Sixth Sabbatical Sunday
World Communion Sunday
Loaves and Fish
Do you remember the first pot-luck dinner you ever went to? No, I can’t either, I mean if you’re part of the church you’ve been a part of pot-luck dinners for a long time. I do remember how abundant the table looked to me when I was a child. The buffet table seemed to be spread almost wider than I could see. I would make a bee-line for the fried chicken and avoid the green beans at all costs if I could get away with it in front of my mother. The dessert options were the best though- there were more sugary substances on that table than my little sugar-loving, elementary school-aged heart could have dreamed up! Yes, pot-luck dinners are a true gift from God. You bring just one dish from your house, and yet your plate is overflowing at the end of the line.
One pot-luck dinner was all it took for us to go to from strangers to friends when I lived at Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt. We Disciple’s students had come from all over the country to attend seminary at
This beloved story of the loaves and fish in the Gospel of John is a pot-luck kind of story. The loaves and fish are an important story to be sure, and that is why you can find a version of it in each Gospel (even two versions in some). This is a story of how Jesus was able to feed a crowd using what looked like very meager resources. This is not Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John. Jesus’ first miracle was when he turned the water into wine at a wedding- you may recall Bro. Bradshaw talking about that a few weeks ago. Jesus has actually gained a following at this point- people are beginning to see the amazing things that Jesus has done and to follow him. Getting away from the crowd is becoming increasingly difficult for Jesus. Even when he tries to go away and be by himself or with the disciples, crowds follow him. This rock-star status Jesus has achieved is causing some logistical difficulties.
Jesus sees the crowds approaching and begins to think details; “how are we going to feed these people?” He asks. Phillip scrambles to answer, doing the math in his head, “we’re broke Jesus, there’s no way can we buy enough bread for everyone.” There is a pause as the disciples think through other options. Andrew comes up with one, “well, there was this boy with five loaves and two fish…”
The disciples must have laughed, the Gospel doesn’t say so, but think about how ridiculous it sounded to feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish! I wonder about the boy in the story as well. That’s why the version from John’s Gospel is my favorite- it’s the only one that mentions the boy. I wonder if this boy had been thinking ahead when he left home to follow Jesus- “my family and I will surely get hungry- I better take some food.” If so, was he the only one who thought that way? Where was all the other food? Maybe it was the boy’s willingness to share that is part of the miracle of this story. Because of his gift, freely given, Jesus was able to feed a crowd.
The boy sharing his food is a little like the pot-luck concept. If everyone can share just a small portion of what they have, then everyone can be satisfied. This works on a global level too, of course. In other words, right now there is enough food and enough technology that every person on the planet could have enough to eat. However, that’s not the way it goes as you know. Some starve, and some stuff themselves. A wealthy family of four in Japan eats for $317 a week, while a family of six in Chad, Africa eat for only $1.23 a week. (see Time Magazine’s photo essay on “What the World Eats). According to a non-profit organization called Bread for the World, 854 million across the world are hungry and 16,000 children die each day from hunger-related causes. And yet there is enough to go around if we share.
Jesus showed us how simple and yet how miraculous it is to share what we have with others when he took the boy’s food, gave thanks, and fed a crowd. We can help share the world’s resources when we educate ourselves about hunger facts, when we volunteer our time to groups that help feed the hungry in our community, and when we keep our politicians accountable for how they distribute food resources. We can help Christ continue to feed the world by giving to organizations like Heifer Project International. Heifer Project provides animals for those in need, who can use those animals to sustain their families. The project also educates the families on farming techniques that will help the gift last for years to come. We can be like the boy in the story when we share a little of what we have, hand it over to Jesus, and allow him to use it for miraculous purposes.
This meal should remind us a lot of the meal we celebrate around the Lord’s Table each Sunday. In typical fashion, Jesus takes what seems like ordinary items, the boy’s fish and loaves, and turns them into a feast for thousands. I say a feast because it says in the Gospel that each person was satisfied, and there were still twelve baskets left over. Jesus gathers his followers together, takes bread, gives thanks for it and then gives it to them. Sounds a lot like the Words of Institution we hear each week at the communion table.
Jesus was interested in meeting people’s needs. If hunger was a need for them, then he found a way to provide. Many that came to Jesus had a spiritual hunger, a yearning to be with God that drew them to him. Jesus had a solution for that as well. He would become bread for the world by giving his life as an example of how to live in God’s love. Jesus gave us the meal of the Lord’s Supper to remind us how much love God has for us, that a child would be sent into the world to show us that love triumphs over even death.
I was never such a great student of math anyway, but math in the Kingdom of God is really confusing- have you noticed? The equation in this story is five loaves plus two fish equal a meal for 5,000 people (and don’t forget they were only counting the men in that number). Miraculously, Jesus takes a meager amount and feeds a needy crowd. Take a gift, freely given from a small boy, add Jesus’ miraculous power, and you have a feast with leftovers.
Bread is important in people’s lives- take the following story as one example. (From Sleeping With Bread, Holding What Gives You Life.)
“During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, ‘Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”
The Gospel of John reminds us that Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus can be of comfort and reassurance to us- just like the bread was to the orphaned children. We have the opportunity to have a personal relationship with a God who wanted to know us so deeply, that he would take on human form and come to earth to “walk in our shoes” for awhile. Jesus knows both the pain and the joy of being human, and is there to listen when we pray . By be willing to endure the cross, Jesus became the bread of life as he triumphed over the pain of this world and rose from the dead.
On this special day when Christians all over the world celebrate communion I hope that we will remember that God’s love was freely given for the whole world. Jesus Christ came to give hope to the world, even where there is darkness, despair and hunger. Jesus came for those of us who will feast at a family dinner this day, and for those who will go to bed hungry tonight. On this communion Sunday may we remember to say “God bless the whole world- no exceptions,” because it is Jesus’ love that unites us as one body in Christ. May we also work to alleviate hunger wherever we can. Jesus Christ, the bread of life will be our help and our comfort. Amen and Amen.