First Congregational Church
Sunday, August 6, 2017
9th Sunday after Pentecost and Communion Sunday
“Swoosh - You Do It” “in the meantime of life”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So, ya know, the other day, Ole was out fishing in a no-fishing zone. Sure enough, a game warden came by and asked him, “Didn’t you see the no-fishing sign?” Ole said, “Vell, as a matter of fact, I’m not actually fishing. I’m teaching dese vorms to svim.”
Sven vas reading a new book the other day. It was called “Saltwater Fishing,” by Barry Cuda. He was reading that one because he couldn’t find a copy of the other one he wanted to read: “How to Fish,” by Will Ketchum. The Cuda book was full of helpful information for fisherman, such as one should never tell jokes while ice fishing, because one doesn’t want too much cracking up going on. It also warns people to beware of the species that swims in the sea, that carries a machine gun and makes you an offer you can’t refuse, otherwise known as the Codfather.
While there was no real fishing happening in this morning’s passage, there was talk of fish, and you all know how one thing can lead to the next. Speaking of one thing leading to another, just before this morning’s scripture passage took place, Jesus’ heralder and cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. Herod’s wife, Herodias, didn’t like John the Baptist, because he was opposed to her marriage - to her first husband’s brother. So she had her daughter ask for John’s head as a reward for a dance.
There are places in the Gospels that suggest that although John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins, they weren’t kissing cousins. Other places suggest that they were bosom buddies. Regardless of their relationship, when John’s followers brought the news of his death, Jesus needed some time to grieve, and like so many of us, probably didn’t want to bear his soul before the crowds.
Matthew 14:13-21 NIV
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Thank you, Lauren. In all of the Gospels, this is the only miracle recorded in all four of them. They all contain slightly different details, such as the gospel of John is the only one that mentions that the owner of the loaves and fishes is a boy. There were certainly other miracles that could have received such an honor, so why this one? What’s so special about this one? And what does it tell us about God, about Jesus, about who we are called to be in the world that each of the evangelists said, “Now wait til you get a load of this one!”
There’s no doubt that feeding so many people with five loaves and two fish is a pretty nifty miracle. So many have tried to explain the miracle - some better than others. However it happened, we need our miracles to give us hope, and Jesus gets that.
But there is something more here that’s not about Jesus, but us. In one simple statement, Jesus was saying to his disciples, “Live already. You can’t sit back and watch me do all this awesome stuff. You feed them, because they’re hungry. Live the message.”
I don’t know if Jesus had any specific foreknowledge of our modern day, but maybe, just maybe, Jesus was the one, while talking with his hands, made a sort of a swoosh and coined the phrase, “Just do it,” the phrase that Nike has claimed. “Live life. I am counting on you. I need you.”
This last week, there was a video clip that made the rounds on Facebook, that spoke to very this point. It was a scene set on a high school football field, and the coach was trying to pump up the team for the Friday night game. But the star of the team, the one with the most potential, wasn’t so sure that was going to be possible. The other team was really good.
So the coach challenged the young man named Brock, asking the young man to do the death crawl - an exercise where you walk on hands and feet, but no knees. Brock thinks it’s no big deal to go thirty yards, but the coach challenges him to fifty yards. Brock says fifty yards is easy - with no one on his back. The coach says that whether Brock makes it or not, all he wants is Brock’s very best, and that he’s got to do it blindfolded so he wouldn’t give up when he could go further.
So Brock gets down on his hands and feet, Jeremy gets on his back, Brock starts down the field, and the coach starts his encouragement. The coach keeps asking Brock for his very best, his very best, not to quit on him, to keep driving forward. When Brock said it hurts, and that Jeremy was heavy, and that it burns, the coach told him to keep giving him his best.
Interestingly, one of the things that the coach keeps telling Brock is that it’s “all hard from here.” Finally, as the rest of the team gets up to walk along behind - for which there is also great symbolism - and Brock finally falls to the ground, the coach tells him that he’s in the end zone - that he’d gone nearly the entire length of the field. The coach finishes his point by telling Brock that he is the most influential person on the team, and that if he walks around defeated, so will the rest of the team.
I think we sometimes forget that Jesus asks such commitment of us. We may not have him yelling in our face, but the point is just as valid: sometimes we walk around defeated, and our defeat pours out onto the rest of “our team,” whether it’s at home, with our family, our friends, neighbors or children. I wonder if we think we have only so much to give, when actually God sees the greater amount we can give.
To finish the illustration, the coach was making his point to Brock, telling him of all that he inspired in his team, carrying a 140 pound man on his back, the length of a football field. After interrupting the coach, Jeremy finally gets to tell them that he doesn’t weigh 140, but 160.
I realize that this may not be the perfect illustration for the point, but it does speak to our human condition and the “inbetween” times - from point A to point B. When we get tired and feel like we just can’t go on, the Holy Spirit is right there with us, encouraging us to do our very best, and so sometimes, we do well to listen to that quiet, divine voice of encouragement.
Regardless of the fact that the disciples didn’t think they had anything to give, there were people we need to feed. Regardless of what we have going on in our lives, we have people that need to be fed; sometimes with our money, sometimes with efforts as meager as opening a can of soup. But there is so much more for which people hunger: recognition, appreciation, encouragement, a pat on the back, and if nothing else, then at least a smile or a nod of the head.
We need feeding, too, from time-to-time. We need to allow our hearts to be touched by the gracious gifts that others give us - whether its people or God or nature or music, or any other treasured gift, whether we think we deserve it or not. Which is another reason this table is such an important part of our lives as a church family.
It’s the place where we remember that all are welcome, all are appreciated, all are feed, because all of us hunger and thirst after things greater than what takes place in our day-to-day, everyday lives. All of us have a craving that is satisfied by God’s love and mercy and grace, that is represented in the broken bread and the poured cup. As we prepare to step up to this call to eat and drink, let us prepare our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Let us pray. Gracious, Loving God, we thank you for all with which you bless us: for this planet and life on it and in it, for the greatness of the galaxies and all of creation, for your Son and your Holy Spirit, and all the little pieces that lie between all of them. Thank you for loving and knowing and caring about each one of us as if we were your only special one, and for all the mercies and blessings that fill us - sometimes to overflowing. Thank you, too, for not just creating us and then to leave us alone, but for calling us into the work of your kingdom - to work with you and for you. For all these things and so much more, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.