7/29/18: What We Need Is Here, John 6:1-14
What We Need Is Here
First Lesson: Ephesians 3:14-21
Second Lesson: John 6:1-21
Rev. Scott Dickison
The poet-farmer. Wendell Berry, offers this wisdom in his poem, “The Wild Geese”:
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
What we need is here.
This seems to be the wisdom, too, of Jesus at many points in the gospels but perhaps especially when he sat down with his disciples there on the mountainside and saw the crowds of hungry people coming toward them at the end of the day—what they needed was there among them. He would just need to show them.
It’s a familiar story, and an important one. So important, in fact, that apart from the resurrection, it’s the only miracle told in all four gospels. So important that Matthew and Mark each tell it twice—this is clearly a story that Jesus, and maybe even more, the early church, want us to know. The basic framework is the same in all of them, but only in John does Jesus lean over to Philip and ask him, Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?—I suspect he said with a smile on his face and a wink in his eye.
Philip responds as most of us would, looking out over the crowds of hungry people and then down at himself and around at the other disciples who had left their jobs and wages to follow Jesus. He assumes they can’t have among them nearly enough to meet the needs of the people—either food to provide them, or, what he actually says to Jesus, money to buy it. Isn’t our impulse to buy? Isn’t this the impulse that made Jeff Bezos the wealthiest person in modern history? Perhaps from there it was how the other gospels tell it and Jesus sent them out to take an inventory of what was already there among them—John doesn’t say—but in any case, Andrew comes to Jesus with news that a little boy has some food with him—five barley loaves and two fish. At which point Jesus tells them to have the people sit down. He takes the loaves and the fish, gives thanks, and begins to distribute, and you know what happened.
Everyone around him sees scarcity, all that they do not have between them or within them, but Jesus knows that ancient faith of a God who is known to do great things with little more than the table scraps of the world. And so he knows what is needed is not so many months’ wages, or a new earth or a new heaven, but to be quiet in heart and in eye, clear, for what we need is here.
If we would but offer it.
What we need is here—this is the witness not just of geese as the fly in pattern, or in so many other parts of nature: the wildflower that finds life within the crack of a city sidewalk, fruit that grows on trees, the old tomato stalks I ripped from our garden three years ago that grew in the back corner of our yard this year and even produced the smallest, sweetest tomatoes. The ants that carry their dead along the line back into the earth. This is also the witness of scripture: that the fullness of God’s love is woven into creation. That what we need—as a planet, as a people, as a community, as a church—is already here among us. It’s already here, it’s already been given. We’re asked only to share it. It’s through sharing of what we have that the abundance of creation of we ourselves and of our communities is revealed. Some have argued this is the real miracle in this story. Not that Jesus made a lot from a little, but that hungry people found it within them to share what they had—to give a little of their own bread so others could eat. Even a hungry little boy—which I assure is quite the miracle indeed!
John tells us it was the little boy who brought what he had and offered it to Jesus, and even more, offered it to those around him. Matthew and Luke tell us it was the disciples who offered the their lunch to share. Mark tells us Jesus sent them out into the crowds to see what everyone had to offer. Where exactly the food comes from differs, but each of the gospels report that the food was found there, among them. They didn’t need to look anywhere else—all they needed was there. It needed only to be shared.
And understand, in no way would I detract from the power of Jesus to multiply those loaves and those fish to feed those hungry people. It was absolutely the power of God at work that day. But the witness of scripture is that the power of God in the world most often works through people. The power of God is most often let loose in the world through the kindness of people, the compassion of people, the imagination and generosity of people. This is how God moves and works in the world: through people, through you. Wasn’t it Paul who said it: Now to the one who by the power at work within usis able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine—the power at work within us.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The problem with miracles is that we tend to get mesmerized by them, focusing on God's responsibility and forgetting out own…Remember there’s no such thing as 'your' bread or 'my' bread; there’s only 'our' bread, as in 'give us this day our daily bread.’ However much you have, just bring it…and believe it is enough to begin with, enough to get the ball rolling, enough to start a trend. Be the first in the crowd to turn your pockets inside out; be the first on your block to start a miracle."
What we need is here—this is the miracle of creation.
But everyone having enough—this will only happen through the miracle of sharing, which in essence is the miracle of community. Community is the means by which Christ is able to multiply meager offerings into an abundant feast. People bound by a common mission, a common idea, a set of values, of virtues, sharing of their abundance to reveal the abundance that it truly is. This is the witness of scripture in too many places to name: that what we need is here within and among and between us, if we would but share it in community. And when we're at our best, it’s the witness of the church.
The church, at its heart, is nothing more than an exercise in sharing. Koinonia is the word in the New Testament. It’s usually translated as “community,” but literally it means “sharing.” The writers of the New Testament knew that to live in community ultimately means to live a life committed to sharing, to giving to the common good, and that this kind of living is what marks the presence of Christ in a people and the Kingdom of God here on earth. Church only happens when we share—or you could even say when we share of what we have, church happens.
And the same is true here in this church. Carrying out the mission and ministry of this church happens not through lightning bolts coming down from the sky, or Joe Johnson waving his hands over the offering envelopes—not that we haven’t tried. The mission and ministry of this church is carried out only through the miracle of sharing—this is the power of God at work within each of us, which is indeed able to accomplish abundantly more than what we can ask or imagine. It’s something of a miracle that since 1826 people have been giving of their own money, their own time, their own efforts and prayers and laughter and tears and hopes and fears to sustain this congregation. 192 years this December! It hasn’t always been easy—in fact, our founders lost the first building to debt and another two to fire. But we’re still here, still vibrant, still a sign of the in-breaking of God’s dream for the world on the top of this hill, still a testament to the capacity of largehearted people to be open to the continued movement of the Holy Spirit among them.
Seen over the long-haul it really does seem to be miraculous. But you all know that on the ground it’s nothing more than people sharing what they have of their money, their time, their prayers and their love—people teaching children’s Sunday school and working with senior adults. People gathering on a Saturday morning to pull weeds and spray Round-Up. People sitting in these pews and singing the old hymns—others sitting there listening to them being sung. People giving in so many small ways, trusting that others will do the same, and that in the hands of Christ something miraculous will be revealed. Learning together the great truth of our faith that what we need is here, if we would but open our hands to give it.
Maybe it was watching my own little boys running around on the beach this past week, trying to keep up with their older cousins and managing to look older themselves in the process, but I wondered this week what ever came of that little boy who offered his lunch that day?
We don’t hear from him again. And I tried this week to do some research to see if there was any tradition surrounding him—the early church would do this from time to time: pass down some tradition about a character in the New Testament becoming a great leader in the church. But I couldn’t find a thing. Which was disappointing at first: I wanted to find that he went on to do great things, to be a bishop or a missionary, taking his testimony with him, telling others about how the power of God moved that day and can move in their lives if they would but open their hands and share of their bread—the sermon writes itself! But we’re not told any of that. Which in the end may be for the best, because isn’t that the miracle of this story—and really the miracle of the church—that the power of God at work in the world isn’t most often revealed through big people, big names, or even big gifts? But through small hands, names often unknown outside the church rolls, and gifts small enough to fit in a paper bag?
And isn’t the miracle of the church that he could be anyone?
Isn’t the miracle of church that he could be you?
The poem can be accessed here, along with a beautiful essay by Parker Palmer, which was also an inspiration. https://onbeing.org/blog/what-we-need-is-here/
Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven