“Good Enough” Colchester Federated Church, August 2, 2020, (Matthew 14:13-21) Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (**Virtual Worship)

Today’s Gospel story is a famous one—Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish.  Though even that familiar title “Feeding the Five Thousand” is a bit deceptive.  Because Matthew tells us that five thousand men were fed and adds as an afterthought “plus women and children had eaten.”[1]  The children and the women in that isolated place with Jesus and his disciples didn’t get added to the count right away.  (Rolls eyes.)  So is this miracle actually the feeding of the ten thousand or more?  Who knows! 

What we do know is that it’s a miracle about multiplication and abundance.  In some ways, it’s a miracle about working with what we have to glorious ends.  It’s striking that the disciples are quite practical in the beginning, reminding Jesus that they were in an isolated place where he was healing those who were sick.  Asking him to send the crowds away so that they could go into the villages nearby to buy food. 

Remember that Jesus had withdrawn in a boat to a deserted place by himself after hearing that his cousin John had been beheaded in prison.  In his grief, Jesus withdrew—wanting and needing to be alone to process this violent death.  Though when the crowds learned that Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place, they followed him on foot from the cities.  When Jesus arrived back on shore and saw the large crowd, he had compassion and began to heal those who were sick.  Talk about a long day full of heavy emotions. 

As night began to fall, it was Jesus’ disciples who must have jolted him back to reality.  And to be fair, their words rang true.  This is an isolated place.  It’s getting late.  Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.  That’s where it gets especially interesting because Jesus tells his followers that there’s no need to send the crowds away—“you give them something to eat.”[2]  Though the disciples have nothing to give except five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus instructs them to bring the fish and bread.  He looks up to heaven, blesses the food, breaks the loaves apart and gives them to his disciples to pass out among the seated crowd.  Everyone eats until they are full and there’s even leftovers—twelve baskets full.

We can’t prove whether this story is literal or metaphorical.  We can’t prove exactly how many people gathered there with Jesus and his disciples to eat and have their fill.  It’s a miracle and a matter of faith.  The interesting questions anyway come from what it all means.  Who do you identify with most in the story?  With Jesus?  The disciples?  The crowds?  People in the crowds who were in need of healing?  It’s a rich story with multiple layers and perspectives.  And it’s a story about sometimes just making it work and that sometimes we do the best we can with what we have and that’s good enough.

Now I happen to be a fan of the long-running reality TV show Project Runway.  It’s fascinating to see talented fashion designers be part of challenges where they’re coming up with all sorts of innovative designs, sometimes using unconventional materials to boot.  Fashion Consultant Tim Gunn was one of the original hosts of the show and he would famously advise contestants to “make it work.”  He would often say it when he was looking at a piece that a designer was making and they were having lots of problems.  Tim Gunn would stand there evaluating the piece as the designer looked on and got increasingly nervous or defiant in defense of their design.  Tim would frown and say with his wonderful, distinctive voice—“make it work.”

Or think of Apollo 13—arguably one of the best movies ever.  It tells the true story of NASA’s third moon-landing mission.  Though the astronauts never made it to the surface of the moon.  An oxygen tank exploded around the 56th hour of their journey in space and the priority moved from getting to the moon to returning to earth safely.  Astronaut Jim Lovell famously communicated the disaster by saying, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”   As NASA explains, “Ground controllers in Houston faced a formidable task. Completely new procedures had to be written and tested in the simulator before being passed up to the crew. The navigation problem had to be solved; essentially how, when and in what attitude to burn the LM descent engine to provide a quick return home.”[3] 

The movie of what was later called a “successful failure” of a mission depicts how hard the ground controllers in Houston worked to solve problem after problem that arose as those three astronauts became stranded in space.  One of the issues depicted in the movie was to literally fit a square peg into a round hole in order for oxygen levels to be more stable.  The story of Apollo 13 is such an inspiring story about the capacity of the human spirit to come up with solutions that are good enough for the sake of one another.

Sometimes we have those moments where the situation we’re in is not ideal to say the very least.  And we just have to do the best we can with what we have.  Think about all the adaptations that we’re making in the midst of this global pandemic.  Think about all of the graduations that happened this summer (including Bacon Academy’s just last month) and all the planning that went into holding some sort of ceremony.  Though sometimes when adaptations weren’t made, people felt the consequences.  Having recently returned from my home state of Ohio it was reported on the news while we were there that coronavirus cases went up in part due to weddings and graduation parties held in June and July when masks were not state mandated.  So if people refuse to take this virus seriously and make necessary changes to events, well that’s going to be felt too. 

All of the adaptations that we must make in order to just live our lives these days can feel overwhelming.  So much happens behind the scenes to make any event happen safely.  Look at Major League Baseball just think week!  We can contemplate the adaptations that we’re seeing now and will see in the future as we realize ways to stay safe and keep some of our past traditions and practices alive.

The truth is that sometimes this is all scary and there are hard days behind us and ahead of us.  Though we’re also seeing the beauty of human ingenuity if we pause to notice.  The old ways won’t work, at least not right now.  So the question becomes what do we do to respond to the current times?  That’s what’s striking about today’s miracle of multiplication.  The disciples present Jesus with all these problems—isolated place, it’s getting late, big crowds, not enough food.  And Jesus responds by just making it work and using what was right on hand to give a meal to those who were hungry that was more than good enough in the end.  Jesus used what he had to the best of his ability to feed those hungry people.  And no we’re not Jesus, of course.  Yet let this be an inspiring story on those days when we just need to make it work.  And remember that you are enough.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 14:21, Common English Bible.
[2] Matthew 14:16.
[3] “Apollo 13” NASA, July 8, 2009, https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/apollo13.html