Sermon: Helping Hands

July 29, 2018
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6:1-21

There is an old story about a poor traveler – a bum, a hobo, if you will – who visited a village and went door to door asking for help: a little bread, a bowl of porridge, a cup of soup.

Each house, however, though it was neat and trim and well-kept, seemed to be the home of people even poorer than the traveler. “I’m sorry, we have no bread,” said the first. “Oh, dear, we have no cereal,” said the second. And of course, there was not a hope of any beef or chicken.

The traveler thought about this, and decided to help this village of well-nourished yet apparently desperately poor people. He walked into the village square, pulled a stone from his pocket, and drew a bucket of water from the well. He built a small fire, and looked at it while holding the stone in his hand.

“What are you doing?” asked one of the villagers.

“I’m going to make soup from this stone,” said the traveler. “All it takes is water and the stone – but I don’t have a cooking pot.”

Well, one of the villagers had one they were willing to loan. After all, soup from a stone would be something to see. And in no time at all, the water was in the pot, the pot was on the fire, and the stone was at the bottom of the boiling water. The traveler sat there stirring, and the villagers watched with interest.

“Does the stone make a good soup?” asked one, and the traveler replied, “Oh, it’s quite good. But it can be improved. It’s a shame nobody has any potatoes. They always make it better.”

One of the villagers suddenly remembered that they did, in fact, have some potatoes, and in no time at all, they were also simmering in the pot. Then the traveler remembered that some onions improved the flavor, and one of the villagers ran for the onions they suddenly remembered they had, and in no time at all, they joined the stone in the pot.

Potatoes and onions were followed by carrots, celery, herbs, spices, and even some cooked chicken. The villagers sniffed in wonder at the scent rising from the pot. When it was ready, everybody got to share, and they made sure the traveler had everything he wanted and more before he went his way again.

He had, after all, taught them to make soup from a stone.

There is a school of thought that says that’s how Jesus fed five thousand people starting with five loaves and two fish. More than one person, they say, would have come out to that hillside with a lunch packed away. One by one, they would have joined into that first boy’s generosity, and by the end of the meal, they would have shared what they had with those who’d brought something, and with those who hadn’t. In this school of thought, the miracle was that the people shared, and that the people fed themselves.

There’s a power to that story. What a world this would be if people shared that way. The truth, however, is that we don’t. In 2017, US citizens and non-profits had a total net worth of $94.7 trillion. If that were evenly divided among the population, each household would have $760,000. However, half of those households that year had a net worth of just $11,000.

If people shared with one another as they might have done upon that Galilean hillside, our inequality of wealth would look much different.

There is power to that story, as there is power to the story of stone soup. John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, however they might appreciate that power, would also say, “But that’s not the story I was telling.” There’s simply no hint of any further contributions to the meal for 5,000 beyond the five loaves and the two fish.

In the end, write all four of the evangelists, it’s Jesus that fed the crowd.

Karoline Lewis writes, “I think it means that being fed, literally, is a hallmark of the presence of God. That where people are fed, literally, is where you can expect to experience grace — see it, taste it, smell it, feel it.”

We know God is here if people are being fed.

God makes sure that people are fed.

There is a role for people. Jesus first summoned his disciples to get things moving — even if he did know perfectly well what he’d have to do. It was as obvious to Jesus as it was to Philip that this hillside was no place to buy bread, and I’m sure he also knew that they didn’t have the bread to buy the bread, either.

I suppose he might have transformed rocks into bread, as Satan suggested during Jesus’ temptation, but instead he invited human participation, human contribution, human action toward feeding hungry human beings. Five loaves and two fish. It’s clearly not enough.

But in Jesus’ hands, it is enough.

The helping hands here belong to Jesus, who looks to feed the crowd. The helping hands here are Andrew’s, who looks a little further than Philip and finds the boy with the loaves and fishes. The helping hands here are the boy’s, who gives his meal to Jesus. And the helping hands here once again belong to Jesus, as he breaks the bread and divides the fish again and again and again until five thousand have eaten and are satisfied.

At any given moment, we might be the possessors of helping hands, or the recipients of helping hands: hands that prepare the meal, or serve the meal. Hands that summon generosity, or that distribute what’s been donated. We might be the Friday night servers in Kea’au, or the daily sorters at the Food Basket. We might prepare the after-worship refreshments, or the Bible Study coffee (that last one is my job).

The worth of those hands cannot be overstated, even as it’s all too often discounted. In these last few weeks, I’ve been fed in body, mind, and spirit by so many people: all of you, friends in Connecticut, friends around the country, supporting me because my father had died. Each one of those expressions of support, tangible or intangible, was a blessing.

I tell you from my own experience: Our hands make a difference.

The hands that make the greatest difference, of course, belong to Jesus. Those hands strengthen ours. Those hands multiply what we have brought. Those hands do summon forth more hands than ours, so that stone soup can flow.

And the helping hands of Jesus also work themselves, so that people are fed by the very grace of God.

Let us give thanks for the helping hands of Christ.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Is it identical to the prepared text? No. Is it ever? Not so far…

The photo is “Playing with Hands” by Ibex73. Used by permission: Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on July 29, 2018

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