26th July, 8th Sunday after Trinity, morning
Revd Kate Tuckett
‘People who love to eat are the best people’ said cookery writer Julia Child.
The first thing the world knew about Christians was that they ate together. At the beginning of every week, they gathered – rich and poor, slaves and free, Jew and Gentile, women and men, to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. And here at church today we do a lot of eating together, don’t we --- and don’t think I have ever been to church event where there hasn’t been too much food. I still haven’t quire recovered from the Trinity tea. Indeed, at the heart of our service every week we have food, we share the Eucharist.
Jesus feeding 5000 people is one of those miracles we hear about a lot. It defies comprehension and it calls on us to believe that something inexplicable happened. Many through the centuries have tried to explain it away, but the nature of the miracle is not the aspect of the story that I want to look at this morning, rather I want to look at the disciples and what it tells us about being a follower of Jesus today. Because whether or not Jesus molecularly multiplied the bread and fish, or whether the crowds opened up their stingy lunchboxes and shared their sandwiches and their bags of crisps with their neighbours, what strikes me today is what the disciples must have learned – namely that there was more available to them that what they themselves were bringing to the table.
5000 people is a lot of people. It’s not a surprise that the disciples wanted them to go away and fend for themselves. They have nothing, nothing but five loaves and a couple of fish. But Jesus says ‘I can work with that’. He has the people sit down and he takes the bread and takes the fish and gives thanks for them, and we know how the rest of the story goes. There’s not only enough to feed all of them. There’s more than enough.
I know for myself, and perhaps you know it too that we look at the smallness of our own offering, and the insignificance of our abilities, the inadequacy of our treasure, right up against the greatness of whatever need we face, and we think it’s a reason to feel shame. Or we act as though smallness, inadequacy and insignificance are things that would never be worthy to be brought before God.
And yet every parable about God’s kingdom, every teaching Jesus ever had about how God creates something glorious starts with something small. Never once did Jesus say the kingdom of heaven is like a FTSE 100 company full of shiny happy shareholders. It’s always something small, over-looked, insignificant, organic – these are the things that reveal the glory of God.
It’s a story that started with inadequacy and need. We hear the story of the little boy who shared his lunch. But within the story there lies more than 5000 others --- the story of the skinny orphan, the sceptical tax collector, the despised Samaritan, the curious fisherman, the struggling widow, the disdained prostitute, the wealthy mother, the angry zealot, the ostracised Canaanite, the banished leper, the suffering slave, the repentant sinner, and ultimately the story of you and me.
It’s the story of a crowd of people who had little in common except that they were hungry – for food, for healing, for Jesus. And it’s the story of a crowd of people who were fed. No questions asked, no prerequisites demanded, no standards of holiness to meet first. It’s a story of people who were shown that what they have is not the end of the story.
In this story we see Jesus addressing the most essential, physical needs of his fellow human beings – hunger, thirst, community, and breaking down every social constructed barrier that keeps us from eating with one another.
He did the same thing, when much to the chagrin of the religious leaders, he dined with tax collectors and prostitutes and told his more well-to-do hosts that when you give a banquet, invite the crippled, the lame, the blind. Then you will be blessed. His critics repeatedly drew attention to the fact that he dined with the wrong people. By eating with the sinners, the outcasts, the unclean, Jesus was repeatedly saying ‘These are my companions, these are my friends.’ It was this sort of thing that got him killed.
We come together week by week to feast on the bread of life. All who share this feast, who bring their hunger, are companions of Christ. This is the kingdom, all of us here gathered together, not because we are worthy or good, but because we are hungry, because we long for more. This is what it is to be a disciple.
Whatever the nature of this miracle, it is there in the everyday. We talk about sacraments of the church, things that help us to see, things that help us to encounter the compassion and generosity and companionship of God. The bread and the wine, the flowers, the night shelter, the pastoral networks, the Trinity tea, the harvest lunch, the T3 toddler group, Coffee, Cake and Chat. This stuff matters, these things are holy.
Sacrament means to make holy. Sometimes in the church we’re tempted to hide God behind beautiful things and we become hung up on these objects rather than what they point to. Learning to see God is learning to see with new eyes. When we have eyes to see, even ordinary things become holy. And when received with open hands and with hungry hearts, the signs and wonders of Jesus never cease. This is God who never runs out of holy things. The God who multiplied wine at a wedding, turned five loaves of bread and a couple of fish into lunch to feed five thousand with baskets of leftovers, who is like a shepherd who leaves his flock in search of a single lamb.
We have the choice, every day, to join in the revelry, to share the picnic, drink the wine of underserved grace. To do this we need to know our hunger, our inadequacy, that we cannot do it by ourselves. We need one another, and we need God.
History has shown that there have always been people who fancy themselves as being bouncers to the heavenly banquet, and perhaps when we forget our own need we run this risk of becoming like this --- people who are charged with keeping the wrong people away from the table and out of church. But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keep the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors and welcoming all to bread and wine, to companionship. This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy, it’s a kingdom for the hungry.
In a moment we will give thanks for Noah, and welcome Charlie and Lily. In worldly terms they don’t bring anything with them. They don’t have CVs to show off, or awards to present, and at no stage in the litany that follows will we ask if they are good enough for God. No, they come to church with nothing, only the immense grace and dignity and potential of their lives.
Wherever you are in this story, these feeding of the many multitudes, if you are hungry, come and eat. You don’t need to earn a spot. It is given. Our God is in the business of transforming the most ordinary things into holy thing, scraps of food into feasts. And if God says to us what do you have to offer, and all we can say is nothing, God replies, I can work with that.
This sermon uses material from:
Held Evans, R. (2015), Searching for Sunday, New York: Thomas Nelson