The Lord of Abundance

+ A sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 12B / Ordinary 17B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on July 29, 2018 +

Texts: John 6:1-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Five loaves.
Two fish.
5,000 people.
All fed with five loaves and two fish – with tweleve baskets of leftovers.
Something doesn’t add up here.

Restored 5th century mosaic of the loaves and fishes in the Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel.

Reading about the miracles of Jesus in the 21st century, as Westerners caught up in reason and rationalism, may leave us scratching our heads at stories like this one – or dismissing them outright.
Clearly, this story doesn’t make sense.
There’s no way to feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.
It’s impossible.
And frankly, if Jesus and his disciples wanted to feed all their followers, they needed to think ahead, to hire a catering company or to bring in food trucks.

I see this reasoning among scholars and theologians as well – so quickly dismissing the feeding narrative and looking for hidden meaning in the text.
‘What do the five loaves represent? What could the twelve baskets mean? Why the number 5,000?’
They try to make sense of a text that on its face does not make sense to our modern eyes. They try to make sense of this most famous story.

Now, maybe there is a rational explanation, maybe there is a back-story that John doesn’t tell us, maybe if we knew a little bit more it would all make sense – but maybe trying to explain what happened in some ways blinds us from seeing the real truths here – Jesus saw a multitude of hungry people and using the limited resources that he had, he fed them all with baskets to spare.
Jesus saw their need, saw their hunger, and he fed them – all of them.

This profound truth, this beautiful story, is the only miracle to appear in all four gospels.
Except John doesn’t call it a miracle, but a sign.
And I think that distinction helps me a little bit – it pushes me beyond just gawking at the supernatural aspect and seeing this as a sign, an insight into the true nature of Jesus, into the true nature of God.
John uses signs throughout his gospel to show us what Christ has come to do in this world.

Mosaic from Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy, ca. 504

And this sign, this feeding of the 5,000, is so important to the message of John’s gospel that he uses the entirety of the 6th chapter to explain it in what is called the Bread of Life discourse.
And for the next five weeks, we will listen as Jesus explains how this sign allows us to know more about him, allows us to see him as the one who provides food, who works through ordinary elements like bread, who is so radically different than what the world provides, who gives himself for us, and who calls us to follow his example.
During the next five weeks we will listen together as Jesus unpacks the sign that we have just heard.

And while I would of course love to have each of you here for the next five weeks, I’m not going to end on a cliffhanger here, I’m not going to leave you waiting for this explanation, because I think a lot of the truth of we see in today’s story can be summed up with another line from John’s gospel – “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).
Jesus came so that we can experience abundant life.

When we see a hungry crowd, we may be like Philip and calculate exactly how much it would cost to feed everyone and bemoan the sum.
When the young boy comes forward to offer his food, we may be like Andrew and regard the five loaves and two fish as a pittance compared to the immense need.
But Jesus does not see these limitations; Jesus doesn’t see scarcity, but abundance and uses what is offered to feed everyone until they are full with an abundance left over.
Abundance is so different than what we expect, so different than what we are used to.

It makes sense – we live in a world where we are told that there is never enough, that there are finite resources.
We live in an economic system that is built on the idea of scarcity where we are told that there is only a limited amount of something, be it food, or money, or water, and we should horde it for ourselves.
Our system is built on the idea that you are not enough on your own, that you don’t make enough or own enough to make a difference, so you should just look out for yourselves and scratch out the best living you can.
And through this model of scarcity, we exploit the earth’s resources without regarding conservation, we close our borders to retain our own wealth, we turn a blind eye to the hungry people we pass on the streets – and turn a blind eye to the Lord of Abundance.

But if we really looked at ourselves, we would realize that we have more than what we need.
We would see that we live in a world that produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, well more than the global population, and yet nearly a billion people go hungry every day.
That we live in a country that produces more food than any other on earth, and yet 50 million Americans – including 17 million children – don’t have enough to eat.
That we live in a community that contains some of the wealthiest people and most prosperous corporations on the planet and yet we have some of the highest rates of homelessness and income inequality in the United States.
And that rather than use these vast riches, this multitude of food, to house and to feed, we horde, we stockpile, we protect, out of fear of scarcity.

“Loaves and Fishes” by John August Swanson

But Jesus reminds us that the Reign of God is not built on this model.
He shows us that the Reign of God rejects scarcity and operates instead on an economy of abundance.
That when we come together and care for each other rather than our own wellbeing, our limited resources are more than enough for the common-wealth so it can benefit not only ourselves but our neighbors as well.
That we should not be in competition with each other, but in community with each other, that we are not opponents but partners.
Christ has come to give life, abundant life.
Abundance is bringing what little we have and trusting that God will use it, that God will use us to feed God’s people, trusting that through God our five loaves and two fish is more than enough to feed a whole community.
Abundance is trusting that no matter what the world tells you, you are enough; we are enough.

I remember when I was first interviewing for this call and I asked the council what this congregation does in community ministries and I was so surprised when I heard the great multitude of answers – the orchard and the garden, the quilting program and the food bank, hosting a women’s shelter and the apartment in the annex, packing backpacks for kids, and so many more.

Quilts made by the Holy Cross quilting group for the 2018 Quilt Blessing. These quilts were given to numerous organizations including Lutheran World Relief, Compass Housing Alliance, Sophia’s Way, Holden Village, and more.

It would be so easy for a congregation of this size to lock down, to look inward and try to hold on to the resources that they have, to succumb to fear and scarcity and loose sight of their mission of Christian discipleship and service. But that’s not what this congregation does.
When I expressed my surprise to the council, one member said, “We know – we are small but we are mighty!”
That, my friends, is abundance.
That is a reflection of what Jesus is doing on the Sea of Galilee and what Christ is doing in the world today.

That is trusting that God will use what little we have to transform the world around us.
Trusting that God will use our limited time, our limited resources, our limited abilities to fashion our communities into a commonwealth.
Trusting that at this table we will be fed with more than enough, that through these morsels of bread and wine we will receive more than we can ever understand.

Alemayehu Bizuneh, Scene X of the Misereor “Hunger Cloth” from Ethiopia (1978)

Trusting that the fullness of God’s abundance will be more than enough, more than we can imagine possible.
And by living into this new model, this vision of abundance, we partner with our God to feed, to clothe, to house our community.


What more can we offer?
How much more can we embrace the abundance that our God announces?
Because if you’re like me, it’s still easy to fall back into the idea that we don’t have enough to make a difference.
But we know that God will use whatever we can provide to spread God’s love to all who need it, to heal the wounds that scarcity imparts, to bring all people into the Commonwealth that Christ is announcing until no one is left hungry.

“The feeding of the five thousand” by John Reilly from the Methodist Modern Art Collection, © TMCP, used with permission. The Methodist Church of Great Britain

One thought on “The Lord of Abundance

  1. Pingback: Difficult Teachings | Paul On Grace

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