Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 18A)
Sunday, August 2, 2020
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
So how did it happen? How did thousands of people get fed with just 2 fish and 5 loaves [Matthew 14:13-21]? If we were to write an equation to describe this miracle, it would look something like this: 2 + 5 = A > 12 (baskets of leftovers plus what was consumed in the meal)
For some, the story is a physical miracle of multiplication. Jesus who walked on water, who calmed the storm, who raised Lazarus from the dead, performed a miracle that defied understanding. The message of the miracle for us is to trust the power of the living Christ to work something out of nothing in our lives today.
For others, the story is a miracle of sharing. Some suggest the people would not have followed Jesus off into the wilderness, without taking some food along with them. The miracle, is that as the disciples shared what they had, so did everyone else. And in the miracle of sharing, they discovered they had more than enough to take care of each other. In this understanding, the message of the miracle for us today, is to trust in the power of sharing. To imagine feasts that might occur if we all simply shared what we have.
So, was the feeding of the thousands a miracle of multiplication, or a miracle of sharing? Perhaps it was a miracle that combined elements of both? Or, was it something all-together different?
As we let those questions work in us and enter into the mystery of this story, it’s important to recognize that the story reflects an important truth about who we are as humans, AND about who we are called to be as disciples of Jesus.
The truth this story reflects about who we are as humans, is just how often we operate with a mentality of scarcity. A mentality of scarcity is the mindset that there will never be enough: enough money, enough food, enough time, enough volunteers, enough of whatever else is needed. A mentality of scarcity is dangerous because it shuts out possibilities and labels neighbors as enemies. In a mindset where there is never enough, neighbors are turned into enemies in a zero-sum game. Either you win or I win, because we both cannot win.
The disciples looked at their 2 fish and 5 loaves, and then looked at the crowd of thousands, and knew their food wasn’t enough. Now, to be fair to the disciples, it wasn’t as if the 2 fish and 5 loaves might have been enough. It’s not like “well it depends on how much each person takes.” The problem, however, was that a mentality of scarcity cut them off from seeing the abundance God had put in front of them.
If the story is a miracle of multiplication – then the disciples didn’t recognize the power of Jesus in their midst! According to Matthew’s Gospel, at this point, the disciples would have already seen Jesus heal a leper, heal the centurion’s servant, and restore sight to two blind men. Yet, their minds closed in fear, they forgot and overlooked the presence of Jesus with them.
On the other hand, if the story is a miracle of sharing – then in their scarcity mentality, they couldn’t imagine the resources that existed in the crowds. In fact, they said to Jesus of the crowds: “Send them away!” They saw the hungry mob as a problem to be solved – maybe they feared a “hangry” (hungry + angry = hangry) mob that would threaten them.
Either way, a mentality of scarcity closed off the faith and the imagination of the disciples. They focused on what they thought they didn’t have, rather than recognizing and celebrating what they did have.
Now, it’s never good to scapegoat the disciples – as if we know better than they, or we would have done things differently. The truth this parable wrings out of us today – are the many ways we are stuck in a mentality of scarcity. How often do we, in our own reasoning and logic, look around and believe that we do not have enough?
But Jesus did not then, and does not now, buy into a mentality of scarcity.
As the 12 baskets of leftovers at the end of the meal testify: the power of Jesus is lavish hospitality and generosity that pours out an abundance. As followers of Jesus, we are invited to adopt a mentality of abundance.
One definition of a mentality of abundance is this: “a person with an abundance mindset focuses on opportunities available … they choose to focus on the positive things in their life … they are more grateful, more creative, more focused on collaboration.”
Unlike the disciples who failed to recognize both the power of Jesus in their midst, and the resources and abundance in the crowds they feared – with a mindset of abundance, we are called to see, believe, and trust in that power.
In a mentality of abundance, disciples today are called to both trust the miracle of Christ working something out of seemingly nothing, and the miracles that happen when we simply share what we have, even when think it is laughable and not up to the task. In a mentality of abundance, trusting in Christ and sharing what we have, we believe there is a hidden feast of justice, mercy, and understanding already poured out upon us just waiting to be enjoyed.
In a mentality of abundance, we turn from the times a mentality of scarcity turns life into a competition and our neighbor into an enemy. Anytime “vs” shows up – that’s a clear sign you’re working in a mentality of scarcity. “Black Lives –vs– Blue Lives” for example. Christian disciples do not turn life into a competition.
Christians, in a mentality of abundance sees life in the “AND.” Black Lives Matter AND Blue Lives Matter AND Brown Lives Matter AND LGBTQ Lives Matter AND Immigrant/Refugee/Asylum Seeker’s Lives Matter, AND Your Life Matters, AND MY Life Matters. That is the hope of the 12 baskets left over – that there’s more than enough to go around!
Friends, today we are given a visible sign of that abundance. After many months, we celebrate the Eucharist. The Eucharist is set before us as a sign of the abundance as all of us are invited to feast on the real presence of Jesus Christ.
Biblically, we see the Eucharist tied to the Last Supper on the night of Jesus’s arrest. At other times, we see in the story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the Emmaus road, and being made known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread, as an image of the Eucharist. Today, we reflect on the connection between the Eucharist and this feeding of the thousands.
The Eucharistic gestures are clear in the story: Jesus took the loaves, blessed them, broke them, and gave them away. In the Eucharist, a simple offering of bread and wine, is transformed into a feast of blessing – with plenty of left overs.
Now, scripture doesn’t say what happened to the 12 baskets of food collected at the end of the meal. But note: it was not hoarded. In a radical meal of sharing and abundance, all had plenty to eat, and even the left overs were freely given away.
Here’s something radical: what if we imagined that the 12 baskets left over from this Eucharist: are us! In faith, what if we understood ourselves as the left-overs from this abundant feast? What if we imagined ourselves as sent from the feast to be bread for the world? What if this Eucharist becomes a real feast as we are sent forth as signs of God’s abundance feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoner?
Today is Carty Cupboard Food Pantry Sunday – our monthly collection of non-perishable food items to benefit the food pantry at Wesley United Methodist Church on Main Street in Worcester. Prior to the pandemic, and again today, we began bringing the shopping cart in which we collect these donations into the Nave to bless the food after the Eucharist. This was intentional. It was a sign that as we have been fed with Christ in this meal, we are sent to be food for the hungry and live as the body of Christ in the world:
- Sometimes with donations of real food, and money, and time.
- Other times with our actions, words and support for policies and candidates committed to sharing wealth and working towards a better society.
- All the time: living out our vocations/our relationship in the world in ways that reflect the abundance of God.
Friends, the Good News today, is indeed the lavish generosity and abundance of God. The Good News is the mercy of God who gave himself away entirely for us on the cross in the death of Jesus Christ.God holds nothing back from us in relationship with us, God gives us all that God has – pouring God’s self out for us as creator, as redeemer, as sanctifier.
In that Good News, may we participate in the radical abundance and generosity of God. In a mentality of abundance, may we trust in the power of Jesus Christ to make something out of nothing in our lives and may we share what we have. In so doing, may we become a community of radical sharing that reveals an abundant feast of mercy, justice, and healing overflowing for all!
Thanks be to God. AMEN.