If you’ve been keeping score at home, you’ll note that today’s Gospel reading comes from the Gospel of John. Whereas, you may say to me: “Matt, we have been happily reading from the Gospel of Mark, and have enjoyed the experience terribly. Why then, did the designers of the Lectionary (in their wisdom) intersperse a reading from John’s Gospel?”
It’s a very good question, and well reasoned. And I can assure you that there is very likely an equally good, rational and well-reasoned answer. I just don’t know it.
That said, if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that even though it’s from a different Gospel narrative (in this case John), we’re still hearing the story of the feeding of the five thousand that was skipped-over in last week’s reading from Mark. Maybe, they just thought John’s version was cooler. So, no reason to panic. We’ve heard this story before.
As we know, very well, Jesus has been travelling around healing people and preaching. This is why he’s become so popular, and has this group of people following after him. And so, as the day is drawing to a close, he and his closest disciples sit down and take stock of the crowd.
Apparently, just to mess with Phillip, Jesus asks how they plan to feed the crowd. When Phillip deems this pretty much impossible, Andrew tells Jesus that some kid has 5 loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
Now, I know that there are some people who would say that as the disciples were passing around this kid’s lunch, word got out about his generosity, and so other people started pulling out what they had and sharing it… I suppose that could have happened—but that’s not what we’re told happened. Because Jesus tells them to collect the fragments left over from the five loaves—and of course they end up with a ton left over.
While I’m sure that Jesus could have turned rocks into bread, or the grass into tuna noodle casserole—instead, he takes what little someone would willingly give and made it more than enough for everyone. This, for me, is what really stands out in this reading. The idea that Jesus (who in the next scene will walk on water, and has already proven himself to be extraordinarily powerful), would in this instance receive a humble gift to use as the basis for his miracle.
It’s sort of interesting actually. Certainly in John’s Gospel Jesus is nearly limitless in his power, but continues to attribute his miraculous works to the power of God. And it almost seems here that he shows another kind of humility by accepting the gift of five loaves and two fish to become the vehicle for one of his more well-known miracles.
But then, I also suppose that it shouldn’t be so surprising, either. After all, kind of like Mary Poppins, Jesus comes to be part of the human family, and shows us to live our lives in holy, grace-filled ways before being carried away again. And while we may not have Jesus in person to make our pot lucks miraculously multiply—we do still have this promise that if we offer something (no matter how humble) to Christ, he will make it to be more than enough for all of his people.
It almost seems like we’re supposed to learn something from this story… And the take away for me is that as each of us is called to be part of the Body of Christ (each with our individual gifts), the operation and life of that Body is dependent upon each of the parts giving themselves to the whole. Each has a different job and function, but all are vital to the overall being and wholeness of the Body.
Individually then, we need to ask ourselves what we’re offering to Christ for the good of his Church. After all, our faith is anything but a spectator sport, it should be vibrant and life-giving—not impossible, but something that challenges us all the same. We can’t be content then to only participate in our faith in the same way we might a fast food restaurant; nor can we experience the sacraments as something topical or dispensed like Pez. Can you imagine a sacrament Pez dispenser? Nevermind.
Now, I understand that sermons about our call to action or participation in the Church can be daunting for some. Maybe we feel like we don’t know where to start, because no one has ever asked anything of us (outside of the general appeals for food drives and things).
Well, if that’s the case, consider this your invitation: The Church Needs All of You! It’s the reason that God called you to be here—to be a blessing to others as the Church is a blessing to you in turn. We have to remember that we’re each called to be here (part of this faith community) for a particular purpose—and to neglect that leaves the Church without its ability to live out God’s mission fully. That’s the point of the promises asked of us in Baptism—to take our place in the Body of Christ.
With those promises in mind, then we have to ask ourselves: “Is this community of faith meaningful enough for me to give of myself—even if it’s something as small as a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread?” Because as we see in today’s reading, Jesus—the one through whom all things were made—waits for us to give to him what little we can to be for the benefit of all of God’s people.
This is not the same thing as the prosperity Gospel. I’m not saying that if you give your money to me to buy expensive tailored suits and a huge house that God will make you rich in return. That’s heretical. What I am saying, however, is that if we are willing to give what money, time and energy and gifts that we can (no matter how seemingly insignificant); God can increase them in the life of the Church, and make them to be more than enough to do the holy work that God has called us to do.
As a parish, we’re at a place in our life together in which we know God is calling us to new things. We’re in a transitional time where we can either choose to thrive and grow (a life giving thing)—or remain static and atrophy. But this parish is no longer what it was 10 years ago. This parish isn’t even what it was 10 months ago. This is because God calls us, as a Living Body, to grow and change. The growing pains can be painful at times, but we can trust that it’s God who inspires the growth.
So, as something new and continually growing, changing, we have to accept that the way that we did things may no longer suit us, because of our growth. Instead we need to be open to different ways of being the Church—which means accepting our individual responsibilities to the community, and offering our gifts, our time and our financial support to the church…
None of us has nothing to offer, and none of us has paid our dues so that we’re done being necessary to the life and continued vitality of the Church. Each of us is absolutely integral to the development, and continued growth of this parish and the Church. But it takes all of us to add our own humble offerings to truly live fully into our mission and Baptismal call.
Often we talk about, and pray about seeing change in our politics. We mourn the loss of life to senseless violence in our cities. We want safe places for our kids and grandkids. We want safe places for ourselves… But what we cannot forget is that at our best the Church can be a catalyst for the change we want to see.
If we want to see our lives changed then, we need to be the Church. If we want to see our community changed for the better, we need to be the Church. If we long to see a better world, we need to be the Church—and we cannot be the Church without the people of the Church…all of them.
God has given us immense potential to be a light and Christ’s hands and feet—but it means no longer waiting for someone else to take the reigns. We can’t hope to thrive or live into the fullness of Christ’s mission for us if we can’t imagine ourselves taking our places as active people of God.
And just so this sermon isn’t simply an exercise in theological gum-chewing; I offer you some options for service: First off, we’re going to be offering acolyte and server training for both children and adults; We also have an amazing altar guild; and if you enjoy being busy, we have an extremely talented hospitality group; and, of course, ushers who are the initial welcome that people receive when they enter our church. There are even some of you who are doing work outside of the parish—I would ask that you share such opportunities with this community. Help make your personal cause a cause of this Church. And, of course, these are just a few ways—and are not the only ways to offer something to the life of this parish. This is to say nothing of the importance of continued prayerful support and financial support.
We’re only limited by our own short-sightedness, our own inaction, and our own lack of imagination. Sure, any of us can think of a million reasons as to why we can’t possibly offer our time, money or gifts to the church. But the good news is that God doesn’t ask for a million things—only what we can give—just a couple of loaves and fishes, and more importantly faithfulness. Because if we are willing to faithfully give what little we can to the life of the Church—we’ll all give thanks, just as Jesus teaches, and by his grace, I think we’ll find that what we have given becomes more than enough to live out our call as the Church.