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You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

How Many Loaves Do You Have?

How Many Loaves Do You Have?
Mark 6:30-44
July 12, 2015
Jennifer Browne

Someone has compiled a list of the "best 'out of office' automatic email replies."  Here are a few of them:  

1.     I am currently out of the office at a job interview and will reply to you if I fail to get the position. Please be prepared for my mood.  

2.     I will be unable to delete all the emails you send me until I return from vacation.  Please be patient, and your mail will be deleted in the order it was received.  

3.     Hi, I'm thinking about what you've just sent me.  Please wait by your computer for my response.  

4.     I've run away to join a different circus.  

5.     Sorry to have missed you, but I'm at the doctor's having my brain and heart removed so I can be promoted to our management team.

Let us pray…

It was late; they were tired.  They had been working so hard that they hadn’t even had time to eat.  They tried to escape the crowd by getting in a boat and rowing away from town, to a place where they could get some peace and quiet. But the crowd figured out what was going on and met them as the boat landed on shore.  Jesus, with an apparently endless (and therefore annoying) supply of compassion, did not tell the crowd to give them a break by leaving them alone for a while.  Instead he sat down again to teach.

Finally, it got dark.  “Send them away to find someplace where they can buy dinner!” the disciples insisted. 

Jesus’ reply was not helpful: “You give them something to eat.”

The disciples’ reply was predictable, maybe even automatic: “We are out of the office. We cannot help at this time. We do not have enough money to buy food for all these people. Please have them contact someone else to help them with their problems.”

Then Jesus asked his disciples one of his questions.  One of the many, challenging, deceptively simple but actually very profound questions: How many loaves do you have?

The disciples were still on automatic. They huddled up and began to figure the math… “Let’s see, we have 5 loaves and 2 fish.  —this just doesn’t add up—it is impossible for us to feed these people…it can’t be done!”

We have been spending our summer worship services with stories from the Gospel of Mark, many of which include one of Jesus’ questions.  We are beginning to understand – although the disciples do not – that Jesus’ questions, like his parables do not simply address the situation in front of him.  They address us, too. 

(Therefore we’re going to consider a few questions this morning during the course of the sermon.  We won’t talk about them with our neighbor, as we often do.  Instead these questions are for your own personal contemplation.)

The question Jesus asked his disciples was not just for the tired, hungry, frustrated, over-worked, well-intentioned but not-always-on-the-ball disciples.  It is for us too.  Us -- tired, hungry, frustrated, overworked, well-intentioned but not always on-the-ball disciples.

“How many loaves do you have?”

He does not just mean bread, of course. 

Your reply might be similar to mine.  “Jesus, I don’t have enough.”  I don’t have enough to do all that I want to do to follow you. 

I don’t have enough money.  If I could earn just another 5000 a year, I know I could be more generous. 

I don’t have enough time.  I’m exhausted at the end of every day, Jesus.  I don’t see how I could fit one more thing in, even though you know I want to help. 

I don’t have enough power. There are too many obstacles in the way, too many people who would be upset at me, too many rules that I’d break. 

I don’t have enough talent.  You’re asking the wrong person.  You want someone with talent oozing out their pores.  I’m just average.  I can’t do that stuff.

What don’t you have enough of?

(Pause for reflection.)

6:39-44  “[Jesus] directed the disciples to seat all the people in groups as though they were having a banquet on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 Everyone ate until they were full. 43 They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish. 44 About five thousand had eaten.”

Jesus takes the little bit that the disciples have – the small amount that, they are convinced, isn’t enough…and makes it more than enough.

There are two ways – well, at least two ways – to interpret this story.  The first is the version I hear more often.  This is the interpretation that says we actually do have enough of what we share; we just need to learn how to share. I have heard and read this interpretation, and more importantly, I experience it. I’ve found it to be true in so many different situations.  This is a true story, relayed by Fr. Jerry Williams, a Catholic priest from Gainesville, MO, in 1999 --

After months of hard work and years of saving, the day came for Reb and Jacky to open their own restaurant. All that was needed was the final health inspection and the issuing of their business permit. That was scheduled for first thing that morning; then "Our Place," as they called their restaurant would be in business.

But that morning the winds and rains of Hurricane Hugo hit, unexpectedly making its way 200 miles inland to their North Carolina town. Trees were uprooted, power lines were down, homes and stores were destroyed. Reb and Jacky hurried to their restaurant. Everything was intact.

A deputy sheriff pulled up and told them that their restaurant, the fire station next door and a service station down the road were the only ones that had electricity. Reb and Jacky called the health inspector to come immediately so they could open, but because of the power outage, he couldn’t get into his office to issue the permit. No permit, no business opening. With a refrigerator stocked with 300 pounds of bacon and beef and bushels of tomatoes, lettuce and bread, there was only one thing to do: give the food away.

They told the deputy, "Tell your coworkers and other emergency people you see that we’ll have free BLT’s and coffee for anybody who wants to drop by." Soon fire fighters, police officers, linemen and other workers were filing into Our Place. When the couple heard that another restaurant was scalping people by charging ten dollars for two eggs, toast and bacon, they placed a sign in their window: FREE BLT’S--FREE COFFEE. Families, travelers and street people were welcomed.

Then something began to happen. People started to clean counters and sweep floors. Volunteers took over the dish washing from Jacky and helped Reb at the grill. Hearing about what was going on at Our Place from the local radio station, people from a neighboring town that had not been too badly hit by the storm brought food from their freezers. Stores and dairies sent over chicken, milk and foodstuffs of all kinds.

And so the long day went. Those first cups of coffee and BLT’s somehow stretched to 16,000 meals. The restaurant’s small stock increased by 500 loaves of bread, cases of mayonnaise, 350 pots of coffee and bushels of produce.

Like so many church potlucks that you and I have been to – we think we won’t have enough, but people share what they have, and it works out, we end up with more than enough. It’s true; and it’s one way of understanding and applying this biblical passage to our lives.

But I’m not convinced that’s what this story is really about.  Or, at least, it’s not only what this story is about.  I think this story has more than one lesson for us.  Because sometimes we truly don’t have enough.  Sometimes there really isn’t enough money to pay the bills; there really isn’t enough time to care for all that needs to be cared for; sometimes I know that I don’t have the power or the talent or the wherewithal to make the changes that need to be made.

Sometimes we really don’t have enough…until God gets hold of us.

It’s possible that the miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fish is a lesson in sharing.  But it’s also a lesson in the power of God.  The longer I live the more I realize how little one person – even a powerful person – can accomplish in the big scheme of things.  But I also realize how important one person’s little bit can be. 

Jesus blesses, not all the food hidden in bags and pockets, but 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  Our potluck tables groan under the weight of chicken casseroles and pasta salads and homemade brownies and cookies, but what Jesus has are 5 loaves and 2 fish.  And a lot of hungry people.  Sharing is an admirable thing, but what we have in the Feeding of the 5000 is a demonstration of the power of God’s grace. 

God does in and through us things we could not do on our own steam.  God moves mountains with faith the size of a mustard seed.

You don’t need a lot; you just need a little.  And the willingness to put it at God’s disposal.

Maybe you are

a baker with some flour,

an actor with a video camera,

a writer with a laptop, 

a guitar player with three chords and a heart for children,

a painter with some face paint,

a runner with Saturday mornings free.

What has God given you? With what personal resources can you bless others? 

(Pause for reflection)

Part of that question – what has God given me that I can employ to bless others? – is the counter-question: what gifts don’t I have? it is just as important to recognize what our gifts are not as what they are.

As gifted as he was, even Albert Einstein had to recognize his limits.  In 1948 Einstein was offered the first presidency of the new nation of Israel. He turned it down with this statement: "I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel [to serve as President], and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions. For these reasons alone I should be unsuited to fulfill the duties of that high office...." (The Einstein Scrapbook, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002)

Einstein was gifted in the area of theoretical physics far more than almost all of the rest of humanity, but he knew that he lacked the necessary political gifts to be a successful president of a new nation. His insight and honesty meant that he could focus on that which he did well.  And the world is the better for it.

Each one of us is gifted by God.  Probably not like Albert Einstein, but each of us has something that the world needs.  We may not regard it as enough to do any good.  But when we offer it to God, God is able to do miraculous things.

Jesus took five loaves and two, blessed them and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people.  He didn’t break the loaves in order to created 5000 miniscule pieces.  He broke them in order to release the possibilities hidden in the depths of what was already there.  He does that with us as well. 

When we let him, he breaks us open so that we have capacity to be and to do far more than we otherwise could.  He releases the possibilities hidden in our depths; he transforms us by making us more fully ourselves, by revealing our unique identities, the unduplicatable way in which each of us is created and called to be the image of God.

Here’s our last question.  I pray that your reply will not be automatic, but will be carefully and faithfully considered.

What dreams have you had for making a difference in this world? Have you acted on any of those dreams? If so, how? If not, what has prevented you from doing so?




Steve Goodier.  “Doing What We Can Do.”  Posted on Life Support System. August 13, 2008.

Trey H. Little. “How Many Loaves Do You Have?” Posted January 23, 2011.

Jeff Griffin. Questions Jesus Asked: How Many Loaves Do You Have?

Alyce M. McKenzie. Feeding the 5,000: Not Just Another Church Potluck. Posted on Patheos. Com/Progressive Christian. July 15, 2012.

Jerry Fuller. "Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes: Sermon on The Gospel For Ordinary 18 - Proper 13 - Year A, Matthew 14:13-2.”  Written July 29, 1999. Posted December 9, 2001.