May 14, 2017 / GIVEN - SO AS TO BE GIVEN / Sara Wolbrecht / Mark 6:30-44
Last week I had coffee with Anna, she’s part of Salt House. She had asked to meet, and I assumed it was a chance for us to get to know each other better, maybe she had a few specific questions for me.
And Anna certainly had specific questions. We met at the new Starbucks on the other side of I-405, got our coffee and tea and squeeze into a spot on these cognac leather window seats – it was packed in there.
Anna spent nearly the entire conversation in tears. And here’s why. Anna works in the tech industry – and it is overwhelmingly predominantly men. And though her company is doing quite a bit to address this – like the program she is a part of – it is still so obvious that women do not have a place there like men do, and so many of them, not only in her own company, are paid less than men for the same work. She sees pay equity and discrimination – and then she shared how it’s not even just that – it’s the open discrimination of women, of people of color, of religious minorities – that she sees it in workplaces, but also just out in the world – in the news, in the kinds of memes that people make, the kinds of comments people make.
And this. All of this was why Anna was crying. Tears of sadness, anger for what she sees – but also, the reason she met with me, she cried because the question that eats at her is: What do I do? It shouldn’t be like this. With all of this injustice, pain I see – I am not doing enough.
I am so grateful for how open and raw Anna was with me. And I wonder: Do you ever get tears like Anna? We’ll come back to Anna and us in a minute, but we start here, and hold her tears and our tears and all the ways in which we ask “what do I do??” And we turn to the Bible.
To the Feeding of the 5000 – it is the only miracle of Jesus that is in all four of the gospels. For it to be included in all four gospels, we see it as this exclamation point on this story, it is so important, all four writers had to include it. So we listen for what God has to say in it to us. Asking, what does it mean for us today? Let’s take a look at, and envision this incredible story:
Mark 6:30-44 (NIV). 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.
33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 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 his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
It says “5000 men” – there were likely additionally at least as many women and children there – so really, it’s the Feeding of the 10,000. Did you happen to notice what Jesus does with the fives loaves and two fish, it says: Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them… Mark 6:41
I hope your ears perked up, or you caught your breath when we read this, for what Jesus does here is quite familiar to us. It is what Jesus does at the Last Supper with the bread which therefore points to the four words we have been moving through in these past weeks as we wrestle and dance with what happens At the Table. Both the table of Holy Communion and all the tables we gather at during the week, that good and sacred things happen there when we eat together. AND also, how the table reminds us of who we are – for we are like that bread that Jesus had. We are Chosen, Blessed, Broken, Given.
In this final week At the Table, we arrive at this final word: Given. And having read the Feeding of the 5000 (hold on to that), let’s dig into this by talking a bit about Holy Communion – today is a good day to do that as we celebrate 6 of our young folks in their First Communion.
…Another word for Holy Communion is Eucharist – Eucharist is a magical word. Not really, but it’s beautifully powerful. We’ve named before how the Greek roots essentially means = The Good (eu) Gift (charis). And the word is right there in the middle of the text we read of the Last Supper. As Jesus has his last meal with his friends, it says, “and when he had ‘given thanks’”: when he had eucharisteo is the Greek word there, he then took the bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it… Eucharisteo is what Jesus’ final meal is. It is a Good Gift – and that meal was packed with layers of meaning, pointing forward to Jesus’ Crucifixion, saying how like his death, this meal was a gift that was made possible through body broken and blood poured out for the healing of the world. The Good Gift.
And one of those layers of meaning Jesus intended at the Last Supper was that the “Good Gift,” the Eucharist, would not just describe the bread and cup on the table. But it actually describes us – we are that bread, right? We receive that bread and cup and we are reminded that we are the Good Gift too, we are Eucharists that are given to the world. (Anyone ever told ya you are a Eucharist?)
Which if we step back for a moment, let’s name how this sounds. To me, if you tell me I’m the Good Gift, given to the world, how I interpret that is, well, I better get my stuff together. I get this image of ahhhhh how I must do and be all the good and right and generous things there are to be. A shiny, happy person all the time.
Do you get that vibe, too? When we say, hey, you’re the good gift! So we must must must keep this in check to remember the story we’re a part of, the Jesus story where the Good Gift has three other things happen before we’re Given as that Good Gift, what are they? We are: chosen, blessed, BROKEN.
And it is emphasized in this text we just read, too, the Feeding of the 5000: “Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves, then gave it...” The bread must be broken before it can be given
The breaking happens, before the giving. (And yes, so does the choosing and blessing – but it is the breaking that is most often avoided). Here’s the deal, friends, we are the Good Gift – but the Gift that we offer the world absolutely includes our brokenness. No pretending to be shiny and happy all the time. No need, even, to have it all together. If anything, what Jesus makes clear is that we need to be imperfect, authentic, rough and raw people. Last week we named the posture we’re invited to live in with our lives, including our brokenness. Do you remember it? It has to do also with what we do as we come forward for the Eucharist. We are invited to be like Open Hands – holding open all the ways in which we hurt and have hurt others, holding open our grief and longing and pain, holding ourselves open to name that we have need. And we named how: man, that ain’t easy! But we choose to be people, who live the Jesus story of wholeness, which doesn’t mean avoiding pain, but we walk toward our brokenness. Ouch, I know.
So my friends, as we asked last week, I wonder where do you feel brokenness in your relationships, now or in the past? How can you hold your hands open today? Naming that brokenness, pain, grief. I invite you to become aware of where you’re hurting and actually hold your hands open. Maybe part of what comes up for you resonates with Anna’s tears.
Holding them open, let’s turn back to the Feeding of the 5000 – which was actually 10,000. And ask again: what does it mean? Well, it means a lot of things. Let’s look at just one thing in it, noticing what happens with the disciples and the bread. At first the disciples are pretty whiny and defiant– Jesus, there’s no way we can feed all these people! And understandably so (there is no Chipotle down the street they can run to). But do you notice what the disciples DO later? Actually, do you notice what Jesus does? Or really: did you notice who actually distributes the bread to those hungry bellies? It says Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. Mark 6:41.
Jesus gave the bread to the disciples – then disciples gave the bread. That little details always gives me shivers. Jesus could have been super-Jesus and done it all himself – I got it, guys. But this is a moment that echoes through the centuries, informing our reality now. Jesus is not intended to be the one who gives the Good Gift to the world like some Lone Ranger. But all Jesus-followers throughout time are intended to be the ones who receive that bread from him, and who become and distribute the Good Gift to the hungers of the world. Boom. Isn’t that fabulous?
Placing yourself there, as kind of both disciple and bread in this story, seeing yourself as potentially the one who Jesus uses to fill hungering bellies, become mindful again of your open hands, that brokenness you’re experiencing – because I wonder, how those places of brokenness might be the very places where God is inviting you to be the Good Gift – for your family, for a friend, for this community, for the world.
You see, last week, Anna had tears and anger and questions pouring out of her – her brokenness meeting the brokenness she sees in the world. And it is this very brokenness, that she’s not running from, that is driving her to discover what to do, and how the heck she can be given to the world in a way that changes the story of equity and discrimination. Right? Anna’s unique brokenness is the birthplace of what will become her Good Gift to the world. God uses your brokenness as a birthplace for the Good Gift you can offer the world.
Isn’t that something? We don’t want to reach out to the world in our brokenness. We don’t want to. But sitting with Anna last week – as much as she did not want to feel that way, be paralyzed by tears – it hit me – actually she is the one who is on the right track. Shouldn’t we be losing sleep over the disparities and discriminations we see? For our LGBTQ friends? For the ways in which black and brown bodies are treated differently than white bodies? For refugees, for the poor? This is how we should be all the time. Broken, and broken open for others. We are given to the world, in all its brokenness, with all our brokenness, and the abundance of God will not only feed our hunger, but give us basketsful to walk away with.
So that brokenness of yours – you still holding that? You thinking of the tears you have for yourself and our world? Hold, too, the ways in which you give of yourself. Mothers – on this day that is yours, we’re looking at you. But we all give of ourselves – how do you? Are there connections between the broken and the given? Are there new possibilities for how you might let the Good Gift be birthed in that pain?
And as you are becoming more mindful of the ways in which you have given of yourself, let’s make an observation. Something happens when we give: everything else clicks. In that risking, stepping out, spending ourselves for others – all the rest of it, and all of who we are actually begins to make more sense. Because: we are chosen, blessed, and broken, so as to be given. Henri Nouwen says it this way: “In the giving of ourselves it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed, and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its final significance in its being lived for others.” Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
We know this from experience, don’t we? How do we feel when we have the chance to do something for another person? Admittedly, there are times when we give feeling like we have to (some parenting moments come to mind, or doing chores). But beyond all our desires to be appreciated, rewarded and acknowledged, the Jesus story, and our own lived experience actually reflect the deeper desire, that within us lies a simple and pure desire to give. Would you agree? To be given, is who we are – we find our final significance in it.
Perhaps this is why the Feeding of the 10,000 is in all four gospels – to point to the Good Gift God gives us, yet to point to how we are the Good Gift, broken and given to the world. And that this is a gift, that will never run out. There is more than enough bread to meet the hungers of the world – with leftovers.
And how this can change the way we see everything. Henri Nouwen also says this about the Feeding of the 5000 – Life of the Beloved, p. 123.
This is the Good Gift for us – and this is why we coam back to Jesus’ table every time we’re together. At the table, we remember the Good Gift. We pray that our six young people who received first or special Communion today, that they’ll always know the love of God at Jesus’ table and every table. But it will be a Good Gift even when they won’t think so, even when we don’t think so. Even when we are broken hearted – Good Gift. Even when we are unsure if this Jesus guy even exists. Even when we don’t think it’s that good of a gift – it is still a good gift – because that’s how grace works. It sneaks in even when we don’t think it should.
Every time after receiving the Good Gift, Holy Communion, God sends us out into the world to be the Good Gift for others. We receive the good gift – body broken, blood poured out for all, and we become the good gift for the world – body broken and blood poured out for all. This is the Eucharist, the Good Gift. It’s us.
And all of this happens at the table. And for all of it, we say, thanks be to God. Amen.