Sermon preached at Crescent Springs Presbyterian for the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberias Sea). A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.
Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.”
The fear of not having enough is a powerful, powerful fear.
We see it played out everywhere in our society. Are there enough jobs? Enough clean water? Enough safe housing? Enough food? Enough love and compassion and hope? Enough tickets to Hamilton?
Sometimes the answer, statistically, is yes, and sometimes the answer, statistically, is no. And sometimes the answer can’t be measured at all.
Most of us, I think, live with the fear of “not enough.” Will we have enough to retire on? Will we have enough to send our kids to college? Do we have enough time to get that next project done? Are we healthy enough to live the kind of lives we want?
The fear of not having enough is one of the most insidious, and one of the easiest ways we can be manipulated. Politicians of all stripes promise us that they will be the only one who can provide enough of what we need as a country—jobs, food, safety. And conversely, we are sometimes warned ominously that if the other guy is elected, then someone else will come in, and take our jobs, and take our wealth, and take our rights. These threats hit us where we are most vulnerable, where we are most frightened. They are a shock directly to our base wiring for survival.
Heck, even the tackiest infomercials end with this breathless cry—“call now! supplies are limited.” We will buy what we don’t need if we can be convinced there isn’t enough of it.
I hear it in the church, too, sometimes in this congregation and even more so in wider church circles, an almost paralyzing fear that there is not enough for us to do the work God calls us to. Not enough money, first and foremost, not enough members, not enough energy, not enough volunteers, not enough resources, not enough interest, not enough, not enough.
I hear it coming out of my own mouth, more often than not.
Part of the reason it’s so insidious is because it’s a question we have to ask. For sheer practical, planning purposes, we have to ask if we have enough money to pay our staff. We have to ask if we have enough interest to run our programs. It’s the responsible thing to do.
But if we spend too long there, wringing our hands, we can forget that we, as a church, and as a people of God, have more than just our money and members and energy.
We also have Jesus Christ.
I have always thought it patently unfair that Jesus set up Philip for a test when they see 5000 hungry folks coming their way. But I am beginning to see what Jesus was hoping to accomplish.
“Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus asks Philip. And Philip, who has seen Jesus perform many miracles, including, possibly, turning water into wine, looks at Jesus and has no clue.
“More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit,” he says.
Even sitting next to Jesus, miracle worker, Philip believes with all his heart that there is not enough.
Another disciple pipes up, noting that a youth in the crowd apparently remembered to pack a lunch, and has five loaves and two fish. But, Andrew notes ruefully, what good is that? It’s still nowhere near enough. I’m no math major, but one/one thousandth of a loaf of bread does not a meal make.
I have to wonder if Jesus’ eyes lit up then, because the youth had the generosity to offer the food, even though it seemed like not enough, and Andrew had the courage to mention it, even though it seemed like not enough.
And Jesus takes these meager, meager offerings, and you know the rest. Not only was there enough. There was more than enough. Enough for twelve baskets worth of leftovers. Enough that nobody went hungry that day.
I was lucky enough to get to witness a couple miracles myself, last Saturday night. CSPC sent a team to First Christian Church in Covington to help serve their community dinner. We were told to prepare for about 100 guests, knowing we wouldn’t get that many, but that it would leave some wiggle room for seconds. We brought hot dogs and hamburgers, vegetables and baked beans, and some pretty darn delicious homemade brownies. The line was already pretty long when we got to the church, and when we opened the doors, people flooded in.
And kept flooding.
According to the members of First Christian, the crowd last Saturday was the biggest they’d ever seen. I lost count, but we had at least 125 guests, and probably more, as people came in and out in shifts. I was grateful for Nancy Reed’s steady leadership at the helm, and more so for her faith: God will provide, she said. God always does.
Still, I was worried. We had brought several gallons of milk, all but one of which was gone before the meal had even started. And yet, God’s honest truth, that one gallon of milk managed to last the whole rest of the meal. I don’t know how, but it did. People kept coming up for cups, but there was always a little bit left. It was like our own little Hanukkah miracle.
At the other end of the room, we had a second miracle, this time involving baked beans. Ask Stephanie Boyd or Jim Burdick for the story.
And a third miracle, at the end of the night, when we had enough leftover—not much, but a tray of hot dogs and some veggies—enough leftover to donate to the local women’s shelter.
But what impressed me most was the miracle of the people. The people who were brave enough to show up. The people who were generous enough to donate their food and money and time. The people, our people, who had enough to eat themselves, in their own homes, in their own refrigerators, and were still unsatisfied. Who said that they wouldn’t have enough until everybody had enough.
Scarcity in our world is real. As amazing as the miracles of milk and beans and leftovers are, when you walk into a room like First Christian’s basement, and see a hundred people who are there because they really and truly do not have enough, and do not have a way of getting enough, scarcity hits you in the face.
Nearly a billion people around the world live in hunger. And some of them live right here.
And the heartbreaking thing is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Many experts agree that there is enough food in the world to feed its population. God’s designs for the earth provide enough for us.
Our designs for the earth don’t.
We have shaped food production and distribution in ways where some of us get far, far more than we need, while others are left begging for crumbs. Restaurants and grocery stores throw away millions of pounds of food, while our cities are riddled with food deserts, places where people can’t access fresh food within walking distance. Globally, hunger affects the most vulnerable populations—women, children, and minorities, those the economy and power structures leave behind in all the other ways, too.
There is enough, and yet we have designed a world in which there is not. And so we make decisions about who gets food. Who deserves to eat? Who deserves to go hungry?
I find it fascinating that there is none of that from Jesus. Not only does he not test the crowd for their worthiness, but he immediately assumes it is his responsibility to feed them. He didn’t have to. They came of their own volition. Surely some had food at home. Surely one missed meal wouldn’t kill them. Yet he looks at the crowd, and he takes responsibility, to make sure there is enough.
And he doesn’t create something out of nothing. He could have. God had done it before. But this miracle is not manna rained from the heavens. Jesus waits, for someone to be generous, for someone to be brave, for someone to step forward with what they have, even when it doesn’t seem like enough.
I always wondered what it was like to be the youth in the crowd, watching as your lunch got shared with 5000 people.
Enough does not happen magically. It takes us, stepping up with what we have, what we can offer, what we can do. It takes Jesus, showing us the way.
On the small scale, it takes us showing up with our Food for Thought bags and our holiday baskets and our trays of hot dogs at First Christian, knowing that it is not enough to solve the world’s problems, but that it is enough for today.
And on a large scale, it takes us taking responsibility for the choices we make, as consumers, as citizens, as humans who share this planet with 7 billion other people who deserve to eat. It will take us battling down that voice of fear deep inside us, that voice that keeps demanding more and more and more, that voice that says we don’t have enough.
Because the truth is, most of us, most of the time, we do. We have enough.
We are conditioned, by advertising and marketing and our own culture, to think we don’t. To think we need more, and fancier, and prettier. Bigger portions, bigger houses, bigger paychecks.
But the thing about the feeding of the 5000 is that it is still not a fancy lunch. Jesus has changed water into wine for a party, he could have turned five loaves and two fish into cakes and caviar. But he doesn’t. It’s still a peasant’s meal. It’s not fancy. It’s not rich. But it’s enough.
That voice of fear is loud, and persistent. And the threat of scarcity is real, and painful. I won’t deny that.
But Jesus’ voice can be louder, friends, and his promise is real, too.
He is the bread of life. And if we trust in him, and in the world he imagined, and we show up, and we offer what we can—
Well, then, we might just see our share of miracles too.