Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.
Today’s gospel setting reminds us that Jesus was always on the move, and that we are supposed to do the same.
The story of David and Bathsheba is one those stories where I sit on the sidelines going no, don’t do it! Stop! Turn back! As we shall hear next Sunday, there are grave consequences to David’s actions. But God knows and loves all of David, just as God knows and loves every dark cranny of our souls. God never gives up on David. Gather up all the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost. Gather up all the fragments of a life like David’s, a life like mine or yours, including all the misguided bits. This is Jesus’ approach to the feeding of the five thousand, and it is his approach to ministry.
Do not be afraid, he says to the disciples in the boat. Why they were rowing across the sea in a storm for three or four miles in the dark I can’t imagine, except that the setting does remind us that they lived in a time when it was as difficult to make a living as it is for many of us today.
Do not be afraid. The Holy One is always saying this. He says it to Abraham, to Jacob, to Hagar, to Rachel, to Joseph, to Moses, to Mary, and over and over again to disciples on a storm-tossed sea. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God, says the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, and so when we do, we need to listen to that voice saying “Do not be afraid.”
The Holy and Living God who says “Be not afraid” is the very same One who says: “where are we to buy bread for the people to eat?” Think of the great cult figures of our time: Billy Graham? Barack Obama? Jerry Garcia? I’m not sure any of them, when surrounded by a growing crowd of followers, would think about feeding them while they stood on line. But this is what is on Jesus’ mind. Whatever he’s doing, Jesus is always looking around to see who’s hungry, who’s afraid, who’s in need.
Philip says: we cannot possibly feed all these people! (Oh ye of little faith, we might say to Philip, because we know how this particular story ends, but wouldn’t we have the same sense of impossibility in real life?)
Andrew finds a boy with some bread and some fish. Not much, although it would have been a treasured stash for the boy in the middle of that huge, hungry crowd. It can’t possibly be enough, says Andrew.
Where are you in this story? I confess that I’ve felt like Philip at times, and I’m probably not the only one. How much is this all going to cost? But this is the St. David’s story, these few loaves and fishes, this unlikely source for mission and ministry, unfolding as we gather here today. This story—including the skeptical disciples—should strike close to whom for those of us who are deeply engaged in the life of this parish. Jesus takes five loaves and two fish, a small fortune for the boy who is the unlikely source of this abundance, and does marvelous things with them. So he will take our unlikely offerings and do marvelous things.
Gather up the fragments, so that nothing may be lost.
At the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, to which I was privileged to be a deputy from this diocese, our Presiding Bishop preached a sermon in which she told us to listen for the heartbeat of the church: mission….mission….mission. This is the heartbeat of this gospel story and it must be our heartbeat. Our mission is not just to gather here each Sunday with our familiar tradition and our maybe not-so-comfortable pews, but to look around: who’s hungry? Who’s doubtful? Who’s afraid?