Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Last Sunday was the last day of the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. After a long, but exciting week of meeting new people, eating Coney Island hotdogs, doing photo scavenger hunts, cleaning and clearing alleyways, listening to inspirational speakers, and hearing incredible music, we gathered for worship. We gathered to sing songs of praise, to hear a proclaimed Word from our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, and to share the Lord’s Supper together. That last part was perhaps the most impressive to me. We had 30,000 people to commune that day. I and some of the other adults wondered how they were going to do it and how long it would take to commune everyone in Ford Field. Serving bread and wine to 30,000 adults and teens one person at a time seems like a monumental task and a logistical nightmare. I wondered how they could possibly have enough bread, wine, or grape juice for everyone. I wondered what would happen if one of the Communion assistants dropped their loaf of bread or spilled their wine (which the Communion assistant seated behind us did do). I wondered who was distributing gluten-free bread for those who needed it. I wondered how they were going to serve people who couldn’t get up from their seats easily. Even with all of these many things that could go wrong, surprisingly, it went very smoothly. The Gathering organizers had a great number of people distributing the elements and they had smoothly run stations where folks could refill on bread and wine. Somehow they made it work.
I remember coming to St. Bart for the 100th anniversary and working hard with some of you trying to figure out how to commune 85 people in our sanctuary. 30,000 is a whole other beast. Pulling off that task from a logistical standpoint is nearly miraculous. I am sure that others also had their doubts about how everyone would be fed at this massive event. That question about whether or not everyone will be fed is at the heart of our Gospel reading today.
At the Gathering we heard from many powerful speakers addressing the great needs of the world and witnessing to what God is doing in the midst of it. Mikka McCracken, the program director of ELCA World Hunger, shared how over 1 billion people in the world are still hungry. Alexia Salvatierra, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, told us of the terrifying rule of gang and mob violence in much of Latin America and the broken immigration system of the United States that throws children back into that horrifying world. Steve Jerbi, a Milwaukee pastor, recounted how a young, black boy in his congregation was shot dead by a white man whose hatred was fueled by racism. Rozella White, the ELCA’s program director for Young Adult Ministry shared her own struggle with mental illness and the struggles with suicidal thoughts that plague many of our young people. Marian Edelman Wright, the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, reminded us that in the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, we have 14.9 million children living in poverty.
With such great need in the world we might feel like there can’t possibly be enough to go around. There are huge crowds of people who are desperately hungry for something. They are hungry for education. They are hungry for acceptance and respect. They are hungry for justice. They are hungry for food. They are hungry for proper health care. They are hungry for peace. They are hungry for God.
You may be in a place in your life when you have so very little. You may have little food or money. You may have little friends and family to support you. You may have little health. You may have little strength. You may have little hope. The great crowd that followed Jesus kept following him because they “saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.” They had little and they were desperate for help. They were hungry for it. They saw the way Jesus healed those who were sick and dying; they looked at their own ills of body, mind, and spirit, and were hungry for that same healing. Jesus saw the great crowds coming to him- so many people coming to Jesus because they are hungry for something. Imagine that you are one of those in the crowd of 5,000. Feel the great need that they felt. I am sure it isn’t very hard for us to imagine. Maybe you are struggling with a life-threatening or life-changing illness. Maybe you are too scared to walk in your neighborhood at night. Maybe you go to bed hungry too often. Maybe you struggle with addiction. Maybe you or a loved one struggle with mental illness. Maybe you just feel alone- even in a crowd of 5,000 or 30,000.
Imagine that you are one of the 5,000 following Jesus and you are hungry for something. You have heard stories about how Jesus of Nazareth has fed the needs of so many others before you. As you sit down on the grass with 5,000 others you realize that you’ve lost track of the time. All you could think about was the pain and need deep within you and you forgot about other things that are so much less important by comparison- stopping for rest and when you are going to eat dinner. As the sun begins to set, your stomach begins to growl. You hear a couple of other nearby stomachs rumbling too. “It’ll be worth it,” you think to yourself, “If I can just be filled with the healing this man gives, it will be worth leaving my stomach empty for another day.” 5,000 other people around you are desperate enough for their own healings that they are willing to continue to bear their hunger as well.
Looking at the crowd you start to wonder, “What if Jesus doesn’t have time to get to me? What if he doesn’t even notice me in this huge crowd? What if my hurt is too big for him to heal? What if he can’t take care of us all and I have to go back to the pain and sadness waiting at home?” Interrupting your thoughts, one of the people who seem to always be traveling with Jesus stands up and announces that Jesus is going to feed everyone. “Everyone?” you think to yourself, “That’s 5,000 people! How generous!” Then you see Jesus stand up from the grass, walk to an elementary school aged boy and take the bread basket the boy was carrying. You look around for other baskets, but see none. Just one basket of bread for 5,000 hungry people. You realize that the person you’ve heard so much about, who was supposed to be a great prophet of God and who some say was going to be the Messiah, is actually just a delusional lunatic. Great, you’ve completely wasted your time. You traveled all this way to come out to the middle of nowhere to be fed a bread crumb from a lunatic. You begin to feel your ears get hot as your blood pressure skyrockets. You are more angry now than you’ve ever been. You feel like you’ve been duped by a charlatan. “How could I have been so stupid! I know better than to trust so blindly!” You look up with tears stinging your eyes and standing in front of you is that no-good fraud. Jesus bends down reaches into the basket and pulls out a loaf of bread. He breaks it in half and puts it in your trembling hands. Then, he reaches in the basket again and removes a smoked fish. He gives that to you too. He then walks to your neighbor giving her just as generous a portion. You watch him go to person after person giving generously of the bread and the fish and it never runs out. “There was enough,” you think to yourself.
You would have never believed that such a thing could have happened if you hadn’t seen it yourself. Your heart continues to pound, but not because of anger. You feel a wave of relief wash over you. Tears continue to sting your eyes, but they are now tears of joy. You have just witnessed a miracle of God- scarcity and overwhelming need could not prevail over the generosity of Jesus. Seeing this miracle sparks a great flame of wonder inside of you. You wonder what else Jesus could do. If he can feed thousands of people with just a small basket of cheap bread, he could do anything! You aren’t worried anymore about Jesus having enough time, enough resources, enough energy, or enough love to feed your great needs.
You will be fed and all who are hungry in mind, body, or spirit will be fed.