"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church in Vero Beach, FL
13Now when Jesus heard [about the beheading of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. The gospel for this Sunday, August 6th, 2023.
"Soap on a Rope"
Say what?! How in the world can you tie in soap on a rope, Pastor Greg, with this gospel message of Jesus feeding the 5,000? By the way, it's 5,000, not counting women and children. So the number being fed was likely at least twice that amount. I'm guessing that most men are there with their wives (probably the wives dragged their husbands along to hear Jesus preach), and children (you wouldn't leave your kids at home, would you?) So, imagine the scene in a medium sized baseball arena, for example, the stadium in Port St. Lucie, that houses the Mets farm team.
So back to my soap on a rope thing. When I was a little boy, 8 to 10 ish, we often would get together at my buddies' homes on their birthdays. For some reason, my mom thought soap on a rope would be a nice present to bring along. I was so embarrassed about bringing this to the party, I can't tell you! My other buddies at the time would bring things like the latest Chubby Checker record, or cowboy supplies (we were always playing outside), slinkies, and stuff. But, no, Greg brought soap on a rope. Old Spice sometimes, English Leather, and others. My gift felt so inadequate, so meager, compared to other gifts. (When I was young, I didn't know what these adjectives meant, but it's how I felt. It was only later when I learned words like this that it gave me a way to describe my feelings. We often kidded about this as I got older, but I never asked mom or dad why soap on a rope was their "go to" gift for Greg to bring to birthday parties. Oh well.
And so, to our gospel for Sunday, and the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children.) BTW, this is the only parable/story that shows up in all four gospel accounts. It was that important for each of the gospel writers to tell in their own way. Mark 8:1-9; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-14. Check the other accounts out to compare similarities and differences.
Jesus withdraws to a quiet place (he'd had a rough couple of days - see Chapter 13 for the background), and wanted to be by himself. But his disciples, seeing the crowd gather, urge Jesus to allow them to send the people home. But Jesus, the text says, "had compassion for them and cured their sick." And then he tells his disciples to give them something to eat. Well, turns out that something was probably what the guys had saved for themselves, telling Jesus they only had five loaves of bread and a few fish. And here's the clincher, in my opinion. Jesus says, "Bring them here to me." Bring them here to me, referring to the food. Can't you just hear the parental, loving, "got it covered" tone in his voice? I think of that endearing term when I made a boo boo on my arm or leg as a kid, when mom would open her arms as I was crying, and say, "Come to mama!" I knew then that everything was going to be alright.
The disciples knew that their food offering of bread and fish were woefully inadequate for the task. A pathetic little meal to feed this large crowd? Forget it. No way. Kind of reminds me of taking my soap on a rope to the birthday party. Pathetic. Embarrassing. Inadequate.
But here's my takeaway on this feeding story. We've all had our soap on a rope moments when it comes to our faith life. How can my meager offering make a difference in the world? How can my pathetic little prayers make anything change? How can this small church impact much in the world in which we live today? We've all felt that sense of inadequacy about our faith at one time or another. We feel so inadequate sometimes. What difference can my measly prayer make when we see all the hurt and sorrow in our world? What difference can my weekly offering make in the lives of so many people in need?
And this is where Jesus, and this story come into play. Jesus takes these loaves and fishes, these meager offerings, looks up to heaven above, blesses them all, and gives them to his disciples, directing them to go and feed these people. And what comes out of that meager offering, once blessed by God, is abundance. Extravagance. Waste, even, as there were leftovers after all had been fed. No one left there hungry that day. All were fed, by this meager offering of fish and bread, because God, in Christ, blessed that offering. Amazing.
So, for me, this story is about abundance, plenty, extravagance, wastefulness, even, when it comes to what God does with our seemingly meager offerings, or prayers, or work. Nothing is wasted. All is blessed, multiplied, to feed, clothe, bless, shelter, protect those who need it. So please, never, never feel like what you bring to your faith community - your prayers, your money, your time, your hope, is meager, or pathetic, or not valuable. Because when it comes to offering up to God, we offer up to a God of abundance. A God of plenty. A God of bounty for all creation.
So, don't get caught up in the numbers of these stories. Don't get caught up in "how" this all worked out numbers-wise. Because you'll never figure out the math on it all. Trust that God is in this, and God will provide. God will multiply our offering. God will use what we bring to feed a hungry world (both literally and figuratively.) No offering, no gift, no prayer is too small for God to do miracles. Amen!