So today was supposed to be a bread theme,
as you may have guess from the readings.
The biblical readings are appointed each week
by the powers that be,
and today has “bread” written all over it.
So I threw in the Passover reading
to connect them.
The problem is, as it turns out,
I’m not going to talk about bread.
Last week I talked about a spiritual practice
that helps us to lean into our compassion
instead of falling into the self-orbit
of our neediness.
This week I want to push us the other way.
I know, right? Make up your mind!
There has been a lot written and said
these days about “confirmation bias” –
which is most easily described by pointing out
that those who watch Fox News
are mostly conservative,
and wouldn’t you know it, those who watch MSNBC
are mostly liberal or progressive.
It turns out that people tune in
to whichever news reinforces their own view of the world.
Now there is a shocker.
The reason I mention it,
is because Christians are the same way
when it comes to the Bible.
will mostly tell you that a story
like the one we heard from John today,
is ‘the Gospel truth’ –
by which they mean
it is an accurate description
of an actual historical event that took place.
will mostly tell you that such a story
is intended to be metaphorical,
or is otherwise an exaggerated tale
to accentuate a point or moral
greater than the story itself.
What I will tell you,
being neither conservative nor liberal,
is that John’s story is a direct result
of that little piece we heard from 2 Kings –
which was a story told about 700 years
before John told his story.
So John’s story is classic one-upmanship.
“Well, our guy (Elisha)
fed a hundred people
with only 20 little loaves of barley bread
and a few lousy ears of corn.”
“Oh yeah? Well our guy (Jesus)
fed five thousandpeople
with onlyfivebarely loaves
and twostinking fish.”
The Jesus Movement
was competing with the better-established
Moses Movement (that included Elisha),
in the same way
that Islam and Christianity
are in intense competition in Africa and Asia
in our world.
was really important
in capturing the imagination
and devotion of followers back in the 1stcentury.
“And not only did he do he feed 5000,
but then Jesus walked on water!”
So now-a-days, twenty-one centuries after
John told his story, we want to know:
Did it really happen?
Did it really happen that way?
Asking if something really, really happened
just the way it says it did,
is only important if we think
the Bible has to be factual
in order for it to be a worthy source of wisdom.
Few people ask if Buddha or Lao Tzu
actually wrote all the ancient wisdom ascribed to them
as if the answer would impact the wisdom itself.
But somehow Christians,
or at least some Christians,
got it in their heads that the Bible is proof
of everything they want to believe about Jesus –
and if so, it all has to be factual
and historically accurate to have any of it be credible.
Basically, that is like people tuning into Fox and MSNBC
to hear what they wanted to hear in the first place.
People tune into conservative and liberal
Christianity to hear what
they wanted to hear in the first place, too.
That is no reflection on religion, by the way,
but it is a reflection on human nature,
or the curious and strange weirdness of being human.
So, did Jesus really do all that stuff?
How the heck do I know?
I truly doubt it, but then again,
I have seen and heard strange things
that do not conform to the world
that my rational mind wants to believe is predictable.
But, more importantly,
I can’t see any possible reason why it matters
whether or not, or how, Jesus did whacky things.
Biblical wisdom and
the power of the teachings of Jesus,
do not rest upon supernatural events –
they are far more practical and self-evident than that.
But by all means,
if you want to dither about with
questions that cannot be answered –
like “did it really happen” – feel free.
But what I want to do
is allow this story to remind us of a truly serious
and critical truth:
How we feed the 5000 screaming voices
inside our own heart and mind
has everything to do with our capacity to feed
the many multiples of 5000 screaming voices
in the world around us.
It is really quite simple.
“In the event
the cabin loses pressure,
oxygen equipment will magically appear
from out of nowhere
and you will be able to breathe.
Parents, please ignore that core bestial instinct
to rush oxygen to your dependent child,
place the mask on your mouth first…
even if your tiny two-year old
is violently gasping for air.”
If you fly, you know that instruction,
and if you are a parent,
you know that even though it violates
everything you might feel,
it is the truest, best thing you can do.
When the five thousand screaming voices
in our own hearts and minds are clamoring for more,
and desperate for even a morsel of food and drink,
If you can’t or don’t want to feed them,
then at least listen and be present to them.
Every single one of us is needy.
That is who we are: needy little humans
with big appetites and limited abilities
along with significant woundedness.
Let me repeat that:
We are needy little humans
with big appetites and limited abilities
along with significant woundedness.
If anyone here is NOT needy,
do NOT raise your hand!
The rest of us will not believe you,
and will resent you for it just the same.
So if you are somehow not
a needy little human
with more hurts and needs
than you have capacity to meet,
just sit there smugly, knowingly,
feeling sorry for the rest of us…in silence.
But for the rest of us,
we know about those 5000 hungry voices
wriggling inside us like a tangle of worms.
I truly hate to admit it,
but I know what I am talking about.
When I worked in downtown Buffalo,
and before that, in Columbus, Ohio,
a week didn’t go by without someone down and out
stopping by to seek help and assistance.
Sometimes, in some seasons,
it was many people in a week,
sometimes many people in a day.
Like you, I hope,
I am well aware of my privilege.
I am not down and out.
Only twice in my life was I ever poor enough to be hungry
without the ability to feed myself immediately –
and even then, I knew people who could help me.
So, when someone comes to church for help
I know they have very few other resources.
Trust me, a church is the last place
you want to ask for help if you are hungry or homeless.
Nine out of ten churches
will either slam the door in your face,
or lecture you, or both.
The ones that will give you food or shelter,
will make you jump through hoops
as onerous as any government agency.
No one comes to a church for help
unless they have exhausted their other options
or unless they are new to hunger and homelessness
and haven’t learned yet.
Sometimes I can give practical help,
like food or rent support, or pay a utility bill.
But whether I can help or not, I can always listen.
I can be present to someone
and give him or her the time and attention
that few people will give to someone living at the margin.
I can at least, if nothing else,
be humane, present, empathetic
and otherwise caring
when much of their world is not.
That is, unless I have neglected
the 5000 voices in my own heart and head.
Even though I am intensely aware
of my own privilege;
and even though I am keenly aware
of the disadvantage and misery
of the person coming to our door;
and even though my values and experience
scream for me to be open to them;
if I have neglected, denied, or otherwise refused
to address too many of those 5000 screaming voices
in my own head and heart,
I will not respond well
to any of the 5000 and more voices
that are screaming at me
from the outside.
or angry at myself
as I might feel after neglecting or refusing
a screaming voice from the outside,
the facts on the ground will not change.
It is part of being human
that ordinary, little,
needy humans like us
must live with.
We do not walk on water.
We do not feed 5000 with five loaves of bread
or even two stinking fish.
So, if we want to be good
at addressing the needs of those around us,
we better get good
at addressing the needs
screaming at us from inside.
Clearly, this is not hi-toned theology or philosophy
or any kind of psychology –
it is just nitty-gritty,
When we hear the story about
doing amazing things for needy people,
it is an utter, total distraction
to ask if they really did it, or
if they really did happen that way.
The question to ask
is how we handle the needy voices
our own little needy selves.
After we address thatissue
we can get highfaluting about
our needs vs. their needs,
and our privilege and their marginalization,
and other important
but secondary tactical questions.
So, our mission, should we accept it –
is to consider which of those 5000 needy voices
inside our own heart and mind,
have had a fair hearing lately,
and which ones we have
Just that little inventory
will produce enough data
that we will easily be able
to size up the work we have to do on ourselves.
Now just to go back and reinforce
what I was talking about last week –
which is having a spiritual practice
that helps us lean-into our compassion
more than our self-orbiting neediness,
that is really the core principle of Jesus-wisdom.
We will be better,
stronger, more beautiful people,
in a world that is a more hospitable place to live,
if we practice a compassion-centered spiritual way of life.
But, apropos of today,
in order to lean into our compassion,
we really do ALSO
need to listen to
and address the hunger and need
within our own lives.
Good luck with listening to all those voices
shouting at us from both
the inside and the outside.
We will have far greater success
listening and addressing those voices
than we will walking on water.
And now, I invite you to take a nice slow, deep breath,
and stand or sit as is your custom for prayer.