SERMON FOR AUGUST 3, 2014
PROPER 13, YEAR A
Nativity, Bloomfield Township
READINGS: Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm Psalm 17:1-7, 16
This sermon is updated and based on one given by Rev. Diane Morgan on August 3, 2008, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Belleville where she was serving as long-term supply priest for 17 weeks while the rector was on sabbatical.
There is an old children’s tale about a traveling peddler of pots and pans. One day, as he approached a small town tired and hungry, he sat down with his wares alongside a bubbling brook just outside the town. Wearily he gathered up some sticks and brush and built a fire. Then he took one of his very biggest pots, filled it with clear water from the brook, and set it over the fire. Looking around, he spotted some wild onions and some herbs and threw those into the pot. Finally he walked along the shore of the brook until he found two stones to his liking. These, too, he put into the pot, which by now was beginning to steam.
A townswoman spotted the man and walked over to investigate. “What are you dong?” she asked. “Oh,” said the man with a smile, “I’m hungry and just making myself some stone soup.”
“Stone soup? I’ve never heard of stone soup! What’s it taste like?” she asked.
“Here, try some,” said the man, offering her a spoon of the simmering liquid. “Hmmm,” she said, “doesn’t have much flavor, does it?” The man took the spoon and tried some himself. “No, you’re right. It doesn’t have much flavor. Maybe if we had some celery to put in it…” he mused.
I have a few stalks at home,” said the woman. “I’ll go get them.” So she hurried away to get the celery stalks. As she was leaving, a man from the town came by to see what was going on. He, too, tried the boiling brew and agreed it needed something more. So he went home to get some carrots from his little garden.
As time went by, more and more townsfolk became curious, and each went back to get something to contribute to the stone soup… some potatoes… some turnips… some green beans… and the mayor, himself, contributed a small rabbit he planned for his dinner. After a few hours, the aroma of the soup, which by this time smelled delicious, wafted toward the town, and more people came to investigate.
Each hurried home to find something to add… some noodles… some dumplings… some parsley… a few loaves of bread to sop up the juice. By nighttime the big pot was thick with ingredients as a large crowd gathered round with their bowls and spoons. When they finally ate the soup, all agreed stone soup was the most delicious and hearty they had ever eaten.
* * * * * * * * *
This story always reminds me of the Bible story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes. Now we can take this story literally or we can entertain the suggestion of Scripture scholars that Jesus’ actions simply encouraged the people to share what they brought with them because it doesn’t make sense that nobody brought any food with them. The fact this story occurs in three of the four gospels in some form tells me whichever is the case, something very powerful happened. Something significant happened.
I’d like to take a short look at just one aspect of this story. The hour was late. The disciples began to worry about the crowd… they told Jesus to send people away into the surrounding villages to buy food for themselves. And what did Jesus say? “You give them something to eat.” And the disciples, in utter frustration, replied, “We have nothing here but five loves and two fish… we have nothing but five loves… two fish.” And Jesus said to his disciples, “Bring them here to me.” Bring… them… here… to… me.
How many times are we overwhelmed by life’s circumstances… how often are we so frustrated… that our response is like the disciples whining, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish!”
It’s the same kind of response made by parents worried about their children and all the peer pressure and all the wrong and immoral influences of the media on those children. “What are we parents to do? We have no more than five loaves and two fish.”
It’s the response of frustrated Detroiters who are living through the uncertainty of municipal bankruptcy, who watch as their pensions are cut and their health coverage disappears, who have been coping with a disintegrating school system and diminishing public services for years. “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
It’s the response of the employee whose employer never has a kind or encouraging word. But how can you quit if there are no jobs out there for your skill set?
It’s the response of the spouse who is desperately trying to make peace in a troubled marriage, and who grows weary of being the only partner working at the relationship.
It’s the response all of us sometimes offer when life seems larger than the resources we have to deal with it. “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” What are we to do?
Certainly that was the response of the disciples when a crowd of thousands of women, children and men followed Jesus to that shore. They had come to listen to Jesus’ words… to feel his healing touch bringing their broken lives back to wholeness.
And now, according to the story, the hour had grown late, and they were hungry. There was no way to buy food for so large a crowd. It would have taken the equivalent of eight months’ pay, certainly far more money than Jesus’ disciples had. And when the disciples complain, “We have nothing but five loaves and two fish,” Jesus responds: “Bring them here to me… bring… them…here… to… me.”
And that’s what Jesus is saying to each of us… to you and to me. “Bring them to me,” he softly whispers… bring me your skills and weaknesses as parents… your strengths and fears… your children and their future. Bring them to me.
Bring me your hopes, your dreams, and your convictions… bring them here to me. Bring me your burdens, your challenges, and your responsibilities. Bring… them… here… to… me.
When life gets the best of us, it is often because we focus too much on how little we can do… and too little on how much Jesus can do. The truth is, I can’t always preach a good sermon… or give a helpful answer… or heal hurt feelings and broken hearts… or win new converts to Christ… or open closed minds or right the wrongs of society… or help my mentally ill son… or my grandson who is a drug addict… or love the unlovely all by myself. Sometimes I run my mouth before I put my brain into gear, and I end up saying something that hurts someone even though I didn’t mean it like it sounded.
In face of those obstacles… and a hundred others like them… I find myself throwing up my hands in despair and saying: “What am I supposed to do? I have no more than fives loaves and two fish!”
But if I shut up and quit complaining… and quit spinning my mental wheels long enough… that’s when I can hear that soft whisper… “Bring… them… here… to… me.” I have the freedom to choose to take them to Jesus who does know what to do. When life seems too big, and I feel too small, Someone is close by who can do what I cannot… and that Someone is Jesus… Jesus who can right the wrongs and heal the hurts and love the unlovely. Jesus who offers us God’s gracious compassion and kindness. Jesus who lifts us up when we fall. Jesus who is near when we call upon him: the same Jesus who took a paltry handful of loaves and fish and turned them into a feast for thousands. However little I may possess in terms of talent or resources, Jesus whispers, “Bring… them… here… to… me,” and with him, my little bit becomes a lot. And together… we make a wonderful “stone soup.”
The original Stone Soup story can be traced back to a 16th Century folktale passed down orally in different contexts through various cultures in Europe. The first written edition was published posthumously in France in 1720. Its author was a French journalist, Madame de Noyer. Phillipe Barbe wrote another French version in 1771. An English version by Robert Moser was published in London in 1808. Many versions have been written and published up to this time. Stone Soup remains a delight for most its readers and listeners.