"The Miracle of Fellowship"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 4, 2002

Acts 2:43-47; Matthew 14:13-21

     A number of years ago there was a commercial on television that used a very clever method for delivering its message.  A young girl and boy were standing next to each other in the serving line of their school's cafeteria. He had just gotten braces to straighten his teeth and was extremely apprehensive about the changes they made to his appearance.

     The boy spoke to the girl by cupping his lips over his teeth so that the source of his embarrassment would not show.  She responded to him very confidently and as she did, her braces were clearly visible. She said, "Hi! You name is James, isn't it? I believe we are in the same class." He produced a big grin and said, "Really?" After he met someone who was wearing the same smile, all the fears about his appearance vanished.

     How many of us are carrying something we feel is too awkward to share?  Like the boy, we cup our lips so that no one will see our braces.  This probably happens more often than we might imagine. In our culture we pride ourselves on being individuals, on taking responsibility for ourselves and on bothering no one with our problems. 

     We have been carefully taught that each of us is unique, a one-of-a-kind. We use many metaphors to describe ourselves.  Our individuality has been linked to snowflakes since no two of them are remotely alike.  Sometimes we have been referred to as caterpillars who must crawl, struggle against our imprisoning cocoons and then finally spring forth as liberated butterflies who can soar over yesterday's barriers.           

     Being an individual, however, can give us many lonely moments.   The young man in the commercial was only cured of his fears when he met someone who was like him.  People who have experienced the death of a spouse feel displaced.  Frequently their healing process is enhanced when they find others who have learned how to manage their vacuum with healthy alternatives. 

     Folks who find their lives being controlled by some addiction, often find recovery much easier by being with others who are experiencing the same challenge. Something wonderful happens when two or three are gathered.  It is called fellowship, a connection that binds people together.

     In our lesson this morning, we find Jesus reacting to the news of his cousin's murder.  No doubt the details of John's senseless death had reached his ears and he needed to be alone. Jesus wanted to find a lonely place where he could sort out his feelings.

     What confronted him was a crowd who had needs of its own.  They were feeling John's loss as well.  A person who had made God very real to them and who had been unafraid to speak out  about King Herod's immoral life-style had just had his life snuffed out by the request of a sensuous dancer.  When Jesus saw the people approaching, he had compassion for them and ministered to their needs.

     Individuals can remain individuals even in a group. We do the same thing each time we gather for worship.  We enter the church on Sunday mornings without the slightest understanding of what others are dealing with in their lives. Was the crowd approaching Jesus a community?  The answer is, "No," but that was about to change.  

     As the story unfolds, we learn that the hour of the day was late.  People were no doubt hungry. The disciples urged Jesus to send them home.  Jesus said to his disciples, "That is not necessary. Feed them."  They said, "All we have are five loaves and two fish."  Sensing the reticence of his disciples, Jesus directed the people to sit down.  He offered a blessing over the loaves and fish and told the disciples to share them with the people.

     Jesus' challenge was to help a crowd of individuals to become a community.  In those days, no one journeyed any distance from their home without packing food and drink for themselves. This was evidenced by the innocence of a boy who was willing to share what he had brought.

     The miracle of feeding the 5,000 was that Jesus gave permission for a crowd of individuals to experience being in community.  They shared their food as Jesus had modeled and there was plenty for everyone.  Our lesson indicates that there were 12 baskets of leftovers by the time everyone had finished eating.  Where do we suppose those baskets came from?  They were the containers of choice in which people carried their food and drink as they traveled.

     In fact, if the truth were known, the crowd was made up of Jewish United Methodists.  We never go anywhere without a casserole.  Every time we have a pot-luck here at the church, we are witnesses to a miracle.  There are always doubters who say, "All we have here are five loaves and two fish."  By the time we are ready to eat, an entire table full of food appears. Individuals bring something to eat and as a community, we share.  There is always plenty.  

     We will always meet individuals.  Why not help them experience being in a community? Sometimes a crowd of individuals needs a little motivation to experience what we do.  The young boy provided such encouragement when he gave to the disciples his gift of bread and fish.  The lad's greater gift was that he enabled Jesus to invite everyone to share. That was the miracle.

     Is there someone you know who is having a challenging time right now?  Invite them to come here.  People generally say "yes" when someone invites them to participate.  An invitation can shatter the imaginary security bubble of individualism that most of us are unaware we display. Why not invite them to share just an hour of their time.  God will take it from there. 

     People have said, "Church is not my thing.  I don't think like church people think. That was true until I found this place."  When pressed why they kept coming, the answer is always the same, "It is the people.  There is a freedom here that I assumed did not exist in a church." 

     Miracles occur all the time when we remain in fellowship.  What loaves and fish do each of us have to share?  Perhaps your bread might be to share St. Matthew's with someone.  Maybe your fish might be to share your story, thus giving others permission to love you.  We feed each other and that is how everyone who comes into our fellowship remains nourished.


     Loving and infinite God, our lips sing the praises of your presence in our lives.  Our Scriptures remind us of your faithfulness.  Our presence at our Lord's last supper has helped preserve our memory of what Jesus asked of us.  Yet, we confess that we can easily forsake the truth in our desire for expediency.  We can separate our faith from the way we choose to live.  We often prefer inspiring worship experiences over loving our neighbors.  We would ask that you heal our spirits.  Breach the divide between our desire to serve you and our hunger to feed our unmet needs.  Lead us toward a life that radiates the Gospel in all that we do.  Amen. 


     Thank you, God, for these moments together, for the time of quiet, for the realization that life is far more than all that happened to us last week and for the sense of peace that comes flowing through us when we focus on your infinite love.  When we truly fathom the depths of that love, nothing else matters. 

     While our ears listen to a constant litany of news that is filled with hurt and pain, cause us to find much for which to give thanks.  We are grateful for the many unsung heros of this church -- for those who care for our gardens, who watch our children while we worship, who count our offerings, and for those who prepared our sanctuary for this morning.

    We are grateful for those of us who have not misplaced our ability to smile and to speak kind, friendly words.  We are appreciative of those who volunteer everything they are while doing deeds that will go unrecognized except for you who miss nothing. 

     Help each one of us as we commune this morning to remember that Jesus sent us forth to be healers in the world, a process that begins in our own community.  As we light our individual lights, may the illuminating power of our community be such that it blinds the eye of darkness.

    We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .