“what belongs to me can only be mine only when it is also for others” [a sermon]

Ia sermon preached for slocum union church and elkhart first united methodist churches on sunday 7/26/2015. before the service the congregation was asked to answer three questions on a sheet of paper and add them to the offering plates later in the service: “what i wonder about our community_____ what i dream for our church ____ and what i hope for our future____”

they’re not leftovers: “what belongs to me can only be mine only when it is also for others”*

john 6:1-21 after this jesus went to the other side of the sea of galilee, also called the sea of tiberias. a large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. now the passover, the festival of the jews, was near. 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?” he said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. philip answered him, “six months’ wages would not buy enough bread fore ach of them to get a little.” one of his disciples, andrew, simon peter’s brother, said to him, “there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. but what are they among so many people? jesus said, make the people sit down.” now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 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. when they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” so they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. when the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say,” this is indeed the prophet who is come into the world.”

when jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to capernaum. it was now dark, and jesus had not yet come to them. the sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. but he said to them, “it is i; do not be afraid.” then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

are these things even related?

are there any bread bakers in the congregation? have you ever or do you now bake your week’s bread each weekend or mid-week? something that i hope to get back into the habit of doing is baking my own bread on an at least semi-regular basis. my desire to bake my own bread is an equal split of really enjoying the process of bread-baking–the measuring and stirring, kneading, resting and how the house fills with that special warm-sweet smell of a risen and yeasty bread that has just gone into the oven–as well as having full control over what ingredients go into my bread–honey rather than sugar, a mix of rye, whole wheat and spelt flours, less salt than usual…

bread comes up a lot in scripture–in both the hebrew bible (or old testament) and the new testament. there is talk of bread for the journey, unleven bread baked in a hurry when escaping slavery in egypt, a bread-like substance called “what is it?” or mana that miraculously appears when needed, jesus as the bread of life and the pattern of bread blessed and broken that we now call communion and remember jesus’ life, death and resurrection by

today we have a story about a miracle that involves bread.

interestingly, in this week’s lectionary gospel reading we also have a shorter story of another miracle: that of jesus walking on the water. i will admit, it took me a while to make the connection between these two stories and why the writers of the lectionary would include the second miracle story with the first.

eventually, after several re-readings, a lot of pondering and wondering and some conversations with friends and colleagues did it sink in for me: these are both stories about the common human experience. these two stories have to do with hunger, safety, provision and rescue from danger. held apart from each other, and dissected they become two stories that both involve jesus. but without cutting them apart it becomes evident that in these stories we as followers are reminded of our basic human needs and that our neighbors have the same needs, too.

they’re not leftovers

in the story of the feeding of the 5,000 there are a few parts of the story that we as 21st century readers have to fill in. for example, the crowd would have been far more than 5,000 people–if you go back and look closely at the reading you will see that most translations are sure to tell us that it is a crowd of 5,000 men. as far as i know, there were not just huge packs of men roming around ancient israel alone–but when a crowd was drawn, let alone to see jesus, it is a mixed crowd–men, women, children–persons of every age. if there were 5,000 men present a conservative guess would be to at least double that number to know how many people could have been following jesus and the disciples out into the judean version of hill country.

considering this story with just 5,000 people already presents quite the crowd to feed–but to imagine it at least double that size? 10,000 people? of course when jesus asked philip and andrew “where are we going to buy bread for all of these people?” they panicked and flailed around at least a little for an answer.

but jesus already knew what he was going to do–he knew that the disciple’s worldview was one still locked in to a linear worldview. they saw all of those people and heard the question of “how will we feed them?” and said “we do not have that kind of bread, nor that kind of money.” jesus, however, being the son of god, does not function on linear time alone. jesus functions on god’s time and god’s reality. therefore he knows that there is a way.

using what they had at hand–a child’s lunch–five barley loves and two fish, jesus gave thanks for the food and all (ALL!) ate until they were satisfied. and not only are they satisfied, there are twelve baskets of remnant left over. these aren’t to-go boxes at the end of a feast with what happens to be left over. these are not left-overs, friends. what the twelve baskets of remnants teach us is that when god is involved there is enough for those gathered, and for those who have yet to join us.

our culture is one that has taught us for a long time that there is not enough to go around. that if i do not keep what i think i need, and some extra, then i may not have enough food or money, power or control. we have been taught we should lookout for ourselves and our immediate families before considering anyone else’s well-being or needs or desires.

but what jesus is saying here is that this innate human desire to hoard and to believe that there is a scarcity of resources is not how things are supposed to be. that all persons are created in god’s image and likeness and we are all invited to partake in the abundance of god’s provision.

this scene from jesus’ life foreshadow’s when he will sit at the passover meal with the disciples and what our communion liturgy is patterned on now. something i want you to notice is that when we come to this table for communion as a community, there is plenty for all present and there is always a remnant. there is always something left.

these are not leftovers. these are proverbial twelve baskets are unclaimed main dishes. they belong to our brothers, sisters and siblings who did not gather at the table with this this time. to the home or nursing home bound member, to the young woman who had to work and couldn’t join us, for the man who feels just uncomfortable enough coming to church alone that he chooses to stay home. the remnant belongs to those who have not yet been invited, to the children who need a ride, to the woman trapped in an abusive relationship, the lonely son, and to the widowed and grieving.

these are not left overs. they belong to someone.

after all are fed and satisfied jesus and the disciples move along their way. the disciples head back to their boat and are on the sea when a storm kicks up. their boat is being bashed about a few miles off shore. when things are getting rough, the disciples look out across the water and see a figure moving toward them–it is jesus walking on the water. and here is where this second miracle dove-tails with the first of abundant food and provision for all:

here we learn that just as god provides enough for all to eat and be fed, so to is god’s provision of grace bountiful for all. jesus shows that it is now power that he desires or wields, but brings peace and presence.

upon this grassy spot

in verse ten we read “now there was a great deal of grass in this place” and this is where jesus instructed the disciples to have the people to sit down. in my time here i have explored a bit around the church property, and the parsonage and have found there to be a great deal of grass in this place, too! the backyard of the parsonage is rather large, [there is an abundance of yard here in slocum] [there are several yards around the elkhart church–the yard with the gazebo and basketball hoops, the yard in front of the church office, the back yard of the church office and the sides and front of the church!

i wonder how god could be asking us to use these spaces to invite those who are missing at the table. i wonder how we could follow jesus’s example and ask the people to sit down in the grass and share a meal together and see what happens from there.

i wonder what dreams you have for these spaces.

maybe you have had a vision for using these spaces with and for the community for a long time, or maybe today is the first you have thought of these grassy spots as an extension of the church. i wonder what you wonder.

perhaps there is space for a community garden, where the children from across the street at the school can grow vegetables and keep chickens. perhaps there is a space for community movies on the lawn. or a prayer garden. or a prayer labyrinth. perhaps there is space for a bluegrass festival, a back to school party and fall festival.

jesus shows us that we do not have to be afraid–god’s presence is always with and accompanying us. and we do not have to be afraid of running out of provision–because god will provide that, too. so if we have nothing to fear, what is holding us back?

what do you dream?
* alejandro jodorowsky “the spiritual journey of alejandro jodorowsky: the creator of _el topo_ p 83

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