“Spirit: Overflowing”

Sermon Preached at First Congregational Church, Loveland UCC www.lovelanducc.org

By Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson

Scripture Passages: John 6:1-14, Romans 15:13

“Logos” by Mary Oliver

Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?

If you say the right words, the wine expands.

If you say them with love

And the felt ferocity of that love

And the felt necessity of that love,

The fish explode into many.

Imagine him, speaking,

And don’t worry about what is reality,

Or what is plain, or what is mysterious.

If you were there, it was all those things.

If you can imagine it, it is all those things.

Eat, drink, be happy.

Accept the miracle.

Accept, too, each spoken word

Spoken with love.

Will you pray with me? Holy God may the words of my mouth be spoken with love. May the thoughts of all of our hearts be centered in love. This morning, we ask that our words and our thoughts bring us closer to you, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“Where will we buy food to feed these people?”

Imagine with me for a moment, as the poet Mary Oliver invites us to do. Imagine for a moment that you are Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples. You have left everything you have to follow this man. You have listened and watched and served. Today, you hiked up a mountainside with him — away from the towns and villages of the valley, up the hillside, up to the top of a mountain. The world stretches out below you, and you can just make out the curve of the dirt path up the mountainside, the distant roads and settlements below.

Coming up the path after you is a crowd — not just a few stragglers. Not just a few hermits or seekers or even families, but thousands, a throng.

“Where will we buy food to feed these people?”

The question is ridiculous. First, there is literally nowhere close by to buy food at all. No village, no roadside tavern or inn, no mountainside tea shop. There is literally NOWHERE close by to buy food, much less enough to feed thousands.

But that isn’t even the most ridiculous part. The most ridiculous part is the suggestion of feeding this crowd at all. Jesus doesn’t have a steady job. Neither do any of his disciples. They left all of that behind, steady work on fishing boats, as farmers, collecting taxes. Now they are nomadic, wandering religious folk. Jesus talks about how he has nowhere to rest his head — well, neither do the rest of them. The odd jobs they do get feed them day to day. They live on these meager earnings, what they can glean from fields and the hospitality of others.

Jesus’ question is absurd: “Where will we buy food to feed these people?”

Absurd like so many questions we might ask ourselves, like: “How will we house everyone in Loveland this winter?” “When will we end gun violence?” “How will this country overcome its divisions after an election that so clearly demonstrates how split we truly are?” “How will we reverse climate change or at least mitigate its impacts?” “When will we end childhood hunger in America?”

“Where will we buy food to feed these people?”

Ridiculous. I imagine even the tone of Philip’s answer communicates his incredulity: “More than a half year’s salary worth of food would not be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”

And the unspoken questions: Lord, how can you ask such a thing? We don’t have money. And even if we DID, even if we had a LOT of money, we wouldn’t be able to feed these people more than just a little bit. A mouthful. A taste.

But then there’s Andrew. He’s incredulous, too, realizing that both Jesus’ question and his own answer are ridiculous. Yet still he answers: “Where can we buy food? There’s someone here with five loaves and two fish. It’s nowhere near enough to feed this crowd, but it’s a start.”

But somehow it IS enough.

“Have the people sit down,” Jesus instructs, as if this’ll be more than a snack on-the-go. Then Jesus takes the food, gives thanks and they pass it around. And there IS enough for everyone. More than enough. So much more that at the end, there are 12 baskets of left overs. And everyone has eaten their fill.

I don’t know about you and this story, but I usually want a scientifically-explainable miracle. You know, where everyone gets out the food they’ve brought with them and share it around. And, honestly, we know that’s no less of a miracle than the actual multiplying of bread and fish. We that’s the miracle that happens when generosity is received and elicits generosity in response.

But, I can’t help but think, as I reflect on Mary Oliver’s poem, why wonder about the loaves and fishes? Because the truth is, when the right words are spoken, when they are spoken with fierce and necessary love, of course the wine expands. Of course the fish explode.

What if, instead of trying to explain the miracle, we simply accept it? We receive it? What if we truly imagine ourselves that day, having hiked up a mountain, being invited to sit down on the grass and rest, and being fed. Being fed, along with thousands of others. Being fed, though to pay for this much food would be more money than most any of us has ever seen. Being fed not just a taste, not simply a morsel, but enough to fill our rumbling bellies.

What if we imagine ourselves on that grass passing food and laughing with our family, neighbors, strangers perhaps. What if we simply eat, drink and be happy?

What if we accept the miracle?

What if we receive the miracle?

What if we accept and receive every word spoken in love?

Now, I know it’s commitment Sunday, and you may be wondering what any of this has to do with stewardship. Aren’t I supposed to be preaching about why and how much we are supposed to give to the church?

Well, what if the truth is that we can only ever give, that we are only asked to give, in response to what we receive? In response to what we have already received?

This year that has been so difficult. This year that has thrown at us everything plus the kitchen sink. This year that has not relented. This year, as we consider our giving, as we bless our gifts and commitments for the coming year, what if the invitation is also to have the audacity to receive the miracle of God’s gifts to us? What if the invitation is also to accept and receive the gift, the miracle of love?

These last few weeks as I have listened to our thoughts on stewardship: Bernie’s reflections, our long-time members and regular visitors’ reflections, as I have watched our children and youth delight in being a part of this community, maybe it’s not just about what I have to give. Not just about what WE have to give.

Maybe it’s about opening our hearts to accept the miracle.

The miracle that here we are, a community of faith gathering across the ether and across the miles to BE church together. 

The miracle that 9 new members joined us this year, some having never set foot in our building.

The miracle of a new roof, new lights, new carpeting for a building built 105 years ago.

The miracle of Spirit’s presence as we talk about “Falling Upwards” or the challenges of aging, as our youth gather remotely to connect and build relationship.

The miracle of our gifts — that have bought groceries and gas, that have helped people move from cars or abusive homes into the safe shelter of an apartment, that have offered a couple of nights in a motel instead of on the street, that have prevented an eviction.

What if we accept and receive the miracle that, as a congregation, we are entering a period of listening, learning, and prayerful discernment around whether and how to fully include and affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people into our community.

What if we accept the miracle that, though we know we voted for different candidates, though we have different political affiliations and views, we still choose to be a community of God’s children, we still choose to gather at God’s table, joining hands and hearts to receive God’s gifts and to share God’s love with our community and world.

[PAUSE]

What other miracles are in store for us?

What absurd possibilities is God inviting us to?

Will we, like Philip, answer with absolute incredulity — there’s no way! There are so many reasons why that is simply not possible. We don’t have enough! We are not enough!

Or will we, still incredulous like Andrew, but open to possibility accept a glimmer of hope, the dim possibility held in whatever it is that we DO have? Feed five thousand people? How about we start with 5 loaves and two fish!

Beloved ones, let us accept God’s miracles. And let us bring our gifts, however much or little we have, to be used, to be multiplied, to be expanded, to be exploded by each word spoken in love.

As we bring our gifts and commitments to this congregation, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today and in the days to come, may you overflow with hope, may WE overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. May it be so. Amen. 

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.

Watch the Sermon HERE.


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