Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The British members of the international churches we served in Europe were convinced that the 5000 who were fed by Jesus along the Sea of Galilee were British. Who else, they jested, would have been more delighted to a feast on fish and chips and be satisfied? They themselves laugh at their love for the hardy pub cuisine of fried potatoes and fish. Consider this story-
Lost on a rainy night, a man was driving home from a fishing trip, when his tire burst just outside a monastery. The man stumbled out and requested shelter there for the night. Fortunately, he was just in time for dinner and was treated to the best fish and chips he had ever tasted. After dinner, he went into the kitchen to thank the chefs. He was met by two monks of the monastery. The first one said, “Hello, I am Brother Michael, and this is Brother Charles.” The man replied, “I’m very pleased to meet you. I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful dinner. The fish and chips were the best I’ve ever had. So, out of curiosity, who cooked what?” Brother Charles answered, “Well, I’m the fish friar.” So the man turned to other Brother and said “Then you must be…..?” He nodded, “Yes, I’m, afraid so—-I am the chip monk.”
Even British children have a penchant for such stories. A Polar bear walked into a ‘fish and chip’ shop and said to the cashier, “I’ll have a Cola and ……………………………. a large fish and chips.” The cashier asked, “What’s with the big pause?” The bear said, “I dunno, I’ve always had them.” Yes, the 5000 who enjoyed the feast of fish and chips may have been British with a dry sense of humor, but Jesus’ own disciples certainly weren’t amused.
I wish that all of Jesus’ followers could experience such joy and laughter, satisfaction and fulfillment -A Feast of Fish and Chips. Yes, I wish that for each one of us, our work was rewarding, our personal life fulfilling, our social life engaging, and our days jolly. But often, we are greeted instead with an overwhelming sense of battle fatigue. You manage to do everything you can, for your family, your friends, and your work, but it never seems to be enough. It would be easy to become cynical and give in, but some how your faith tells you to give it another shot. A feast is waiting for you- if you can just hold on long enough.
This morning I would like to share with you a simple meditation of hope and possibility based on three characters in St. John’s gospel: Philip, Andrew and the little boy. They came to the feast with little more than shear determination, true grit, and five loaves and two fish.
It had been a busy time for Jesus and the disciples. They knew fame and fatigue, energy and exhaustion. Wherever they traveled they were met by large crowds who were drawn to the amazing spectacle of Jesus’ signs and miracles. Indeed, Jesus was at the height of his popularity, and yet the excitement and adoration were beginning to wear thin. Wanting to escape the crowds, Jesus took his disciples off on a retreat. They crossed over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, and climbed a mountain to be by themselves. But just as they were about to settle into that time alone, they discovered that a large crowd of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem had followed them. Five thousand people were moving in their direction.
In St. John’s gospel, we read that, “When Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip simply couldn’t imagine any hidden source of strength for such a challenge. There was no British humor in this scene. The disciples had experienced days and days of non-stop ministry. They were kept so busy that there wasn’t even time to eat. The disciples had looked forward to this time to themselves, but all of a sudden 5,000 people appeared, and Jesus, the miracle worker, looked at Philip, and like the Ladies Aid surprised at the number attending a funeral luncheon, announced, “Run to Kowalskis and get a few extra buns.”
An exasperated Philip sighed, “But Jesus. Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. It’s not in the budget!” Philip was aware of his limitations. He was spent, and there was little personal strength that he could draw upon. It can happen to each one of us. The burdens of the day are heaped one upon another, and we cannot move.
Meanwhile Andrew had taken inventory. Like Philip, he too had experienced the wonder and excitement of Jesus’ ministry. Andrew had been moved by the crowds and the depth of Jesus’ compassion. But he knew that he had little more to give. Instead, Andrew announced, “We’ve found a kid here who has five barely loaves and two fish.” It sounded like a last ditch effort. Even Andrew realized how ridiculous this announcement was. His voice quickly trailed off as he said, “But what are they among so many people?”
Seldom does a day go by that you and I are not confronted with a large crowd of human need. News reports daily remind us of the crowds in the Middle East where violence seems to reign on the streets and refugees rush to the borders, or the crowds in Africa where violence and civil war have led to starvation. Of course, one need not look around the globe to find such tragedy, you need only look in your own backyard. The crowds are struggling with the aftermath of tornadoes, drought, wildfires, unemployment and despair. At the end of the evening news broadcast, or as you put down the morning paper, there you see Jesus, face to face, staring at you and asking the same question he put to poor, worn out Philip, “What are you going to do about this?”
So you respond like Andrew and Philip trying to convince Jesus that these are major, systemic problems. You’re basically powerless. You’re just an average law abiding, God fearing disciple. From a place where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average. Your real gifts are not all that spectacular – a little education, a bank account or two, a few skills and a lot of insecurity. The needs of the poor, the disenfranchised, those oppressed by war and violence are complex, and the injustice of the world is overwhelming. “I’m just an average, little Christian,” you confess, “What can I do?” No doubt, that’s what Jesus’ disciples Andrew and Philip were feeling, as the needs of the hungering and teaming crowds loomed before them. There was no feast waiting. They were simply exhausted.
And so we turn to the third character in the story, the boy. Then Andrew presented a little boy to Jesus, and sighed, “We’ve got nothing more than five loaves and a couple of fish.” Five loaves of bread and two fish may not seem like much, but the boy would soon discover, together with Andrew and Philip, that it was enough. Indeed, it was more than would be needed. “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted… and there were twelve baskets left over.” Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and in front of thousands of hungry people, he gave thanks. I believe that is the most important and telling verse in this whole story. Jesus gave thanks for what he had been given. Then the miracle could begin. That’s how powerful thankfulness is.
For centuries, theologians have debated the meaning of this miracle. Some have suggested that the Feast of Fish and Chips truly was a miracle of multiplying morsels into voluminous portions of bread and fish, and that the 5000 were truly satisfied. Others have stated that the bread and fish were merely sacramental elements. They were figurative morsels representing a foretaste of the feast to come. There is also another also a charming more skeptical explanation. It could scarcely be thought that the pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem would have been traveling such a great distance without possessing provisions. But perhaps no one would share what they had, for they selfishly wished to keep it all for themselves. It may be that Jesus, with his wondrous presence and concern inspired the crowds to be generous in the sharing of their own possessions. Yes, the story may celebrate a far greater miracle than Jesus multiplying bread and fish, a Feast of Fish and Chips, but a miracle in which Jesus turned the hearts of a crowd of selfish men and women into a truly loving and sharing fellowship. And it all began with a boy offering his lunch of fish and chips, and Jesus offering his words of thanksgiving.
Human gratitude is a rare quality today. We live in a world that knows little of thanksgiving. We have become so preoccupied with ourselves, not as blessed winners, but as beleaguered victims. We often recite complaints about what our parents did to us, or what the church did to us, what the government has done, or an employer, or an accident. And even what God has done to us. None of us believes that we ever have enough. After all our hard work at the end of the day, we complain that we’ve been left with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. But surprisingly, in the face of this large, hungry crowd, Jesus raised up this meager gift, and gave thanks for what he had been given.
Andrew, Philip and the young boy may have all been hungering for the same thing. Perhaps, it is what you are searching for as well. What we hunger for most in life is not new health, new jobs, or new relationships. What we hunger for most of all is a new heart and a new perspective. And the only way for to receive that is to stop looking at the meagerness of what you have and to look instead at the possible miracles Jesus can do with your meager gifts, if you will let him. It is striking in the story that Jesus did not create bread for these people to eat. Instead, he multiplied the bread and fish that he was given.
My friends, the story of the feeding of 5000 teaches us that Jesus isn’t going to feed the hungry, house the homeless, or give jobs to the poor by creating these things out of thin air to satisfy the needs of the world. No, he is going to multiply what you give him. That’s the way the miracle happens. It began with the boy offering his five loaves and two fish. It’s how it works, or doesn’t work. God’s miracle is dependent upon what you offer him of your abundance and of your meagerness. A feast of fish and chips can happen again, if you are willing to share your own gifts. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.