Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
2 Kings 4:42-44
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat.’ But his servant said, ‘How can I set this before a hundred people?’ So he repeated, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.” ’ He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 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. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.
Food for Fifty: Lentil-Sausage Soup*
Brown in a large kettle 5 lbs. of pork sausage, broken into chunks.
Remove meat and pour off all but 1 cup of drippings.
Add: 10 medium onions, chopped; 5 cloves garlic, minced;
and 20 medium parsnips, cut in chunks (optional).
Cook 5 minutes until onions and garlic are tender.
Then add: 4-4.5 lbs. lentils;
5 Tbsp. salt; 1 Tbsp. marjoram;
6 qt. Cooked tomatoes or juice;
7 qt. water; and browned sausage.
Simmer about 30 minutes. Makes about 4 gallons.
– Doris Janzen Longacre, Living More with Less
If you had to suddenly feed fifty people, what would you feed them? I, personally, would probably panic, for at least a minute. Then, I would run to the pantry. If we had to suddenly feed 50 people, we have enough pasta and pre-made sauce to cover 10 (could cover the vegans with this). We also have enough pancake fixin’s for probably 10 people (would cover the vegetarians). And, with the beef stock, canned veggies, and rice, we could probably whip up a pretty hardy soup... enough to fill our big soup pot. Oh! And some frozen fiddleheads I could cook and put on grits. There’s another vegan dish. Tasha wanted to simplify things and said “Can’t we just order pizza or buy all the pasta and pasta sauce at Annie’s.” Annie’s is our local convenience store.
I asked three friends, all generous folks and good cooks, what they’d do. Kristy said chili or soup: “Something where a little goes a long way.” Tijuana, who is a pastor, too, and was working on her own sermon, said she’d make roasted veggies and farro and try to have tahini or sriracha sauce for people to use. If she had the ingredients on hand, she’d make beef stew, too. Emily said she’d roast veggies, too, and chickpeas. And, cook up a bunch of lentils. Cheap. Easy to cook up a bunch. Good for vegetarians and vegans and a lot of different food allergies. If you had to suddenly cook for 50 people, what would you cook? How would you feed everyone?
If you are the prophet Elisha, and a group of a hundred people is sitting in front of you, people who are living in the midst of a famine, you know that they need to be fed. And, because you are a prophet, you want to remind people of the love and compassion of God. Everything you do is an attempt to reconnect people with their covenant with God. That includes figuring out how to feed 100 hungry people. Dr. Dora Mbwayesango, in her commentary on the text, says that Elisha is following the footsteps of Elijah, by “showing God’s care and power through miracles.” Feeding 100 people, when you just got back to town and there is also a famine, is certainly a miracle.
Because he is a prophet and known to be close to God, a stranger has brought him an extravagant gift as an offering to God: twenty loaves of barley and more fresh ears of grain he’s carrying in a satchel. Dr. Mbwayesango said that kind of offering is usually made to a priest at a sanctuary. This offering is also far more than was asked to be given to a priest in Leviticus 23:10-14. Elisha, who follows a caring and powerful God, knows what to do with extra, unexpected food: Share it. But, even this much food won’t be enough for 100 people. Elisha’s servant is worried that it won’t be enough and maybe that the people will fight over what little there is. Remember how people were about the toilet paper last year? Dr. Mbwayesango said, “Fear sometimes brings a spirit of individualism that disregards the needs of others and ignores the connections among us.” That’s what the servant was worried about happening right there in front of Elisha.
But, like I said, Elisha knew he was following a caring and powerful God. He told the servant to put the food out. “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘they shall eat and have some left.’” The servant is worried. It’s like me looking at our three cans of chick peas, a small bag of couscous, and some beef broth and trying to figure out how to make it something that tastes good. He’s worried. But he puts the food out. All the people come. All the people eat. There was some left. Elisha knew God could pull it off. And, isn’t it beautiful that God worked through one faithful man’s gift to make sure a bunch of hungry people could eat.
What if you’re Jesus and you want to feed a whole bunch of people? What do you do? Turns out, something a lot like Elisha. Each of the four Gospels record Jesus working miracles. There is only one miracle that is in all four: Jesus feeding the five thousand. There isn’t even a birth narrative in all four of the Gospels. But, each of the people who wrote and compiled Jesus’ story into a Gospel though this story was so important that they each had to include it. Our reading today is the version from the book of John. It is not a time of famine, but it is a time of tension: Passover, a holy festival for the Jewish people that was also closely guarded by Rome, who feared rebellions might bubble up in those holy days dedicated to remembering God’s liberating power.
It is no coincidence that the story of Elisha feeding 100 people and Jesus feeding 5,000 are paired together as readings for today. In her commentary on the text, Dr. Susan Hylen notes that the author of John respected prophets and used comparisons to prophets to help people understand who Jesus was. Like Elisha, Jesus knew that God was caring and powerful. In his own ministry, Jesus mirrored the actions of earlier prophets, working miracles as signs pointing to God’s abundance and concern for the people, and inviting people to return to the promises they made in the covenant. Jesus was more than prophet, but as one who was also sent by God, he knew, like the prophets knew, that God would feed the people.
Jesus looks at the 5,000 gathered and knows they need to eat. He says to a disciple, “Where will we buy bread for these people to eat?” Bread must have been Jesus’ go to recipe instead of grilled veggies and lentils. Phillip, ever the pragmatist, says “six months of wages would not buy enough bread for all these people.” Andrew, a little more optimistic, looked around to see what was at hand and found a boy who was willing to share five barley loaves and two fish. Yet another generous person willing to share what they have, even though it’s less than the man in the Elisha story. Jesus looked at the people and the food they had and he knew God would make it work.
So, he had his disciples sit everyone down. He gave thanks for what they had and began to break it apart, sharing the bread and the fish. And, he just kept having enough. Some people wonder if, in seeing the boy and Jesus share, it inspired others to share, with everyone digging into their purses and backpacks and pockets for any little bit of food to bless and share with their neighbors. That’s its own kind of miracle, generosity bearing more generosity into the world. I don’t know if that explanation is necessary though. Jesus does some wild and powerful stuff in John. But, it’s always to point back to God. How ever the people were fed, they were fed. And, they knew something more about God’s loving abundance after having eaten.
There’s more to this story. The people call Jesus a prophet, which is kind of true, and some even want him to be king, which Jesus doesn’t want at all. Dr. Hylen reminds us that Jesus will later be clear that ‘his kingdom is not of this earth.” And, he was not seeking his own power or exaltation. He performed miracles to show people something about God. Even when he walked on water at the end of this reading, it wasn’t just about showing his power. It was about telling the disciples not to be afraid. The things they will do together will be frightening. But, God’s power lived in Jesus. God’s abundance moved through Jesus. Jesus can be more powerful than a force of nature and gentle enough to feed strangers with food borrowed from a generous child. If the people are hungry, they will be fed. God will make sure of it.
There’s plenty of hungry people right now, needing to be fed. Whenever we are generous like the man with the extravagant offering or like the boy with a simple meal, we are getting a glimpse of God’s abundance in action. We are most often in the place of the servant or Philip, clear that what we have isn’t enough to feed everyone. But, I pray that we can be like the servant and Andrew, and look at what we have and share it anyway. God will still work through it. And, when the people are no longer hungry, they know something more about the caring and powerful God we service. And, they won’t be hungry anymore.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Recipe originally shared by Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi: https://www.ucc.org/worship-way/pentecost-9-july-25/
Dora Mbwayesango: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-17-2/commentary-on-2-kings-442-44
Susan Hylen: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-17-2/commentary-on-john-61-21-4
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.