Unidentified. Hand of God with loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55897 [retrieved February 9, 2015]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/arenamontanus/2313539134. Distributed under CC A-SA 3.0 License.
Complementary Text – Psalm 95:1-5
Preaching Text – Matthew 14:13-33
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
A couple of weeks ago our confirmation class tackled the story of the “Feeding of the Five Thousand” – found in the first half of this morning’s reading – as part of our exploration of Jesus’ ministry. One of our activities that evening was a challenge. We took a large loaf of Italian bread from Sun Mart – the long thick loaves that you might use to make garlic bread – and divided it into pieces about the same size as what we distribute for communion. The six youth present took that large loaf and were able to divide it into just under 300 pieces (289, if I remember right). To come up with the five thousand pieces necessary to give one to each of the men who gathered on the lakeshore in Galilee, we figured that we needed to break each bite-sized piece into seventeen pieces; a couple of our youth tried that and ended up with trays covered in crumbs! If you need another visual, think about the fact that each of the small loaves of bread that our altar guild bakes for communion will serve around 40. If we’re generous with our portions, we’d need the altar guild to bake 125 loaves of bread to give each person one bite of bread.
Clearly, people who have tried to give any sort of natural explanation for this story are fooling themselves. Matthew’s account of this episode is nothing short of miraculous. After all, the people gathered on the lakeshore – five thousand men, plus women and children – didn’t get just a little piece each. They got enough to be stuffed at the end of the meal, and there were still twelve baskets full of pieces leftover when everyone was done eating! All that from just five small loaves of bread and two dried fish? Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is capable of taking what little we have to offer and turning it into more than enough. That’s an important lesson, particularly for Christians who live in a society that preaches the gospel of scarcity and tries to convince us that we can never be satisfied, no matter how much we might have. In the hands of Jesus, the gifts we bring are capable of doing amazing things, and we are called to trust that Christ can create an abundance from our meager offerings.
Before we let ourselves drift too far out of the picture, though, we should be careful to recognize that Jesus didn’t carry out this miraculous act on his own. He needed the disciples to make this meal happen; the multiplied loaves and fishes would have never found their way into those hungry mouths without the disciples’ offering what they had and then going out to distribute what Jesus blessed to those who needed it. In the same way, we who follow Jesus in the present are called to bring our gifts to Jesus and then to distribute those gifts to a world in need once they have received Jesus’ blessing. As Christ’s body in the world, we are the hands and feet and voices that extend the gracious gifts of God in word and deed.
With that, we turn to the second half of today’s reading: a story that has traditionally been called the “calming of the storm”.
Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937. Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55904 [retrieved February 9, 2015]. Distributed under CC A-SA 3.0 License.
After the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples are sent out in the boat while Jesus goes to pray by himself. In the middle of the night, Jesus comes to join his disciples by walking across the water to them. The disciples are terrified; the waves are battering the boat, the wind is blowing them all over the place, and they think that Jesus is a ghost. It isn’t until Jesus speaks to them that they recognize him and stop fearing for their lives. In fact, once Jesus speaks, Peter becomes so confident that he asks Jesus to invite him out onto the water so that he can do what his master is doing. Jesus agrees, and Peter steps out of the boat and walks on the water – that is, until he notices that the wind is still blowing and the waves are still crashing against the boat and he’s doing something that no one should ever be able to do! Suddenly, Peter starts to drown, and Jesus has to pull him back out of the water and into the boat before making the wind and waves cease. On one level this is a story about Peter’s big mouth and his inability to keep believing that he can do what Jesus does. On another level, though, this is a story about who Jesus is and what Jesus’ presence makes possible. On his own, Peter would have never dared to step out of that boat. He was a seasoned fisherman, and he knew how dangerous the wind and waves could be if they weren’t taken seriously. But once he heard Jesus speak and recognized the presence of his teacher, all bets were off. All that mattered was that Jesus had told him to come out of the boat!
Now, I’m not suggesting that you should give water walking a try the next time you’re at the pool or in a boat (unless you want to get wet). I am suggesting, however, that both of these stories are intended to get us thinking about what’s possible when Jesus shows up. In the presence of Christ, what seems to be too little can become more than enough, and what seems impossible can start to look more plausible. Need an example? Take the sacrament of Holy Baptism that we will celebrate in a few minutes. We gather in this space around a font filled with nothing but a couple of inches of ordinary water from the tap, but when God’s promise is spoken and received in faith, that ordinary water can accomplish powerful things. This morning, by water and Word, Sam Douglas Waller will receive forgiveness and grace, new life, a new family, a new identity, and the assurance of God’s love today and always. With just a few splashes of water and a bit of oil, Sam will be claimed as a beloved brother, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever, and his life will never be the same again.
This morning, dear friends, we will witness again God’s ability to take our meager offerings and use them to multiply blessing. We might not see five loaves of bread feed thousands of people, but we will watch as blessings are poured out upon Sam, his parents Doug and Erin and his sister Stella, his whole family, this community, and the church of Christ throughout the world. May we be inspired by the story of Scripture and by this sacrament to offer ourselves and our gifts to God, confident that God will use them to bring blessing to others in ways both large and small. Thanks be to God for the gift of grace, and the calling to spread that grace to others each new day. Amen.