“How Many Loaves”
September 25, 2022
Last week, a woman in the community dropped this off in the office. It’s a cookbook assembled by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, NC in 1939. That’s what this Church was called before it became University Presbyterian Church. When you look through the recipes it’s a stark reminder that 85 years ago there just weren’t many spices available. There’s salt and there’s pepper and…that’s about it.
Many of the recipes sound like familiar fare for a Church potluck – Waldorf Salad, deviled eggs, Chicken a la King, Banana Pudding…all timeless.
Other recipes sound…more dated…less familiar. Like this one for Ham Fritters with Bananas:
“Beat eggs, add flour, milk, seasoning and ground ham. Drop by spoonfuls into deep, hot fat. Fry until brown.”
One of the more peculiar entries in the dessert category is called Prune Whip. The first line of that recipe reads “Grind stewed prunes in meat grinder.” We do have a Second Sunday lunch coming up in two weeks so if you’re looking for some ideas…here you go.
Or here’s that I bet our younger generations have not had occasion to enjoy yet – Tomato Aspic anyone? If you are unfamiliar with Tomato Aspic, it’s basically Tomato-Celery Jello quivering on a leaf of lettuce with a dollop of Mayonnaise on top. I am not a fan…If you are please see me after service so I can pray for you.
As I looked through these recipes my mind drifted back to all the Church Potlucks I’ve enjoyed over the years…piling my plate with three salads and six different casseroles in little haystacks and then plopping a biscuit or a piece of cornbread on top; pouring a cup of iced tea so sweet that it hurts your teeth. That’s a good, Southern potluck right there.
Eating is not an insignificant part of how we experience church.
And at the same the Church exists in a world where hunger is very real.
It has always been that way.
A reading from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6.
The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.
He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’
But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’
They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii* worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’
Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.
So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.
And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Preacher Fred Craddock tells a story about a time he was lecturing at Clemson University on the topic of Hunger:
“As the Conference began,” he recounts, “a young woman stepped up to the podium to open our time with a devotion. I didn’t know her. She was a young woman in her mid-twenties.
She had pale, straight hair; she was thin; she wore no makeup, and had a soft voice.
She had a yellow legal pad with her and I thought, ‘Well, we’re gonna be here all night.’
When she began speaking, her voice was so soft that it was difficult to make out what she was saying, but I was certain that she was speaking another language. The more I listened, the more it seemed like it was actually more than one language. She kept switching it up. Another language, and then another, and another.
It occurred to me: ‘I think she’s saying the same thing over and over in different languages.’
When she got to German, I thought I knew what she said.
When she got to French, I was more confident.
I suppose she said this one thing in sixty or seventy languages.
It was one short sentence, and the last time, she spoke it in English.
“Mommy, I’m hungry.”
“There were a lot of speakers that day,” Craddock said, “but it was this young woman’s devotion that lingered as I drove home. On the highway I saw a billboard that read: ‘All You Can Eat – $5.99!’ That’s the world I live in. But elsewhere in the world it’s ‘Mommy, I’m hungry.’”
Have you ever experienced hunger – real hunger?
I can’t say that I ever have. Not really.
I have never said to myself “I have no idea where my next meal is coming from.”
I have never contended with the dreadful question “Will I eat today or not?”
Which means that – if I’m honest – there’s always something about this story that I cannot fully appreciate.
For those who know nothing but plenty, the desperation in this story is something we cannot fully comprehend.
As I read the story this week it occurred to me that the disciples may have been more like us than we think. I always thought of the disciples as being pretty poor.
I still presume they were not terribly privileged, but I also suspect they didn’t know real hunger either. They each had a livelihood of some kind – jobs, income and food sources that they forsook to follow Jesus.
So imagine their surprise when Jesus invites them to experience real hunger.
Right before our reading today there’s this brief interlude about the death of John the Baptist, but what happens immediately prior to our reading this morning is that Jesus sends the disciples all over Judea to teach and to heal.
But he gives them some very specific instructions:
“Take nothing for your journey,” he tells them, “no bread – no bag – no money.”
It’s a crash course in food insecurity.
For some amount of time they did have to ask themselves “Will I eat today or not?”
How long? It’s hard to say. A few days is one thing…a few weeks or months is something else altogether. But after reading this story dozens if not hundreds of times before, it occurred to me that Jesus invites them to experience real hunger. Why? Why would Jesus do that? Hold that question for a moment.
When the disciples come back home you don’t hear about the hunger.
Instead, we find them absolutely amped about the ministry they just took part in.
Whatever flirting they had with food insecurity fades away as they tell Jesus and one another about the people they met, the sick that they cured, the communities who gathered to hear their teaching. They feel more alive than ever.
And then Jesus proposes a truly excellent idea:
“Come away…come away to a deserted place and rest.”
And did you catch the detail that Mark is careful to mention.
Mark adds: “for many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat.”
“So come away,” Jesus says, “let’s have ourselves a good old-fashioned church potluck…far away from the hustle and bustle of the hungering world.”
But when they arrive at the lakeside retreat – well, Hunger is waiting for them.
Thousands of hearts hungry for Jesus’ words, which turns into thousands of hungry mouths by the end of the day.
They were supposed to be on vacation, but instead – this!
Sometimes hunger is like that.
It jumps our carefully constructed fences;
It gate-crashes our getaways and presents itself in the place of escape.
Have you ever stumbled upon hunger – perhaps in the place you least expect to find it?
I think of John, a 30-year veteran physician in Johnson County, Kansas.
Johnson County is a collection of post-war suburbs that really exploded after integration sent white families out of the city center. This history ensured that Johnson County always had a better tax base, which in turn gave them the kind of schools that draw people to the area – all the ingredients to live a life apart from all that messy, uncomfortable poverty. At least that’s what everybody thought.
But John stood in front of the church and told a story about a patient he had recently seen at the Free Clinic where he volunteers.
“Doctor,” the man said, “I’ve been feeling tired lately…I just don’t have energy like I used to.”
John listened to his heart – it sounded pretty good.
John drew blood and tested him for Anemia – not that!
Glucose levels for Diabetes? Nope, they looked fine.
John tested for all the usual suspects when a patient comes in talking about fatigue.
He then asked the man some questions about his diet and that’s when it clicked.
John took his glasses off and laid them down on the pulpit before saying to the Church
“…and then for the first time in my career I diagnosed a patient with Acute Starvation.”
This resident of Johnson County didn’t have enough to eat.
Hunger sat right in front of him on that examination table.
When Jesus and the disciples get out of that boat and they see the hungry masses – Mark adds another exquisite detail. Marks says that “[Jesus] had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
We don’t know how the disciples responded.
Maybe their shoulders slumped down when they saw all those people.
Maybe they said “Oh C’mon – not here, too. I’m supposed to be on vacation.”
We don’t know how they responded.
We do know that Jesus had compassion for them.
You know what Compassion means?
Passion is “to suffer.”
Com is “with.”
Jesus suffered with those hungry masses.
And who else had he just prepared – whether they knew it or not – to suffer with them as well?
The ones he had just sent – yes to teach and to heal and to minister – but also to understand and experience real hunger for themselves.
This is a miracle story – and multiplying five loaves and two fish into a feast for thousands is definitely amazing. But if I understand the text, the real miracle here is that Jesus actively prepares his disciples to have compassion for the hungry. In a world where the need is so overwhelming, it is awfully easy to become jaded and calloused – to the point that we don’t even see Hunger anymore.
But Jesus and those who would follow him are called to a deeper compassion; called to suffer with the ones who hunger for daily bread.
It is that compassion that motivates Jane, Judy, Joyce, Lee Ann and others to cook and serve at the Interfaith Council kitchen every month.
It is that compassion that moved Donald and Frank, Peter and Lucy, Will, Beth, Becket and Ted and countless others to show up at TABLE to be a very small part of how food will get to hundreds of school-aged children and their families.
It is that compassion that moved 160 of you to gather in our Fellowship Hall last week to pack those 12,000 meals for Rise Against Hunger.
I pray that this same compassion will lead you to take part in UPC’s Hunger challenge in the coming weeks.
Bring food for TABLE to worship next week as your offering.
Sign up to deliver that food to TABLE the next day.
Sign up to glean sweet potatoes so that our local soup kitchens can turn perfectly good produce into a potluck for many a hungry heart and mouth.
“Mommy, I’m hungry.”
Somewhere, somebody is saying that in some language.
“Mommy, I’m hungry.”
And guess what UPC…I know that we have way more than five loaves and two fish.
Imagine what Christ might do if he could bless and break and give all that we have to share.