[A sermon preached on 2 Kings 4:42-44 and John 6:1-21 at Hermon Presbyterian Church.]
Jesuit author and theologian Dennis Linn made the connection between food and faith when he was a young teacher on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. He had just moved into a housing project there, and he wanted to do something he’d never done before: invite a few of his new students for a meal. Since soup was a customary meal in the community, he spent most of the day in the kitchen, boiling down bones into homemade broth. But when he added a cupful of rice, it seemed to disappear. He worried that it wouldn’t be enough for the eight people who would be coming to dinner, so he added the entire box, but it still didn’t seem sufficient.
Not knowing that rice expands when it cooks, he went to four different neighbors and collected two more boxfuls of rice. With all three boxes in the kettle, he left the soup simmering on the stove as he went to class. He figured that if he didn’t have enough, he could just fill them up with plenty of bread to go with it.
When Dennis returned home with his guests, the rice greeted them at the front door. The inside of his house looked as if a foot of snow had fallen. While some students stayed to help shovel the rice, others went out to invite their family and friends to the feast. Instead of eight Sioux students, that night Dennis fed the whole neighborhood (dogs included)!
For Dennis, this event launched not only his cooking career, but also his relationship with the people in his neighborhood. That evening after dinner, his students as well as their parents, younger brothers and sisters, and other teachers stayed and got to know one another. Together, they went around the table, sharing moments of gratitude and celebration and supporting one another through their stumblings and sorrows. Dennis told them that while he felt humbled and slightly embarrassed by his blunder, he was also deeply grateful that people of every age were meeting in his home to feast and fellowship and pray together.
That night, God used a simple cooking mistake to bring people together as a community. As folks gathered around, God transformed a newcomer’s fears of scarcity into a communal celebration of abundance. Though the soup nourished their bodies, the fellowship nourished their souls, and all were fed in more ways than one. In fact, that evening was so life-giving for Dennis that during the rest of his time on the reservation, he invited his neighbors for dinner every Friday night (though he did decide to stay away from rice).
In our Gospel reading this morning, we encounter another such unexpected feast. The feeding of the five thousand, as we like to call it, is the only one of Jesus’ miracles to be recorded in all four Gospels, so clearly, it made just as much of an impression on the early Christian community as Dennis’ dinner party made on his new neighborhood. It’s a familiar story for many of us, and you probably know it well.
There they were, atop a mountain, where Jesus liked to go to get away from the crowds, but even there he managed to draw a following, and soon a whole crowd was gathered. They had seen the signs and wonders he’d performed, how he’d healed the sick and turned water into wine, and they just had to see and hear more.
When the disciples saw all of the people coming, they panicked. Here they were in the middle of nowhere, folks gathered expectantly with empty bellies and many different needs. There was no way they could meet all of the demand. With no grocery store in sight, no Grub Hub or Uber Eats, no pizza place willing to deliver our that far, they were really in a bind.
But the problem didn’t end there. Where are we going to come up with enough money to feed all these people, Philip asked. Even six months’ wages wouldn’t be enough to give everyone even a small snack! Then Andrew mentioned that a little boy had brought five loaves and two fish along with him, but surely that wouldn’t even put a dent in the need.
I think it’s important to note, here, that the disciples’ response was entirely focused on problem-solving. No one questioned whether the people gathered around were deserving of a meal. No one blamed them for not being responsible enough to pack their own food. No one worried that people would take advantage of the system. No one insisted that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” or suggested that the people gathered “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” No one disparaged the crowd for “asking for a handout.” The disciples were more interested in serving the people than judging their worthiness. When I read their responses, I hear genuine concern for others rather than condemnation or frustration.
Though they’re fearful and worried that there isn’t enough to go around, they know that setting up eligibility criteria isn’t part of Jesus’ Kingdom vision. They’ve walked with Jesus long enough to know that the economy of grace is much more all-encompassing. Surely, Jesus will know what to do.
Indeed, he tells everyone gathered to sit down together, and he takes the loaves and the fish, gives thanks to God for the generous offering, and as he distributed the provisions among the crowd, somehow all were fed. And even after everyone had eaten their fill, as much as they wanted, there were still twelve whole baskets more! Save those leftovers, Jesus told them. None of these good gifts should go to waste. Not only is there enough for everyone – there’s plenty.
Jesus offers all those who come to him an abundance. He gives us more than even seems possible, and his ministry knows no bounds. As we read earlier in John’s Gospel, when he turns water into wine, it’s not just a box or two of Franzia, enough to keep the party going a little while longer; it’s twenty or thirty gallons of the finest wine (John 2:6,10). When he feeds the five thousand men (not to mention the women and children gathered, so who knows how many it could have been), he multiplies a few loaves and fishes with plenty to spare.
In a world where we worry whether there will be enough, Jesus shows us extravagance. In a world where we clamor for scarce resources, Jesus creates an abundance. In a world where we hoard what we have, Jesus calls us to share with one another.
As biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “The conflict between the narratives of abundance and of scarcity is the defining problem confronting us [in our time]. The gospel story of abundance asserts that we originated in the magnificent, inexplicable love of a God who loved the world into generous being. The baptismal service declares that each of us has been miraculously loved into existence by God. And the story of abundance says that our lives will end in God, and that this well-being cannot be taken from us. What we know in the secret recesses of our hearts is that the story of scarcity is a tale of death. And the people of God counter this tale by witnessing to [abundance].”
He goes on to say that, “Jesus demonstrated that the world is filled with abundance and freighted with generosity. The market ideology wants us to believe that life consists of buying and selling, weighing and measuring and trading. But Jesus presents an entirely different economy, one infused with the mystery of abundance and a cruciform kind of generosity. Five thousand are fed and 12 baskets of food are left over – one for every tribe of Israel. Jesus transforms the economy by blessing it and breaking it beyond self-interest. In this account of miraculous feeding, people do not grasp, hoard, resent, or act selfishly; they watch as heaven multiplies the bread of earth. The closer we stay to Jesus, the more we will bring a new economy of abundance to the world.”
This lavishness that God bestows on us often comes in the humblest of forms. Bread and fish, the stuff of daily living, can reveal to us the Kingdom of God, if we have the eyes to see it. A common meal can serve an extraordinary purpose, so long as we’re open and receptive to the moving of the Spirit. As disciples, we don’t have to climb mountains or set sail on stormy seas to encounter deep spiritual truths. The miracle, Jesus tells us, is hidden in the ordinary and tucked away in the everyday.
Preacher and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor explains it like this: “To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone.”
Friends, we’re called to search for the sacred in the commonplace: in a crust of bread, in the face of a new neighbor, in a plate of leftovers, in a pot of soup, in the act of sharing with one another. We’re called to practice abundance in a world obsessed with scarcity. We’re called to remember that we have enough, that we are enough, because God lavishes us with grace upon grace. The miracle of the loaves and fishes wasn’t just about filling empty stomachs; God in Christ was filling hungry hearts, and there will always be plenty to go around. Amen.
 Linn, Dennis. Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. Paulist Press: New York, 1995. Pg.3-4.
 Brueggemann, Walter. “The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity.” The Christian Century, March 24-31, l999.
 Taylor, Barbara Brown. An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. Harper One: New York, 2009. Pg. xvi.