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Focus from the Rev. David F. Sellery, Priest-In-Charge, St. John’s Church, Salisbury, CT The Bottomless Basket - Matthew 14: 13-21

The miracle of the loaves and fishes is a tale we have heard over and over since childhood. It is the only miracle recounted in all four gospels. Yet despite its familiarity, its full meaning often escapes our understanding.

Was this miracle merely a crowd pleaser? Did Jesus just throw in a free meal for the multitudes… sort of a biblical version of free-hot-dog-day at the ballpark? Or was it a simply a huge parlor trick meant to wow the faithful and confound the skeptics? Doubtless the miracle served both purposes. But in all of Christ’s words and actions, there is a single, much deeper message: God loves us. And Jesus is literally the embodiment of that love.

Where we see scraps, he creates abundance. Where we see emptiness and depression, he creates fulfillment and boundless joy. He is the bread of life. And in Christ, that life is abundant. The hungry crowd did not need to come back for seconds. They were filled to satisfaction and there was enough left over for doggy bags… twelve baskets worth. What a perfect analogy for God’s love. Out of scarcity comes the endless buffet, the bottomless basket.
This is a very different kind of miracle, but a very familiar kind of gospel… while it is comforting, it is also challenging. In other miracles, Jesus is presented with a problem. He acts miraculously to resolve it… publicly calling on the Father, laying on hands, commanding spirits… and then the miracle happens. But in this gospel the miracle takes place off-stage. And it comes not directly from Jesus, but through the hands of the disciples, which is a minor miracle in itself.

As the gospel begins the disciples are ready to shoo the crowd away: Go home folks. The show’s over. Nothing to see here. But, with a word, Jesus transforms his followers from would-be bouncers to sacramental servants… from hangers-on to evangelists. He instructs them to share their meager provisions with the people. It is a teaching moment for the disciples and for us. We are not meant to be passive recipients of God’s grace, but to be active channels of his love. We do not come to Christ merely to be fed, but to feed others. That is a condition of our discipleship.

The growth of the disciples… from fishermen and laborers to star- struck groupies… from cowering fugitives to towering pillars of the Church… was a slow-rolling miracle, marked by many mileposts such as this morning’s enlisting them as dispensers of God’s goodness.
The lesson could not be plainer. Discipleship does not mean occasionally making a painless contribution or going through the motions of community service. Charity is not mindless, mechanical giving. It is sharing the love on which we are nourished. It’s not dispensing empty, loveless calories. It is sacrificially giving of ourselves as Christ has given of himself to us. Like the original disciples when they fed a crowd that had over-stayed their leave, Jesus expects us to be loving, to be nurturing, especially to those who are inconvenient… the poor, the aged, the infirmed, the addicted.

While the gospel speaks of “crowds,” each one on that hillside was a beloved child of God. Like us, each had primitive survival instincts that ask: “Where’s my share? Why didn’t I get that piece?” Yet every-one was fed and each one went away satisfied.

God does not love us as crowds, or as a species… a mere category of his creation. He knows and loves each one of us in our own personal failings and foolishness. He has a plan for each one of us and more than enough love to fill your basket and mine to overflowing.
In that blessed assurance, let us taste and see the goodness of the Lord. And like the disciples, let us have the faith to dig into our own scarcity and share in abundance from the bottomless basket of God’s love.
eDevotions from The Rev.Bob Dannals Daily Devotionals - Proper 12, Year A: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-2

Bring them here to me. - Matthew 14: 18

Jesus replied to what seems an impatient response to his question. The disciples say: "we have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." Jesus calmly receives what is available.

Challenge and Opportunity:

Nothing is more satisfying to a parent than to witness his or her child(ren) using his/her/their God-given talents for the sake of others. To offer one's best with a spirit of generosity and a generous heart is to provide the possibility of God's enlarging miracle. It's not possible for us to feed everybody. It's up to us to share what has been given.

Clergy Confidential: Finding God in Daily Chaos by Tim Schenck Message Received

In between the well-traveled path between my church office and my “satellite office” at Redeye Roasters coffee shop stands Hingham Cemetery. People here in town know it as a venerable, historic New England burial ground that dates to 1672. In it resides grave stones marking the final resting places of the original town fathers and mothers, two Massachusetts governors, some ancestors of Abraham Lincoln, and Sarah Derby, who founded the first coeducational school — Derby Academy — in the country.

In my frequent walks down Water Street in search of caffeine-assisted inspiration, I walk past a series of waist-high granite pillars delineating the cemetery’s side entrance. One day, I noticed a bright blue mug on one of the posts. I didn’t think much of it other than, “That’s an odd place to leave a coffee mug.” I mean, there’s no school bus stop so it wasn’t accidentally left by a sleep-deprived, distracted parent. And there are no unspoken rules against wandering around a cemetery while sipping a latté. But mostly I just noticed it and went on my way.

I spied it again the next day. And the day after that. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to take a closer look. The mug had words on it, I noticed. An inspirational saying of sorts. It proclaimed in white letters, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the presence of faith.”
Now, I’m not big on bumper sticker theology. “Honk if you love Jesus” or Hallmark-inspired phrases that adorn pictures of fluffy clouds or Facebook posts about “blessings” masquerading as humble brags. But this unattributed quote (no, it’s not in the Bible) did make me think as I continued home.

It’s certainly true that courageous acts often come with a personal cost. To do the right thing in the face of opposition takes a brave heart. And facing one’s own fears does take courage. There’s a recognition that it takes a force beyond ourselves to persevere in trying circumstances. That’s where faith comes in. A recognition that we are not in this world alone and that faith in ourselves or our own abilities only goes so far.

For Christians, this faith is not a blind one. It’s not a faith that assumes everything will turn up roses in the end. It’s not a faith of denial but a faith that proclaims that even in the midst of life’s inevitable trials and tribulations, God, as made known through Jesus, is present with us at every step of the way.

My other thought was about the placement of this mug. It didn't seem entirely random to me. That perhaps a grieving soul had placed it there because it was a message the person desperately needed to hear and incorporate into his or her life. Or perhaps someone had found a sense of peace and wanted to, in some small way, share it with a stranger.
Who knows? But the mug was there for a week and then it suddenly disappeared without a trace. Vital messages come in different forms — through other people and through circumstances and through events. Perhaps the message on this mug is speaking to you through this very article. Or maybe it was just a mug that got forgotten and was eventually remembered.

Either way, it is important to be receptive to the many messages that surround us in this life. Some are overt, some are subtle, but all are dependent upon keeping an open heart and mind.

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