Sunday, July 25, 2021
Lectionary 17, Year B
2 Kings 4:42-44
Title: Five Barley Loaves
Grace and peace to you from God the Creator, Christ the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The feeding of the 5,000 is a foundational story about Christ, and the Kingdom of God. In the four canonical gospels, a version of this story is told six different times. The number of people, the number of loaves, and the setting might change, but the core of the miracle is the same – Jesus takes what we might call not enough, and multiplies it into an abundance that can feed everyone gathered, and then some.
In the Gospel of John, this moment is framed as a test for the disciples. How will they respond to the needs of the community? There are at least 5,000 people who are following Jesus, as he has been healing and teaching. From the text, we can assume that these are not necessarily wealthy people, who have packed provisions – instead they are faithful people, following Jesus, trusting in the presence of God. That means there are physical needs to be attended to – food, and rest. Jesus has everyone sit down, together. He doesn’t scatter them, or send them away. He keeps them in community. And he feeds them.
But first, the disciples are given the chance to solve this challenge themselves. Is there enough? Can these 5,000 people be nourished? Philip jumps right to money and finances – the disciples aren’t wealthy either, and not even six months of their wages would be able to purchase enough food. Andrew notices that a boy has five barley loaves and two fish, but the math doesn’t add up. That’s not nearly enough for 50 people, much less 5,000. The disciples are still thinking in the framework of the world-as-is, and the world-how-it-has-been. They are not trusting in the presence of God, and the possibilities of God’s Kingdom. They fail the test, but Jesus doesn’t rebuke them, and doesn’t shame them – instead, Jesus embodies abundance, showing the disciples, the community, and those of us receiving the story, the truth of an abundant God. Jesus blesses and breaks the barley loaves, distributes the fish, and all 5,000 are fed and nourished, with twelve baskets left over.
How often do we face similar questions as the disciples? Asking, is there enough? Do we have enough to share? And even, are we enough? These questions play out individually, in our lives, and communally, in our lives together, over and over again. Left up to the systems of the world-as-is, the answer will always be no. We are not enough, and so we sacrifice ourselves and our relationships for the sake of productivity. We do not have enough, so it’s frightening to share what we do have. We will never be enough, and so why even bother dreaming of something better?
But in God, and in community, there is more than enough for all. That is the nature of God – abundant, creative, nourishing. And that is the nature of our life together in God – abundant, creative, and nourishing.
I can’t think of a better example than the past year at St. John’s. We were asking questions like, how can we stay connected, even while we’re apart? How can we best care for our neighbor? In response to all of the systems at play in the world-as-is, could our efforts ever be enough?
And we brought what we had in response to those questions. Instead of five barley loaves and two fish, we brought small moments – texted prayers, the minutes before and after Zoom meetings, recorded voices and words. The communities of St. John’s brought a willingness to meet and talk with a new Vicar, trying new ways of worship, and conversation. Being willing to sit in spaces of grief, and in joy. In caring for each other, through this past year, we had enough. Even in the moments where we fell short, or experienced conflict, or experienced isolation – we were enough.
The miracle of feeding the 5,000 isn’t just in the multiplying of food. It’s also in the community’s participation. The 5,000 who were gathered together passed the bread and fish that Jesus distributed, to each other. They didn’t hoard what they were given. They participated in the miracle. God created the abundance and the community shared it. Imagine what our systems of food production might look like under that model – where there is already enough being grown and harvested through God’s creation and the work of field laborers, but there isn’t shared distribution. Imagine what our systems of community might look like under that model – where, instead of believing our small actions aren’t enough, we trust that with all people taking small actions of care and connection, no one will fall through the cracks.
The miracle of feeding the 5,000 is also in the community staying together. Jesus doesn’t send them away to find their own food, to survive on their own – he invites them to sit together. To stay together. He isn’t just answering the question, “how can these people be fed?”, he’s answering, “how can these people stay together, even just for this moment?” This story comes in the midst of us closing our time together. My internship year is ending, and I will leave this community and this place. I am trying to leave well, having closing conversations with people, and also being clear that leaving a church, for folks in pastoral leadership, means a change of relationship and communication. Our lives diverge, in many ways, at this point. But even with that separation, and the genuine sadness and grief it brings for me, and for us, we are still together through Christ and the Spirit.
In my life, I’ve found that I carry the communities I’ve been a part of with me. When I take communion, I am connected to my ancestors in faith, the communion of saints, my home church, faithful people I have never met, churches I worshipped with once or twice while abroad. Little pieces of these communities stick with me, in the hymns I know by heart, in worship patterns, in meaningful rituals and prayers. The same will be true of St. John’s. This year has formed me, and given me space to grow, and I am so grateful for the communities of St. John’s. So even as I leave this place, our spirits and hearts are entwined.
We are one through Christ, and through the Spirit. When we partake in communion, we are connected to those who came before us, those who are with us now, and those who will come after us. Through the waters of baptism, we are one in God, and called to participate in God’s abundant Kingdom, loving and caring for our neighbors, dreaming about and living into the world-as-it-could-be, and always returning to the overflowing and all-encompassing love of God.
I am so grateful for our time together. Thank you. This community is a blessing. You will be in my heart, and I pray that you continue to be transformed and renewed by the abundant, creative, and nourishing love of God.
Receive this blessing, written by Jan Richardson, titled: “Blessing the Fragments”
“He told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’”
Cup your hands together,
and you will see the shape
this blessing wants to take.
Basket, bowl, vessel:
it cannot help but
hold itself open
knows the secret
of the fragments
that find their way
into its keeping,
that may hide
in what has been
the persistence of plenty
where there seemed
Look into the hollows
of your hands
what wants to be
what abundance waits
among the scraps
that come to you,
will offer itself
from the pieces
Vicar Reed Fowler,