There was fried chicken, pizza, cheesy potatoes, vegetable casseroles, broccoli salad, tomatoes so ripe that you could eat them over the sink, their juices dripping down your arms. And, oh, the desserts! Fresh banana pudding, blueberry squares, peach cobblers, and chocolate candies, homemade and sweet. There was sweet tea in pitchers, served in ice filled plastic cups. We have attended many such meals, potluck, we call them. Lunch. Fellowship. Sunday supper. Bring a dish to pass, bring your appetite, bring yourself.
There’s just one thing. This meal was not held at St. Stephen’s. This was a gathering of the kind of people we’re not quite sure about; we might not quite believe that we’re there, and yet we are ever so welcome. And whether we like it or not, we are home. Have you ever gone to a gathering like that? Maybe it was at your in-laws’ house; a funeral for a friend, or for someone you really didn’t like. Maybe this gathering was at a new club you were thinking about joining. Or not joining. Maybe this gathering took place in your very own home. Who ARE these people? Where did they all come from? … How will I feed them? We cannot possibly feed everyone.
And when we think that we are short of food, we panic. “Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” We scrutinize. “What did she bring? Oh, and he never brings anything, look at him, first one up to the table. They never bring enough.” We fret and we worry. Jesus says “make the people sit down.” The miracle begins.
Everyone goes through the line and has some food, a little or a lot. Some have seconds. There is enough. There is plenty. There is food left over: twelve baskets of fragments from the original five barley loaves. Twelve baskets of food.
We fail the test. We are so worried about the food that we forget that Jesus is among us. Jesus was testing us when he said “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus already had a plan, and the good news is that our ineptitude, our struggle, our worry, our gossip – didn’t ruin it. Jesus was present. With Jesus, everyone was fed. And instead of worrying about how to feed everyone, Jesus worries about the leftovers – so that nothing may be lost.
Are you lost?
How about at that funeral for your very best friend; how could God do that to her? We are lost. How about at that funeral for the person you don’t like; we hate that he died, but really – he had it coming. Look at how he lived. Or, “Maybe I should have said ‘I’m sorry; a little sooner.” We are lost. What about that gathering in your own home, when the people, even if they’re family, don’t quite fit together: Suzy doesn’t get along with Sally, and Ed and Joe are fighting, and nobody “deserves” a Christmas gift let alone this meal that almost killed me to make. Where have they been all year … last week … yesterday, when I was alone, lonely? We are lost, right?
We are clamoring to see Jesus, to touch His garment and to be healed by its fringes. We are hungry and thirsty.
And God who comes to us and does God-like things like creating the earth and sending us rain and showing us the beauty of butterflies and green leaves and cooing babies … God comes to us in the most common of things. In a man sharing food, ordinary bread, eaten not at a fine table with linens and our best manners, but in lots of grass with ants and dirt and crumbs that fall to the ground. But nothing is lost.
We go back to that place we don’t want to be, and find that we are not lost at all. We may feel lost until we realize that God may or may not have brought us to this place, but that God is with us in either case. We are fed when we didn’t even know we were hungry. At the funeral we meet a long ago friend; our grief is not gone, but soothed. The person we didn’t like has a kind and gracious family. And the food was good. In our homes and at the club meeting we find the embrace of strangers, the help of friends, and we are not alone.
Jesus comes to us in our humanity so that he can save it. Jesus clothed in a robe like ours is not like we are. He is God, and he comes to us everywhere. He feeds us, and not one is lost.
Welcome to pot luck. Welcome home. You are found.