This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 9/13/20, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture readings for this sermon were: Mark 8:14-21. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)
These past few weeks I’ve been reading and re-reading the gospel of Mark in my Life Transformation Group with Robbie and Chuck. Each time I read through any passage of scripture – in this case the gospel of Mark – I always encounter something new and different in the text. It’s always fresh; God is always speaking to us through scripture in new ways.
This last time reading through the Gospel of Mark, I noticed a critical moment in the story. A key scene where the world turns.
You could argue that many different parts of Mark are sort of the critical moment, the fulcrum that the whole text hinges on. Maybe you’d argue that it’s the part in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is praying and disciples keep falling asleep. You could argue that a pivotal moment in Mark is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the healing of Bartimaeus. Maybe it’s Jesus’ healing of the man with a withered hand in the synagogue in chapter three, when the Pharisees turn totally against Jesus and decide to destroy him.
The transfiguration is a pivotal moment in the scripture. And so of course is the crucifixion and the empty tomb. But reading through the story this time, I realized that, for Mark and for Jesus, one of the most important moments in this story is one that I – to be honest – have always sort of skimmed over and not paid a lot of attention to. It’s a story that hasn’t quite fit into my worldview. Maybe it hasn’t fit into yours, either.
It turns out that for Jesus, one of the key moments of revelation – one of the key ways to understand what Jesus is about – is when he feeds the five thousand and the four thousand. When he multiplies the loaves and fishes and provides for people who were out in the wilderness and had nothing to eat.
In our reading this morning, we hear about Jesus and his disciples immediately after Jesus had fed the four thousand. They’re in the boat. And as they’re traveling along on the water, the disciples start worrying. Because they realize that on their way into the boat they didn’t think to stop and get any bread. So they’re talking amongst themselves saying, “Oh gosh! We didn’t stop by the grocery store before we left. What are we gonna eat on this boat voyage across the sea of Galilee? We’re gonna be hungry.”
But there’s something more important than hunger, even. Because you know, Jesus’ disciples being disciples, they probably knew how to fast. They probably knew how to go without food for a day or two. So even more important than “what are we gonna eat” is: “Isn’t Jesus gonna be disappointed in us for not thinking to pick up bread, to pick up food from the supermarket before we left town?”
And so Jesus, well, it’s a small boat. I don’t think it’s a big boat. So Jesus notices that the disciples are whispering to one another and discussing things in low tones. And it’s a little bit tense.
And so Jesus asked them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Why are you worried about this?” He says, “Do you not still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see and ears but fail to hear? Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember when I broke the bread for the five thousand? When I did that we had five loaves and we fed five thousand people! And how much did we have in leftovers?”
“Twelve baskets,” the disciples said.
“And when we broke seven loaves for four thousand people just a couple days ago, how many basketfuls of leftovers were there?”
The disciples answered, “Seven.”
And Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Do you still not see what I’m about? Do you still not see that the God who is here present with you is the same God who fed your fathers and your mothers in the desert of Sinai? Who fed you in the wilderness with manna from heaven? Who gave you so much meat when you asked for it that it came out of your noses and you got sick of it!”
“Do you still not perceive, do you still not understand what you’re dealing with here? You don’t need to be worrying about bread.”
“You don’t need to be worrying about how we’re gonna get by. The God you serve – my father – is the God of manna. He is the God who provides for his children.”
So you’re worried about bread. We’re worried about bread. I’m worried about bread. I’m worried about how we’re gonna get by. Maybe not in terms of the bare necessities. Many of us are lucky enough to not be worrying about where our next meal is coming from. But we’re nervous, too. We’re nervous that there’s not gonna be enough.
We’re worried that this country that we live in, that our communities are not going to have what they need. That this church maybe isn’t going to make it. We’re afraid that, “Well, maybe we won’t grow. Maybe the church is going to have to close someday. Maybe we’re not going to make it. Maybe our society has become so secular that it doesn’t have any use for the gospel anymore.”
Maybe, maybe we’re done for. Maybe we forgot the bread.
Where are we going to get that bread of life from?
It’s interesting, because Jesus is actually the one who starts the conversation. The disciples hadn’t even remembered that they forgot and the bread, right? They didn’t even realize they didn’t have bread until Jesus said something to them – until Jesus used a bread metaphor. He said, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” Right?
Because right before they got on the boat, Jesus had been debating with the Pharisees. The Pharisees had been demanding that Jesus give them a sign from heaven, to prove that he was indeed the Messiah. That he was the one who God had sent to lead Israel. And Jesus, when the Pharisees asked him for a sign, for a demonstration of power and wonder, Jesus said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” And that’s when Jesus left and got on the boat. And the disciples forgot the bread.
And it’s interesting. Because, Jesus had just performed an enormous sign, right? He just fed four thousand people with seven loaves of bread, and had seven baskets of leftovers afterwards. So Jesus had just performed an enormous sign that modern people like us find hard to believe nowadays. Hard to believe that this could even have happened.
Now there are different theories about how it might have happened according to the laws of physics, including that Jesus sharing what he had, and the disciples sharing what they had, encouraged everyone else to share and that’s why there was enough. Maybe. It’s this miraculous thing that, even today, we have a tough time making sense of.
And yet when the Pharisees come to him and say, “Give us a sign, rabbi! We want to believe you’re the Messiah, if you just show us some thunder and lightning. Show us some fire and smoke. In the Torah it says that God showed our forefathers and foremothers a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide us through wilderness. Can you just show us a pillar of fire please? We want to know that it’s really you.”
And Jesus says: “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly, I tell you no sign will be given to it.”
He shut them down.
And this is a consistent theme. Throughout the Gospels – and specifically in the Gospel of Mark – when people come to Jesus to test him, when people come to Jesus asking for a sign, he turns them down. He will not perform for them.
And yet Jesus is performing miracles all the time. He’s healing people. He’s feeding people. He’s changing people’s lives. He’s casting out demons. He’s changing hearts and minds. He’s turning people towards God.
So why would this be? Why would Jesus be so full of miracles and yet refuse to perform signs for those who questioned him, who want to test him?
“Do you still not understand?”
“Why are you talking about having no bread? Are your heart’s hardened?”
When Jesus performs miracles in the gospel of Mark, it’s consistent that a necessary requisite for these miracles – for these signs of healing and presence and power from God – a necessary requisite is faith. It says that when Jesus went back to his hometown in Nazareth, people took offense at him, because he was just one of the old boys from town. He had grown up there. Everybody knew his parents. They knew his mom and his brothers and sisters. And they were like, “Who is this guy that he is doing all these mighty works of power?”
“Who does he think he is?”
And it says that Jesus was not able to perform many miracles there. It says offhandedly – “yeah, you know, he just, he healed a few people. But nothing too big, you know.” Which, for me, if I saw someone heal a few people, to me that would be pretty big. But for Jesus, he just healed a few people – just a few – because their unbelief was so great. Because there was such a distrust of him. A desire to test him and desire to judge him.
Mark says he was unable to perform many wonders there. It doesn’t say he chose not to; it says he couldn’t perform many great works there. Just a few healings. Because of their unbelief.
And then you look at the places where people are healed. Where miracles do occur. You look at the crowds who had been with him for days out in the wilderness and they had nothing to eat. They believed in him, they trusted him, they were following him, they wanted to be with Jesus.
And so when the disciples say, “Look Jesus, we’re out in the middle of nowhere, you should send these people home or to the surrounding villages to get some food.” Jesus says, “Look, it’s far away. People are gonna faint. People aren’t gonna make it to the surrounding villages. You give them something to eat.”
You give them something to eat. We are gonna provide for these folks.
“Well all we have is a few loaves.”
Do you not yet understand? The loaves are enough. The loaves are enough for those who trust in Jesus. For those who trust in God.
The loaves are enough. For the man with a withered hand. Who Jesus met in the synagogue that day and healed him even though it was the Sabbath.
The loaves are enough. For the woman with chronic bleeding that excluded her from religious life and made her a pariah. Who touched Jesus, trusting that if she could just touch him, if she could just touch the hem of his garment, she would be healed from the bleeding that had kept her on the outside. Kept her isolated and alone and impoverished for twelve years.
The bread was enough.
So as we are gathered here as disciples of Jesus. As friends of Jesus. As his people. As we’re gathered together in this time of global and national crisis. Of economic and political and health uncertainty. The bread is enough.
We have Jesus here in the boat with us. Jesus is the bread of life.
He’s broken for us. He’s multiplied for us.
If we will believe. If we will trust him.
If we will stop. Worrying. About how bad things look. And remember how big God is. How much bigger God is than our circumstance. How much more loving and beautiful God is than our fearful imagination.
The bread is enough.
Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember? What God has already done for you? For us? Don’t you remember the ways that God has already brought you through?
I need to be reminded. I need to remember how many times I felt like I couldn’t go any farther. I felt like I was hopeless. And there was no way to get where I wanted to go or to be the person I wanted to be.
But the bread was enough. Jesus was enough. Trusting him was enough.
More than enough. There were baskets and baskets of leftovers. There was enough for me and plenty to share. There was grace and life and resources overflowing.
When we’re scared. When we’re angry. And when we trust ourselves and our own wisdom more than God. It’s tempting to want to test God. In our hearts, in our minds, to say to God: “Send me a sign, Lord. I don’t really trust you. So if you’re going to convince me, I need you to send me a sign. I need you to make it clear. I need you to make it unambiguous. I need you to prove it to me.”
And to those frightened, self-assured, apparently wise people who challenged Jesus in this way. Jesus said, “No. I’m not giving you a sign. I’m not proving anything to you.”
Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever been praying and asking God to prove it to you? Have you ever said, “God just do this thing for me! Just show me and I’ll believe.”
And it feels like heaven is empty. And faith is a lie.
But the bread is enough.
If rather than seeking to test Jesus. Seeking to prove God. To remove ambiguity. To reassure ourselves and feel safe and secure and smart.
If we’ll trust Jesus.
Without surefire proof. Without mathematical certainty. If we’ll trust him. If we’ll love him. If we’ll humble ourselves and be his friends. If we’ll let go of our worry, and know that we follow the God who fed the people of Israel in the desert. The God who raised Jesus from the dead. The God who created the whole universe. We’ll know that the bread is enough.
And we will be healed. We will be fed. In all the ways that are important. And there will be basketfuls of leftovers for us to share with the hungry. Those who are still seeking. Those who are still thirsty. We will have leftovers to lay before them.
Joy. Peace. An abundant life. A testimony of how God has worked in our lives. And a willingness to work for others.
So watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod. The puffed up pride that says, “God, why don’t you prove it to me?”
Because Jesus has exposed that that kind of pride – it masquerades as strength, but it’s weakness.
It’s weakness. It’s fear. It’s smallness. It’s ignorance.
It’s a refusal to let go and to trust the only one who is worthy of absolute trust.
As we know from the ending of the story. The ending of the gospels, the story of the book of Acts. The story of our Quaker ancestors. We know that though God will take care of us and the bread is enough, it doesn’t always mean that things will go the way we want them to.
It doesn’t mean we won’t suffer. It doesn’t mean we won’t die.
But it does mean that we get to participate in the resurrection.
We get to participate in a life beyond these present troubles. And it’s that life that empowers us. To live fully – and joyfully – even in the midst of this situation.
The bread is enough.