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Sermon July 25, 2021

It’s All About the Food (sort of…)

A sermon given at

Grace Church, Great Barrington, Massachusetts

July 25, 2021

by

The Rev. Dr. Stephen L. White

Today’s gospel is one of six stories in the four gospels about the feeding of thousands

of people with a few fish and loaves of bread. This is pretty amazing since no other

miracle story is told so often in the gospels. So, the fact that the feeding of the crowds

occupied a major place in the oral tradition of Jesus before the gospels were written

down has to mean something important. First of all, it suggests that something

spectacular might really have happened, otherwise why would all four gospels mention

it?

Before I go on, though, I want to give you a sneak preview of how this sermon is going

to end. It’s going to end the same way today’s gospel reading ended, with the last line

– the punchline: “…immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were

going.” Hold that thought!

Back to the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. Did it really

happen? You can decide for yourself how you will take this story on board. But I want

to suggest that whether or not it really happened just the way it is reported in the

gospels doesn’t really matter.

Why? Well, to use my family’s motto, it’s all about the food.

Think of all the ways food and meals figure into the gospel stories – all of them. There

is a wedding feast at Cana, the father of the prodigal son ordering a feast upon his

return, the rich man’s dinner, the time a woman washed Jesus’ feet while he was

having dinner, Jesus declaring that all foods are clean for us to eat, the last supper,

and even after the resurrection there is a story about Jesus grilling fish on the beach.

And the list goes on. I call Luke’s gospel the dinner party gospel because food and

eating together is so prominent a theme.

In my childhood home there was one small bookcase mostly filled with books my

mother had acquired during World War II. My dad had dyslexia, so his reading was

mostly confined to newspapers. All the books in the bookcase were in pristine

condition and some had their original dusk jackets. Except for one book that was

tattered and torn: The Joy of Cooking. It’s all about the food.

Our ministry through Gideon’s Garden that helps to provide food security for people in

need is an expression of our desire to show God’s love to those who might be forgiven

for thinking that God has forgotten about them or thinking that God favors other people

more than them.

But it really isn’t all about the food, is it? It’s about what the food means, what it

represents.

Food and drink are fundamental needs, necessary for life. Without food we die. And,

eating together as a family and with friends, or at feasts marking holidays and special

occasions are about intimacy, love, safety, companionship, connectedness – all those

things that make us human. In a rule book written in the year 516 by St. Benedict of

Nursia for monks living in communally he says, “No one will be excused from kitchen

service…for such service increases reward and fosters love.”

All living creatures require fuel of some kind, but humans are unique in the social

connection food has. There is a difference between simply eating and having a meal.

Cultures are defined by their food. Think of the old rivalry between the Italians and the

French about who has the best food. Recently a hand-written book was discovered

made from scraps of paper with a cover made from a box from the Red Cross. A

French soldier starving in a German POW camp wrote down all the recipes he could

remember from his childhood. In this way he held on to hope and to his identity, to his

humanity.

The gospels talk a lot about physical food, but the really important thing to notice is

how the gospels use physical hunger and material food as metaphors for a deeper

hunger and a more lasting food – a food that won’t leave us hungering for more. In

Matthew’s gospel Jesus famously says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for

righteousness, for they will be filled.” And in John’s gospel we really get to the heart of

the matter when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never

go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

That’s why we come here, isn’t it? Not for the coffee house goodies, excellent as they

are, but for the bread of life. We come for spiritual nourishment which we experience in

the acts of praying and singing together, in greeting one another at the peace, and

especially when we take communion. At communion we take bread and wine that have

become the body and blood of Christ into our own bodies so that the physical reality of

the bread and the wine and the spiritual reality of the real presence of Christ become

part of our own bodies and our own souls.

So, we come back to the six stories of Jesus feeding thousands of people with less

food than could feed a single family. And, notice that in the end there were twelve

baskets of leftovers. This is about abundance, satisfaction, fullness. It’s about being

cared for by God. It’s about how God will always satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst,

our most profound longings. Taking communion can change us, transform us, re3

shape us because in the bread and wine we are reminded of God’s abundance, of

God’s care for us.

It’s no accident that in the brief story immediately following the feeding of the 5,000 in

John’s gospel, Jesus walks on the water toward the disciples’ boat that has been

tossed about by a violent storm. At first, it seems as if the two stories are not related at

all, as if they’re just part of a sequence of events in Jesus’s life and ministry. But pay

attention to what happens right at the end of this story. There’s a storm. The Sea of

Galilee is not very big – only 8 miles wide and 13 miles long – and it’s not very deep.

Three- or four-foot waves are common in storms and would be very scary if you were

in a small sail boat. But, as with everything else in the Bible, the boat and the storm

have a meaning. The boat on the sea is like our lives – sometimes things are calm and

go well, and sometimes things get, you know, kind of stormy and don’t go well.

So, Jesus tells his friends what he always tells them when they are upset and troubled.

He says, “Do not to be afraid.” And then Jesus gets into the boat and John’s gospel

tells us, “…the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

See the connection between the two stories? Jesus fills them up with good food, he

calms their fears, he reassures them, and he takes them safely to their destination –

“…the land toward which they were going.”

So it is with us. Jesus fills us with good things – with the best thing of all: himself. He

fills us up with himself and calms our fears. He reassures us that all shall be well with

us. And he takes us to the land toward which we are going, where we will enjoy a

heavenly banquet with him and all whom we love forever.

Amen.