people. Too many people even for him to count. He looks out and he sees that the need out there is huge, too big for him alone, too big for his small group of friends, too big in his mind even for Jesus. And he is the rationalist. He sees the need and assesses what they have and determines that it’s just too much, they don’t have enough.
This is a pretty human thing to do. How many of us would react in the same way? See we human beings have this tendency to be drawn into a mentality of scarcity. We like to think of things in terms of a zero sum game. There’s only so much of the pie and we’ve got to make sure that we get the right size piece for me and for mine.
This isn’t always a bad tendency. Sometimes it allows us to be responsible stewards with what we have, it helps us to make good decisions and to live within our means and on and on.
But like all things, we have to keep ourselves in check. We have to keep a balanced outlook on our lives and our world or else we get a little bit too stuck in that mindset of scarcity and not enough-ism. Because the shadow side of that scarcity mindset, or the slippery slope we could find ourselves falling down is this:
we live in fear, we live in fear that there isn’t really enough out there for us to make a life. And if we live in fear, then we end up hoarding everything we have or could ever attain out of fear of running out.
This kind of fearful living eventually lead us to believe that the only way to have true peace, security and contentment in our lives is by earning, saving or gathering enough wealth or stuff in our lives that we feel protected from life’s uncertainties.
This of course is a fools errand. No amount of stuff, no amount of money, no amount of power we have in this world will relieve us of the anxiety we carry that something may go wrong, that feeling that the other shoe is drop.
So as people of faith we know only way to true peace and serenity is the humble recognition that we rely on the grace of God always, the humble recognition that we cannot in fact save ourselves, the humble recognition that there is something at work in this world that is bigger and more powerful than us alone, the humble recognition that we need the love, the mercy and the hope of Jesus in our lives, to make us whole and set us free.
Back to the story for today. So Philip, the practical one, says to Jesus, we don’t have enough money or enough food to feed all of these people. But Jesus is up to something here in this moment. Jesus is moved by compassion for these hungry people. He invites the disciples to tell the people to sit among the grass, the green grass a sign of God’s providence and power and Jesus asks a young boy to share his lunch.
I love that part. Jesus asks a boy to share his lunch. The boy has enough food for him and his family. It’s not much, but it’s something. But the boy offers what he has to Jesus. He gives what little he has to Jesus.
And Jesus takes his bread and fish and he blesses them and Jesus distributes them among the people. He gives and gives and gives of the bread and the fish and it just keeps going. On and on and on and on until everyone has had enough to eat. The text says everyone ate until they were satisfied, and yet there was still some left over.
What a picture of God’s kingdom right? What an image of what it looks like to live in beloved community. This is the image of God’s kingdom we strive for in and through the church. As a church we are struggling to be a community that believes in this kind of abundance, to be a people who believe that if we share and give of what we have that there is truly enough for all.
To live more simply so that others can simply live. This is a counter cultural way of being in this American society which is so driven by rampant consumerism which has this underlying narrative and it goes like this: your life isn’t complete until you buy this and this and this and this.
What is at the center of this picture of God’s kingdom in the gospel for today? A meal. Food. This basic human provision. This basic human need.
As I mentioned earlier in this sermon, we are known as a feeding people in the United Methodist Church. I’ve seen this too here at Mt. Healthy United Methodist Church. This last week I had the privilege of meeting with Kathy Lorenz, the volunteer director of the Mt. Healthy Alliance Food Panty over at the Disciples of Christ Church a few blocks away.
What a humbling and power experience it was to learn about the work of the pantry and the work of this congregation over the years. It was shocking for me to learn of the needs of our neighborhood around hunger and food insecurity. The pantry of the Mt. Healthy Alliance serves around 500 families each and every month. 500 families who are able to go to a safe place, to share themselves in vulnerability and receive such a simple and profound gift. Kathy, the pantry director, told me that each year the pantry gives away the equivalent of $500,000 worth of food each year.
I am honored to be the pastor of a church which supports this kind of ministry and outreach to our community. I am proud to be the pastor of a church which not only supports this food pantry but also discerned a missional opportunity for our community which centers around food: the Pancake breakfast.
I am excited for a chance to participate in the pancake breakfast coming up in September. But one of the things that I’ve learned about it which is so inspiring, uplifting and what gets at the heart of Jesus’ ministry is that at the pancake breakfast everyone eats together. We all eat as one community. There is no us and them, no server and ‘servie’. We build relationships as we share in the sacred gift of breaking bread, or eating pancakes and sausage with one another.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “to a hungry person the gospel is a loaf of bread.” He was right on. For those who struggle to eat every single day a loaf of bread is the good news of God’s love.
But, when we take time to not only offer the bread, but to intentionally build relationships and community with those who are weak, poor, vulnerable, all of those who have fallen on hard times, we reach beyond the bread, beyond the food and we share the good news of the gospel. Because when we do this work we are reminded and we share with others that we all have inherent worth.
We are reminded and we share with others that we are created in the image of a loving God, that we are all worthy of love and grace, we remind others and ourselves that, although we are different in ways too numerous to count we are made one by the source and creator of all things who weaves us together in love, in this tapestry of life, hope and redemption.
If you are new to the church, or if you just don’t know about the food pantry ministry or the pancake breakfast find me and let’s talk. There are ways to give back, to volunteer for these worthy outreach ministries. And as for the pancake breakfast, come be part of it in September, meet a new friend, enjoy some breakfast together, be refreshed and enlivened in the spirit of God which takes something as simple as a meal, time shared together in the breaking of bread, a time where we know, we see and we taste the goodness of God’s grace for you, for me, for us all. Thanks be to God. Amen.