Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 9: "The Parable of the 5 Loaves and 2 Fish"

Based on Matthew 14:13-22

            The Kingdom of heaven is like…. – How would YOU complete this sentence?
            Think about it.
            For the last few weeks here we have been completing this sentence in different ways.
            Three weeks ago the Kingdom of heaven was like seeds, thrown all over the place, and like the soil where they landed.
            Two weeks ago the kingdom of heaven was like a field of wheat and weeds growing together.
            And last week the kingdom of heaven was like… well, any number of things… like a mustard seed growing in a large… Bush…
            Or like treasure hidden in a field, or like a little bit of yeast in a large amount of bread dough.
            All common, everyday things.  “the kingdom of heaven is like…”
            So many common everyday things just might remind you of the kingdom of heaven.
            Look around you.
            Do anything you see remind you of the kingdom of heaven?
            Really… look around…(I’ll give you time)
            Once, a long time ago, when I was still a young person
            Our church had a large backyard, and some of us children were out in back playing….
            We liked to play a lot of games out there, like soft ball and tree tag ….
            But for this particular game we were all given an index card with a set of instructions on it.  The instructions were all different, until the last one. 
            For example… take three giant steps forward, take 5 baby steps to your left, take one step backward, etc… but the last instruction was always the same…
            Find something that reminds you of the kingdom of heaven.

            So we did.  We found things and we brought them back, if we could.   Something that reminded us of the kingdom.

            What do you think?
            Is there anything here, in this room, or out in the yard, that might remind you of the kingdom of heaven?
            How about this window (stained glass above)?  What about the magnolia tree outside?
            What about the back door?  Or the microphone?
            You never know when you will meet a parable?

            And so today, after three weeks worth of Jesus’ parables, I just can’t help it
            -- I can’t help reading the gospel story today and thinking….”
            “The Kingdom of heaven is like…
            5 loaves and 2 fishes broke and shared.
            OR, the kingdom of heaven is like dinner for 5,000 not counting women and children, with amazing leftovers.
            OR, the kingdom of heaven is like a man who went out to a lonely place to grieve a friend, but ended up hosting dinner for 5,000.
            It just seems like a parable to me.
            Maybe it just that I got used to all those other parables, or maybe it’s something else.

            What’s a parable?
            A story – it can be short or it can be long.
            Last week’s were so short that they are barely stories, but they still are.
            The yeast is hidden in the flour, and it expands.
            The treasure is hidden in the field, found, and buried again.
            A parable can be short, but it says a lot – often times more than you think when you hear it first.  It’s often puzzling.
            And the thing is:  the story of the feeding of the 5,000 seems a lot like a parable to me.

            Now I know that it really ISN’T a parable, not technically.
            It’s not something Jesus said, but something Jesus DID.
            Jesus took bread and fish and blessed them an divided them, and somehow they became enough – and more.
            But if you think of it as a parable – something reveals God and what God is up to in the world – and you include the things that Jesus DID in that category
            Then parables might be happening all around us, in the world, we you just look around.
            Also – think about this story the way you think about a parable – ask the question – what is God up to?
            What does it mean?
            What is Jesus trying to get us to realize?
            There’s all this speculation these days about whether this was REALLY a miracle, whether Jesus really literally made more bread and fish out of just a little
            Or whether there was another thing going on.
            Some people think well – maybe –
            All of the people brought food and no one was willing to share.
            But when Jesus broke the bread and divided up the fish, something broke in people’s hearts, and they began to share.

            But perhaps that’s missing the point.
            In the parable of the five loaves and two fish, maybe Jesus is trying to teach us something about what God is up to in the world.
            Maybe even more than one thing.  That’s how parables work, after all.
            There is rarely only one meaning for a parable.
            Maybe Jesus is trying to teach us that, like the mustard seed, out of something really tiny, God can work great things.
            Or that, in the midst of loneliness and grieving, God is still making abundance.
            Or that God can use even US, and even when we doubt, to do the work God wants to do in the world.
            OR that God wants hungry people to be fed.
            In the kingdom of heaven, hungry people will be fed.

            Now there’s a risk in seeing this as a parable.
            And that risk is what we often do with the stories of Jesus anyway
            -- to spiritualize them, to make them about something loftly and heavenly but not having to do with our ordinary lives right now.
            So it’s easy to think about the bread and then think about Jesus as the bread of life (not wrong by the way), and how Jesus fills us in our spiritual hunger
            But then forget that there is real physical hunger in the world.
            There are people whose stomachs are really growling
            And some of them are not far away from us
            Some of them are children who go to school in Montgomery county –
            We fill their backpacks with food so they won’t go hungry on the weekend
            Some of them are people who come to stay with us when we host “Family Promise.”
            And we make them delicious dinners and breakfasts, and pray with them, and play with their children.
            Maybe one of the points of the parable actually is that God wants hungry people to be fed.
            People are spiritually hungry – and people are also really hungry and really thirsty – right in our neighborhood.
            And when we share food with them – real food – whether at Family Promise or other places and times –we are telling them something about the kingdom of heaven, too.
            Maybe more than one thing.  When we sit down and eat with hungry people what do you think we are saying to people?  (anyone have an idea?)

            And if the story of the feeding of the 5,000 can be a parable, our lives can be a parable too.
            A parable can be a true story, a story about your life, and my life – a story about the kingdom of heaven, about what God is doing in the world.
            And you can be a parable for someone else….
            The kingdom of heaven is like… Five loaves and two fish, broken, blessed and multiplied…
            Used to feed the world.

            Used to love the world.
Used to save the world.  

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