Rev. Ellen Jennings
~ Exodus 16:14-21, Matthew 14:13-21 ~
Among its other interesting facets, the Loaves and Fishes story is unusual in that it appears in all four gospels; in fact, it appears in two of them twice! Mind you, the Nativity Story is found in only two gospels, the Prodigal Son in one. So, clearly, the miracle of the loaves and fishes is important. Whether it really happened and/or the message it conveys is essential to the good news of Jesus, the gospel writers wanted us to hear it.
So, what message does this story convey? I think it’s connected to the Exodus and its story of Manna in the Wilderness, which all of Jesus’ followers would have known. The timeline of that story is this: after the Hebrew people fled Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and found themselves wandering through the wilderness, they got a bit irritated. In fact, they were quite angry! Why on earth had they left slavery in Egypt only to starve in the wilderness? It’s a reasonable question…
And God answered it by providing, abundantly providing, meaning God gave them all that they needed. Not more than they needed, all that they needed. God provided them with quail, water and manna, a bread-like substance they could gather from the ground each morning but were told not to store. Rather, they were asked to trust that God would provide more.
Unfortunately, like most humans, the Hebrews had a difficult time trusting in abundance, instead fearing scarcity. So, some of them hoarded the manna. Which molded and turned disgusting: God’s point made. I will provide. You need to trust. It’s a bad idea to hoard. There’s enough to go around.
The Loaves and Fishes story communicates the same message. Different time. Different place. Same God. In this story, thousands of people have gathered to hear Jesus talk. Dinnertime came. And no one had really planned for a meal. So, the disciples suggested they send the hoards into town to get some food. A market based solution—literally. But Jesus, said, no. We have enough. There’s enough to go around. “Really?” the disciples asked. Because as far as they could see, “enough” was a mere five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Jesus reiterated, “Really.” For he saw through the eyes of abundance (while the disciples looked through the lens of lack). What happened next? Well, you know. Everyone was fed! There was enough. Who knows how? Was something was created out of nothing? Were people inspired to share? Who cares! Abundance reigned. And all were fed.
So, what are we meant to take from this? We, who live in a 21st century country whose economic system is premised on scarcity? Meaning, we don’t believe there’s enough. Ever. If you get yours, I may not get mine. If I give you some, I may not have what I need (or, anyway, want). We ask: Did you get what you deserve? Did I? Did you earn what you received? Did I?
It’s a ledger-based, parsimonious approach to life. A scarcity mentality! Because it assume this: there’s a limited amount, we must compete to get it, we must get as much as we can before it’s all gone, and we can justly blame those who didn’t manage to get their share before it was all taken.
And this is in such strong contrast to the message of Jesus (and Exodus): God will provide, abundantly. We need to trust. It’s a bad idea to hoard. There’s enough to go around.
How did we veer so far from this message? And how do some people claim that a scarcity based economic outlook is Christian?
I don’t know. But, recently, while pondering, I reconnected with the hunger and poverty organization, Bread for the World, for which I worked twenty-five years ago. It was a great organization then, and I’m pleased to say, it still is. Bread describes itself as “a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad. By changing policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist, we provide help and opportunity far beyond the communities where we live.” This sounds an awful lot like “nurturing love of God and neighbor in the world!”
So, this morning, I’d like to tie together our scripture readings, sermon, communion liturgy and offertory by celebrating the incredible abundance of God’s love and creation— then acting to share this abundance with those in need (in our country and our world) via an Offering of Letters.
Each year, Bread for the World hosts an “Offering of Letters” to Members of Congress, usually focused on funding for a specific policy or program such as WIC (Women, Infants, Children supplemental food program) or assistance to part of the world facing famine, drought or disease. However, this year, as non-partisan as Bread has tried to remain, there’s no getting around the fact that many budgetary priorities of the Trump Administration, both domestic and international, directly counter those in need.
Thus, Bread’s 2017 Offering of Letters focuses on the current administration’s proposed budget and the many ways it proposes to cut funding to programs that have successively alleviated poverty and hunger at home and abroad. It’s not so much a targeted campaign as one that challenges a scarcity mentality with one of abundance.
Like Bread, I think the questions we must ask, include: Do we believe that, for the “haves” to continue “having,” the “have nots” can’t have any more? Or, do we believe the “haves” can have what they/we need (but not more than they/we need—no hoarding!), so the “have nots” can have what they need as well? Please think about these questions. Because their answers are found in both Gospel and Torah— biblical, through and through.
Some of you remember Pat and Andrew Lindsey, our Canadian neighbors, who gifted us with the beautiful wall hangings at the front of our sanctuary. Pat recently reminded me about a quotation from the Catholic contemplative and theologian, Richard Rohr. He wrote: “It is the ego that prefers to think of scarcity… God’s love is infinite, abundant and everlasting. A saint always knows there is more than enough for our needs, but not our greed.”
Yes. There is indeed, more than enough for our needs. Because our God is extravagantly abundant. But there truly is not enough for our greed. For when that’s the impulse, everything spoils. The message of the gospels (and Torah) is this: God will provide. We need to trust. It’s a bad idea to hoard. If we share, there’s enough to go around.