Lectionary 17 (8th Sunday after Pentecost), Year B
July 26, 2009
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What an amazing week we had at our Discovery Canyon Vacation Bible School.
Kids laughed and learned, sang and were silly, played and prayed.
Each day the activities focused on different themes …
Rejoice, Pray, Ask, Tell, Seek,
and these themes echoed throughout the week and, I hope,
will continue to echo throughout the lives of these young people.
On the final day of Vacation Bible School in the storytelling activity center
I had the kids look around the chapel for crosses …
some were pretty obvious, such as the cross on the wall behind the altar
or the crosses in the glass panes on the doors.
Other crosses were hidden,
such as the cross I made by placing one pen on top of another in the shape of a cross,
or the cross that is formed by bars of the window frames …
Most of the kids didn't find those hidden crosses at first,
but after being shown these hidden crosses the kids had a field day finding crosses
in the pattern of the carpet, in their clothing, in their own bodies by stretching out their arms.
As one of the groups left the chapel for their next activity,
I could hear them from down the hall saying,
"Here's a cross! Oh, there's another one, in the wall …"
The day's theme was "Seek!" and by the end of this activity
our children were certainly seeking out crosses wherever they could be found.
Today's Gospel story is one that calls us, as followers of Christ,
to seek him in places we might not expect to find him,
and to look for God's miraculous work to begin and extend beyond our community of faith.
Today's Gospel story is the familiar feeding of the 5,000,
a story that appears in all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In the chapters leading up to today's passage
we read that Jesus had healed the sick child of a royal official,
and that on the Sabbath he healed a man who had been sick for 38 years,
an act that brought him attention and ire,
including the first mention that some among the Jews
were conspiring to persecute Jesus.
It was these miraculous works of God, these acts of healing, that drew the crowd to Jesus,
as it says in verse two of the reading,
"A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick."
Now, up to this point in John's Gospel the disciples are largely spectators to the work of Jesus …
with him on his journeys and ministry, but not very active players in the storyline.
Yet here for one of the first times in John's Gospel the disciples are put on the spot ….
The disciples climb up a mountain with Jesus,
and from that vantage point they can see the large crowd gathering.
That's a lot of people in a rural place far from town …
Jesus throws out a question to his disciples:
"Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"
But we, the reader, know that this is a trick question … for that's what verse six tells us!
Jesus had no intention to purchase food for all these people,
but the question – an impossible one to answer,
for where in a rural area would you buy food,
let alone such a quantity of food? -
this impossible question, if it were to be answered, would require a different kind of response.
Philip responded in economic terms,
quickly calculating that six month's wages
wouldn't be enough to feed even a simple meal to all these people.
Not looking good.
Andrew, having just heard how much money it would take to feed so many people,
found a boy who had some food – five loaves of barley bread, and two fish.
Andrew's response seems more hopeful and helpful than Philip's answer …
rather than just saying, "It's impossible," he did find something, someone who could help.
However, even Andrew quickly surmised that such a little bit of food
was not nearly enough to feed so many people.
In the end, Jesus' question – "Where are we to buy bread for all these people?" -
was met with exasperation, staggering odds, and a glass-half-empty mentality.
At this point Jesus takes over, asking the disciples only to have the people sit down.
Unlike in the other Gospel accounts, where Jesus instructs the disciples to feed the people,
Jesus here steps in and feeds the people himself with the five loaves of bread and two fish.
After all had eaten and were satisfied, twelve baskets remained, filled with leftovers.
Indeed, all were amazed.
What I notice in this miracle story is that Jesus asked the disciples,
his chosen group of followers, to figure out how to feed the people.
And they couldn't do it.
Not only couldn't they figure out a way to feed the 5,000 people,
but among themselves they didn't even have what was needed for the miracle.
To respond to Jesus' question the disciple Andrew had to find someone else, a little boy -
who wasn't one of the twelve disciples, of course,
a boy who, much like in our society today, didn't have the standing or stature of an adult,
a boy who had only fives loaves of barley bread and two fish …
But the stuff of Christ's miracle came from outside the close-knit community of Jesus' disciples,
and the result of this miracle extended far beyond that small community of disciples, too.
Just as the children of our Vacation Bible School were seeking crosses last Thursday evening,
finding some in plain sight and others in obscure, unexpected places,
I think in this story Jesus is calling us to seek him out,
to see out his miraculous presence and power
in the least expected of places,
even among little children who are not part of our community,
even in a miniscule gift of bread and fish.
In a little more than a month there will be lots of little children who stand at a bus stop
at the odd intersection of 22nd, Potomac, and Powhatan Streets,
just a block away from the church.
I understand that at the beginning of the school year there are so many children at the bus stop
that on the first day of school the bus easily reaches capacity,
has to leave some children at the corner,
and another bus will come to pick up the remaining children and bring them to school.
The numbers eventually level out, however,
after the first day of school enthusiasm wears down
and some parents get into routines
of driving their children to school rather than taking the bus.
Nonetheless, by my count there are still
anywhere between 20-30 kids at that bus stop … maybe more.
But only three of them attend our church …
In this immediate neighborhood surrounding our church I see many young families,
I see houses bursting at the seems with children,
I see children and parents living and playing in the shadows of our church …
And I see in them an opportunity for a miracle.
You see, I can't help but wonder if some of those children,
if some of those families who stand at the bus stop every morning during the school year,
I can't help but wonder if some of the people in our everyday lives
have five loaves of bread and two fish that will become the stuff of God's miracles
here in Arlington, here at Resurrection.
I think there are lots of people around here who can be fed, who want to be fed …
I think God's given us a pretty good table here at which to feed them,
I think God's given us a pretty good place here in which to gather them,
I think God's given us a pretty good lineup of ministries into which to welcome them …
Are our eyes open to see the little boy holding five loaves of bread and two fish?
Are we willing to invite his gift to be the starting point for one of Christ's miracles,
here, in this place, even if we, like Andrew, doubt it will make any difference?
Later today the finance committee is meeting to begin the hard yet terribly important work
of assembling the 2010 budget of this congregation …
Inevitably, as we consider budgets, spending plans, and resource needs,
we will wonder where the money is going to come from.
Inevitably, as we consider starting new ministries and renewing existing ones,
we will wonder where the people will come from to participate in and lead these programs.
These challenging questions about money and people and how-are-we-going-to-do-this
are not unlike the questions the disciples asked
when faced with the task of feeding 5,000 people.
What, are you kidding me? You expect us to do that?
The answer is no, God doesn't expect you to do that on your own.
Or at least, not entirely on your own.
The task of feeding the 5,000 required two things -
A) the gift of an outsider, and
B) the work of God.
It was not the keen insight, faith, time, talent, or treasure of the disciples that made this miracle happen.
Nor was it a gift of plenty,
a sudden appearance of a Bread and Fish entrepreneur
who backed up his truck to the crowd and flooded them with food …
No. The gift of the outsider in today's passage was the simple gift of what he had ….
just some bread, some fish, and a willingness to share …
which, in God's hands, was more than enough to work a miracle.
So too with us.
I'm convinced that the future and faithfulness of this ministry depends not only on who is here,
but also, and especially, on who is not yet here.
You see, I am convinced that there are people in our neighborhoods and in our daily lives
who are eager to share what they have,
who are eager to share in what God has,
who are eager to see and tell of the wonderful works of God,
who want to be fed by the Bread of Life.
Are we willing to seek them out, to accept their gift,
and give it to God to see what he will do with it?
Rally Day is in two months, on Sunday, September 27,
and it will mark the beginning of a season of discipleship here at Resurrection,
as the Sunday School kicks off a year of learning about following Jesus.
On that day we'll also call on people of all ages to rededicate themselves to reading the Bible
with a blessing and distribution of adult and children's Bibles.
It will also mark the program-year kick-off for new and renewed ministries …
It will be a time for us to consider anew what it means to be a community of the Resurrection,
a community of people walking in the new life of Jesus Christ.
It would be a great time to invite your friends and neighbors,
to invite the little child carrying bread and fish,
the people bearing gifts that God will use for a miracle.
You've got two months. Seek them out, and invite them to this place,
for in so doing you are seeking out the presence and power of God
to work miracles within – and beyond – this community of faith.
Amen, and Thanks be to God.