Enough…and then some

Matthew 14: 13-21

Isaiah 55: 1-5

Erica Schemper

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, San Carlos, CA

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

I sometimes find it harder to preach on texts like this one, the ones every one knows. The ones we hear over and over again. Because it’s hard to find something fresh.

This miracle of feeding the multitudes? It’s a much told story. It was important to the early Christians. It’s the only miracle that appears in all 4 gospels. And Matthew and Mark each tell an additional story about Jesus feeding 4000.

We tell it to children. Many of us heard it as children.

It resonates with the story we reenact every week when we come forward and break bread together at this table.

But what does it mean? How does it shape us? Have we heard it so often that we’ve forgotten?

What if we’ve worn it out in the telling?

Two weeks ago, I was the pulpit supply for Sturge Memorial Presbyterian Church in San Mateo. They don’t do lectionary, so I decided to preach this text so that I could re-preach it for you. I was grasping to make it fresh, to figure it out. So I dug around in the story for some new insight, and I found a few things. And that’s what I preached. And it was OK. But you all won’t be hearing that version of the sermon, because something happened to me in the parking lot two weeks ago before I preached. This Bible story ran head on into a family story, and it built something new in me. So that’s the story you’ll be hearing this morning.

My Dad’s side of the family is from California. They were Dust bowl migrants: Henry and Alberta, my great grandparents, left Kansas after a few years of farming disaster, packed their two little children, and everything they owned into a car, and drove to Los Angeles.

In 1942, they were living in Long Beach, CA.  And my great grandpa was working in the shipyards. My grandpa Loyd was 13.

My Grandparents and my Great Grandparents were lovely people. Church going. Boundary pushing. FDR democrats and union members. They lived in working class LA suburbs that were pretty diverse, and my Grandpa, by his retirement, was a foreman of a work team at an aerospace company, and his work teams over the years were diverse, and he talked about how much they all learned from each other.

About 10 years ago, I was attending a professional conference in Southern CA, and one of the speakers, Rodger Nishioka, told us about his family’s experience of being rounded up during WWII and send to a Japanese internment camp.

They were from Long Beach, CA.

I asked my Grandpa about it.

He remembered that time. But they didn’t do anything. “What you have to understand: we were scared.”

This is part of my family story: my wonderful, Christian, family, people who tried to teach me not to be prejudiced by skin color, sat back and did nothing when their neighbors were taken away.

I think of that every time I encounter this horrible story of American history.

Last month, we visited Lava Bed National Monument. Beautiful, breathtaking. Desolate high desert.

There are the ruins on an internment camp on one edge of the park.

So that piece of history was taking up some space in the back of my brain.

Two weeks ago, I arrived to preach on this text at a congregation in San Mateo.

This congregation is in a part of San Mateo where the houses are built close together, prewar and a few post war, stucco. Not unlike the neighborhoods where my grandparents and great grandparents lived when I was growing up.

I sat in the car reviewing my sermon. Thinking about this story of this crowd in the wilderness, wondering where they would find food.

And that was when it hit me.

The wilderness.

You see, this is a historically Japanese congregation. It’s been in San Mateo since 1929.

And, as I watched other cars pull into the parking lot, it was clear that my congregation for the morning would primarily be elderly Japanese women.

Many of whom, as children, found themselves in the wilderness, where it wasn’t clear that there would be enough.

And I, a white woman whose grandparents and great grandparents stood idly by while their Japanese neighbors were sent to the wilderness, was about to preach this text.

I spent the next 5 minutes frantically combing through my text to make sure I wasn’t about to accidentally say something offensive.

Then I went in and preached, and afterward I drank coffee and ate sweet rolls with these dear women.

And Jesus feeding the multitudes will never sound the same to me. The story has changed, because I now enter it differently.

You see, the stories we tell about Jesus, the stories the early church chose to tell over and over and over about Jesus, they shape how we understand who God is, and who we are.

They shape how we understand the world.

One of the cultural messages that we struggle against, I think, is the idea that there is not quite enough. True, we live in a culture that celebrates excess. But I think we also have a cultural idea that we need to accumulate, and hold onto thing, because there might not be enough.  We guard our time. We save up. We keep all kinds of extra stuff in our garage because we might need it someday. And there’s some virtue in this. But there’s also little tiny bit of it that can be about the worry that there’s not going to be enough. I mean: I love me a good black dress. I think of them as a basic and a necessity, the height of simple dressing. However, I happen to own enough of them that, well, I could get through a week, at least, without repeating. I mostly wear jeans and yoga pants as a stay at home parent. But I tell myself my black dress habit isn’t that bad: I mean, they’re a classic! But, let’s be honest. I hoard black dresses. I have more than I need. (Don’t judge. I know you’ve each got some secret like this.)

First century Palestine was a place with great contrasts of excess and deprivation. (This text, a story about people with nothing to eat actually, comes right after the story of a great, excessive, decadent banquet, in Herod’s palace. The banquet the ends with the beheading of John the Baptist.) In societies with these contrasts of people with too much and people with too little, I think there’s always an undercurrent: the fear that the resources will run out.

But Jesus turned this sort of worldview on its head.

Walter Bruggeman:

Bruggeman: . . . Everywhere Jesus goes, the world is rearranged: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are freed from debt. The forgiveness of debts is listed last because it’s the hardest thing to do—harder even than raising the dead to life. Jesus left ordinary people dazzled, amazed, and grateful; he left powerful people angry and upset, because every time he performed a wonder, they lost a little of their clout.

When we are the “haves” in society, we have power and clout.

So I wonder, what are the 5 loaves and 2 fish that I am hanging onto, that you are hanging onto? What are the things you have that you are sure can’t possibly be enough? And what would it mean to hand them over to Jesus, and then to say, “Yes” to whatever crazy impossible solution Jesus calls you into? Could we feel empowered to do the big things that God calls us to do, even with resources that feel inadequate? Can we remember that we, with what we have in our hands, are the people who have power, and that we are called to give what we have, even if we worry that it won’t be enough?

This is often what it means to follow Jesus: we are led into the desert, and we are sure there is not enough.

But Jesus takes what little we have, blesses it, and, even when the plan seems crazy,

It turns out? There is enough…more than enough.

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