“More Than Enough”
Luke 9:1-6, 10-17
Rev. Dr. Deborah L. Clark
October 1, 2017
The disciples were flying high. Jesus had sent them out to the villages, telling them to preach and heal. With amazement, they found the words to awaken strangers to God’s love at work in their lives. With awe, they felt God’s healing power working through their own hands to bring comfort and hope.
I imagine that moment when they came back and told Jesus what had happened. “Jesus, you were right,” I hear Mary Magdalene saying. “I felt it. I saw it. The realm of God’s love really is breaking in, and I got to be part of it.” “I thought it was impossible,” I hear Nathaniel chiming in. “But now I’m starting to believe what you keep saying–with God, all things are possible.”
Knowing they were exhilarated and exhausted, Jesus took the disciples away to a quiet spot. But the crowds got word and followed. The retreat was over before it started. Jesus went back to teaching and healing.
The disciples were getting hungry, and they imagined the crowd was feeling the same. When they alerted Jesus, he simply said, “You give them something to eat.”
In that moment, their amazement and awe disappeared, and they went back to their old ways of seeing the world. They counted the loaves–5, the fishes–2, and the people–5000. The numbers simply didn’t add up. It’s one thing to say all things are possible with God; it’s another to make five loaves and two fishes feed 5000 people.
Much has been written and preached about the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. Some see a miracle of generosity, imagining that people pulled their lunches out of their cloaks and began sharing. Others insist the miracle was God disrupting the natural order of things to make the bread literally multiply.
Today, I want to skip that debate to highlight a different miracle in this story, one that for me is at least as wondrous as the actual feeding.
After the disciples counted the food and the people and concluded there was not enough to go around, Jesus told them to have the people sit down in groups of 50. They did what they were told. Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it. Then he gave it to the disciples and asked them to pass it out.
Here’s the miracle. They passed out the bread. They had done the math. They didn’t see how this food was going to feed everybody. Right then, they weren’t sure they believed in God’s abundance. Still, with all their uncertainty, in the face of their very understandable doubt, they did it anyway. The miracle was their choice to act on faith they weren’t sure they had.
That miracle enabled the next miracle. Because they chose to act as though they believed there was enough, there was enough–more than enough–for everyone.
At the heart of our faith are some pretty outrageous propositions. This gospel story highlights one of them: the outrageous proposition that our God, the creator of the universe, is a God of abundance. There is more than enough to go around.
This proposition flies in the face of how we normally see our world. Our economic system is based on the principle of scarcity. We know there are too many children going to bed hungry, too many families living in poverty. In our own lives, we struggle with what feel like shortages–of cash to pay the bills, of time to meet the demands of work and home, of love to go around. We also know that the perception of scarcity is a self-fulfilling prophecy: when we assume there is not enough, we hold tight to what we have–and our lives shrivel up.
There are other outrageous propositions I would identify as central to our faith. There’s the one we proclaim every week in our assurance of God’s forgiveness, the one behind the “No Matter What” theme of our first Seeds of Grace worship service tonight. God loves you, no matter what. Nothing you can do or say or think or feel can separate you from God’s wondrous, unconditional love. Most of us, at least some of the time, struggle to believe those words really apply to us.
And then there’s the outrageous proposition I like to say over and over at Easter time: God’s love is more powerful than hatred or greed or fear, more powerful than empire, more powerful even than death. I love to say it from the pulpit, but boy do I struggle to believe it when I watch the news and see the persistent virulent powers of greed and hatred and fear at work.
Three outrageous propositions at the heart of our faith. Are we really supposed to believe them all the time? If that is what it means to follow Jesus, can any of us claim to be disciples?
This gospel story helps me claim a different understanding of discipleship. The disciples were with Jesus. They heard his teachings. They watched him heal. They even experienced God’s healing power working through their own hands. Even so, in that moment, they did not believe there was enough to go around. Discipleship is not about the strength of our belief.
Discipleship is about how we choose to act. Even though the disciples weren’t sure there was enough to go around, they chose to pass out the bread anyway. Discipleship is about choosing to act on faith even when we doubt. Discipleship is about trying–again and again–to live those outrageous propositions, for as we live them, we make them true.
What does it mean for us to live these three outrageous propositions?
The first proposition: “There is enough to go around.” To choose to live this outrageous proposition means refusing to close ourselves off from the needs of our world, resisting the temptation to narrow our circle of concern and just care of those we define as “our own.” It means giving what we can to help the people of Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico and Haiti, and working together with other people to multiply our efforts. It means putting on a concert to support vulnerable immigrants in our own town, growing food for A Place to Turn, baking cookies for a friend just home from the hospital. It means asking hard questions about the reasons for the excess and the scarcity we see. Sometimes we will not see the results of our efforts, and we will simply have to choose to trust that they matter. Other times, we will see how a single act of generosity can inspire another and another, until the promise of abundance comes to fruition.
The second proposition: God loves you, no matter what. To live this proposition is to choose to treat ourselves as though we believe we are worthy of God’s love. That means paying attention to what we eat and drink and how we sleep and exercise; it means honoring our emotions and fears and dreams; it means seeking balance of work and rest, quiet and activity. It means being gentle with ourselves even as we challenge ourselves to grow and change. The amazing thing is that, when we treat ourselves as though we believe God loves us, we actually begin to believe it is true.
The 3rd proposition: God’s love is more powerful than hatred or fear or greed or empire or death. Living this outrageous proposition does not mean ignoring or minimizing the very real powers that threaten our world. It means facing them head on–naming the insidious poison of racism in our society, pointing out the ways greed distorts our society, acknowledging our own fears and how they open the door to our own prejudices. It means refusing to counter hate with hate and fear with fear, instead meeting them with the creative power of love. It means bringing people together to create a multi-faith work of art. It means singing songs of hope that carry further than shouts of hate. It means listening deeply to people we’d rather reject. To be a disciple is to choose to trust that God is at work in our every act of love, multiplying their power in ways we cannot even imagine.
Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. In a few minutes our young people will come forward with breads from around the world. As we gather around this table, we remember that we are not alone, but are part of a global community of Christians trying to choose to live these outrageous propositions. We honor the people who brought each loaf–celebrating the generosity that fuels a world of abundance where there is more than enough. We receive a taste of the bread as a gift from God who loves each one of us no matter what. As we marvel at the table overflowing with so many different kinds of bread, we lift up a vision of a world that celebrates the gifts each community brings, a world where love overcomes fear.
May our meal today give us courage and strength and perseverance to choose to live these outrageous propositions: There is more than enough. God loves us no matter what. Love is more powerful than hatred and greed and fear. May we be disciples of Jesus. Amen.