Miracles of multiplication

Mosaic of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, St. Savior in Chora, Istanbul. Photo © Dick Osseman.

A sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 31, 2011. The lectionary readings are Isaiah 55:1-5, Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22, Romans 9:1-5, and Matthew 14:13-21.

As we begin to move into August, our parish and others are thinking about September 11. Stories come to mind, memories flash. Especially as I read today’s Gospel, I think of another miracle of loaves and fishes. September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday, but by Wednesday, the Seamen’s Church Institute, an Episcopal ministry based near South Street Seaport, had begun to coordinate food for the men and women who came to New York to help recover and clean up. By Thursday, emails and faxes were going throughout the Diocese, and a simple rota was drawn up so that a church from Manhattan along with a church from the Bronx might be in charge of lunch. A few people from Yonkers might team up with another few from Brooklyn to cover dinner. On and on, it spread. Filipino Episcopal ladies would bring empanadas and pancit. Haitian Episcopalians would bring rice and beans and fish. It was a kind of United Nations of food, and for each meal, it initially looked like there wouldn’t be enough. But with each aluminum serving bowl and each plastic utensil, the food seemed to grow.

Out of a little, came a lot. Out of the hearts of those who wanted to help, came God’s love the way of God’s love is almost always to multiply and grow and expand.

With a little bit of faith, with time for God to break in, with a miracle in the presence of Jesus Christ, paralyzing problems can become holy possibilities.

In today’s Gospel, I imagine the disciples were probably at their wit’s end. It was late in the day, they must have been tired, hungry, maybe a bit cranky. We know from other scriptures that the disciples sometimes became a little jealous of Jesus’ time—and so I bet the disciples were trying to get rid of the people. But Jesus tells the disciples to feed the people.

The disciples have almost nothing—but they eventually have no choice but to bring to Jesus the little that they have. They bring the five loaves and the two fish. And somehow, and some way, all the people ate, and they were satisfied.

The disciples bring the little that they have. They bring their limitations, their faults, their shortcomings, their impatience, their pride, their anger, all of their bounty, which is really quite small and insufficient, but they give it to Jesus.

Jesus took their offering and he blessed, broke and gave. What was ordinary became holy. What was insufficient is what was able to feed all—with some left over.

What might seem like a paralyzing problem— with the touch, the blessing, and the sharing of Christ, becomes problem is changed into a holy possibility.

Maybe we have known this aspect of sanctification (of something being made holy), in our own lives. But too often, if you’re like me, it’s easy to forget its power. Probably it is the devil who convinces us that we are alone, that we are isolated, and that we need to solve every problem ourselves.

To return to some of the images of our Gospel and other scripture, we’re human– we get hungry and thirsty. We need food and drink. But we believe that we thirst alone. We believe we’re the only ones who are hungry. But in the first lesson from Isaiah, God calls us into relationship, into community with another, into fellowship. God calls us closer– Especially when we’re thirsty and have no water, especially when we’re hungry (no matter whether that hunger is for food, or friendship, or love, or whatever.)

But this well-known Gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes reminds us of a paradigm for holy healing. It’s a method practiced by many.

Almost any twelve step program of recovery begins the same way: First we admit that we are limited. We admit that we are powerless—over the thing, the substance, the person, the habit, the emotion, whatever. This means being honest with our own deficiencies and understanding that we are not all that we might be.

The next movement is to give our “little” over to God, to place it on his altar, as it were. Whether we are hungry for real food, or hungry for something else. Whether it is a lack of patience, a lack of compassion, a lack of love, a lack of faith—whatever is our little, we place before God with a prayer simply that God would help and heal us.

And then finally, we await God’s action in prayer and we share the process, and the presence of Christ with someone else. We share our limitations, our lack, our little. And it may just be that in the sharing of our pains, the multiplication, the blessing, the holy healing comes from an unexpected direction.

If we allow him, if we dare to follow him, Jesus takes problems that seem paralyzing and makes of them holy possibilities.

May we know the blessing of God’s abundant love, may we share this love with others, love abundant and overflowing.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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