On What Sharing Reveals
July 25, 2021
2 Kings 4: 42-44
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
John 6: 1-14
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Psalm 145: 14-16
The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
Today’s sermon is titled On What Sharing Reveals. Three years ago my son graduated from high school and within two weeks he and his cousin were off to Spain. They had signed up for a service program that sounded fantastic on paper, but in reality it was not so great. My son’s real education began when his cousin flew back to the states and he began traveling alone.
I have never been so thankful for cell phones. He sent so many pictures and messages over those months. I was careful not to call him; I learned that when he was ready to talk, he would call me and then our conversations would be some of the best talks we had ever shared. I started writing down a list of the insights he was sharing with me in hopes that I could remember some of the substance of these conversations. I ran across the list the other day. One of the insights had to do with food, but before I get to that one, I want to share my favorite. It is highlighted on my list with a box around the words ASK THE ELDERS!
After about six weeks of constant traveling through new villages and towns, my son learned that when he needed directions or help finding something he needed, it was best to ask the oldest person he could find. “They always know, Mom.”
Also on the list is something my son realized about the custom of sharing food. In my handwriting I wrote, WHAT IT MEANS TO SHARE FOOD. As he traveled, he found that people were eager to share food with him and then he began to make extra food in the hostel kitchens so he could offer food to other travelers. Of course it feels fantastic to be able to share food, but why is this?
My son is not an anthropologist, but his thinking goes along these lines: sharing food with strangers is probably a relatively new custom in the 6 million years of human history. The sharing of food conveys welcome, friendship, and goodwill. The sharing of food assures us that we are cared for, at least for the moment, even in times of great distress. The sharing of food changes us because it invites us into relationship with other people.
This must have something to do with why the story of Jesus feeding so many people with so little food is such an epic story in our tradition. It’s not just about the miracle of abundance, though. These miracles of abundance are not unique to our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Other prophets channel the Divine to manifest an abundance of food and water. Remember Moses assuring the people that God would provide. Birds fell from the sky, water flowed from the stone, and manna fell from heaven like snow. We read about Elisha today, miraculously feeding his people. There is another story about the prophet Elijah who promises a widow and her son that their flour jar will never again be empty and their oil will never run out. The prophet Muhammad from the Islam tradition also miraculously multiplied food and manifested water.
It’s not just about the miracles of abundance. Behind the miracles, the nature of what we call God is revealed. I offer you again the words of the psalmist from our readings today. “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.”
But Friends, we are hard pressed to accept that there is such a benevolent force of goodness moving through our world. If the nature of God is to uphold and to provide, as the psalmist describes, then why are 50 million Americans living below the poverty line?* If the nature of God is to uphold and provide, why do 1 out of every 6 Americans go hungry each day?**
Poverty and hunger are the result of flawed policy and flawed practice. 11 billion pounds of food, that’s 30% of food produced, goes to waste in our country each year.*** Poverty and hunger in America are the results of flawed policy and flawed practice that maximize profit margins for a few at the expense of the many. In the face of overwhelming problems like poverty and hunger, it is easy to relate to how Jesus’s disciple felt as he looked at the small basket of loaves and fish and asked, “What are they among so many?” We may wonder, “What can a community of faith do to heal the effects of poverty and hunger?
We answer. We answer with a commitment to missions and outreach to our local community and beyond. Already this year we have shared thousands of dollars to aid people in crisis, providing food and financial assistance so basic needs can be met. Like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the more we share, the more we seem to receive; we have plenty left to spend. Churches all over this great land are taking up the work to care for one another, following the example of our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth.
In feeding the multitudes of people, Jesus was not just manifesting a miracle. He was caring for his people on the most basic level. They may have come for many reasons…to be healed, to learn, to find hope…but Jesus started with an act of radical sharing that provided them with more than sustenance. He took a little and turned it into a lot; he met their expectations and gave them something more. Most importantly of all, in providing and in sharing, Jesus invited the people into relationship with him and with the love of God that he embodied.
Friends, we do the same thing each time we share what we have with others with no strings attached, with no expectations, and no conditions. When we can give of ourselves and share our time, our resources, our food, or our belongings, we invite others into relationship with us. As my son found out in his travels, we don’t have to speak the same language, we don’t have to share the same opinions, and we don’t have to be aligned in our ideologies. In sharing we reveal the nature of that which we call God.
In closing, I will leave you with a paraphrase of Psalm 145 that we heard today. The psalmist seeks to reveal the very nature of God and I remind us that, in our sharing, we have the chance to do the same.
Uphold all who are falling, and raise up all who are bowed down. Give them food in due season. Open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
So be it. Amen.
“Food is our common ground; food is a universal experience.” -James Beard
“It was through cooking food and sharing it with each other that our ancestors learned how to become social animals.” -Ruth Reichi
God of earth and sky, we are blessed with so many gifts; open our hearts with gratitude for the areas of our lives that are full and healthy and functioning. Inspire us to give thanks to the people who have been most instrumental in our lives, the people who have believed in us, the people who have loved us just because of who we are. Bring them to our minds, Lord, in prayer. When we are faced with challenges, lack of necessities, sorrow or loss, illuminate the presence of goodness in our lives, past and present, so that we may be guided homeward by your holy light. In the ways we need healing, I pray we are open to receive. For all of our brothers and sisters that are struggling, and especially those who are hungry, may they receive the care and comfort they need, we pray, in the name of Jesus, who gave us this prayer… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you now with words from Ephesians chapter 1:
“May the eyes of your heart be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which God has called you.” Amen.