(This sermon was largely storytelling with art images on the screen.)
A fear of scarcity can get baked into our beings. My grandmother’s depression-era diet. She thought splitting an appetizer at Applebees was spendy. Leftovers passed expiration still needed eating. Watering down soup helped stretch what she had to share. And then at age 90, she went on a buffet meal plan at Friendship Village!
I could empathize while I was a pregnant and nursing mother. My purse was filled with snacks and I overate, as though my hormones were saying, “Store up! Just in case! Provide! Protect!”
The Bible is filled with stories about hunger and hoarding… and then suddenly enough thanks to God’s provision. The disciples know these stories when our gospel reading begins. They have been raised on the tales about God’s enough, but like us they tend to forget when they need remembering the most.
The Stories this Story is Built Upon:
Joseph shares grain with his brothers and the world in Egypt. He not only feeds them, but invites them to stay.
The Israelites spent years in the wilderness un-learning scarcity and fear of a cruel master who cannot be trusted. Manna rained down from heaven one day at a time until they could trust there would be enough for everyone, that hiding and hoarding did not yield more.
The prophet Elijah was hiding from a queen who wanted his head when he ran across a widow and boy. He asked for a meal. They had next to nothing left – how could they share? But God has a habit of making something out of nothing.
The story of Ruth is tangled up with grain. She begins on the margins of the fields, gleaning with other widows, orphans, and refugees. The patriarchy’s laws offer enough protection to stay alive, and little more. She meets Boaz on the threshing floor, prepared to offer herself as charity, liability, and transaction in the dark of night. But Boaz knows the law is meant for more than mere keeping. God is using it to embellish, fulfill, and guide relationships toward wholeness.
Daniel and his comrades have been afforded a few privileges in exile, which they risk in deciding to keep a kosher diet that breaks orders from the king. They thrive on a diet of only vegetables and water, refusing to trust their bodies to an earthly king instead of God. They refused to be anxious about enough, to let fear rule their bodies, God’s temple.
The disciples know all of these stories!
And yet, they are fooled
by the scene: a lonely place,
the timing: late in the day,
the mood: scarcity, fear of failing others.
Disciples: Send them away.
Jesus: Invite them to sit down and stay.
Disciples: But we don’t have enough for everyone!
Jesus: Let’s gather what we’ve got before we jump to conclusions.
Disciples: It’s just a few loaves and fish.
Jesus: God has done more with less.
Disciples: It would take 8 months’ wages to feed everyone!
Jesus: Put away your calculators. Let’s measure with love.
Disciples: This will not be enough for them all!
Jesus: You know so little about satisfaction and plenty.
The story about Jesus feeding thousands shows up in all four gospels. Maybe it was a miracle and multiplied. Maybe people started pulling snacks out of their purses and sharing. Maybe the invitation to sit was all they needed to feel valuable and filled.
I can’t explain the practical logistics of this story, but I can say with faith and sincerity: this is classic God.
Inviting us into community. Gathering what’s available. Expanding possibilities. Measuring with love. Showing us again and again and again what it means to be satisfied.
Jesus will show us how true this is with his own body and blood, looking to heaven and giving thanks, offering himself — his whole life — for ours, so that our bodies and belief might bear witness to this kind of extravagant mercy, our gifts offered freely and joyfully because we trust there is more than enough. We are willing to stake our lives on God’s abundance, too.
In our blessing at the end of this service, we are reminded that the same spirit who had the power to raise Jesus Christ from the dead lives in us. And so, as long as manna is rationed and people are hungry and nations know famine, we are called to miracles that satisfy.
We are called to notice the scarcity that defies God’s vision for a healed world — right here in our community — the power and privilege of food and feast — the families who have much better access to fast food than Daniel’s vegetables.
We are called to care for our farmers, those who give their own lives to grow grain and fruit we often take for granted. Those who lie awake at night and weep over cold, wet fields meant to feed the world.
We are called to set longer tables. To believe in miracles. To create community. To do more with less. To upset systems designed to keep our neighbors just barely alive. To dream big and wild because we are God’s big and wild dream! People who sit down together, who gather what’s at hand, who offer something to eat, who pass around baskets that fill with signs of plenty, who return to the world with a generous story that changes everything.
And so we come to the table today, trusting that Jesus is still here with us, still forgiving us, still feeding us, still surprising us, still sending us out for the sake of life that will not be thwarted by the myth of scarcity or the urgency to get what’s mine.
Church, we are called to measure with love.
To declare that there is enough for everyone.
To be caught in the act of miracles we cannot explain.
If not now, when?
If not us, who?
Jan Richardson Poem
“And the Table Will Be Wide”