“Recipe for a Miracle”
Seth E. Weeldreyer, First Presbyterian Church of Kalamazoo
August 6, 2023 – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 55:1-13; Matthew 14:13-21

Neighbors gather outside our door on Wednesday about 5:00. That afternoon or day before someone from our church concocted in our kitchen a delectable recipe multiplied about 20 times. Maybe it’s Donna’s tator-tot casserole, Dana’s pulled pork, cheesy potatoes, Joe’s salad, Liz Candido and K College kids’ taco bar, Martha’s Circle’s sloppy joes and blueberry cobbler, Pat and Bev’s brownies, and everything else many of you sauté or casserole, with summer lemonade or winter hot chocolate and always coffee served with a smile. When Meredith hangs with everyone outside a bit to offer a warm welcome she often gets asked, “What’s for dinner tonight?” “Love,” she says. “It’s the smell of love, wafting out of the kitchen reaching us outside.” Everyone heads in, down the steps, to take a seat at tables together, greeted and served by our caring volunteers—church members, friends, social work professionals, and few nuns always with us, making it all fun and holy. People keep coming back, because the food is good and abundant, and here they’re treated with respect, humanity, and grace—nourished in heart and spirit as much as body, always with plenty for all.

Upstairs at the same time last Wednesday night parents and kids gathered to begin a younger families fellowship group. Ordinary people. Really much like others two floors below, just needing to know they aren’t alone in the long, late nights and exhausting days, to be nurtured together finding beauties, facing challenges in this time of life’s journey. So many came Amber glowed excitedly, smile radiant, even as she confessed to wondering would there be enough food? Still, she marveled jokingly, the salad, watermelon, pizza and Oreos must have multiplied miraculously leaving leftovers at the end.

Maybe we wonder exactly how it happened with Jesus’ leftovers. Because that’s how we’re taught to get reality—know the precise process to control the outcome, fix what’s wrong and avoid disaster, and so insure a secure, good, full life. Like many others over the ages, maybe like us, Barbara Brown Taylor wonders: Did Jesus multiply loaves all at once, so lots of people had to carry stacks of loaves like a food aid truck arriving in a famine struck area. Or did it happen while the five loaves got passed—someone tore off a chunk, and [*magic*] the loaf suddenly grew an appendage like some amphibian creature. Or as someone reached out, [*jump*] suddenly it got bigger; or a parent set one down for a moment to shift a child from one arm to another, reached down and [wait!] now there’s two. Or maybe as baskets got passed, people took a little out of their pockets, as much as they sampled what’s already in there … something like sharing sugar or other ingredients in the neighborhood. Matthew doesn’t tell us how it happened, because you see, that’s not the point.[i]

He tells us this happened after King Herod threw another banquet, serving up death for his favorite dancing daughter—John the Baptizer’s head on a plate. Not hard to imagine Jesus a bit upset. His beloved mentor gone. Pondering his own ministry—could he be next. He probably feels a bit drained, uncertain … needs to get away. Still people follow him—propelled by their own problems to be fixed and privations to be fed; sick, sad, hopeless, lost. So he extends praying hands, expresses comforting words, abounds with compassion. Friends, the trouble is not that the disciples don’t get reality. They’re being practical, reasonable—sun setting, time to call it a day. Crowd huge, only so much we can do … send them away.

But Jesus had a better understanding, Taylor imagines. He seemed to know what the crowd needed more than a hot meal was to stay together – “more nourishment for them in each other’s company than in some neighboring farmer’s goat cheese or boiled rice. Sometimes, after very bad news, it doesn’t matter so much what you eat as long as you eat it with someone.”[ii] “You give them something to eat,” Jesus says. And as I yearn to share such abundant life with you and all the world, I want to know: What’s the recipe?

Five loaves and two fish. Barely enough for twelve to snack, let alone thousands to feast. I wonder how we feel it. “We have nothing here but” … worn out, broken, lonely, not enough … In work wanting a meaningful way to contribute, wondering do I have whatever “it” takes now; for the next sales target or school year? Feeling charred a bit too long on the grill—is this life?—what difference does it really make? Youth going to build and paint with minds and hands that haven’t sous-chef-ed that way much before. Kids so near us learning couch surfing and sleeping while hungry, without basic ingredients let alone much of a kitchen to cook up a life that fulfills any Promise. Aging bodies more creaky, achy, incompetent, incontinent; faltering minds losing a thought like an oven that won’t heat anymore. Relationships that have soured, turned bitter—family or friends like fruit dried and wrinkly or rotten at the core. Churches in our current culture that feel we’re not 1500 members making newspaper headlines anymore … feeling like our cupboard is a little more bare than before. Friends, it’s our past decisions, chronic conditions, desire for a truly nourishing life, dreams for how to feed the world—so many good causes like a crowd of thousands, the edge of which we can’t even see … yet we feel worn out, broken, not enough. Five stale loaves and two smelly fish.

Scarcity or plenty? It’s one common theme when people read this story. Which leads to: guarded hoarding or holy generosity? I love how Barbara Brown Taylor imagines Jesus. Not making sense? Or more than the disciples’ seeming common sense? No picnic baskets or bulging backpacks, their own meager resources and assumptions of scarcity. But Jesus looked at the same things and saw plenty of time, plenty of food, and plenty of possibilities with resources at hand. Because what he knew, believed, gave his life to trust “was that wherever there was plenty of God there would be plenty of everything else.”[iii] The same power that raised Christ to continue life in grace and love aplenty after hoarding, fearful scarcity nailed him to a cross.

“Bring them here to me,” Jesus invites. The loaves and fish … and the people. Friends, more than however we might explain what happened beside that sea, Matthew wants to give us Jesus’ recipe. I’m not so sure the way miracles of grace work in him are an exact formula. Teaspoon of this, ½ cup of that, oven at 350. 23 minutes.

But I admit my cooking and baking often tends more toward experimental than exact. Recipes seem more starting points for creative variation than precise engineering manuals. Especially when baking, that often doesn’t turn out so well. And then there’s the time of my ignorant multiplication efforts—cooking some Italian dish maybe lasagna. Recipe called for a fresh clove of garlic chopped finely. Not sure what a clove is exactly … maybe it’s this whole bulbous thing … but after 3 or 4 or 5 of those little pieces the smell was getting a bit strong in the air, on my hands, so I thought I’d stop to be on the safe side and …… well, Suzanne later graciously improved my culinary education. And I’m pretty sure those leftovers didn’t make it into any baskets or Tupperware! So maybe I’m not the one to go by on all of this … to trust with Jesus’ holy recipe.

Maybe it’s more like the just launched Iona Abbey cookbook, filled with recipes for miracles with vegetables I never thought possible and have come to love. Anja, the cook, was raised in Germany behind the Iron Curtain. So she creates and adapts, with the spirit that food should never be taken for granted—in itself and how it builds community. It’s not likely to win a Michelin star way off the mainland on an island at the edge of the Atlantic. More simple, wholesome ingredients, sourced locally as much as possible, with surprising spices, balancing savory joy, ethical reality, and affordability that works in kitchens of those low-income or food insecure and those whose fridge and pantry overflows. As I yearn to taste again a fresh baked loaf or warm scone with homemade jam, I savor the words often prayed at meals together:

O God, to those who are hungry, give bread.

And to those who have bread, give a hunger for justice.[iv]

Yes, maybe that’s close to Jesus’ recipe for living faith. Share a meal to fill intimately compassionately people feeling empty, and order all creation with God’s love. Jesus took what they had to offer, seeming so inadequate, not enough. He held it in his hands. He looked up to heaven, because that’s what he gave his heart to. He blessed the loaves as we all are from before we’re born. He broke them as we all are inevitably while we live. He gave them bread of life, and he invited them to give themselves as the bread of life. You see, friends, people write so many millions of pages, billions, really … of theology, Bible study, faith, spirituality—like trying to get the perfect recipe for the how Divine miracle of grace and love cooks up life among us. Simple, whole-some / holistic, sourced individually—in each of us—with surprising spices, so much goodness and joy to savor … creating and adapting with no one taken for granted. And it seems to me today here’s the basic recipe, embellished with so many variations, different concoctions to suit the person, place and time. Blessed … broken … given … each of us like those loaves and the bread we’ll share here. Blessed as we will baptize next Sunday another beloved child of God, baked with such wondrous flavor, only the best ingredients—even some of us gluten-free! Broken … each of us, in life along the way by disappointments, not the best decisions, consequences we face, circumstances beyond our control. Given … all of us to serve as we are to nourish others precisely through our brokenness; inasmuch as it opens our hearts to life shared with compassion and generous purpose—to share the recipe and help others cook up life in love.

What Jesus knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, what he stirs up in us today, what the flames of the Spirit cook or bake among us … what Jesus empowered other people to know and trust is that even amid what seems scarcity of possibility, wherever there is plenty of God’s grace, there will be plenty, more than enough of everything else to satisfy all hungry hearts. What’s for dinner here today? Like Donna, Dana, Joe, Liz and friends, and so many more … Elaine and Ron have prepared this memorial meal—an everlasting sign that shall never be cut off. It’s love, always love, wafting out to reach anyone who comes in to sit at this table together.


Thanks be to God. Amen.



[i] See Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Problem with Miracles,” in The Seeds of Heaven (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 49.

[ii] Ibid, p. 50.

[iii] Ibid, p. 50-51

[iv] Jan Sutch Pickard in Coracle: The Magazine of the Iona Community, Issue 1/2023, page 24 republished from the Introduction to Iona Abbey Cookbook.