Loaves and Fishes
Rev. Leanne Walt
We are going to start out the sermon this morning with a little visualization exercise. We use this often in sports. At the end of our Friday practices, on the night before a match, my rugby coach in college would gather the team in the center of the pitch and we would lie down on the grass and she would tell us to close our eyes and she would lead us through a visualization exercise. Picture walking onto the pitch tomorrow, picturing taking the field. What’s the temperature like? Who’s beside you? The ref blows the whistle, we kick off, the game begins. Your legs are strong and fast, the toes of your cleats digging into the soft grass, you’re running/running/running, sprinting toward the player with the ball. You approach her, bend at the waist wrap your arms around her legs and snap them down to the ground. You made the first tackle. You are strong, unstoppable, unbeatable.
Believing is seeing.
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Now, I’m not going to ask you to lie down, but I ask you now to close your eyes, as you are comfortable doing so. It takes a lot of trust to close your eyes. Picture a Sunday morning, approaching the church – here at 12 Elm Street - by car or foot. As you drive into the parking lot, ugh – all the spaces are filled, there’s no place to park. You circle around again and find a spot on Stedman Ave. You walk around to the front door and you have to wait a minute to get into the building. The line for bulletins is too long. You walk into the sanctuary and it is just full of people. It’s standing-room-only full.
Now, some of you remember times when this didn’t have to be a visualization exercise. You remember years and years and years when this sanctuary was full. So full, in fact, that you had to use the chapel for overflow and put a television and audio feed in there.
But, in the 2 years that I have shared in ministry here at First Church, of the 100 plus services that I have led, I have seen this sanctuary full on only 5 occasions. One of those occasions was for my Installation as your pastor in April of 2011. One of them was for the wedding of Tiffany and Freddie Rodriguez.
The other three times were for funerals. The day we celebrated and honored the life of our sister Ethel Anastos this sanctuary was standing-room-only full, the day we celebrated and honored the life of our brother in faith Dick Hewson this sanctuary was standing-room-only full, and this past Thursday as we celebrated and honored the life of our sister Gail Jacobs this sanctuary was standing-room-only full.
And it caused me to wonder, not for the first time, why is it that we draw far more people in for weddings and funerals than we do on Sunday mornings?
Why is it that God’s house is standing-room-only full when we – the Church - are called upon to bless and consecrate a love before the cross and in the eyes of God? Why is it that God’s house is standing-room-only full when we – the Church – are called upon to offer a word of comfort, to serve as a haven for the grieving, to affirm eternal life and love?
Weddings and funerals, we know, share the common threads of relationship and love. Love: the most valuable commodity we posses in this life/our most basic human need. To love and be loved in return. Love discovered, cultivated, enjoyed, celebrated, and affirmed as true and authentic and eternal in the eyes of God.
This sanctuary was standing room-only full on Thursday. It was full of young children and teenagers and adults who had come to give thanks for the life of a young woman, just 49 years old, who, along with her 2 older sisters had made First Church her home as a child and teenager. Her mother, Ginny Oster, in fact, ran the Church Elm preschool, which was the school that was here at the church prior to Lollipop Tree. Though they had moved away from Braintree and dispersed throughout New England, the Oster family has deep roots here at First Church – in Sunday school, youth camp and dinners - and it was Gail’s wish for her memorial service to be held here – for this Church to offer her family, her husband and two young sons the promise of faith and the comfort of ritual as she passed on from this world to the next.
The crowd had gathered, from near and far, in this one place to honor the relationship and affirm the love that Gail shared with each of them, but especially the love that she shared with her two boys.
So the people came, by plane and car and foot to hear the resounding promise of God for this mother and her sons in the words of the Apostle Paul that, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
* * * *
It may be that this great miracle story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 is not so much about loaves and fish as it is about love, multiplied and shared.
This great miracle of love actually comes out of grief. We remember that according to Matthew, two significant things have just happened to Jesus:
1. He was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, and;
2. He just received word that his cousin, John the Baptist, his closest partner in ministry and who he had grown up with from birth, had been killed in prison.
So this story begins with Jesus rejected and grieving. He gets into his boat and sails away, looking for a quiet and deserted place where he could be all alone. Where he could cry and pray and grieve – a place away from the noise and constant needs of the crowds. But, still, the need follows him. He cannot escape it. From his boat, as he approaches what he had hoped would be a lonely place. Surely he saw the mass of thousands of people on shore awaiting his arrival. Surely he could have continued rowing to another location; surely he could have chosen to stay in the boat alone.
But, instead he rows to the shore and his heart is filled with compassion for all those who had followed him.
As it gets to be late in the day and the people are getting hungry, Jesus takes the five loaves of bread that the disciples had brought with them and he blesses them and he breaks them and he gives them to the disciples to distribute to the mob of people. He does this with faith enough that all would be fed. And they are. He does this believing that there would be enough to go around. And there is.
What if that bread that Jesus breaks and blesses and offers is love itself. A love without end. A love that, when broken open, is always enough to go around. A love that embraces us in our rejection. A love that meets us in our grief.
* * * *
When we consider the miracles that Jesus preformed in his life and ministry we are left to wonder if it they’re not so much about the actual miracles themselves – the restoration of sight to the blind, the turning of water into wine, the casting out of demons, the raising from the dead – so much as they are about the compassion and love that Jesus offers those who are hurting and broken. Love is the miracle. The love of God made manifest in Christ, and so in us. Love that can be multiplied and shared over and over again. Love that never ends.
Those who seek out a house of God at the time of marriage or death are seeking the love of Jesus, yearning for that perfect love that will carry them through the imperfect times of marriage and that eternal love that will carry them through the separation that accompanies death.
What would happen if we here at First Church, like the disciples, heeded Jesus’ call to distribute this kind of love to the crowds? If we were to distribute the kind of love that is so miraculous and abundant that there is always enough to go around?
Later this morning, as we gather for our annual financial meeting, we will consider the budget. We will consider what it has been in year’s past and what it is today. We will consider where we have been, but more importantly where we are going. The budget, line item by line item, figure over and against figure, is meaningless in and of itself. It’s given life – it’s given meaning - through each one of us. By way of our hands and our feet; our ministry and mission as a body of Christ in the world.
The budget is a vessel through which this congregation funnels the love of Christ out into the world. When we approach the budget with a loaves and fish kind of faith – a faith that sees the possibilities of God’s love rather than its limitations, a faith that knows and lives by the abundance of God’s love, a kind of faith that spreads and shares God’s love rather than keeping it for ourselves – then line item by line item, figure over and against figure, the budget holds miraculous God-given power to make the love of God manifest and authentic and true in this community of faith here at 12 Elm Street.
If we can believe in a love that will fill up a felt board with colorful fish, a love that has the power to break open our hearts and one that compels us to share our resources with our neighbors, then we can believe in a love that will fill our pews with our sisters and brothers who thirst for community and meaning and connection with a God who offers perfect and eternal love not only on occasions of marriage and death. Not only on Sundays, but a love that is woven into every fiber of our being, every movement, every breath, every word, every action, every relationship.