Saving the Fragments
A Sermon by the Rev. Jim Kitchens
Based on 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and John 6:1-21
July 26, 2009 Second Presbyterian Church
The portrait of Jesus presented in the Gospel of John shows a Messiah who is always thinking
about fragments, always concerned about collecting leftovers and people who are usually left
out. He works diligently to make sure no one slips outside of the circle of his love and care and
to see to it that everything – and everyone – is saved when the story finally ends.
This fragment-saving nature of Jesus is displayed in the story we read from John 6 this morning,
with two aspects of that nature being described: one more straightforward (though miraculous)
and one highly symbolic.
The story starts out by telling about the day that Jesus provided dinner on the grounds for a
whole bunch of people – 5,000 of them, the story states. But you have to dig a little deeper to get
the actual count on the number of people fed. When the people of Jesus’ day counted crowds,
they only counted the men (since only the men counted, in their way of thinking!) If you add in
the women and children who almost surely accompanied the men out to hear this miracle
working rabbi, Jesus probably fed more like 10,000 people with those proverbial five loaves and
Through the miraculous multiplication of those loaves and fishes, Jesus makes sure that no one
leaves hungry. Everyone is satisfied … and I’m willing to bet that if we were somehow able to
ask the crowd, they’d tell us it was the best meal they’d ever eaten. When Jesus feeds you, you
are fed indeed.
That’s the more straightforward (though miraculous) aspect of Jesus’ fragment-saving nature.
The more symbolic aspect comes at the end of the meal, when he sends the Twelve out into the
crowd with twelve baskets (do you begin to see a pattern here?) to collect the leftovers. “Gather
up the fragments left over,” he commands them, “so that nothing may be lost.” This isn’t so
much a “green” initiative on Jesus’ part, though it does feel akin to the “pack it in/pack it out”
philosophy for wilderness preservation. Rather, it’s meant to show that when you pick up the
fragments, there are enough leftovers to throw the party all over again. Not only does no one in
the crowd go away hungry, but not one of any of “the Twelve” – the baskets, the disciples, or the
tribes of Israel – will be lost when the final harvest of God’s people takes place.
This fragment-saving theme reappears every few chapters in John:
In John 10, as he describes himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus says, “I have other sheep
that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also … .” While we can’t be sure
exactly who Jesus was thinking of as “other sheep,” it’s clear that Jesus meant there were
non-Jews, non-believers, whom he also intended to keep save in the end.
What triggers Jesus’ announcement in John 12 that “his hour” – that is, the time for him
to be glorified by being lifted up on a cross – is the fact that some Greeks – some non-
Jews – had told his disciples they wanted to “see Jesus” … “seeing” having a many
layered symbolic role in John’s gospel.
In John 20, Jesus offers the wounds in his body to Thomas as evidence in order to make
sure that Thomas was retained within the circle of the disciples, even though he had had
real doubts about this whole resurrection thing.
And in John 21 – a post resurrection appearance that has a number of interesting parallels
with the text we read this morning – Jesus directs the disciples to drop their nets into the
sea. Doing so, they immediately catch one of each of 153 kinds of fish, which ancient
commentators speculated was all the kinds of fish there were in the whole wide world.
The net was “full of large fish, 153 of them; and though there were so many, the net was
not torn.” Not one fish, not even the smallest species imaginable, was lost.
This insight that Jesus is a fragment-saving Messiah is both challenging news and good news, all
at the same time.
It’s challenging news, because it means that Jesus wants to gather into God’s Realm a whole lot
of folks we’d just as soon see kept in the outer darkness. We may have different “others” than
did the Jews of Jesus’ day, but there are still people whom we’d be shocked to learn might be
included in the “other sheep” whom Jesus also shepherds. It makes us think about how God
considers adherents of other faiths, or of no faith at all. It forces us to wrestle with the possibility
that God’s love is so great that even the Hitler’s and the Pol Pot’s of the world may, in the end,
be just as loved by God – and just as welcomed in the world to come – as us. No matter how
loving and accepting and inclusive we are, that’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow. But there it
It’s good news, because it means that there’s not a single fragment of who we have come to be
over the course of our lives that Jesus does not mean to redeem and save.
The key evidence for the good news aspect of Jesus’ fragment-saving nature may well be the
story of David and Bathsheba. Have you ever marveled about how completely honest the
Biblical record is about the kind of man David was? Has it ever struck you as odd that this ideal
version of an Israelite king was such a rascal, that this robber baron who ruthlessly clawed his
way to Saul’s throne was the person the Jews of Jesus’ day held up as the model for the
This ideal ruler is portrayed here in a most unflattering light. Not only is he a man driven by lust
– for power, for women, and probably for everything else - but he acts on that lust to become an
adulterer. And to make things even worse, he abuses the power he has been given by God as
King of Israel and as Uriah’s commander in chief to have Bathsheba’s husband murdered – if not
by his own hand, then certainly by his authority – so that he could take Bathsheba as one of his
wives and cover up his sin. And then, in the strangest of all twists, Bathsheba gives birth to
Solomon, becoming the wife through whom the royal line continues all the way to Jesus.
And all this is good news, because if a scoundrel like David can be kept within the palm of
God’s hands, then so can every one of us. There is not one of us who is bad enough or who has
awful enough secrets to be lost to God and to God’s love.
I am confident in proposing that all of us – this preacher included – have some dark corners in
our lives into which we’d just as soon not peek … and certainly would not like anyone else to
look. We worry about things we do, or have done, or have left undone. We fret about who and
we are, the way we live, and how we treat the people we love the most. Even those of us who
think of ourselves as “pretty darned good” worry about whether we have been fully forgiven for
things we have done in our past and focus on the unhealthy behaviors we have never been able to
bring under our control completely. We wonder whether we are, in fact, good enough for God to
love us and to keep us in the circle of God’s love when all is said and done.
If David’s story tells us nothing else, it tells us that the issue about whether or not we end up in
the circle of God’s love has nothing to do with who we are or how we live and everything to do
with God’s unyielding intention to hold onto every one of us and to hold onto everything about
each one of us. God loves you in all your particularity –the bad stuff as well as the good – and
will not let you go. Even though the weight of your mistakes and your abuses strains against the
net of God’s love, the net will not break. All the sheep will be safely guarded, all the world’s
people will be part of God’s family, all the baskets will overflow. Thanks be to God. Amen.