Preaching the word of God…
Yesterday, as part of my internship at Saint Paul, I got the opportunity to preach my first sermon. Before I started, I shared a little story about my last major speaking engagement at my high school graduation:
“I should warn you, the last time I spoke in public was at my high school graduation. It was a breezy day, and I was one of three commencement speakers. I put my speech on the podium and as I was about to begin, I felt a breeze, so I reached up to keep my cap from blowing away. It was at that precise moment that several thousand people looked on in horror as all 9 pages of my speech took off down the football field. Fortunately for me, there’s no breeze in the sanctuary right now, and fortunately for you, even if there was, I only have five pages to blow away today…”
To watch the video of THAT encounter, and see my perfect embodiment of the “can’t let a little thing like that get me down” mentality, go ahead and watch the video here on youtube.
Read Sunday’s sermon here, after the jump…
Jesus Feeds the 5,000
Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Morgantown, WV
July 31, 2011
I’m sure you’ve all heard the story of the Stone Soup. It’s an old folk tale, with different traditions having slight variations on the story. A group of travelers, maybe even soldiers come into a town in the countryside carrying only a large cooking pot. They ask the villagers for some food, but find no hospitality in this small town, people are unwilling to share, likely thinking they don’t have enough. And so these men fill up their pot with water and begin cooking it over a fire, their “secret ingredient” being a stone they had picked up near the road.
As curious villagers passed by, they told them they were making “stone soup: the most wonderfully delicious soup in the world! But you know, it sure could use a little meat to give it that extra zing.” One by one, these men conned the villagers out of the same ingredients that just hours before they had refused to give freely, until finally the stone soup really was a delicious stew made of many different ingredients. And while they had tricked the villagers, they also rewarded them, giving their wonderful stew for all to share. The people were satisfied.
My dad and I tried this once, it was the youth group’s turn to make a soup for the Lenten dinners and we decided that WE would make stone soup. We arrived at the church that Wednesday with a crockpot filled only with chicken broth, asking others to bring ingredients they thought might go well in a soup. Soon our chicken broth was filled with noodles and vegetables and REAL CHICKEN.
I’d be lying if I told you it was the best soup I’ve ever had, because it wasn’t. But it was hearty and above all, edible. Alone, our ingredients weren’t very much, a carrot here, a bag of noodles there, but that small generosity came together to feed a room full of people. And they were satisfied.
In today’s Gospel we hear a story that is familiar to most. Jesus and the disciples find themselves in the countryside, away from any town with 5,000 of their closest friends. Now, just for reference, the main concert theater across the street at the Creative Arts Center seats about 1,400. 1400 seats that are only filled for the largest and most popular of shows.
So imagine more than three times that many people following you around, and THAT was just the men, not counting any women or children. And these men want to hear you speak, want to touch you, and now suddenly want fed. If you or I ended up with more than 5,000 people in our backyard, I’m pretty sure the last thought on our mind would be feeding them, but Jesus was ready for the challenge.
And so, sending the disciples out into the throng to commandeer what food there was, they found only five loaves of bread and two fish, hardly enough to feed a family or two, let alone 5,000 people. But again, Jesus wasn’t fazed. He took the bread and the fish, broke it and gave it to the disciples to distribute among the people. They fed the 5,000 and not only were they satisfied, but there were leftovers!
There are two ways to think of this, two separate, but strangely similar schools of thought when it comes to this story. The first follows the idea of Jesus being the ultimate performer of miracles. That Jesus was able to feed 5,000 people required nothing short of divine intervention. This is what we as Christians are taught; Jesus performed miracles, that’s just what he did. Obviously a miracle was the cause of his ability to feed these people.
But see, there’s another group who are intent on writing off the wonders of God’s power as everyday things. These people would have you believe that many of those 5,000 people there that day had brought their own food, but, seeing the opportunity for a free meal, told the disciples they had nothing.
I’ve done this before, and I’m sure some of you have too. It’s never quite out of a malicious intent, it’s just out of the idea of “looking out for number one.” Why should I use my own resources if someone else is going to provide them to me? It’s not the right thing to do, but it is what we sinners find ourselves doing on occasion in all types of situations.
So, upon seeing that they had collected only 5 loaves and 2 fish, these same people who had been stingy became generous. They pulled out the food they had earlier hidden and shared it with each other. Some people had lots of food, others only enough for themselves, and others none at all, but when shared, everyone could be satisfied, with leftovers.
Looking at the story this way, it’s easy to draw parallels with the story of the stone soup. People are greedy, and then generous in small quantities to serve the larger good. A lot of people putting in even a little bit can be good for something.
But to be perfectly honest, looking at it that way is pretty boring.
If we translate this into a story simply of human generosity, it’s pretty easy to lose God in the midst of it all. What do we need God for if Jesus fed the 5,000 through the simple power of suggestion rather than a miraculous act of divine intervention?
For that answer, I draw you BACK to verse 19 of today’s gospel. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”
Jesus blessed the meal, and then gave it to the disciples to distribute. The people being fed received food from the hands of the disciples. To me, at least, it seems clear that Jesus wanted to emphasize that while he was the feeder, the provider of food, the bread of life, it is the disciples who brought the bread TO the people. God moved the disciples, and the disciples moved the people. God was active through all of this, he just chose to have other people do the “heavy lifting.”
Many of you, in thinking about this may already be making a connection to the phrase that the ELCA included in their logo and branding a few years ago… “God’s Work. Our Hands.”
If you think about it, you’ll recognize that this statement, while fairly new to us as a brand, is a concept that can be traced back to 1st Peter, chapter 2, verse 9, where Peter tells us that we are a chosen people of God called to lead others out of the darkness. Our good friend Martin Luther expounded on the idea explaining that ALL those who are baptized are in fact priests.
All of us are called to do God’s work, and we do it with our own hands. We don’t have to be Pastors, or to feed 5,000 hungry men. We do God’s work every day, as doctors, lawyers, teachers, business people, students, even garbage men.
Regardless of whether you believe this story of Jesus feeding the five thousand to be a miracle of divine intervention or one of human generosity, the theme that presents itself is the same:
If we give what we can, allowing ourselves to be an instrument for God’s work, God can and WILL do miraculous things with what we give. As an individual, we may think our power to impact the world through our gifts is little, but through God, all things are possible. We can give the bread of life to the world. We can help all people to be satisfied. And we can have leftovers.