Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost + July 31, 2011
The Gospel today shifts from images of what the kingdom of heaven is like to acting as kingdom people. The miracle of loaves and fishes is not for us to study or sleep on. It is as Jesus gives it to the disciples, a wake-up call.
Not a call to do more of the same, but a call to action a call to get out of their safe places and out into the world to live out everything Jesus taught and modeled—to be the kingdom.
- The kingdom of heaven is no longer imaginary, it is actual.
- The kingdom of heaven is no longer following, it is leading.
- The kingdom of heaven is no longer in the planning, it is the doing.
- The kingdom of heaven is no longer in your head, is in your hands.
But thinking about the meaning of being God’s hands, is not the point…
- Being God’s hands is.
- Breaking the mindset of scarcity is.
- Sharing the abundance of the kingdom is.
This familiar story, found in all four Gospels, a miracle in and of itself…
- Is not a miracle of Jesus’ compassion,
- Is not a miracle about Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes,
- Is not a miracle about feeding more than 5,000 people,
It is a miracle about the disciples.
Those who were supposed to be insiders, closest to Jesus, fail to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. That Jesus can take a little, or the least and make it into much, or great. The disciple’s miracle is about…
- Responding to Jesus who says: “you give them something to eat.”
- Reflecting God’s love in the feeding and gathering of the leftovers.
- Reforming their passive discipleship, transforms them into active apostles.
It is through faith which is a gift from God that the disciples who try to avoid providing supper, are compelled into action:
- responding to God’s abundant love,
- that transforms them into apostles.
It is through grace which is a gift from God that the formerly passive listeners of the Word, are compelled into action:
- responding to God’s abundant love,
- that transforms them into doers of the Word.
It is through following Jesus’ example, that saints and sinners across all time, are compelled into action:
- responding to God’s abundant love,
- that transforms ordinary people into a priesthood of all believers.
In the taking of five loaves and two fish, Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the bread, then gives the loaves to the disciples to share them with the crowds. Jesus’ blessing, breaking, and sharing become three actions of the Kingdom. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is brought about by the transformers of blessing, breaking, and sharing.
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The miracle is about transformers, no not Autobots and Decepticons, that’s a whole other story found on comic book pages and movie screens. The transformers Jesus employs are much more miraculous as they have the divine power to reform disciples and ‘couch potato’ Christians alike. These actions use bread and not some tricked out alien machines, even if Optimus Prime, who as a brave, powerful, wise and compassionate character whose strong sense of justice, righteousness, and dedication to the protection of all life, thus saving the universe, reminds me a bit of Jesus.
- It is in breaking complacency and sin, action by God, that we are freed to recognize our abundant blessings and then act in love to serve our neighbor as kingdom people.
- It is in blessing giving thanks to God who creates us and gives us everything, that we acknowledge the abundance of what we have. Not for us to consume or horde for ourselves, but as stewards, keepers, caregivers of what God creates and entrusts to our care.
- It is in recognizing that everything we have is God’s, and how richly we are blessed, that we are moved by the Holy Spirit in sharing those gifts of ourselves, our time and our possessions as kingdom people that we too are transformed.
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For us, our complacency, our sinful inaction, may not seem as evil on the surface, but our Decepticons, or the distraction of our excuses that keep us from responding to Jesus’ call to feed the hungry. These deceptions and distractions are a Megatron of evil often hidden in our lives and good intentions. But the reality is that we are like the disciples: “Come on Jesus let’s send these people home, on their way…”
- they can fend for themselves,
- there are too many of them anyway,
- there are so many and we have so little,
- their problems are too complex for us to act,
- there’s no way we can agree on how to address it,
- there isn’t enough time, or this isn’t the time to do this.
The reality is that even believers, Christ followers, faithful church folk like you and me are more comfortable studying and discussing needs we notice, or writing checks to help (using of course money we ‘might’ have leftover), or if we are really good, or feel a little guilt, we might be able to squeeze in working on projects in parish halls around this first world country of comfort and compassion.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9) We do deceive ourselves, and while we may confess our sin, we usually live life failing to head the words of Jesus: “you give them something to eat.”
So, we who confess our faith in Jesus, and our sins before God and one another. We confess that even though we know God loves us, And even though we are both saint and sinner, God sent his only son Jesus Christ to live and die for us and our salvation. We still deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, in our actions as individuals, or as Faith Lutheran Church.
There are two ideas that leaders of Faith have been weighing to answer Jesus call to give them something to eat:
- Barbara Liu has been dreaming about what it would take to turn our lawn into a community garden for the past year, a concept the Synod Assembly voted to encourage congregations to do at the Assembly in June.
- Brian Godwin has been dreaming about what it would take to become a Kids Care food packaging center to turn bulk commodities into ready to prepare, shelf stable meals, a concept our youth have experienced at Camp Calumet, at Synod Assembly, and will again at the Hammonasset Youth Event in September.
My dream is that we the people of Faith Lutheran multiply loaves, pray for the Spirit to help us do that, and chew on the dreams of our leaders as we discern how to move from discussing dreams to acting on Jesus’ call to give them something to eat.
In her book The Spirituality of Bread, Donna Sinclair quotes Ursula LeGuin who reminds that:
Love just doesn’t sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new.
The feeding of hungry people in our community is a command that calls for action out of this world for the world, or in other words, the in-breaking of the kingdom through the actual feeding of people.
- A command that refuses to give in to our decepticon rationalization.
- A command that compels us to no longer be complicit with our selfish sense of scarcity.
- A command that replaces the pessimistic question “What good would my response do, my lack of resources, my little bit of bread, my couple of fish?” with the response of faith, a little trust, a little letting go, a lot of letting God.
Jesus asks us to give, and then to get out-of-the-way, get past our selfishness, our pessimism, our scarcity and let God’s work happen through our hands. Through the transformers of God, miracles happen, God creates and recreates, growth comes in desert places, and faith flourishes with abundance. The economy and command of the kingdom knows no scarcity and people are fed with bread, hearty yeasty bread of the earth and hope filled bread of heaven that both give life. Amen. May it be so.