This is the text of the sermon I preached for Catacomb Churches last week on Matthew 14:13-21
over the past few weeks, the gospel texts have been these parables of Jesus telling us, or more often than not confusing us, about what the kingdom of God is like. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a fine pearl, a very small amount of yeast in too much flour, buried treasure, even a widely cast net that catches fish regardless of what good they might be only to be sorted good and bad - captured or dismissed.
I am unclear where I stand in my faith in miracles. While I can’t deny that many people claim to have experienced real and true miracles in their lives and witness, what constitutes a miracle, and validity does it have are regular skeptical themes running through my mind. It doesn’t help that I’m super analytical about the magicians/illusionists of our day - Chris Angel, David Copperfield, etc - when I see their stunts/performances, whatever you want to call them, I can’t hardly sleep for thinking about them and how they managed whatever feat they pulled over on me. I also am not a very great biblical scholar - likely for similar reasons, I can’t help but be overly analytical about what others might think about these stories - do people really believe that craziness happened? (with a tiny ‘did it?’ in the back of my mind).
I have found myself wondering this week is this miracle of feeding the 5,000 first, actually happened, next, does it even matter, and finally, what if it’s simply a parable-like telling by Matthew of how Jesus interacted with people as a real-life example of this list of references to the kingdom of God Jesus has just passed on to us in Matthews gospel.
And, I’m an organizer. So I see this miracle-tale in a different way, also.
I have a little story that my partner James shared with me a few months ago that seems to come up again and again in my mind when I’m prepping sermons. It goes like this. Three boys were assigned the parts of the 2 wise men, or magi, in their churches nativity pageant for xmas eve. When it came time for them to say their lines, the first said, “I bring gifts of gold to the child king.” the second says, “Myhrr is what I have to offer the babe.” The third boy gets up and opens his mouth to say his expected line. Yet he pauses a moment, bites his lip in thought, and then blurts out, “Frank sends this!” with a grin on his face for his good, old fashioned try. Though the line wasn’t accurate - he fearlessly dove in with the “wrong” line because trying and saying something was better than saying nothing at all!
What if the miracle wasn’t that 5000 were fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish. What if we re-image the miracle to be the fact that this little child, not mentioned in this particular gospel, but bear with me, heard these disciples talking about how there wasn’t enough to offer, and everyone should be sent home. He looked down, noticed that he had something, and wasn’t afraid to share it - believing that he could make a difference in the hunger of this massive crowd with the little he had to offer.
What could the world be like if we were all willing to offer the little bits we had abundance of? Or if we could be just bold enough to trust that God’s plan is better than whatever we might imagine it could be, and just offer what we can in crazy, bold trust? In a particularly familiar and over-used Lutheran liturgy, there is a sung offering response that has the community singing words that challenge us to recognize that we have more to offer than we might realize. Listen to these lyrics:
“what have we to offer, what have we to share? Coins from the coffer, hearts filled with care. God will not falter, so let us dare. Lay it at the alter there.
what have we to offer, what have we to bring? Love, ripe with laughter, hope that we can sing. Dreams of what we’re after, promises of when. Lay it at the alter then.
What have we to offer, what have we to give? Eyes that are wide open, lies that we won’t life. Truth that must be spoken, justice somehow. lay it at the alter now.
What have we to offer, what have we to give? Lives, we will live.”
In true community organizing fashion, we as the catacomb churches have been engaged in a few conversation groups around the problem of wage theft and living wage. These problems are so massive, so oppressive, so systemic and engorged at macro levels that change seems impossible. But here, in this parable-ic miracle story, we see that with Jesus as our motivator, no action is too small to prove miraculous. If we are willing to be just crazy enough, and give just what we have to offer - not too much, not too little, Jesus can take that gift and change the lives of many. One personal testimony of wage theft can shift how someone else sees value in another. One pamphlet faithfully translated into spanish and posted with a thumbtack on the market wall could spark a breath of hope in the mind of an invisible, undocumented, terrorized worker who didn’t otherwise have the means to learn about how to get help. We are not unlike the disciples in this story who say, “we don’t have what these people need, Jesus. Send them away.” But in the very same moment, we are called to notice and call attention to the fact that the kingdom of God is here and now - in the meals we are willing to share with one another, in the moments it might take us to translate a pamphlet, or read about how to foster parent refugees, or pass a $5 bill out the window to the woman with a sign on the corner, or sign a moveon.org petition during our lunch break.
Perhaps I’m wrong about miracles. Perhaps they are happening every day around me in the small movements of the kingdom of god in the midst of my everyday existence. Maybe Jesus is waiting right here among us to feed 5,000 more people with our offerings today, or heal hoards of wounded in the prayers we will speak, or nourish the (X number) of us here with this bread and wine we are about to receive. I don’t really know. But one thing I do know is that God is acting in healing the world with or without me, so I might as well join in what what gifts I’ve got.