(A Sermon on Jesus feeding the 5 thousand and walking on the water.)
I believe. Those were the words that spilled out of my mouth as I stared at the incredible mess my small child had made out of one piece of cake. How such a small piece of cake could turn into so many thousand little crumbs, I thought ‘How could that be?’ While staring at the mess, I was reminded of the 12 baskets of crumbs that Jesus’ disciples gathered after the feeding of the five thousand – how the 5 became 12, and I looked at the mess and I said, “I believe!”
The story that precedes the reading from today of walking on the water – in three of the Gospels – is the feeding of the five thousand. Which is why we have the reading from Kings also this morning with the barley loaves and ‘they will eat and have their fill and there will be leftover.’ The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is one of the most repeated stories in the gospels. It appears 6 times in the gospels, twice in Mark and Matthew. There are slight variations – most notably the difference in the crowd number – between 4 and 5 thousand, but the main bones of the story are the same… the crowds followed Jesus as he taught them; they got hungry; he mentioned feeding them; the disciples say there isn’t money; Jesus blesses what food there is and distributes it; people eat until they are filled; there is food leftover; Jesus departs. In and around that main story are variations, but scholars agree it is mostly the same story retold with different emphases. In Matthew, Mark and John, the story of Jesus walking on the water follows it immediately (Mark’s favorite word).
So why am I talking about the feeding of the five thousand? Because the one verse that was not read today is Mark 6:52, and it is actually the second half of the sentence of verse 51. (This is where the numbering of the verses is unhelpful and actually takes away from understanding. 51 and 52 are one sentence.) It goes like this: “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” He just walked on water, but the scripture says they were astounded because they did not understand about the loaves. Why does it say that?
I want to ask you a question. What IF the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand was actually about the people and not the bread? Have you ever witnessed someone drop coins in a beggar’s cup and think, “I will do that too?” Generosity breeds generosity. Humans are social beings. If others are doing it, we want to join in. We don’t want to be left out or seem uncaring. So what IF the real miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is that Jesus cracked open the hearts of people in the crowds? Maybe by sharing the five loaves, He encouraged by example. Those in the crowds who were carrying rations with them saw what he did, and pulled the bread from the pouches under their robes and distributed them also? Did the people really have no food or were they just hiding what they had, thinking it was only enough for them? Was He able to crack open the hearts of the people, but not the Disciples? Hold that thought, that image in your mind.
In the Johannine version, the disciples start asking Jesus about that miracle, he dodges their question because the how is not really important. He switches the focus from the “how” to the “who”. (In English, that is a wonderful wordplay; one only has to take the ‘w’ from the end of the word and put it at the beginning.) Who gave the bread – God. Who IS the bread? Jesus. I am going to read very quickly to you the John version because it has so many elements of the Eucharist in it. The early church very much related this story to the Eucharist. From John, Chapter 6:
A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages[b] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they[c] sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (New Revised Standard Version)
This story in John is very close to the language of the Didache, a document now believed to be dated near the end of the 1st century which contains the basic teaching of the Apostles for the church. Quoting from the prayer said over the bread in the Didache: “We give thanks to you, Our Father… As this fragmented bread was scattered on the mountains, but was gathered up and became one, so let the Church be gathered up from the four corners of the earth ino your kingdom.”
Have you ever thought of yourself as a piece of bread that has been scattered? Not just any bread, but bread from Heaven. Think of that the next time you feel like you are left to gather up the crumbs of your life… or rather the life you thought you were going to have. The next time you sweep up the dreams now lying in the dust under the bed. The next time you toss expectations to the wind and resign yourself to an old-age scenario you never wanted. The next time you feel as if you are rowing against the current in a boat. You are a piece of Heaven.
In John, the Disciples not only want to know ‘how’ Jesus did the miracle, they ask to have the same power: “What must we do to perform the works of God?” His answer is most unusual: “This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent to you.” In other words, “Believe in me.” Remember what I said earlier ‘Hold that thought’. The power is in the Person – It’s not the action. It’s not in the words. It’s not a magic trick. It’s in the person of Jesus Christ, and it’s inside you.
Remember who you really are, and in whom you believe. You are a piece of Heaven’s bread scattered on purpose to share the Love of Christ to a broken and hurting world. It does not matter if your life went ‘off-script’; you are special, beloved and – most of all – collectible. You will be gathered up into His Kingdom.
Jesus the bread of life, gave life to you
Jesus the bread of Heaven, broke Heaven open for you.
Eat the bread and live,
Be the bread and give.
Heaven is inside you, goes with you, is you.
In the storm, in the peace,
To God be the glory.