February 7, 2010
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
Last weekend I found myself in the stomping grounds of my old high school and the neighborhood where I grew up. Driving around brought back all kinds of memories. You know you are getting old when the trees you remember that lined the roads, when those trees have fallen down, or died from disease, when they’re not their anymore. Outliving the trees, that’s old. The highlight of my weekend was reconnecting with a classmate, teammate, friend named Jeff, whose nickname was Hank, his mother was Rosie, who went to Duquesne, who is a pharamacist, who once missed 3rd base after he hit a home run over the fence in Little League. I was playing 3rd base for the other team at the time. I appealed the play to the umpire. Jeff was called out. And still, life long friends. Can you believe it?
Spending just a few hours with Hank, amid the conversation about jobs, kids, the Steelers, real estate in Pittsburgh, amid all of it, one of us would interrupt the other: hey, what about Rick, what ever happened to him? We’d stop, remember. Then start to talk about something else. Coach Manzini, do you remember when he would spit tobacco on our shoes? We kept driving along. How about Wasley, remember that day at the amusement park? All weekend long, it was the people that came back, not in a flash but in bits. Names, faces, scenes, relationships, experiences. All the while, Jeff and I, just talking about life, getting to know each other again, and then a name from 30 years ago was right there in the car with us, another face at the table with us over lunch, another friend who fades away again with a sigh and the shake of a head, as we remembered.
An encounter with the life of Jesus can be like that; stories, experiences, parables, people that come back to us in bits along the way. The gospels that tell of the life and ministry of Jesus, they come alive for us in our journey, in our relationship with God, the gospels come alive not in one big flash, but in tiny snippets along the way as we tell, and sing, and study, and remember, and proclaim, and live. Hey, what about Jesus and Zachaeus up in that tree, do you remember? Those Beatitudes, how about that sermon? Jesus and the parable of the wise and the foolish maiden, remember? It’s not like we were there or anything, but that’s how it works along this journey of faith, this journey with Jesus. That’s sort of how preaching works, week after week, “Hey, do you remember when Jesus fed the 5,000? That was awesome!
Our glimpse, our recollection, this morning comes from John’s Gospel. When you’re hanging with John, when you are in John’s Gospel, there are these names, maybe not faces, but these people that keep coming back. Another name right there with you along the Way. Folks who are unique to John. No other gospel; not Matthew, not Mark, not Luke, only John. Hey, what about Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night and asked him about being born from above? How about Mary, the mother of Jesus? She’s elsewhere in the gospels, but it was in John there at the Wedding in Cana when she gave Jesus that churchy whisper, “They have no wine!” Do you remember that? The Samaritan woman at the well; Jesus told her about a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” “Sir, give me this water” she said, “so that I may never be thirsty.” What ever happened her, one of John’s folks. Oh, the woman caught in adultery, that’s only John. And Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, oh my. Jesus wept. Lazarus came out from the tomb.Those were the days!
And that boy, do you remember that boy? The boy with the five loaves and the two fish? The young boy in John’s Gospel, at the feeding of the 5,000, the boy who brought the food? It is the only miracle told in all four gospels. The feeding of the multitude. The numbers vary a bit; 5,000…5,000 plus women and children. Matthew and Mark include a second account of 4,000 being fed. But all four gospels describe this scene up on a mountain; Jesus, the disciples, and the crowd. The menu is bread and fish. 5 and 2. All have this action that looks and sounds like communion: Jesus took the loaves, blessed or gave thanks and gave it to them. Each telling portrays the crowds as all full and satisfied and every gospel includes the leftovers. 12 baskets. 5 loaves. 2 fish. 5,000 plus hungry people. 12 baskets leftover.
Only John describes the time as Passover. Only John tells of Jesus asking that leading question. “Where shall we ever buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus knew there was no where to run to the store. Jesus must have seen the boy standing right near by with his sack full of bread and fish. The boy. The lad. He was just a kid. That kid with some food. Only John tells of that boy with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.
He’s easy to miss. That boy. In fact, most scholars writing about John, chapter 6, barely mention him. The commentators say little, if anything, other than a reference to the boy with a sack lunch. Martin Luther in his sermon on the text in John, he allegorizes everything. The five loaves represent the five senses that a human has. The two fish symbolize the patriarchs and the prophets. The twelve baskets stand for the writings of the Apostles. Phillip and Andrew signify the teachers who error on the side of wanting to make people pious, Luther preaches. Christ himself is the only one who satisfies. Everything means something to Luther, and he barely even mentions the boy standing next to Andrew. The boy with 5 and 2.
You may remember that in his gospel, John tends to include details. At the Wedding of Cana, the water jars about to become casks of wine? There were 6 of them and they each held 20 to 30 gallons. When Jesus was about to call to Lazarus who was wrapped and in the tomb, Martha warned Jesus, “He’s been dead for days. It’s going to stink?” When the Risen Christ was cooking breakfast for the disciples who were fishing early one morning, John records they were about 100 yards off shore. The catch of fish that morning that strained the nets? 153 John writes. John goes for some detail. So when the little boy provides the food that Jesus uses to feed the multitudes, we ought to at least notice him standing there, we ought to see him there in the church’s recollection, we ought to remember him there with five barley loaves and two fish.
The little boy ought to be etched into our memory, into our experience of the gospel, our encounter with the life of Jesus. Because Jesus takes what we have to offer, our half-baked efforts at ministry and he multiplies them to further the very kingdom of God. Because the smallest act of mercy and compassion is magnified by the grace of God. Because every last one of us has both the joy and the responsibility, the privilege and the burden of sharing in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Because all of us, we are saved by grace through faith alone, and we are ordained at our baptism to the priesthood of all believers, because all of us, we are called to a life of righteousness, not ours, but his, because of course there is nothing we can do to earn Jesus’ love, it is unconditional, undeserved, and unquestioned…and when you bask in that love how can you DO anything other than love your enemies, and love kindness, and love one another because he first loved us. Because the streets of heaven may have its share of Hall of Fame members; people we read about and study and celebrate, there are plenty there in the great cloud of witnesses worthy of attention, but there are a whole lot more who offered Jesus little more then 5 and 2. There are a whole lot more like that little boy.
I have been reading a book suggested by a church member, Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson. The book tells of the writer’s experience of race growing up as the son of a white Methodist minister in the south in the 60’s and 70’s. It is a gripping story of the harsh reality of racism in the church in my own lifetime. The pastor invited Samuel Proctor, then the African American president of North Carolina A and T College, to preach on Feb 2 1964 at his Methodist Church in North Carolina. Samuel Proctor would go on to become one of the greatest preachers and educators of the last 50 years. The invitation was not well-received by the leaders of the congregation. They threatened to fire the pastor and worse if he didn’t rescind the invitation. There were death threats and one night after a meeting of the church council, the young boy remembers his father coming home and climbing the steps with tears in his eyes, just about ready to give up.
On the Saturday night before Dr. Proctor’s visit there was an emergency meeting of church leaders. “You can end all of this with one phone call” they told the pastor. But then Miss Amy rose to speak. Miss Amy was the first grade teacher, to just about everyone in the room. “You keep saying this is going to tear the church apart” Miss Amy said. “I don’t know the guest preacher, but I know our pastor, and you know him too. He’s not going to tear anything apart. And I don’t suppose Dr. Proctor is going to tear anything apart either. If there is going to be any tearing done, we’re going to do the tearing apart ourselves.” Miss Amy went on to tell the story of a young black soldier who saved the life of teenage boy after a car crash up in Chapel Hill and she challenged all the fathers in the room to admit they wouldn’t have cared about color if that was their son hurt there in a ditch. The minutes of the meeting indicated that “the board voted 25 to 14 to stand with the pastor and welcome Dr. Proctor.” One of the segregationist church leaders came to the pastor’s home that night and broke down in tears. “Preacher, something happened to me tonight. When Miss Amy was talking, something happened to me that ain’t never happened before. Old Love just came into my heart.” At Miss Amy’s funeral some years later, the pastor recalled that story and said “I have never heard the voice of the Lord with such thunder, such wisdom, such love.”
You and I could read a whole lot of history of Civil Rights in this country and we would come upon name after name that we had heard about and studied before. Then there’s Miss Amy, a first grade teacher in Sanford, North Carolina, a member of the Methodist Church. There’s Miss Amy standing over there with her 5 and 2. Offering what she could to carry out and live and celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her contribution multiplied by Christ himself in the kingdom of God.
Whenever we gather at the Lord’s Table we describe being surrounded by so great a cloud of witness, the communion of saints, made one here at this Table with all of those who have gone before, those who will go after. As you settle into the Table of the Lord this morning, as you take a bit nourishment for this journey along the Way, along the Way with Christ Jesus, as you sit down at this Table in the kingdom of heaven….hey, do you remember that little boy with the five loaves and the two fish?
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