This is my last sermon at the Hospital where I have been serving a year as a chaplain.
Our readings today from Ephesians 3 and John 6
Five Loaves, Two Fishes.
Jesus sure knows how to throw a good party! Today's story shows Jesus taking small things and working a great miracle. Thousands of hungry people who followed Jesus out into the wilderness are fed, their hungry bellies filled.
There are a few ways to look at this story. Some believe it was a real miracle, food appearing out of nowhere, like the Manna in the desert in the time of Moses! Jesus was showing the people that God would provide, if they trusted him. Others wonder if something else might not have happened-could the faith of Jesus and that little boy have inspired people to share what little they had too, so that there was enough for everyone? People who like this version remind us that WE have enough food to feed the world today, if we could use it well to help our hungry neighbors.
Personally I like both versions, because in my experience God WORDS in different ways, through wonders we can't explain, but also through the faith of ordinary, simple people who "show up," like that little boy and offer their gifts and lives to our generous God.
This is a strange story, in some ways because if you think of it, after this great miracle Jesus went back to the normal way of doing things. He and his followers still went hungry many days, and Jesus himself went on to suffer and die for us. Why could he have not made the world right, then and there, and kept it that way? Why couldn't the feast have lasted forever?
In its images of Heaven, the bible tells us one day there WILL be a feast that lasts forever... but for some reason God is asking us to wait "a little longer." This seems especially hard to the people who are suffering or watching their loved ones suffer illness, troubles or depression every day in the hospital. Why can't Jesus show up like he did there, and just fix everything? Why does God seem silent?
These are hard questions- and I don't want to pretend to have a good answer! In times like this, the most important thing seems to listen, and love the person, because most answers ring hollow in a place of pain. But I DO believe that God is Love, and I struggle with these things in my heart. I guess, if I had to guess at PART of an answer, it might have something to do with God wanting to welcome others into his love, Give US time to spread his love a little wider, and even be part of God's miracles.
In our reading from Paul today, we hear of how he saw God working in his time, years after Jesus had risen from the dead but told his followers to do his work and wait for him to come back. When would that be? 2,000 years later, we still don't know! But Paul took joy in the fact God seemed to be doing something new, something Jesus' followers hadn't expected. Because of the "waiting time," more people were coming into the Feast! For the first time, non-Jewish people were joining with Jewish people as a new community. Paul tells us that this experience of waiting and inviting others into God's big Family, teaches us something of the mysterious Love of God which is beyond all words. In loving others, we become more LIKE God.
There's something magical about a Feast, about coming together with friends and sharing whatever you have. Miracles DO happen in these places. One of the ways I saw it most beautifully was with my friends in the Native American Center I worked at in Boston during seminary. We were a very poor community in an old building, often struggling to pay our bills or facing big challenges. But what amazed me is that whenever my Native friends gathered, food would turn up. Someone would bring some eggs, or make some spaghetti, and suddenly our problems seemed to fade away as we sat down and warmth filled our hearts. Food, and love just appeared, in the hardest of times, and it kept people going. Some of my friends there were from the same tribe that welcomed those poor pilgrims at that first Thanksgiving, years ago and I felt a little of what that must be like. My Native friends believed that no matter how tough things might be, you could still be generous or help others. They helped me better understand God's love!
I'd like to close with a final little parable, which I shared in a visit this week. We were talking about how sometimes we just want to see God, see Jesus when times are hard. But sometimes, God comes to us in even better ways than we can imagine.
Ann an old woman loved Jesus very much, but her husband had died and she lived alone, and was often very lonely. She prayed for many long years that God would give her a sign, or come visit her in a special way so she knew he was with her. Suddenly, one day her prayer was answered! She woke up and Found a letter on her door. It said "Ann, your prayers are answered. I'm coming to visit you tonight! -Jesus"
Ann was excited beyond measure! She spent all morning cleaning her house, and planning a special feast. She ran out to the store to get all she needed. But on the way, she saw a young mother crying because her car had broken down. Ann stopped, comforted the her and her babies, and stayed with her until the police arrived to help her. She rushed to the grocery store, with just enough time to get her supplies, and rushed back home hoping she would have time to cook the feast.
As she got close to her neighborhood, though Ann saw another sad sight. A young family's house had burned down, and they stood together at the curb watching firemen spray the ruins of all the had. Heartbroken, Ann stopped, and gave them several bags of her groceries. "I'm so sorry- but perhaps this food will help you get through for a few weeks."
When she got home, though Ann looked at her bags and despaired. All she had left was a can of tuna-fish and some cookies! She rummaged through her fridge to see if she could at least make sandwiches, but then heard cries from next door. A little boy's cat had gotten stuck in a tree! Sighing, she opened the can of tuna and went out to help lure the kitty down to safety. She also gave the grateful boy a cookie.
Wandering back to her house, Ann sat down dejected at her table. All her plans to feed Jesus were ruined! Looking at the clock, she wondered if maybe she'd even missed up. Suddenly, though the wind picked up and a piece of paper slipped under her door. It read:
"Ann, I'm so grateful for your help today. You gave me lunch, helped me get home and saved my pet from a tree. It was the most wonderful feast I could imagine. I love you. -Jesus"
As tears came to her eyes, Ann had a new understanding of miracles, and what it meant to feed Jesus.
Five Loaves, Two Fishes. All it takes is a caring heart and what little God has given you. Where is God asking you to throw a feast today?