Sermon John 6:1-14 “With the Little We Have” July 29, 2012

There’s fried fish and then, there’s fried fish. In 2010, while traveling in Sicily, the home country from which my grandparents came, my cousins and I had the opportunity to enjoy the food of the land. We had grown up with Sicilian food as the mainstay of our diet…lots of vegetables, plenty of Olive oil, fresh fruit, meat and of course, fish. Sicily sits at the bottom of Italy’s boot-shaped mainland and it is surrounded by water. Fish would have been an obvious and delicious food to harvest and eat so there was plenty of it and it was all very fresh when served.

After a long day of touring, we had the pleasure of enjoying a wine tasting sit down meal, which included four different wines from very red and dry to a sweet dessert vintage. The meal itself was a part of the tour and we had already paid for it in the total cost so it was just nice to sit and enjoy. Because it was a pre-paid meal, there were only two offerings; a veal dish and a dish described simply as, fried fish.  Now, earlier in the day, we had toured a farm with cows, calves, and the smell of homemade produced cheese. I had looked into the faces of tiny calves with their dewy brown eyes. Veal wasn’t an option for supper; I couldn’t have swallowed it. So that left me with the Fried Fish selection.

When I read fried fish I naturally thought Cod or Haddock. I’m all New England, lived on the coast of Maine and later, on the Cape; I know my fish. So I ordered the fried fish prepared to enjoy something with which I knew I was familiar but not too familiar. Fish don’t generally have dewy brown eyes.

When my dinner came, I was horrified to see that this fried fish didn’t look anything like Cod or Haddock. Not only were there eyes but at least one of the offerings on my plate had legs. There were some bits of Calamari lightly coated in some kind of bread crumb mix, a shrimp or two looking uncomfortably like it could swim quite easily off the plate and a couple of Scungilli, otherwise known as conches, de-shelled of course. I swallowed hard, figuratively held my nose and in the tradition of a good, well-behaved and polite Italian girl, ate it all trying very hard not to taste any of it.

Jesus understandably would know a bit about fish. He grew up and traveled in a country where, the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, all likely fish producing waters, would be familiar sights. He called his first two disciples from their fishing trade to join him in his travels and ministry. He shared meals with his companions, which would, no doubt, include a meal of some kind of fish. So it probably didn’t surprise him much when faced with the need to find food for the more than 5000+ people who had come to hear him preach and to be healed, the disciples would find among the crowd a boy with two fish and five loaves of bread…both would be staples in the world in which Jesus lived.

But, certainly, there were some surprises for the disciples. First, Christ called on them to solve the problem of feeding so many needy people and secondly, he used the little they were able to provide to meet the need. Though Jesus could have worked a miracle of plenty without the help of the disciples or the foresight of a little boy who had come prepared to eat, he chose another way. He chose to empower his disciples and those who witnessed this moment to be the ministers. He called upon them to act with compassion. Christ very deliberately stepped into the present moment to point to a future certainty – he would not always be there in body to take up the work and to make things happen, but the disciples could be there, could act, could make miracles happen.

I’ve been reading a book, a memoir about mothers and daughters by author, Beverly Charles. A statement she made regarding her Christian faith struck me as insightful. She says, “ I’ve come to believe that I ‘practice’ Christianity and I have faith that Christ’s message is love. To me, keeping in mind that I am practicing Christianity keeps it alive and in motion.” [1]

I had to give this some thought. Is there a difference between saying I am a Christian and practicing Christianity? Well, I think there is. If I say I am a mother but I don’t practice or live out mothering than I’m a mother in name only. There is no grace in that situation and no redemption. My faith in myself, in my children, in parenting is dead, lifeless. But if I practice mothering, I learn about myself; I learn about my children, their needs, strengths, desires, and hopes and I now have something important to teach others, which may help other mothers and fathers be parents that live out the truth meaning of parenting.

Christ instinctively knew his disciples needed to move beyond saying they were Christ-followers to learning how to live as Christ-followers, how to practice what Christ did, what Christ said, what Christ believed. It was not enough to simply say, “I am a Christian”. The strength of faith would lie in their willingness to live out the practices and beliefs of Christianity. Then, even though Christ would not be with them in body he would be with them in Spirit and his Spirit in them would assure that his ministry and faith in God would continue to be alive and in motion.

Those beliefs that we try as Christians to uphold can seem, at times, beyond our human capacity or even our understanding. We are limited by our human frailties and uncertainties; the mind of God can seem expansive and without a doubt, mysterious. We rely on the Bible to help us sort through some of our confusion as to what God would have us be and do, but the Bible, though inspired, is also limited in its capacity to fully define the character of God. God is just too big. The many writers, who interpreted the events and historical moments down through the ages, could not divorce themselves from their own prejudices, emotional energy or theological bents to produce a “one God fits all” look-see into the image of the Divine. If it were possible to imagine, envision or fully capture the divine nature of God, then this too-small God would cease to be divine at all. We would have made ourselves God’s equal and that, of course, cannot be.

What cannot be argued and history verifies it, is that as human beings, we have an innate need to try and describe a God that we can understand. For those of us who are named as followers of Christ, Christians, Christ is as close as we can get to a fuller understanding of God’s grace and life, but we can’t just stay in the moment of knowing; we must also move into a place of action, living out what we see and what we know to be God-inspired grace and compassion. And that is what Christ calls out of his disciples as he points to the need of the hungry around them, around us and says, “You feed them”. We know the need is larger than we are but then again, we know that God in Christ can take the little we have and make it more bountiful, more life-enriching, and more healing than we can ever imagine. Amen.

[1] Beverly Charles, “How I Discovered My Mother Was a Goddess” AuthorHouse, 2010, 144.