Ascensioncast
Feeding the Five Thousand
/

Ascensioncast

Sermon by The Rev. Patrick J. Wingo
Sunday, July 29, 2018

Thank you for tuning into Ascensioncast. We hope you enjoy listening to this and our other podcasts. You can find more information at www.knoxvilleascension.org or by emailing info@knoxvilleascension.org.

The Gospel: John 6:1-21

Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

The Sermon: Feeding of the 5000

Every Wednesday morning here at Ascension a lively group of people get together to study the readings for the upcoming Sunday, usually with the preacher who will be preparing the sermon. This past Wednesday I sat with those faithful folks in our library and we wrestled with the gospel lesson for today, the story of the feeding of the five thousand.

It was a great discussion, and as we talked we wondered about two different ways of looking at the story. Some of us believed that the miracle in the story was that people who were listening to Jesus teach opened up their food bags and their hearts in order to share what they had with others. Others of us believed that the miracle was that somehow Jesus expanded the number of loaves and the number of fishes so that there was enough for everyone, and so much so that twelve baskets of food were left over. It was a great discussion, and even though there were different points of view, I think that everyone left there with a deeper connection to the story.

Later that day I ran across a poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. I had forgotten that she had dealt with the very question we had struggled with in a poem titled “Logos.” Here it is:

Logos – Mary Oliver

Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?

If you say the right words, the wine expands.

If you say them with love

and the felt ferocity of that love

and the felt necessity of that love,

the fish explode into many.

Imagine him, speaking,

and don’t worry about what is reality,

or what is plain, or what is mysterious.

If you were there, it was all those things.

If you can imagine it, it is all those things.

Eat, drink, be happy.

Accept the miracle.

Accept, too, each spoken word

spoken with love.

Loaves and fishes. Hungry people. Food. Love.

A couple of weeks ago Jim Wright, the Director of FISH Hospitality Pantries, which was founded by Ascension parishioners and is based here at Ascension, took me to visit the main warehouse location on Scott Avenue, which is also one of the ministry’s five food distribution locations. A long line of people were already queued up to receive food, which did not surprise me. After all, FISH is the largest provider of food relief in East Tennessee.

We went in the warehouse, and I saw something else that did not surprise me either—at least eight and probably more Ascension parishioners were there that day, moving food around in the warehouse, greeting hungry people who came in the door, even putting together small bags of dog food so that those who came for food for themselves would not have to make the difficult choice of giving up a beloved pet because they couldn’t feed it.

There are many things to love about this ministry, and I hope you will take some time to delve deeper into the good work they do. But here’s what I love: people who come for food at a FISH pantry are welcomed and not judged. They are treated with dignity. They are diverse, yet they build community.

There is a sense in which what happened on that hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee happens at FISH pantries: thousands of people who are hungry are fed. On that hill two thousand years ago those people were hungry for God, hungry for meaning, hungry for truth, and they followed Jesus and were fed by his words, and then fed with bread and fish, in an indescribably miraculous way. People who line up at FISH pantries have the same hunger and receive the same miracle.

“Imagine him, speaking,” wrote the poet,

“and don’t worry about what is reality,

or what is plain, or what is mysterious.

If you were there, it was all those things.

If you can imagine it, it isall those things.”

Indeed, it is all those things at a FISH pantry.

A fascinating and important fact about the story of the feeding of the Five Thousand—besides all of the events that happened around Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, death and burial, today’s gospel lesson is one of the few stories about Jesus that all four Gospel writers agree happened.

In fact, it is such an important story that Matthew and Mark include a second version of it in other places where four thousand people are fed. So this miracle story could be the story the earliest Christians told more than any other.

I wonder why it was and is so compelling? Maybe it was because everyone can relate to being hungry, and maybe it’s because it is a very easy jump to make from being physically hungry to being spiritually hungry. Maybe it’s because almost everyone can relate to eating with other people while at the same time feeling that you are all experiencing something meaningful and profound—dinner with loved ones you haven’t seen in a long time; a BBQ when you meet people you sense will become good friends; a meeting over a boxed lunch where a frustrating situation becomes clear and you know you are on the right path. Or, being with someone when they receive food that will keep them and their family from going hungry that night. Sometimes when I have been in situations like that, I have found myself feeling deeply grateful. Even simple blessings can take on profound meaning.

When I was a kid my family ate supper together almost every night, and my dad always said the same blessing: “Our Father we thank thee for these and all our blessings.” For me as a little boy it was a short ritual we had to go through before we got to eat. But when I have thought back on it as an adult it strikes me that thanking God for food every day, every night, even if it is ritual, or habit, is an acknowledgement that there are those who do not have food, that there are those who do not feel blessed, there are those who have experienced things that might make one re-think what it means to be blessed.

A writer named Susan Schnur told about her experience of this when she was visiting her boyfriend’s parents in a column written over thirty years ago. Here’s part of the column, she writes…

It was the middle of the night – I was up with my own back pain – when the light flashed on in the upstairs hall and Jon’s father came padding down into the room. Oblivious of me, he went into the kitchen, cut himself a slab of rye bread with a butcher knife, then stood with it in the dining room under the street shadows.

”Chleb,” he said finally, thrusting the bread into the air. ”Broit” – he held the bread against his pajama pocket. ”Pane” – he shook it. ”Lechem” – kissed it. ”Bread” – took a bite.

This he did over and over, saying the word in more languages than I could imagine existed -thrusting, hugging, shaking, kissing, biting, exclaiming – until he stood in the room empty-fisted. Then he burped roomily and went back up the stairs to bed.

I think of that night a lot, especially when I am up myself at 3 A.M. I think: What did I know about this man? That he loved his wife, yes. His children. That he checked on his kids too often in their rooms; changed the oil in his car every thousand miles; kept unnecessary dry goods in his basement. His family used to laugh at him.

He seemed sometimes, on an ordinary morning, almost stunned by the fierceness of his happiness. He was, it now seems clear to me, exhausted by his blessings; in a sense, afraid of them.

He was a Holocaust survivor, Jonny’s dad. The contrast woke him in the night.”

Eat, drink, be happy.

Accept the miracle.

Accept, too, each spoken word

spoken with love.

I don’t know what it is like to wonder where my next meal is coming from. Perhaps some of you have had that experience in your life. Most of us have not. But there are people who live very near to us who have that experience.

And we, through over 100 of our Ascension parishioners who volunteer at FISH and through our financial support, have the privilege of bridging the gap between the contrasts of living in an abundant society and serving an abundantly gracious God while people go hungry. We get to help fill the gap.

The Christian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev once wrote, “Bread for myself is a material question; bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question,”Who is going to deal with that spiritual question if we don’t? As Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we going to get bread to feed all these people?” I know where—and you do too. What a blessing, to get to participate in a miracle.

Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?

If you say the right words, the wine expands.

If you say them with love

and the felt ferocity of that love

and the felt necessity of that love,

the fish explode into many.