Fred Craddock passed away in March of this year. He was such a treasure—an amazing preacher and story teller—and of course, a Disciple. One of my favorite stories reflects the good news of John 6:1-15---we belong to a God who gathers.
Fred Craddock was invited to give two lectures in mid-October at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. We Montanans know that the second week of October is just as likely to produce snow as it is sunshine. The same is true for Canada. When Craddock left the lecture hall on Friday afternoon snow was beginning to fall. This is how Fred tells it:
“I was surprised, and my host was surprised because he had written, ‘It’s too early for cold weather, but you might bring a little windbreaker, a light jacket.’”
“The next morning when I got up,” Craddock says, two or three feet of snow pressed against the door. The phone rang, and my host said, “We’re all surprised by this. In fact, I can’t come get you to take you to breakfast, the lecture this morning has been canceled, and the airport is closed. If you can make your way down the block and around the corner, there is a little depot, a bus depot, and it has a café. I’m sorry.” I said, “I’ll get around.” I put on that little light jacket; it was nothing. I got my little cap and put it on; it didn’t even help me in the room. I went into the bathroom and unrolled long sheets of toilet paper and made a nest in my cap so that it would protect my head against that icy wind.
I went outside, shivering. The wind was cold, the snow was deep. I slid and bumped and finally made it around the corner into the bus station. Every stranded traveler in Western Canada was there, strangers to each other and to me, pressing and pushing and loud. I finally found place to sit, and after a lengthy time a man in a greasy apron came over and said, “What’ll you have?” I said, “May I see a menu?” He said, “What you want a menu for? We have soup.” I said, “What kinds of soup do you have?” And he said, “Soup. You want some soup?” I said, “That was what I was going to order — soup.” He brought the soup, and I put the spoon to it — Yuck! It was awful. It was kind of gray looking; it was so bad I couldn’t eat it, but I sat there and put my hands around it. It was warm, and so I sat there with my head down, my head wrapped in toilet paper, bemoaning and beweeping my outcast state with the horrible soup. But it was warm, so I clutched it and stayed bent over my soup stove.
The door opened again. The wind was icy, and somebody yelled, “Close the door!” In came this woman clutching her little coat. She found a place, not far from me. The greasy apron came, “What you want?” She said, “Glass of water.” He brought a glass water, took out his tablet, and said, “Now what’ll you have?” She said, “Just the water.” He said, “You have to order, lady.” “Well, I just want a glass of water.” “Look, I have customers that pay — what you think this is, a church or something? Now what do you want?” She said, “Just a glass of water and some time to get warm.” “Look, there are people that are paying here. If you’re not going to order, you’ve got to leave!” And he got real loud about it. So she got up to leave and, almost as if rehearsed, everybody in that little café stood up and started toward the door. I got up and said, “I’m voting for something here; but I don’t know what it is.” And the man in the greasy apron said, “All right, all right, all right, she can stay.” Everybody sat down, and he brought her a bowl of soup.
I said to the person sitting there by me, I said, “Who is she?” He said, “I never saw her before.” The place grew quiet, but I heard the sipping of that awful soup. I said, “I’m going to try that again.” I put my spoon to the soup — you know, it was not bad soup. Everybody was eating this soup. I started eating the soup, and it was pretty good soup. I have no idea what kind of soup it was. I don’t know what was in it, but I do recall when I was eating it, it tasted a little bit like bread and wine. Just a little like bread and wine. (Craddock Stories by Fred B. Craddock, pages 83-84.)
Bread and wine; the Lord’s Table where all are welcome. No one is excluded; lost—apart. God is in ALL and ALL are in God.
Last week we focused our attention on the story of the feeding of the five thousand from the gospel of Mark. The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle recorded by all four gospels. Today we are visiting John’s account of the story—and there is a twist. There’s always a twist when someone recounts the teachings and actions of Jesus because he, as we might say in more modern terms, “marched to a different drum.”
His “beat” was the compassionate heart of God that loved the whole world, not simply the part that delights or highlights or profits the individual person.
Last week I mentioned that Mark’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand reminded me of the parable Jesus told about faith the size of a mustard seed. I handed everyone a mustard seed, which is quite small, and asked you to hold it in the palm of your hand and to talk about what you saw. Kevin mentioned that his seed was so small that he had lost his already. Faith is easy to lose—the ability to get up every morning in love with God and the world God is creating.
Then I offered this insight---so often we are so focused on the seed, resonating with its small size—that we are unaware of the hand—the hand of God—which increases our depth and our width. We are bigger than we think because God is bigger than we think and we live and move IN God. Therefore we shouldn’t dismiss the needs of our neighbors like the disciples wanted to do with the large crowd that had gathered) because we are afraid they will deplete our resources.
This week John’s telling of the Feeding of the Five Thousand not only includes the disciples’ anxiety over the size of the crowd compared to the size of what they could provide in contrast to the stability of Jesus who asks them to offer what they could produce, in this case a small boy with five barley loaves and the two fish. It also includes everyone eating their fill and the directions to “gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.”
GATHER is an interesting word, a passionate word, a holy word. It means to “come together; assemble or accumulate” and “to draw towards ones’ self” and “to bring together and take in from scattered places or sources.”
I am reminded of Jesus’ lament, or expression of sorrow, over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37. Jesus speaks: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
What Matthew is referring to here is Jesus’ repeated attempts to call religious leadership on the mat for caring too much about what other people thought of them (worldliness) and too little about what God thinks of them (godlessness). Jesus is grounded in God. There is no wiggle room. To be gathered under Jesus’ wings is to drawn to the heart of God, the only heart that matters, the heart of unconditional love.
To live next to God’s heart is to let God’s heart beat as our own.
In the New oxford Annotated Bible there is this evaluation of John 6:12, “Gather, an act of reverential economy toward the gift of God.” Simply put, to show respect for God is to act out of great concern for the quality of life for others.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
So here’s the twist. At the end of the meal in John’s gospel there are twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves; one basket for each disciple; not for their comfort—but for the comfort of their neighbor.
We belong to a God who gathers…
….we belong to a God who equips us to pattern our own lives after the Ultimate Giver and do the gathering ourselves.
The question that haunts us is this: Who benefits from our filled basket?
Let us pray: May your presence, Holy God, dispel our fear of the stranger and their need. Amen.
(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener at Central Christian Church in Billings, Montana on July 26, 2015.)