Tumbling in the Sand
“So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.” – John 6:13
I confess that I have an overwhelming urge when I look at texts that I’ve heard before to search really hard to find something new and different in them. I kind of like new and different. But right now I’m not really finding anything—instead I find myself thinking about a printed sermon (based on these texts) that my Dad had when I was a kid called, I think, “God’s Math,” or something really similar. It seemed an appropriate sermon for him to have, being a math teacher and all. I think he even preached it once or twice when he was called on to do such things as church council president. I remember reading it a number of times.
In it, the sermon spoke about the difference between our math and God’s. It talked about the way that we tend to add up what we have and look around us, subtracting what we don’t have and we make conclusions based on that kind of math. But God, the sermon said, isn’t interested in addition and subtraction. God’s favourite kind of math is division and multiplication. In this story, Jesus blesses the bread, divides the bread, and it multiplies. It multiplies so much that there is more than enough leftovers for everyone to eat again (those aren’t little baskets).
I guess I still find this compelling because I’m horrible at God’s kind of math—and I suspect most of us are. We look around us and at what we have and we feel overwhelmed, too small, ill-equipped, and that there simply isn’t enough. There isn’t enough to share with the hungry, or the uninsured. There isn’t enough to share with those who are different or not part of the community. There isn’t enough to take the risk of trying something new, of risking new things. There isn’t enough money to try a spiritual discipline like tithing. There isn’t enough time to try reading a book with a small group. There isn’t enough … well you name what you think you don’t have enough of so that you can’t do something that you’re feeling tugged at to do. (hint: if you’ve said, “well, we/I just don’t have enough…” you might well be getting tugged.)
Another less-than-new insight into this text from John is that it is John’s Eucharist—John’s communion meal—because “Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.” Very communion-y words, indeed. And the really great thing, as I think about that, is that every week, even though we forget again and again about God’s math and revert to our own, we are still fed, again. We are reminded again of God’s multiplication. We are given enough and everyone is fed. We are taught, again and again, God’s math at the table and sent out to try again; not expecting that we will do a lot better, but that maybe, just maybe, we might notice when God tips our addition sign on it’s side when we’re trying to determine the bottom line and we come up surprised at the resulting abundance.