(Matthew 14: 13-21)
Today, as you know, is Worldwide Communion Sunday. Which means that on this day, churches around the globe are sharing the bread and the cup together. It’s a beautiful thing, when you think about it; and whoever came up with the idea of Worldwide Communion Sunday deserves, in my opinion, a pat on the back.
Same goes for the person who came up with “intinction” communion. What we in seminary crudely referred to as, “rip and dip.” I love the fact that intinction is the primary way we celebrate the Lord’s Supper here at Trinity. Nothing against the “tray service,” but intinction feels more personal, more intimate; a meal literally shared, eye contact made, words exchanged: The bread of life. The cup of salvation. Thanks be to God!
I also like intinction because, frankly, I am fascinated with the way the majority of us take it. It is something I’ve noticed in 17 years of ordained ministry. I even gave it a name – I call it “the Conservation Intinction Distinction Disposition.” The Conversion Intinction Distinction Disposition occurs when people attempt to take communion by intinction, using as little of the communion elements as possible. So, if the bread isn’t already cut up, one tears off a mere sliver of the loaf, the tiniest piece possible, one you can barely hold between two fingers. And when you go to dip it in the cup, even the pre-cut pieces, you just barely dab it in there, the smallest purple dot at the very end.
Now I have two theories for the Conservation Intinction Distinction Disposition. One is that, at its heart, it is a southern thing. It’s your mother’s voice ringing in your ear, naggingly reminding you that it is not polite to take a big piece; it is rude to dip too deeply. After all, one must be “prim and proper” when coming to the table of our Lord…
That’s one theory. My other theory for the Conservation Intinction Distinction Disposition is a little more theological. It is the notion that we operate in this world of ours out of a presumption of scarcity. That we never quite think there is enough of something. There isn’t enough money in the bank. There isn’t enough food in the fridge. There isn’t enough of whatever we need at any given moment, and so we are hesitant to take too much of it. So even with the holiest of meals, we must be cautious, we must be careful – thus, the Conservation Intinction Distinction Disposition.
Now I don’t know if either of those theories are right or not. I only know what I’ve seen over the years – and, as it turns out, what we find in the Bible. Our scripture today is a perfect example. Matthew’s account of the Feeding of the 5000. That’s a lot of people, my friends. This huge crowd was out in the middle of nowhere as the day drew to an end, and food was hours of a walk away. And contrary to our parking lot two weeks ago, there were no food trucks in the wilderness!
And I’ve always found it interesting that it’s the disciples – and not Jesus – who pick up on this first. Did you notice that? Jesus is in throes of the crowds, doing all the things that Jesus did; and yet it’s the disciples who start looking around…..at the crowd, and how big it’s getting…..and the setting sun….and they are the ones who put two and two together and realize they’ve got a problem on their hands.
So they pull Jesus aside. And they say to him, Hey Jesus, sorry to bother you, but listen – we’re out here in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting late. These folks haven’t eaten all day. They really need to get going; get home and get themselves some food. You need to send them home, Jesus, you understand……
Jesus looks at them and sees the worried look on their faces; a look that is not at all present on his own. And with a calm but determined voice he says to them: They don’t need to go anywhere. YOU give them something to eat.
Huh. Have you noticed how Jesus’ words here kind of lost in the shuffle? We miss it as we scan ahead with eager eyes to the miracle that’s about to unfold. But think about it for a moment: when the disciples come to Jesus and share their concerns about the hungry crowd, Jesus places the feeding responsibility squarely on their shoulders: you give them something to eat.
So how do the disciples respond? Exactly as we’d expect – with the Conservation Intinction Distinction Disposition! It is right here in vs. 17, folks, in black and white! Uhh, Jesus, we don’t have anything – that’s what we’re trying to tell you. I mean, all we managed to find are five measly loaves of bread and two scrawny fish. That’s not enough; that could never be enough. We don’t have enough, Jesus. We don’t have enough. Please, just send them home.
You know, I’m wondering this morning if you’ve noticed the incredible contrast between how differently Jesus and the disciples view this situation they’re in out in the wilderness – did you catch it? The disciples see this as a problem that must be resolved. Now. They see thousands of hungry people, and more importantly, they see a total lack of resources. At best, at best, this is a PR disaster waiting to happen – years later folks will talk about how great it was seeing Jesus but man, lousy venue. At worst, it’s an ornery, hungry mob just waiting to explode. And the only solution the disciples envision involves putting the responsibility on the people themselves – sending them away so they can go get their own food.
But Jesus – Jesus sees the same thing entirely differently! There is no lack of resources, there is no scarcity – there is, in fact, an enormous abundance. And this is no problem to be solved; no, this is an opportunity to be seized. An opportunity for something wonderful to happen. And nothing “wonderful” can happen if you send everyone away! These people need to stay right here, in community with each other, because that’s what they’re really hungry for. And for the record, it’s not “their” responsibility to feed themselves – Jesus tells them, it’s YOURS. YOU, the disciples, you are the ones who will seize this opportunity and feed not only stomachs, but souls.
Now we all know what happens next, of course – how in a way that is so much deeper and more spiritual than a magic trick or an optical illusion, the disciples keep pulling loaves of bread and fish out of their baskets. Keep pulling them out. So much so that not only is the entire crowd fed, but there are leftovers for the take-out boxes. It is a miracle in every sense of the word.
But I want you to hear me loud and clear, Trinity Presbyterian, when I say this: the real miracle that day was not that hungry people were fed. Even though that was most certainly an amazing thing; even though we should still be doing the same thing today, because in our world the crowds of hungry are not counted by the thousands but by the millions; even though Jesus is still saying to us: YOU give them something to eat.
Even so, that’s not the real miracle of Matthew 14. The real miracle is that Jesus cured the disciples of their Conservation Intinction Distinction Disposition. Cured them! The discipled had assumed there wasn’t enough. The disciples had been predispositioned to scarcity. And Jesus opens their eyes so they can see the enormous abundance!
That is a miracle! It is a miracle because it is seeing things not with human eyes but with God’s eyes. It is a miracle because it is hard as all get-out to do!
Let me explain: I sit down at the family table for an evening meal. I have on the plate before me a hefty serving of baked ziti, a healthy pharmacy without prescription side of green beans, a sourdough roll, and a separate bowl of fruit. I drink two glasses of almond milk. I finish it all but I’m still hungry. For a minute I lament that I didn’t get enough, until it occurs to me that I just ate for one meal what roughly 1/5 of the world’s population has for an entire week. I was thinking scarcity – when, in fact, I had an enormous abundance.
Our country – we are blessed with wealth and resources that far exceed much of the rest of the world. We have the power and the means to eradicate extreme poverty around the globe. And yet, we hold back. We hold tight. We lose ourselves in partisan bickering across the political aisle; in endless theological debates over denominational decisions. We act out of a sense of scarcity, when in fact we are surrounded by an enormous abundance.
Here in this church – we have so much! We have members, young and old, long-time and new, who are excited and energized about all that God is doing here. We have a beautiful sanctuary; a campus and a facility that is unlike any other on Providence. And now, thanks to our session, we have a vision for next year – not a pie-in-the-sky kind of thing, but a vision with achievable goals that will transform this church and our community with us. The potential is unbelievable!
And yet, we are in many ways like most churches. We are far more inclined to see what we don’t have; more inclined to notice the shrinking dollars in the offering plate or additional digits on a budgeted deficit. We see buildings and think “maintenance;” we see staff and think “salaries;” we read sessional vision statements and think, can we really make this happen here?
And to us, Jesus says in a calm but determined voice: You. YOU! YOU give them something to eat. YOU feed the hungry and house the homeless. YOU replace the HVAC and paint the columns. YOU teach you children, mentor your youth, care for your elderly. YOU respond on Response Sunday not out of your scarcity but out of your enormous abundance. Because you have an abundance. You have more than enough! More than enough to feed thousands, more than enough to take care of all you’ve been given, more than enough to bring to reality a new vision for a new day; to equip and to grow and to serve in my name.
So in light of all of that, here’s what I’d like to suggest that you do when we celebrate communion today. Take your piece of bread or your gluten-free cracker. Take it and dip it in the cup – but more than a dab, more than a little purple dot. Choose today to be rid of Conservation Intinction Distinction Disposition forever. Choose today to live your faith to the fullest; not out of a fear of scarcity, but out of a promise of abundance. I mean, just think of the amazing things we can do in God’s name here on Providence, if come October 26th we follow Jesus’ command and choose to see and act on the enormous abundance that surrounds us all. I get excited when I think about that! How about you?
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God; and may all of God’s people say, AMEN.