Part A: Warm-up
- Do you prepare and cook meals?
- How many people do you cook for?
- What happens if there are leftovers? Alternately, do you deliberately prepare quantities so that there will be leftovers?
- Sometimes when the menu is leftovers, we say “Ugh!" But we know that if we leave them in the refrigerator too long they won't be good anymore. Then we would have to throw it out. We don’t want to do that because we want to be good stewards of all that God provides. Besides, food costs money!
- When God’s people were freshly liberated slaves wandering in the wilderness, what experience did they have with leftovers? Tell about the experience of manna and God’s command to gather only what was needed for the day.
Part B: Pulpit
In the ancient Mediterranean world, there weren't many leftovers for most people. In fact, there was barely enough food for survival. So, when Jesus fed the throngs of people out in the wilderness, the fact that there were twelve baskets full of leftovers was taken as a powerful sign — just as powerful as the way in which the banquet was produced in the first place.
Jesus started with just five loaves and two fish in order to feed five thousand people! And still there were leftovers — not the kind of leftovers that make us grimace when we find them behind that big pickle jar in the refrigerator, but leftovers that will provoke as much wonder and awe as the incredible bounty that was miraculously provided first time around.
The miracle started with very common food. The bread was barley bread, not wheat bread. Barley bread was the bread most widely available to peasants. Similarly the fish. It wasn't fresh fish. Rather, it was processed fish. Peasant bread, and peasant fish.
The picture is clear: these people who flocked to Jesus on the mountainside near the Sea of Tiberius (or “Sea of Ga|i|ee”) were peasants. They were coming to him because of the signs that he had done among the sick. They were coming to him because of their utter need.
The disciples were overwhelmed by this bottomless pit of need. When Jesus asked Philip what they should do, Philip replied that six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get even a little. The wages that Philip had in mind were subsistence wages, and the meal that he had in mind was a subsistence meal. His reply reflected the world that he and his fellow disciples and the crowds occupied.
What about us, here on the west coast of Canada, one of the best countries in the world? In spite of the fact that we are living in the richest time in history, our world likewise tells us that we are leading subsistence lives. Just listen to the advertising that assaults our ears:
You aren't cool enough. You aren't young enough. You aren't very sexy. You lack the right make-up, the right clothes, the right smart phone, the right house and garage and sports car.
This drives so much of our contemporary consumer enterprise. We are persuaded that we don't have enough, we aren't quite good enough, and our lives don't measure up.
You hear this in psychology, too. Our plight, we are told, is that we don't have enough se|f-esteem. We would function better and we would be happier if on|y we had more. And so gurus devise programs to help us get more self-esteem so that we will be happier.
Listen carefully! What they're actually saying is that we need more identity, more personhood, more self!
That inevitably influences our religious impulses, too. Religious thought so often includes the notion that we need more of what we already have. The message is subtle but significant. We need more, more, more!
And so, even well-meaning Christians are prone to teaching that we must find Jesus. We must acquire him in order for us to have the quality of life that the world keeps advocating, for the sake of our ultimate happiness.
But that’s not the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. Rather, that’s just the world talking. The world tells us that we are suffering a shortage of something, that we lead subsistence lives. We are psychologically and spiritually deficient and must get more. It's a subtle but persistent voice. It never quits. It nags us, bothers us, accuses us.
Finally, by God’s grace, we hear the Gospel story. Here comes Jesus, proclaiming his heavenly Father's reign. God's only beloved Son ushers in a kingdom where heaven comes down to earth and transforms it with super-abundance! There were 5,000 people gathered on that Galilean hillside, all yearning for something from Jesus. Jesus fed them all … and still there were leftovers! That's good news!
New life is created by the sheer excess of God's mercy in Jesus Christ. It's not something that must be rationed with calculated care. Nor is it a grim-looking container forgotten until now behind the pickle jar in the refrigerator.
God's leftovers originate from and flow through the Saviour of the world, who feeds us all. God delivers super-abundant grace through Jesus. God lavishes love and mercy upon us. It's far, far more than simply enough. It cannot be contained. It inevitably produces leftovers. It fills our cup and spills over onto our neighbour.
That changes us. That grabs and transforms us. No longer are we consumed by our fears that we don't have enough of what the world values, that we are somehow deficient, that we need more stuff, that we need more self. God-in-Christ frees us from all that with the sheer abundance, the sheer excess of love and mercy that will always produce leftovers.
Jesus sends us out with the same forgiving, life-giving love that recreates us, and bids us proclaim it and administer it, because our heavenly Father wants all people to share in the sheer abundance of this new life.
Five loaves plus two fish. Five and two seems like so little among the hungry throngs. Similarly, the words, ’’I love you, I forgive you,” seem so inadequate for a world of need.
But so rich, so abundant are they that they will always produce leftovers. Coming from heaven above, they possess and impart a life-giving power that will transform us and everyone else.
God grant us and our neighbours all that we need and more than we can ask or imagine!