Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace from God who creates us, from Jesus who redeems us and from the Holy Spirit who comforts/challenges us. AMEN.
As my family and I travelled across the country just about a month ago now, I was the traveller who was clearly the most anxious. I’d get all keyed up about our lodging accommodations, our mileage, our speed, our next stop, our arrival times. I was always worried about our move, our belongings, our new place, this new job. “You’re always so worried, Dan.” We would actually laugh about it all together as a family in the evenings, when we were relaxing with a drink and kids were safely tucked into bed. Why am I always so worried? One of the things I keep saying, but don’t learn from is that every single one of my worries, anxieties fears, all through these past couple months, have worked out just fine in the end. Even the chaos of our moving company: it all works out. And we have/I’ve had more than enough — an abundance of blessing — more than enough (12 baskets full) to go around.
We sure can get, like the disciples, anxious and scared — anxious before the abundance: “there’s never going to be enough!”
And even after it all comes in all that abundance, 12 baskets of leftovers to take out and share, still terrified! Just a few hours later, that evening on a boat: terrified disciples.
We sure can get, like those disciples of old, anxious before the abundance, and terrified after.
And yet: God provides enough for us — plenty, in fact. Jesus loves us through our anxieties and the Holy Spirit shakes us free from our paralyzing fears to draw us outward into the ministry of sharing our bread.
So here Jesus has just given them another sign (4th of 7 signs in John’s Gospel, 1st part: Book of Signs): the feeding of the 5,000. Just think about that for a moment: We had upwards of 300 people in here on Wednesday night. Imagine feeding all of them. That’s a lot of food! And Jesus serves 5,000!
Little aside: I’d encourage you to have the faith of a child on this one. You tell this story to our youngest children, and they just take it on faith. (Oh yeah, he walks on water today too.) At some point—and it’s happening sooner and sooner—we get this need to rationalize and explain away the miracles. Even cynical. (Micah on Noah’s Ark: “Yeah, that never happened.”) Try to hear this story with the faith of a child. Jesus feeds 5,000 and then he walks on water. Bask in the truth of that! [pause]
And now consider the disciples: they were anxious about all “those” people, I mean that would be like – Philip’s quick math – six month’s wages. I don’t care if you’re blue collar or white collar – six month’s pay is a lot of money. But Jesus does it! He feeds 5,000…with 12 baskets of leftovers!
Scene two: Only hours later: A storm comes up and the disciples are afraid. Anxious before the abundance and “terrified” after.
In the midst of God’s abundance, 12 baskets overflowing, just hours ago, the disciples (like me on the road) get scared again!
Sisters and brothers of Bethlehem Lutheran, we have an abundance here too. (scarcity mindset vs. abundance) We have bread to share! We have able bodies! We have love and concerns and deep passions! We have so much facility space! We have a community around us, that showed up big time for us...and have left a visible mark in our sanctuary — 5000 quilts! ;) And we have money here!
Part of it is in our own pockets and in our own bank accounts (like it’s ours in the first place ;) Part of it is in the church’s bank accounts, with all our assets, with our tithes and our offerings – we have money here! :)
Which means we get scared.
Just hours after Christ has “taken the loaves, blessed them and distributed them” and there were 12 baskets overflowing, the fear comes back! Oh, we can relate to those disciples: Anxious before the abundance — “How will we ever have enough?! ” — and, like me over and over again these last couple months — terrified all over again, even after so much blessing and abundance and God’s gracious provision…
Friends in Christ — I’m going to say something that I will keep saying over and over again ;) — all that we have and all that we are, comes from God and belongs to God. (say with me...)
“So help us, God, to be faithful with your abundance, and trusting in you, even and especially when the storms arise!”
Friends, God recognizes our fears and our anxieties, our entitled attitudes, our greed, our recklessness, our need to protect ourselves at all costs. God knows our brokenness.
And here’s the thing: God loves us anyway! God holds us in compassion, as we journey through all those thoughts and feelings and rationalizations and explanations and cynicisms. God hears our confessions at the font today: “Forgive us all our offenses and cleanse us from proud thoughts and empty desires,” we said. Yeah, we are scared! Yeah, I am selfish. Yeah, I can be reckless and even act like I deserve all this abundance. It’s mine.” And yet God holds us in love as we get knocked around by the waves of this life…Jesus comes out to us and calms us down.
Bethlehem, I’m learning more and more has been knocked around by waves at times, through the years, as the tragedies and declines and disappointments, mistrust, and pains of this world try to erode away our trust in this God of ours. So easily we can forget who multiplied and blessed the loaves. But God holds us in love through it all…God holds you. And there’s more!…
There’s this prayer in Ephesians today: that we be “strengthened in our inner being with power through the Spirit, that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Not only does God holds us in love; God roots us!
God plops us down right where we are, into the soil of this earth, in love, so that we may grow outward. God waters us — rains down so much goodness in our lives, like it’s been pouring rain this week — God nourishes us, drenches us with grace, and then up and out we grow. We here at Bethlehem are held by God, planted by God, watered and tended by God, through the Holy Spirit. We are rooted and grounded in agape.
(Know that word? Agape is one of 3 words for love in Greek. Maybe you know this already, but I’ll just remind you: When Ephesians says the word love, it’s agape...)
And so, friends in Christ, [slowly] we don’t need to be afraid any more…not this day, not this season, not ever again. 67x the Bible says “Do no be afraid.” Why? Because even, maybe especially, when there’s abundance that’s precisely when we get scared.
But God feeds us full…with the “bread of peace”...and there’s so much left over, God is so good. So now we can share, we can shake off the fear, and we can move outward into new ventures, rooted in love, ready to serve, ready to forgive, ready to receive. Friends, today we become what we receive at this table: Christ’s own body for this hurting world. Thanks be to God. AMEN.