“Bread, Fish, or Snakes?”
a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, UCC
July 24, 2022
5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
How much more do we believe in a God who gives fish and bread than a God who gives snakes? That’s the focus of these verses. Outwardly the verses are about how to pray and whether we can trust God to answer our prayers. At a deeper level it is about whether we trust that God’s vision is one of bread and fish or of snakes.
If we pray, most of us pray for similar things. Hopefully none of us prays for bad things for others. I don’t think any of us pray expecting God to give us snakes when we ask for bread or fish. We pray for others we love who have needs. We pray about the people and things we worry about. We ask for guidance, things like that. A lot of our praying sounds like begging a holy Santa Claus to grant wishes.
The second part seems to be encouraging us to believe that God intends the best for us. Theologians call this a “how much more than” lesson. In other words, as the last part asks, if we, who are “evil” give those we love good things, how much more will God give us good things when we ask? Truth be told, all of us probably have wondered about why every prayer doesn’t get answered though, right?
I found encouragement in the words of Karoline Lewis, [ Karoline Lewis, Workingpreacher.com, July 17, 2016, ]. She wrote, “How much more” can be [about] a monetary transaction, or what’s left to complete a task, or waiting for something to end or something to begin. She points out that “depending on the nature of the occasion, ‘how much more?’ can be either a wish for the end to come or the hope for something to never end.
In our “personal lives ‘how much more?’ might be, how much more can I keep up with the demands of my family? How much more of this strained relationship can I take? How much more loss can I survive? At work, it might mean I might wonder, “how much longer will this church put up with me?” You might wonder, “How much more can I give to my employer before I simply lose it?” I must admit, I do sometimes wonder, “How much more can I trust that what I preach, in the midst of the hate and violence and hopelessness of the world, before the Gospel starts sounding like just a figment of my imagination?”
She adds, “speaking of our world, how much more can we see and hear the examples of racism, terrorism, homophobia, and xenophobia, before we begin to believe dystopia is winning over the coming of the Kingdom of God?” In other words, are our prayers for God’s help worth any of the effort we give to them? Let’s be honest, sometimes it feels like we are that man asking his neighbor for bread for his late-night visitors.
In the face of all this: “We need these words from Jesus today; that whenever we say, ‘how much more’ can we take, God’s response is, ‘how much more will I strengthen you?’ That whenever we voice, ‘how much more?’ when we feel abandoned and rejected God says, ‘how much more do I promise to be with you?’ That whenever we face disillusionment and disappointment and we mutter, ‘how much more?’ does God say, ‘how much more do I love you?’ I need to hear that in those times when I am tempted to say, “it’s not enough, God. Do more.” These words from Jesus do give me hope. How much more is God than the evil of our days?
So all that’s well and good, preacher, but my prayer, you might say, is “WHEN O, Lord?” And not to be too cynical, but your question might be quite honestly, “what do I do until the Kingdom comes, until your “how much more arrives?”
Another writer said this, “It’s easy to feel pessimistic about the future. We see so much suffering. So much pain.” She says, “It invites us to wonder about what pain and suffering can teach us. If we see pain the way that Jesus did, we see it as a way through to deeper understanding and transcendence.” She points out that suffering is “an inevitable part of being human.” At the same time, she challenges us, and invites us, to see that we can make a shift in our thinking, and in our being in these difficult times. That shift means “coming to see the wounds of suffering as sacred wounds. Much as we think of Jesus’ wounds on the cross. They become touchstones for our transformation. Or they can make us bitter, closed off and cynical. It’s our choice.”
She said, “Psychologists tell us that if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it to others. She points out that many of the Biblical stories “become ones of transformation through loving kindness and, finally, healing and forgiveness.” Our stories today, as we see the “divisions and conflict among us,” still hold the possibility of transformation.
As a loud minority demand the world stay captive to their version of history, we can continue to work to transform our hurt and the hurts of others as reasons to push for transformation of the world to God’s vision. Those who want the world to continue to be dominated by those who are white, male, rich, and claim to be straight, certainly resist transformation. But that doesn’t have to stop us from continuing to be transformed and be strengthened for the work to transform the world.
In other words, our wounds and our fears and our suffering can feel as if they are weakening us. Paul, the Apostle of Jesus, who suffered many things, including an illness that weakened him, begged God to take his weakness from him. But he said God transformed him by telling him, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul said, “therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong!” [ 2 Corinthians 12:7-11 ].
So, “Our work now is to find the way through to transformation. Even to changing the laws of the land. Those working to deny climate change and gun law reform are transmitting a belief system honoring individualism over the collective good. Our work is to find the way through to transformation - our awakening to our interdependence with all of creation and our shared investment in planetary thriving.”
Jesus said both that he was the Light of the World, and that we are to be light to the world. His words remind us that as powerful as darkness can seem, ‘how much more’ can just one little light transform the darkness? The smallest of lights can transform darkness. How much more can our collective lights, for we are the majority and we are people of goodness and good will, how much more can our light transform the darkness of fear, hatred, prejudice, and outright evil? And how much more is the outcome certain knowing that God is the source of our light, no matter how hard others try to claim to speak for God? To me it is clear that they and we have a different understanding of God, a different understanding of the Gospel, and I don’t feel compelled to apologize for the God I believe in nor do I intend to stop criticizing their version.
I want to tell you one more story that I think ironically illustrates how much more powerful God’s light and love is than darkness and hatred. A pastor of an Open and Affirming UCC Church on the other side of the country, back in 2017 told of how their church had held a “Drag Gospel Festival worship service.” In the middle of it a young white man stood up and started screaming at them declaring that they were all “in Satan’s clutches.” This was just after the shooting of nine people at Mother Emmanuel AME Church, by another young white man. The next week a “conservative blogger got hold of the story and spread it around the Internet, riling up dozens of people who sent emails, made harassing phone calls and posted ugly things on their social media.” One man declared someone should ‘Drop a bomb on’ the church. The next Sunday a different young white man showed up early for worship and sat, keeping his hand in his pocket, and looking around nervously. It only added to the tension in the church. But that didn’t stop God from doing God’s “how much more” thing!
In the face of that, an amusing and ironic post appeared, once again reminding us how much more God’s love comes through, and “how much more” powerful transforming love is than any darkness or hatred. Someone else posted on their social media, commenting on the Drag worship service, that, “this sodomite festival raised $7,000 for LGBT support!!! This means sinners give more graciously than those who profess to be saved! We have done event after event to raise money to do God’s work to bring the gospel to villages all over Latin America, and our average earnings per event are $300-400. What is wrong with this picture?”
Maybe what is wrong with this picture is their version of the gospel and their version of God. When self-righteous people who proclaim themselves Christian try to build a world on hate and evil, how much more will God’s love and light transform that hate and evil by love and goodness? The Psalm writer proudly proclaimed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” [ Psalm 27:13 ].
The challenge to us is to commit to God’s “how much more.” To believe more in the good news of the Gospel we proclaim more than they believe in the bad news they proclaim. How much more do we believe in a God who gives bread and fish than a God who gives snakes? How much more do we believe? Enough to keep working to transform the world into God’s vision? How much more do we believe in God’s vision than their vision? That’s the question we must answer every day. AMEN.