Rev. Drew Stockstill
A Story of Simple Abundance
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
July 25, 2021 Rev. Dr. Darlis Swan
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 for each 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 to 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.
Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today I have a story of simple abundance. I have three stories actually. One from the end of a summer in Perry County; one from Jesus’ ministry, and one from Christ Lutheran here in Harrisburg.
First, the one from Perry County. When I lived in Washington, D. C., I always enjoyed returning to Perry County in August when the temperatures were so hot in the city. On one of those visits I was just about to leave on a Sunday afternoon, and the neighbors across the street called to me. They invited me to come to the back of their house where they had two large picnic tables filled with fresh tomatoes and zucchini. “Take all you want,” they said. I took a few tomatoes, and they insisted, “Take all you can use.” So, I packed up most of the tomatoes and some zucchini. When
I got back to Washington, I decided to cook
spaghetti with those tomatoes as I knew fresh tomatoes go fast when you make sauce. I cooked the spaghetti sauce and served it, and there was lots left over. I baked zucchini bread, and I froze several loaves for later. I fried some of the tomatoes, and I used some in salads. This gift went further than I could ever have imagined. I enjoyed sharing God’s bounty, bragging that it was from Perry County. The food that I wasn’t sure I even wanted became more than one feast of simple abundance and the means to gather friends around my table.
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus teaches us about simple abundance that satisfied the hunger of those who flocked to the mountain just to hear him. The hunger Jesus satisfied involved bread as well as the longing to be loved and accepted. This story is told in all four books of the bible called the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each version has some variations, but it is clear that God wants us to hear this lesson. In today’s version from John, we find Jesus preaching and teaching, and he is on a mountain with his disciples. This is not the usual place for people along the Mediterranean in the first century to have a picnic. There was an article I read recently called “Picnic Without Panic”. Well, this story is about a picnic with great panic – at least on the part of the disciples. A mountain is the place where we might witness a theophany – a direct visit from God. This story begins with a test. Jesus asks Philip, a disciple who doesn’t get much attention, a question. He says, “It is getting late and people are getting hungry, what are we going to do about food? Where are we going to get some?” You understand that Jesus did know the answer to that, but he was testing Philip. Since there were five thousand people there, Phillip remarked that even six months’ pay would not buy enough for each person. But a small boy came with five barley loaves – barley being the bread eaten by the poor – and two fish.
Remarkable as it may seem, the story goes on to tell us that this was enough to feed the five thousand who were there to hear Jesus. Well, you have heard this story before, so you may be wondering if I have the key to unlock the mystery of how a boy’s basket of food freely offered could be used to feed all these people. Jesus gave thanks, and when we read this, we are reminded of the meal that we are about to receive this morning – the Lord’s Supper. After he had given thanks, the lesson tells us that he distributed the food to the people. Can you imagine Jesus actually giving food to that crowd of people? And it gets better. We are told that they had “as much as they wanted.” – not just what they needed. And then, there were leftovers that were collected, and they filled twelve baskets. Since this story was told in all four gospels, we cannot ignore its significance for our lives.
Much about this timeless story remains a mystery just as how Christ can be present in the Lord’s Supper. We, too, are hungry for what Christ gives us in the bread and wine in the Eucharist. The living bread from heaven – the body of Christ, and the gift of Christ’s blood in the wine satisfy our hunger in a way that nothing else can. We believe, because Christ promised, that he is present every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
We do not presume to understand how Christ is present in the bread and the wine. What is important is that Christ is present.
In the Lord’s Supper we receive the gift of Christ himself with no strings attached. But, we live in a hungry world. This story is more than just a metaphor about hunger.
I told you that this would also be a story about Christ Lutheran in Harrisburg. And it is. It is also a story about any ELCA church in this area. Several years ago I served as the interim pastor at Christ Lutheran in Duncannon where they had a “hiker feed” every Wednesday in July. I stood in front of the church on a high hill overlooking the Susquehanna watching the hikers from the Appalachian Trail come to our church.
We offered them food from our huge buffet as well as prayers and special blessings for each individual as they departed. We asked nothing in return. I believe today’s gospel lesson is telling us that no matter how few resources we have, they come from God’s graciousness to us, and we must share those resources with others. God miraculously provided, not just enough, but all that people wanted! We, too, as Christ’s apostles are called to continuously share what we have been given – we are called to participate in the life of this congregation and beyond – to make Christ’s presence in the meal a reality beyond this time and place. You, the members of Christ Lutheran here in Harrisburg, have been doing that in many ways. You offer health and hope to all who come to your door. You feed and sustain life for all who enter. But let’s return to the story in the gospel lesson.
I suggested earlier that I might have the key to unlock this mystery of how Christ fed the five thousand. I think I do, but it might not be what you expect. I can’t explain how Jesus made a boy’s lunch into enough food for a huge crowd of people. What I can tell you is that this is a story that makes sense for us who have received God’s grace through faith alone. That’s the key to the mystery. This story is about a miracle performed by Jesus that continues to touch us today.
After Jesus performed this miracle, the crowds saw this as a “sign” that he was a prophet, and they wanted to make him a king. Unfortunately, they had missed the point. That is probably why he went away – to be alone. You see this story is not about earthly power – it’s about God’s grace and Jesus’ glory. The “I” in the storm is Jesus – not us. Jesus is the great “I am” – the one who calms the storms of life. Jesus said “I am the bread of life.” This story is still alive for us today, and we can make it live for others.
As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we reach out our hands in much the same way that those crowds did on that mountainside so many years ago. We expect to be fed – not a lot of bread and wine – but certainly enough – in fact more than we need. We may come in desperation, but we also come in hope of receiving from God.
Jesus performed miracles, but the crowds tried to make him into a kind of earthly hero. They failed to understand God’s grace, but it was there for them anyway. We who believe know that we are about to be fed with heavenly food, and that God will continue to provide enough for us so that we may share God’s goodness with others. Take and eat….receive God’s simple abundance of grace. Amen.