A Deeper Realism

John 6:1-14

Philippians 3:14-20

We have a photo of our son Matt, taken when he was about four years old. He’s running with his arms wide open to the embrace the world. The frame in which the photo rests announces, “Look out world, here I come!”

One of the great gifts of grandparenting and parenting is living with young children whose imaginations seem boundless. I remember my son Matt wielding a light saber and going to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum dressed in a space suit his Grandma Max had made for him. These days, I witness the adventures of sharks and Octonauts, and hear my own grandchildren playing various roles and creating small worlds populated with all sorts of lively creatures right in our living room.

Imagination is at the heart of all adventure and our lives, and whether we believe it or not, we are adventurous. The minute we wake up, we embark on a holy adventure uncertain of what might happen in the course of the day, and what resources we will have to call upon to face our own epic battles or pilgrimages into uncharted lands. As Dr. Suess says, “All the places you’ll go” even if you don’t leave Barnstable.

The apostle Paul once counseled, “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That renewed and transformed mind, that holy imagination, is at the heart of today’s scriptures.

Jesus and disciples are presented with a dilemma. Will they surrender to stark realism, and send the crowd home; that’s obviously the practical and economical thing to do, or will they imagine an alternative possibility, finding a way to feed a multitude with just a few resources.

The reality is that 5000 must be fed and they have no resources. It would take $40,000 to feed them all, and that’s more than the disciples’ budget can sustain, and all they can surface is a young boy with five loaves and two fish. That can’t feed anyone, the realistic disciples exclaim. Jesus asks them to open their minds to a greater possibility; the possibility that these five loaves and two fish will be the catalyst for a miraculous event.

We don’t know the mechanics of this miracle. Did Jesus’ prayer somehow transform the cellular structure of bread and fish, multiplying them exponentially? Or did an equally profound miracle occur – the transformation of the crowd from fear to generosity, and scarcity thinking to abundance acting?

Not only does scarcity give way to abundance, there is plenty of food left over. A mustard seed becomes a great plant; a little faith moves a mountain standing in our way; and five loaves and two fishes become the centerpiece of a grand picnic dinner.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul proclaims God’s generosity and power moving in our lives, filling us with every good spiritual gift.

Paul prays that the Spirit within us will reveal how marvelous our world is and how many wonders reside in our own everyday lives. The apostle prays that we “have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”   God is willing to provide for us everything we need to live faithfully, to fulfill our life callings, and flourish in body, mind, and spirit.

Paul concludes with a life-changing affirmation: “God’s power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

What are we asking for? What are we imaging for ourselves and the world? Are we thinking too small and expecting too little from God and ourselves?

That little boy didn’t expect his box lunch to feed a multitude. In the midst of its germination, a mustard seed looks to be an unlikely shelter for birds. Our lives seem too small and unimportant, maybe we believe we’re too old or our health isn’t good enough, to do anything to change the world around us. But, with imagination and prayer, we can make a difference: we can bring beauty to our lives, vitality to our congregation, and joy to the lives of others.

Remember those great affirmations from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “My God will supply every need of yours through his abundant riches.”

God is at work to give us more than we can ask or imagine. Take a moment right now and ponder the following:

What gift do I have that’s ready to blossom if I have faith?

Ponder this question as well:

What great gift does our church have that’s ready to blossom if we have faith?

Each of us has a calling – a way to be faithful to God and the world and to experience great joy in our lives. Even if you feel as if you no longer have energy or health to pound a nail, make a casserole, or help at church, you can still pray fervently for our congregation’s mission, for the people of this church, and the healing of the world. Even if your past health, life experiences, and actions have placed a limit on you, you can still find creative ways of pushing those limits toward a deeper realism. You can do something new and creative, you can reach out to someone in need, and you can open to God’s dream for your life.

There are two kinds of realism – the facts that limit, five loaves and two fish; and the facts that transform the world, five loaves and two fish. Concreteness and limitation can block the future; but with a little imagination, the concrete world – this world, this life, this church, this budget – can be the womb of possibility and the source of unexpected gifts and miracles.

With God and our imagination, we can push the limits. We can go on an adventure of the spirit….for God is with us and wants us to welcome possibilities and then act on them to experience more than we can ask or imagine.