Sermon from Easter III: Where to Find Bread

Where to Find Bread
Easter III; April 18, 2021
Mark 6:7-13, 30-44

Mark doesn’t tell us where the Apostles found the five loaves and two fish; when John tells the same story, he says that a small boy has them. The suggestion many have made was that quite a number of people in the crowd had food with them, but only that small boy was willing to share his. Wherever the five loaves and two fish came from, the Apostles found them, and it was enough for Jesus to work with.

Where do you find bread? Or, if you have given up eating bread except maybe for communion, whatever else you eat. Classically, “bread” stands for any sort of staple food, which is why we call a family wage-earner a “breadwinner.” So let me talk about bread, and if you don’t eat bread, then please substitute something else that you do eat. I aim to be symbolic here. Anyway, back to my question: where do you find bread? The grocery store? A specialty baker? Although this year’s webcast production of the Omaha Playhouse’s Christmas Carol was very well done, I missed getting the loaf of Rotella’s bread they always hand out afterward. Maybe you bake your own. Kathleen and I both enjoy baking bread, and have for years, and were dismayed that yeast was so hard to find early in the pandemic. Apparently a lot of people were baking their own bread.

If you’re looking for bread, you may rely on someone’s advice on where to get good bread. Web searches and online reviews are great, but nothing beats the word of someone you trust. Several months ago Chris Krampe, our Music Director, compiled a list of places where he gets locally-sourced food and we posted it on our Facebook Family & Friends page. If any of you have followed up and searched for food at the places he suggests, I’d love to hear about it.

Anyway, the Apostles found bread, and some fish too, and Jesus made it serve the need – and to spare. It is one of the few stories that are in all four Gospels, so it must be important. And there are so many different directions a preacher can go with it. Today I’m inspired to use it as a launching point to talk about the E-word: “evangelism.” Please don’t tune out; just because we have the 21st-century equivalent of a television show, I’m not going all Joel Osteen on you. I don’t have the hair for it. Let’s have a heart-to-heart about evangelism, using our two Gospel stories for some insight.

Jesus sent out the Twelve with authority to cast out demons and with instructions about what to take with them, what not to take with them, where to stay, and so forth. Going out two-by-two is a model for so many things: earnest young Mormons going out with their message, Jehovah’s Witnesses too, and when we send out two deacons or elders to extend the Lord’s Table to those who cannot come to the church-house. They are to take the message where it is welcomed, and to go on their way when it is not welcomed. That certainly is a model for evangelism.

Yes, we Presbyterians have used that model. When a new church, especially, is going to be established in a community people will go out to the neighborhood with the message that a new Presbyterian Church is going to be started. That sort of “cold calling” is a little scary, but some people really take to it. People don’t, for the most part, cast out demons when they’re cold-calling in a neighborhood. But notice that Jesus explicitly gave them authority to do that and they knew from him that they had that authority. I doubt you or I actually encounter a real demon very often; if we did and if Jesus wanted us to cast it out, Jesus would give us the authority to do so. So I’m not going to sweat that aspect of the story.

I picked up the reading where I did (v. 30) because the Twelve came back and reported to Jesus what they experienced. When our Church sends some of you out to take communion to homebound persons, I’m here at the Church that afternoon so you can come back and tell me what you experienced. It is wonderful to hear the stories of elders and deacons who feel they have done something worthwhile for the realm of Jesus, taking Word and Sacrament to people and hearing their stories and sharing prayer together.

There are variations on cold calling: telephone soliciting, postcard blasts, newsletters mailed to the entire neighborhood. Rarely is the message so pointed as what the Twelve said in all the towns where they went – Repent! – but the message is there. Maybe, though, you will find more appealing the model of evangelism that is suggested by the story of the feeding of the five thousand, and which is inspired by a quotation I remember from somewhere.

The words are from the Methodist pastor D. T. Niles, a native of Sri Lanka (it was called Ceylon at the time) who served the universal church as a leader of the World Council of Churches. He said, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Think about it. “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” What does that suggest?

It suggests first that those of us who found bread are, nonetheless, beggars. Where did the Apostles find the five loaves and two fish? Mark doesn’t say, but John says it was a small boy. Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat” and they didn’t think they had anything to give. They were beggars. But there was someone who had what they needed. When Jesus sent them out to the towns and villages, they were to rely on the hospitality of the people they met. And once they settled in a home, they were to stay there, not go shopping for a nicer place. And surely they didn’t stay long. They were beggars, and had found where to find bread.

And the people they led to bread were also beggars: folks needing a demon exorcised, or needing to hear a word of repentance. That is, needing to hear a different way of thinking than they had before (which is the literal meaning of “repent”). A lot of us need that from time to time. I don’t think of evangelism as people “in the know” lording it over people who need to join a church. I think D. T. Niles had it right: one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

The key is bread. What have we found? I think it is telling that when the Twelve went out preaching and casting out demons, Jesus told them not to carry a money-pouch. That is, they were not fund-raising; they were teaching and healing. If your idea of evangelism is recruiting more people to help pay the bills, please don’t help. That’s not the point. The point is bread.

And for us, the bread we live on and the bread we share is the Lord Jesus: his witness, his message, his saving death, and his possibility-opening life. In a conversation the other day, I told the others that I find two values in organized religion: one is that a relationship with someone else always involves something outside of me: my relationships with my wife, my brothers, my friends have an external component. They are not entirely just about my heart and mind, but also the reality of who they are. If I’m going to have a relationship with God I need a sense of God that comes from beyond my own heart and mind, what goes on inside me. The real God of the universe will communicate from beyond just me. A church with a deep theology provides that “outside of me” reality. And the other value is connection with other people: people who will sing with me, pray with me and pray for me, laugh with me, and weep with me. Religion is about both: connection with God and connection with people.

Jesus is the bread that gives us both those gifts: communion with God and communion with one another. I think it will help us all if we all remember that we are beggars who have found bread in Jesus, and the most important work of evangelism is whenever another beggar wants bread, we can say where we’ve found it. If they don’t want the bread we share, God bless them as they seek it somewhere else. Yet never discount the bread God gives us here.

If a beggar you know asks you, another beggar: How can I connect with God in a way that doesn’t require me to vote for a particular political party? Does God really bless only those who support one political agenda? You can tell them where you’ve found bread.

Or perhaps someone will say: I’m a gay man. I’m a trans woman. I think of myself as non-gendered. Does God love me? Will God relate to me? All the big, loud churches say that God created male and female, nothing else; that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and I have to conform to their image. Is that so? Is there a place where I can know God loves me and challenges me to grow as the person I am? You can tell them where you’ve found bread.

Or perhaps someone will say: I’m scientifically-minded. I don’t think God wants me to park my brain at the door when I go to worship. Am I allowed to believe that God created life, and evolution by natural selection is how God does it? Am I allowed to think deeply about science and politics and history and philosophy and still relate to God? You can tell them where you’ve found bread.

The truth is there is far more bread available than we usually think. Somehow Jesus made five loaves and two fish serve five thousand men, and leave leftovers for twelve hungry Apostles. Jesus himself is, of course, the bread we live on. Even better than Rotella’s. Even better than what any of us can bake at home.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska