“Sharing Opens Our Lives To Living”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 6, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Acts 4:32-36; Matthew 14:13-21

    This morning we are going to examine the story of Jesus sharing a meal with 5,000 men and probably an equal number of women and children. The hour was late in the afternoon.  The disciples wanted Jesus to disperse the crowd so they could purchase food for themselves.

    Jesus wanted everyone to stay so he could continue teaching and healing them.  Why would he do that, particularly when it was so close to the time when families ate their dinner?  Jesus had everyone sit down on the grassy areas.  He had the disciples visibly bring forward the little food that they had.  Jesus prayed over the five loaves and two fish and asked the disciples to share them.

    What actually happened during this event?  When we were children, we were taught that Jesus literally fed over five thousand families by food that he created on the spot by multiplying the fish and bread as it was being distributed. There is no translation of this passage that even hints of this happening. What various translations tell us is that everyone ate and had enough.

    When we learn more about the life of Middle Eastern people, we understand what happened.  First, the fish that these people ate was salt-cured.  Secondly, people never traveled any distance without carrying sufficient food and drink.  Keeping hydrated was a constant concern for all the people in that part of the world.

    If Christians choose to interpret this episode as Jesus magically multiplying food, as many of them do, they have no idea of the logistical nightmare that would have resulted if twelve disciples tried to distribute fish, bread and drink to five thousand families.  

    This event was so significant, however, that it is one of the few episodes during Jesus' ministry that found its way into all four of the Gospels. Why did this episode have such spiritual significance?

    The miracle that Jesus created was that he provided an opportunity for everyone to share with others what they had brought with them.  Jesus created the first potluck dinner ever shared among a large crowd of people. 

    What is interesting about human beings is that many of us love to share when everyone is doing so and even if they are not. In the process of sharing, a chemistry develops and we get to know others on a different level that lies beyond the normal social superficial pleasantries.   

    One of the interesting qualities of Cup Match is that the occasion brings many people from all over the island together for fellowship, eating, drinking and playing the dice game of Crown & Anchor.  The occasion is like a massive family reunion.  The 115-year old Cricket match rivalry between the East and the West ends of Bermuda creates a fleeting moment among the participants and spectators that we really are one people.

    Lois and I enjoy going over to Cooper's Island.  Many times we walk by people that are barbecuing around a picnic table. To the chagrin of Lois, I sometimes yell over to them, "Smells mighty good.  Got any extras?"  Without fail, they break into a smile and extend the invitation. Everyone recognizes playful bantering, but underneath, people are actually ready to share.  Food and spontaneous introductions like that often open the door to something special that can happen between people.

    One Good Friday, Lois and I were pulling into our garage when I noticed a rather expensive looking kite in one of our palm trees.  The string told me that the owner of the kite was probably flying it from the Cricket field on Fielder's Lane.  I rescued the kite, gathered up an enormous amount of string that had spanned several properties and took it to the field. 

    At the far end of the field there were five families with tents, tables and grills going.  When they saw me coming, one of them yelled out, "Here comes our kite."  All of them broke into an applause.  They invited me to have some of their food, but I had already eaten a very substantial lunch. 

    I was greeted and treated like family.  One of them said, "Oh, we knew where the kite landed but we did not want to go on your property to get it without asking. No one was home." I said, "It's the Methodist Parsonage.  People use our driveway as a turnaround every day. We don't mind.  Everyone is welcome." 

    That occasion was so much fun and any ethnic boundaries that may have existed were dissolved effortlessly.  People are just people.  For us, in that moment, our world had become one. We spent time getting acquainted. Think of it: Perfect strangers suddenly becoming an instant community because of a kite being returned to its owners.  Jesus knew this would happen when the crowd was invited to share who they were and what they had.

    We have to remember that the crowd that Jesus invited to sit down on the grass was not made up of Jews who knew each other.  The crowd was made up of just about every culture in the Middle East.  The food that was shared that day was far more than dried fish and bread. 

    Perhaps a lot of friends were made that day between total strangers. Some of them may not have brought any food with them.  Perhaps there were Roman soldiers that were among the crowd.  In spite of their foreign dress code, members of the Roman military had an interest in Jesus too.  Jesus did not look at a person's ethnicity before ministering to their needs.  (Luke 7:2f)

    An intriguing aspect of this potluck dinner is that when it was over, the crowd and people in every generation, somehow found it easy to forget their glow of being one with each other.  They drifted back into their well-conditioned routine of their separatist we/they attitudes.  This may be the way our societies have to be at this juncture of our evolution until individually we decide to move beyond the fears of class, ethnic and economic differences.

    During the American Civil War, many members of the Confederate Army would come across the James River in Virginia on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and join the Union soldiers at a number of dance halls.  After all, many of them were family anyway and were accustomed to the routine of dancing on the weekends. They would dance with the ladies, eat and drink and then return to their battle lines where they would resume shooting at each other on Monday morning. 

    Why?  How could a specific ideology divide people to the point where they are prepared to kill each other after dancing together over the weekend?  This is a mystery that Jesus solved for one moment in time by sharing five loaves and two fish.

    Many of us recall that magical moment that occurred on Christmas Eve during World War I.  The date was December 24, 1914.  The British soldiers began to sing Christmas Carols while they hunkered down in their trenches. Their German counterparts, not to be outdone, sang the same carols but did so louder than the Brits.  The two warring enemies sang to each other all night each trying to outdo the other. Can you imagine this happening in the middle of a war?  Both warring sides knew enough about Jesus' birth to sing about it.

    On Christmas Day, another miracle occurred.  One of the soldiers had a football and he walked out into the middle of no-man's-land holding up the ball.  Soldiers on both sides knew instantly the meaning intended by seeing a football.  Out of the trenches they came from both sides and a football game took place, replete with their own cheering sections.  Enemies that could not speak one word of English or German to each other had entered into a friendly competition.  Later they shared their food. After all, it was Christmas Day all over the world. 

    Somewhere in their playing together, it dawned on them that it is much better to play together than to kill each other over an ideology held by their governments. Many of them became convinced that war was a ridiculous idea and a good number of the soldiers on both sides left their trenches, put away their weapons and went home to their families.

    The common denominator that ties the stories of feeding the five-thousand with a Christmas Day football game is not sharing food and not a football.  The common denominator is that we were wired by our Creator to respond with a gentle spirit once we dismantle the artificial barriers that we create that prevents a sense of oneness from happening. 

    Lois and I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience of participating in an archaeological dig in Heshbon, Jordan.  We spent seven weeks on the dig as we taught ourselves numerous Arabic words so we could communicate with our work crews.  Lois and I had our own sections where we worked. We were told by our supervisors not to talk about politics or religion with the Jordanians. 

     Two archaeology students from Jordan University and I broke all the rules.  There was a natural curiosity of wanting to know about each other and that desire produced a chemistry that became unbreakable.  During those seven weeks, the three of us recognized that the world really is one.  We each had to become vulnerable and remain open to each other by overcoming our hesitancy and following where our curiosity was leading us.

    The loneliest people that we ever meet during our lives are often those who have never learned how to be a friend.  They want to feel accepted, included and loved, but they never learned how to tear down their walls. 

    Our minds and emotions are very powerful.  They can either imprison us or liberate us.  We have the ability to become a window through which others can see God's divine presence.  It is up to us to keep our windowpanes clean and clear.  When we reach out and share, we are doing what God has done to each of us since our birth.  God observes The Golden Rule. Are we wise enough to respond to God the way we would like God to respond to us?    



Always faithful God, what comfort we experience when we remember that we cannot earn what you freely give to us.  We are blessed with the colors of many song birds and an array of flowers.  We see innocence in the faces of children.  We are exposed to the wisdom from many seniors.  We thank you, God, that your love surrounds us in many unique forms.  Remind us that we were created to share, to listen, to accept others as they are, and to be at peace with our trust in you for the outcome of all things.  Amen.        



Thank you, God, for a new day and for our desire to draw apart from the world for just a little while.  Often during our experiences in our sanctuary, we become open to new dimensions that lead us to the desire to refine our attitudes and the spirit we use to communicate them. 

There are times when we discover that many of the habits that we have learned over time no longer serve the way we want to be.  We have learned that regrets serve no purpose other than to support our resolve to grow beyond them.  What a joy it is to realize that we can become a new person that has outgrown the need to define ourselves with values loaded with opinions rather than love. Thank you for helping us to realize that no time spent changing how we think has been wasted.  Every experience that has brought us to this moment has been a valuable rung on our ladder as we climb toward our destiny. 

As our world enlarges beyond our neediness and material desires, guide us toward circumstances that will allow our spirits to make your presence visible.  Allow us to understand the tension when our understanding of generosity confronts the needs of self, when our understanding of serving others is challenged by our busy schedules and when our pursuit of peace is met by our newly found knowledge that everything good in life comes with a price of wanting to live it.  Lead us to learn that life does not need to make sense before we reveal your presence in all that we do.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .