I read these 2 stories and struggled all week with what these 2 stories had in common. One is the miracle of the feeding of more than 5,000 and the other is the story of Jesus walking on water. When these texts appear in the Revised Common Lectionary, they appear on separate Sundays. But, this Narrative Lectionary combines these 2 stories for one Sunday. So, what do they have to do with one another?
First is the miracle of the feeding of the more than 5,000. We all know the story as the feeding of the 5,000, but Jesus fed more than 5,000. There were 5,000 men, plus women and children that were fed. It is a significant miracle, because it is the only miracle that is recorded in all 4 gospels.
The crowds had gathered around Jesus for teaching and healing and all the reasons people flocked to Jesus. The Disciples were worried that it was getting late and the people needed to eat. They were far from someplace to get something to eat. The people needed to get on their way if they were going to get food. The Disciples want Jesus to dismiss the crowds, but Jesus has other plans. Jesus never sends people away hungry.
Jesus asks the Disciples to gather the people to sit down for a meal. The Disciples see what they have as not enough. The text says the Disciples tell Jesus they only have 5 loaves and 2 fish, not enough to feed the large crowd. Jesus thinks its enough.
The Disciples gather the crowd as Jesus commands. Jesus blesses the loaves and fish and passes them around. The people are fed and the scraps are gathered. Miraculously, there were 12 baskets of leftovers after everyone had eaten. By God’s miracle, 5,000 men plus women and children were fed by 5 loaves and 2 fish. The people ate and were satisfied.
What the Disciples had, they knew was not enough. They told Jesus what they had was not enough, but Jesus made it enough. Jesus showed the Disciples that He takes their not enough and makes it more than enough. What seemed like nothing compared to the need, 5 loaves and 2 fish for 5,000 men, was more than enough by Jesus’ blessing.
Jesus often called the Disciples to task. He was preparing them to carry on His ministry when He went back to the Father. Jesus wanted the Disciples to feed the 5,000, but they were inadequate. They didn’t have enough. Jesus made not enough, more than enough. Christ makes nothing enough, the impossible possible when it comes to providing for the people drawn to Him.
At the center of these 2 stories is Jesus dismissing the satisfied crowds and sending the Disciples ahead of Him. Jesus needs to go off, to be alone, to pray. He cares for others, then cares for Himself. Near dawn, when Jesus had finished praying, He goes to meet the Disciples.
There’s something that we miss in reading this story. The boat was on the sea of Galilee, which is not very big. The sea is only 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. The Disciples had been on the sea all night being tossed around by the wind and waves. They were a considerable distance from the shore. The Disciples were frightened.
These are important details, because the Disciples were very familiar with the sea. Some were fishermen who had fished the sea for many years. They together had sailed across the sea numerous times traveling with Jesus from town to town. But, all night they were on the sea being tossed around. That must have been some storm for the wind and waves to push them around all night.
Out on the water, Jesus walks to them and startles them. The Disciples hadn’t expected Jesus to come to them this way. Peter thinks what Jesus is doing is pretty cool and wants to try it too. Peter asks Jesus to invite him out onto the water. Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and come to Him. Peter gets down out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. He did it! Peter walked on the water for a brief moment, but fear overtook him. Peter began to sink. Jesus reached down and pulled him out of the water. Peter didn’t have enough faith to make it all the way across the water to Jesus, but he had enough faith to take a step.
When I read these 2 stories, I thought about what Jesus was telling the Disciples. In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus asks the Disciples to gather together the people in need and He shows them that He can make nothing more than enough. In the story of Jesus walking on the water, Jesus invites Peter to walk on the water just as He was doing, but Peter doesn’t have enough faith to go the distance. In the face of a massive crowd, the Disciples were inadequate to meet the people’s needs but Jesus was there to make it enough. In the face of the waves, Peter’s faith was inadequate to make it all the way to Jesus but Jesus was there to rescue him.
I could pretty easily craft a sermon calling us to feed the masses or to have more faith to do what Jesus calls us to do. I think I’m pretty good at motivating us to be church and do mission. Most other churches need to hear the message to get to work and be about the ministry of feeding the poor or being more faithful to Jesus’ calling. Maybe other churches need to hear about the reward of taking risk to reach beyond their walls. But, I think you’ve gotten the message.
There are lots of churches participating in programs of revitalization and transformation. They are struggling to survive and trying to turn things around by becoming the church God is calling them to be. Those churches are casting visions and planning ministry. We’re already there. We have a vision. We have a ministry plan. We’re making strides to become the church God is calling us to be. We’re well on the path that others are trying to find.
I was thinking this week about where we are at as a church on a mission. When I got here 3 years ago, the church was much different than it is now. I think the most significant is that the whole building is being used. All the rooms in the education wing are being used in some capacity. We have the children meeting in the children’s church room. The book club started meeting in the library on new to us furniture. Our very own Georgia O’Keefe has set up an art studio. The food pantry is stocked with food ready for regular patrons. Fischer was playing in the nursery with Kenzie last Sunday. And, we have Sunday school classes meeting in the 2 rooms upstairs. Our fellowship hall is often being used for a meal or Kids’ movie night or Bible study.
We are filling our space with vital ministries. Do you know how many churches have empty rooms and no idea how to fill their spaces? But, we’re using all our space, not just for storage, for ministry.
I am at a loss about how to wrap this sermon up. I think that these 2 stories are a call for the Disciples to feed the masses and take risks to step outside the boat. I don’t think you need to hear that message as something new. You’re feeding the hungry. You’re taking risks by forming new groups.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” That’s what we’re doing. We’re doing ministry with the little we have here in Bethany. That’s all Jesus asked of His disciples to do with 5 loaves and 2 fish before a large crowd and that’s all He asks us to do with what we have here in Bethany.
So, I’ll leave you with this. Keep up the good and faithful service. Keep striving to become the church God is calling us to be. Keep working to fulfill the ministry plan. Keep using your gifts and talents for ministry. Keep being generous with your time and resources.
We can trust in the Lord for our future when we do what is acceptable and pleasing to Him. He sees what we’ve been doing and I’m sure He’s pleased.