A Fish Story
(Lent 4, John 6.4-15, Eph2:4-10)
Andrew said to Jesus, “there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so may people?” John 6:9.
Yes it is true. We really did go to Disneyworld for Spring Break this year. And yes it was very crowded; but we managed to see and do everything that we wanted to. And had a great time. I think if I had to sum up the Disney experience in one word, that word would be “imagination.” The rides, the exhibits, the shows – all of it works to feed your imagination.
The shows particularly. What they are doing now in 3-dimensional and what they call 4-dimensional movie production is absolutely amazing. Of course, you have to wear a pair of special glasses like these that are not very flattering. These are actually the opera glasses that I used to watch Mickey's PhilharMagic in which musical instruments exploded a few inches from my face, among other things.
Obviously, some of it was pretty silly. But it is a good thing to exercise your imagination. And that is what I want us to do today.
Because this morning we have that famous miracle story in which Jesus feeds the five thousand. A story in which John tells very simply – providing just enough facts for us to appreciate the miracle. But there is so much more that is not told – and left for our imaginations.
So let me take you back to that Spring day, almost two thousand years ago and tell you that same fish story from the perspective of a young boy.
We will call the young boy Benjamin. And let’s say that Benjamin is nine years old. Now Benjamin lived a in a small village named Tiberias. Tiberias was on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Benjamin’s father worked in the fish market down where the fishing boats docked to sell their daily catch.
His mom stayed home of course and took care of Ben and his younger brother and sister. Benjamin was old enough to know that he was poor, but not yet old enough for it to really bother him.
His sandals were almost worn out. He only had one robe and it had a tear under the arm. But the weather was turning to Spring and the days were getting warmer, so he could leave his sandals at home and not worry about being too cold in his thin robe.
This particular morning he got up early, because he planned to go with his friend Peter to hear the new prophet that was coming to town that everyone was talking about.
As he dressed he saw that his mother was already working at the stove, making unleavened bread for the Passover feast that they would have in a couple of days. She saw him and put a finger to her mouth - wordlessly tell him not to wake up his younger siblings. She motioned for Benjamin to come over to the table, where she had a warm bowl of cereal for him to eat. As Benjamin finished his breakfast and got up to leave, his mother handed him a sack with a few loaves of barley bread in it – for Peter and him to eat when they got hungry.
Benjamin’s family rarely could afford to buy wheat for their bread, and his mother wanted to save the little that she had for their Passover meal.
Benjamin found Peter waiting outside for him. And they ran together along the rutted dirt roads to the docks where Benjamin’s father worked. The boys liked to go to the fish market, because it was busy and loud, but mostly they liked it because it had lots of very interesting smells.
Benjamin’s father waved to them. And he stopped working for a few minutes to talk to them and ask about their big plans for the day. Then he gave them a couple of small fish to take with them, and told them to be sure to be home by dark.
The boys started walking back through town, away from the Sea, and toward the hills on the western edge of their village. As they walked, more and more people seemed to be joining them. And everyone was talking excitedly about the new prophet.
Many had heard fantastic stories about his healing miracles, and Benjamin wondered to himself if any of it could be true.
How could anyone who had always been blind suddenly be able to see? And what about the story of the lame person who was made to walk? Or better yet, the leper who was cured of leprosy?
Benjamin was excited by those stories, but wasn’t sure whether or not to believe them. He hoped that he and Peter would see a miracle with their own eyes today.
As the boys walked along in the crowd, they grew more excited with each step and with each miracle story that they heard about. So they decided to run ahead, and try to be among the first to see the new prophet.
As they started up the large hill on the edge of town, they could see a group of men up ahead. They were standing and sitting on the far side of a flat grassy area under some trees. People from the village were already beginning to fill up the area ahead of them, so Benjamin and Peter had to move in and out of the people of them in order work their way up to the front. When they got closer, Benjamin thought he could tell for sure which one it was that was called Jesus of Nazareth – the prophet who could do miracles. He looked different – more serene than the others.
Benjamin noticed that several of the men in the group were in a very deep discussion. One of them had a really worried look on his face, and seemed quite agitated about something. Benjamin could not hear all of their discussion, but he noticed that the one who must be Jesus - was sitting off to the side and had a very peaceful look on his face.
The other men stopped their discussion and started walking through the crowd. And as one of them got close to Benjamin, he could hear that he was asking the men in the crowd if they had food to share.
Without thinking, Benjamin immediately ran up and offered his sack of bread and fish to the prophet’s friend. The man was very surprised that a young boy with no sandals and a worn-out robe would have so much food. But he took it and thanked him for sharing. And he told the boys that his name was Andrew. Benjamin watched as Andrew took his sack of food up to the man called Jesus. Jesus said something to Andrew, and Benjamin’s fish and bread were put in baskets. Then the men yelled to the crowd to sit and Jesus said a prayer of thanksgiving over the food.
And his friends started passing out the fish and bread. Benjamin kept one eye on Jesus and the other on the baskets. Even though Jesus’ friends should have run out after the first five or six people, they continued to distribute food. On and on for almost two hours - until everyone was fed.
Then Jesus began to teach. He talked about loving God and loving one another as the only way of living a truly meaningful life.
Jesus spoke with such passion and force that Benjamin hung on every word. After a while though, the crowd began to get restless. They had seen how Jesus fed them all with a couple of fish and a few loaves, and they wanted to see more miracles.
Some were even yelling out and calling him Messiah. Suddenly Jesus stopped teaching and turned and walked rapidly away – further up the mountain, toward a group of trees. His friends explained that he was tired and they kept Benjamin and Peter and the rest of the crowd from following him.
Then some people came up to the boys and asked Ben about his fish and bread, and thanked him for sharing his food. He was excited to have so much attention, but there really wasn’t much that he could say – he certainly didn’t understand how his small lunch fed so many. So he and Peter escaped the crowd and ran back to the village.
When Ben got home, he was surprised to find out that his mother had already heard the story and knew that he was a hero of sorts. She asked him why he had given up his food to the prophet’s friend instead of keeping it for himself. Benjamin said, “I don’t know Mom. He seemed like such a nice man, so I just did what I could to help.”
“I didn’t have any idea that my small gift would turn out to be so important.” His mother grabbed him up and gave him a big hug and said, “I am so proud of you.” Then she put him down and said, “Maybe this Jesus really is the one for whom we have all been waiting so long.”
One small gift.
One small gift of food from one young boy, and Jesus used it to touch the lives of thousands. One small gift, offered unselfishly – and Jesus provided the means to make that gift more meaningful than the giver could have ever imagined. One small gift.
We are all here today because, just like Benjamin and Peter, we also want to know more about this Jesus fellow – and perhaps get up front and closer to him. And each of us brings gifts when we come together – whether we are gathering for worship, or prayer or fellowship.
It doesn’t matter what your gift or talent is, God can use it to touch the lives of others. As Christians, we are to be a people who look outward. A people who strive to love others as much as we love ourselves. A people who give of ourselves.
Whatever your gift is, Grace church can use it – God can use it.
No gift is too small.
And you are never too young or too old. God is always ready and willing to work in you and through you.
And all gifts are welcome. Because, when each of our individual gifts are brought together into a community that lives to serve God, then miracles like this morning’s fish story can happen again and again.
God will use our gifts and use us to touch the lives of more people than we could ever count.
What is your gift? . . . please think about that and offer it for use in the kingdom of God. And God will bless it and make it grow.
Look again at the last verse in our reading from Ephesians. Paul says this:
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ep 2.10).
We are created by God for good works and prepared by our belief in Christ to live a life of loving others. Gifted by God in order to give back to God - in order to bless others. And our gifts, no matter how small, can and will be used by God to touch the lives of others. We have only to offer them up.
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.