Here is the sermon I preached at The Clare this morning on the feeding of the five thousand found in Matthew. You can get the readings here.
One of my favorite made-up words in the English Language is the word hangry.
I love this word because it is a simple smushing of two words together, which–when combined–perfectly describe a state of being that is both hungry and angry, and yet a phenomenon all of its own.
When someone is hangry, they are hungry enough that they are also angry–suddenly everyone around you is incurably obnoxious, and decision-making becomes impossibly difficult.
Now, I have an unfortunately close relationship with the state of being hangry. I can go very quickly from totally fine to an indecisive grump in about five minutes. Before I learned how to arm myself with snacks, I would get paralyzed with indecision at fast food restaurants, snippy and snarky with travel companions, or just so tired that I’d crawl into bed and take a nap.
I tell you this, not to warn you away from conversing with me before dinner–but, actually, to explain why I identify with the anxiety of the disciples in the scene in our Gospel lesson today.
There are five-thousand potentially hangry men–and countless more women and children who are also progressing towards a state of hangriness–pressing in on Jesus in a totally deserted place.
And, they’re not just hungry for food. They followed Jesus there because they had another kind of desperation, another kind of hunger. Jesus has been teaching in parables now for several chapters of Matthew, many of which have appeared in our gospel lessons over the past several weeks.
Jesus has been feeding the people with the word of God: the parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the leaven, the parable of the weeds, the parable of the sower. The people have been hanging on his every word and following him everywhere, because he is able to feed them with the word of God.
And now, at this climactic turn in our story, the hour is growing late, and the crowds are in a deserted place, and Jesus stops teaching long enough for them to suddenly realize that they have a very real, tangible, and bodily hunger–for bread.
If I were the disciples, I’d want to send them away too. This is a powder keg situation. They’re likely ready to start biting each other’s heads off, or fighting, or falling asleep, or taking each other’s food–who knows.
This is a good time for the disciples to start panicking. This is a crowd of very needy people–people who are so hungry for love and care that they will follow a teacher out into the desert just to hear more parables. There is no way that the disciples can feed them all–they just don’t have enough. So, they go to Jesus and ask him to send the crowds away. But, instead, Jesus says “You give them something to eat.”
All the disciples have is a tiny amount of food–five loaves and two fishes–and when they skeptically produce them, Jesus performs one of the most well-known miracles of his ministry.
Jesus takes those five loaves and two fish, and he transforms the meager fare into a feast for the whole crowd. Just as he has fed the people emotionally and spiritually, he now feeds them physically–tangibly and bodily–with bread. God provides. The people eat. Nobody gets hangry.
This story is one of the great miracle stories that shows the abundance and blessing of God–a core tenant of our faith, and an essential piece of what we identify with when we identify as Christians.
We are people who believe that God takes five loaves and two fish, and feeds a multitude, not just a little bit, but so abundantly that there are twelve baskets left over. That’s who we are. That’s what we say: we believe our God is the kind of God who makes abundance known through miracles like this one.
Yet, I am also not blind to what’s happening in our city, our country and the world, and I’m sure you’re not either.
Gaza, Ebola–the plane of AIDS workers in the Ukraine. Detroit, still mostly abandoned and out of options, has cut off water service to 17,000 people who can’t pay their bills. Children and adults continue to die on our streets because of senseless violence. Political deadlock keeps decision makers far away from us, and we hear more and more about drastic measures taken by our government without our consent.
In the midst of all this, I wonder if it is honest for me to get up here and preach to you about miracles–to preach to you about a God that makes all things abundant and fruitful. When the news from abroad is so dire, and the political bickering is so disconnected, and the struggle of the poor is so great–is it dishonest for us to say that God will just miraculously provide? Is it honest for me to say that the abundance of God always prevails?
Maybe it is dishonest–maybe it isn’t true–but only, I think, if we claim that the miracle here is that God intervenes for all “true believers.” It is only dishonest if we claim that we must just wait for God to provide us with a miracle to get us out of our own messes. This story would be dishonest if the miracle here is that God gets God’s favorites out of trouble. God doesn’t work like that.
So what, then, is the miracle that takes place here?
Perhaps, instead of making something out of nothing, the real miracle is that God took a scarcity and made it an abundance–took what was offered and made it enough–more than enough.
How often have we looked at the news, or people begging on the street, or our own friends and family, and said “I just don’t have enough to give you.” How often have we thought that we are not strong enough to combat the pains of the world, or that we are not good enough for our children–or our parents–our spouses?
The attitude of scarcity is a powerful thing. I’m sure in our lifetimes we have all seen an organization or a person, or even a whole culture running solely on the attitude of scarcity. This attitude operates under the assumption that there is never enough, and that what we have must be kept close, because at any time it might be gone forever–spent, consumed, destroyed.
Slowly but surely, we don’t “have” enough, becomes we “aren’t” enough–and the scarcity becomes a scarcity of the soul. A scarcity that is true about our very being. And then we begin to believe that everyone wants to take something from us, and that we will be depleted and destroyed unless we guard ourselves and our possessions and our relationships and our bodies with vengeance.
Sometimes we do this to ourselves, and sometimes it is a mechanism of survival. Much of the world operates with an attitude of scarcity–even in the church. Even amongst people who want to be givers, the fear of not having enough to give makes us horde ourselves away. Looking the attitude of scarcity in the eye and refusing to succumb to it is a very, very difficult thing to do. Many of us need that attitude in order to persevere in a painful world.
That is the attitude that the disciples have when want to send the people away–they don’t have enough to feed them, and that is what they tell Jesus. We don’t have enough. We aren’t enough.
But, the miracle of this story is that Jesus says: Yes you do. It is enough. Jesus takes those five loaves and two fish, and blesses them, breaks them and then they are enough–even when there are five thousand hangry men pressing in–even when the world seems full only of horror stories.
This is why this miracle story is so important to our faith. Through this miracle, God communicates to the disciples and to the crowd that what they arrived with–what they came with, and what they had to offer, was enough before God–was enough to exhalt God–was enough to feed a crowd.
The miracle here is not that God provides what isn’t there, but that God takes what we already have and makes it abundant through the power of Jesus. The miracle here is that God sees us as already good enough, strong enough, faithful enough to be conduits for God’s abundance. When we offer ourselves up to the work of God, when we give freely of what we are, even if it is only five loaves and two fish, it is enough for the work God intends for us to do. What we have is already enough to spread and recieve the love of God.
To live into the Christian life is to live into the knowledge of this, to live into knowing that we have enough love, enough time, enough money, enough strength, enough worth before God and before our companions.
For the purpose God calls us to, for the love God calls us to, we are enough already.