Meg Peery McLaughlin
March 21, 2021
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
31He 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.
32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
33Now many saw them going and recognized them,
and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.
34As 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.
35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said,
‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late;
36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ 37
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?’
38And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’
When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’
39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.
40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 4
1Taking 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.
42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
On Friday, our twins turn 7.
If you live in our neighborhood,
they might be knocking on your door,
with a seashell in their hand,
as part of their party.
A gaggle of children in masks will be playing a game in teams.
What do you have? the bravest one in the pack will ask, holding out the shell.
What do you have that you’d be willing to give?
They will be wanting to trade their seashell for something you’re willing to give them.
Maybe that will be a magazine you were going to recycle, or a daffodil from your garden.
Then they’ll dash off to the next house to see what the daffodil may get them.
And on it goes.
We are stealing this idea from Montreat,
where summer camp kids are sent out with a penny to exchange.
I have heard tale of campers coming back with not just junk,
but a 5 gallon container of ice cream from the Huckleberry
and even the deed to the conference center. (Which I’m sure was meant to be returned).
This game is a summer staple in Montreat,
and I’ll tell you another staple too,
and that is the group of volunteers that stand by the gate on check out day
to collect food for the hungry in Buncombe County.
You may notice as you drop off your bagels and beans,
a sign on their collection boxes that says: Loaves and Fishes.
Loaves and Fishes is a reference, of course, to this story,
this phenomenally formative story of our faith.
This is the only miracle story that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell.
And both Matthew and Mark repeat a version of it, just in case we missed it the first time.
Over and over again: this story.
Over and over again: bellies full.
Over and over again: baskets bulging with leftover bread.
The numbers are staggering. Really.
From 5 loaves and 2 fish, 5000 men are fed, not even counting women and children,
so what is that, likely, 1500 at least?
Scholars are quick to point out that the 12 baskets of leftovers,
point to the feeding of the 12 tribes of Israel.
God’s family— fed.
And if you jump to Mark’s second telling of this story.
The numbers there are doubly impressive: there are 7 baskets of leftovers,
which at first seems like less, until you consider that number to symbolize
the whole of creation which God called into being in 7 days.
That’s some majestic math.
Makes you want to sit back in awe.
Rub your satiated belly.
faith is not a spectator’s sport,
and Jesus asks not to be admired, but to be followed.
Perhaps this is why Jesus asks so many questions—to keep us engaged.
Perhaps this is why Jesus asks so many questions
to not let our full bellies lead to a food coma, where we just snooze on.
Questions keep us on our toes.
How many loaves do you have? Jesus asks his disciples. How many loaves?
Surely when the disciples suggested Jesus send the crowds home for dinner,
they thought they were doing the kind, Christian thing,
I mean, the people—with all their neediness– couldn’t just stay there,
and afterall, the crowds were kind of wrecking the spiritual retreat the disciples were going for.
So when Jesus asks, How many loaves do you have?
It makes me wonder if they sort of sheepishly shrugged their shoulders
before turning out their pockets revealing a crust here, a granola bar there.
Martin Copenhaver notes
Perhaps the people had brought enough of their own food with them, but out of self-concern and fear they did not have enough, hid it from others.
Then when they saw Jesus offer them whatever meager scraps of food he had, the people were moved to a more generous impulse and shared whatever they had brought. And in so doing it was enough. It was more than enough.
Just like the Stone Soup story Nancy shared!
Copenhaver continues in saying he isn’t drawn to this interpretation because we live in a scientific age that is skeptical of anything supernatural. If God wanted to multiply loaves and fish—or even make those fish waltz in ¾ time, for that matter—God could do that.
But, given the way self-concern and fear grip the human heart, would it be any less a miracle if, for once, people were able to trust in God’s abundance?
If that is the real miracle, it is not just a miracle the people watch Jesus perform;
it is a miracle in which they take part.
Perhaps Jesus did not want them merely to see the miracle but rather to take part in the miracle and in some way be the miracle.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of the miracle God is up to. I want UPC to be part of it.
I want to be the church that cobbles together the crusts and crumbs in our pockets to do exponentially amazing things to satiate the immense hungers in our world.
I want us to be people who trust the abundance of God’s provision.
I want to be the pastor that refuses to live in the scarcity mentality. Sign. Me. Up.
And. . . I also want to tell the truth.
And the truth is, after a full year in this pandemic,
we are low on reserves.
After the AMAZING youth Sunday worship last week,
I texted Kim to express my gratitude for her work with these fine young disciples.
She wrote back, “Yes, So proud. I love them. They dug deep from a pretty dry well.”
Does your well feel dry?
How many loaves do you have?
Are your pockets empty?
Does it feel like you’ve already given every. crumb. away?
If so, I have something I want to propose.
In Japan, there is an art form called Kintsugi
where pottery that is accidentally broken,
is mended with gold.
Lacquer is used to mend the breaks, to hold the piece together.
The gold highlights where the breaks occurred,
and thus the cracks become part of the whole,
the brokenness is incorporated into the history of the object
rather than something to disguise.
And I have to wonder if what has been broken in us, in our nation, in our church,
during this COVID year, might have value afterall.
If the cracks could in fact shine with beauty?
What if our awakening to our privilege and the pain of our siblings of color
was something Jesus could use to satiate a hunger for justice?
What if our wrestling with what it means to be church beyond the four walls of this sanctuary
was something Jesus could use to reimagine the body of Christ?
What if all the disruption of the pace of life
was something Jesus could use to bring rest to the weary?
What if the loneliness we have felt this year
was something Jesus could use to ignite more intentional relationships?
What if the tears we shed
were something Jesus could use to open our eyes to things that dry-eyed we would not see?
Now hear me when I say God does not will our brokenness,
God did not and does not want this virus.
When we are asked: How many loaves do you have?
our answer may very well be honest:
Brokenness is what we have in our pockets right now,
and it doesn’t feel like that is enough
and it doesn’t feel good.
But Christ is Lord
we can trust that if we offer whatever it is that we have,
Christ will receive it into his hands,
and he will bless it– even our brokenness
and he will feed his sheep until they are all fed.
Including our messy scrawny flock right here.
if you live in my neighborhood,
it’s highly likely that two newly minted 7 year olds will knock on your door with a seashell,
asking what you have
what you have that you’d be willing to trade,
but if you are spared from such a game,
know that you are asked this:
How many loaves do you have?
Will you share what is in your pocket—even it is cracked and feels wholly inadequate?
Are you willing to be the miracle this hungry world needs?
 Martin Copenhaver Jesus is the Question pg 81