8/2/2020 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 14:13-21.
13Now when Jesus heard [about the beheading of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning’s gospel reading doesn’t start on a very positive note, even though it quickly transitions to recount one of Jesus’ greatest, and well-known miracles. We find that Jesus has just heard that King Herod has executed his cousin, John the Baptist, by having him beheaded. In what I suspect was likely a mixture of grief, and concern for his own well-being Jesus determined it was best to avoid the limelight for a time. While he attempted to withdraw by himself for a while, the crowds that had been pursuing him followed him in to the wilderness and Matthew recounts that Jesus in his compassion for the people, cured the sick and suffering he encountered. The crowds that followed him did so in order that he might heal the sick among them, teach them how they should be living in this world, and preach to them about the coming kingdom of God. In fact, the people were so anxious to be in Christ’s company and to hear his word, that over five thousand of them trekked out into a desert wilderness without bringing any provisions with them. So before he began to teach the people Jesus saw that he would have to be sure they were fed. To satisfy their hunger; the essential need for food. It’s rather obvious why all four gospels recount this story. It’s the one that, in spite of all the other miracles, healings, the raising of Lazarus, and the rest, this morning Jesus simply provides bread; basic sustenance to five thousand people. Christ is shown to be giving people what they need to live, to survive, and to thrive.
We can also see an allegory here, a parallel with the Creation story that begins with John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God”. “And the Word was God”. John tells us that Jesus was present at the beginning when the universe was created from nothingness. And in this morning’s reading from Matthew we hear that Jesus now creates enough food for five thousand people from what amounted to almost nothing; five loaves and two fish. What lesson can be learned from all this talk of basic survival needs being met, miracles, and the creation of something from nothing?
Just this; God, in Jesus Christ is able to provide all that we need from nothing, often without us even asking for or acknowledging after we receive it. This ALL that we need includes ALL that we need. From basic necessities such as food, and shelter, up to and including the miracles that constitute our continued existence. The earth’s atmosphere is just dense enough so that it doesn’t spin off into space, yet light enough that gravity isn’t able to pull it down to the surface. The planet tilts just enough to allow for seasons. Plants and trees utilize carbon dioxide and provide us with oxygen to breathe. Ocean tides happen because the moon tugs just a bit on the seas and oceans. All these are truly miraculous, God made things.
The disciples asked Jesus in another story, “How should we pray?” Jesus tells them in what is ow known as The Lord’s Prayer. It includes the supplication, “Give us this day our daily bread”. Martin Luther reminds us that “our daily bread” indeed includes everything that God provides for us, all the things we just listed, from bread to gravity. From our basic daily needs to the miracles of a new creation formed at every sunrise, Jesus promises us that God will provide. It is reassuring and a cornerstone of our faith that our Creator/Redeemer/Spirit God cares so much for us that all our needs will be met through God’s grace. Thus, we are provided all that we need, just as the five thousand were. And after everyone ate, there were twelve baskets left over. Did Jesus miscalculate the amount of bread and number of fish needed to feed the crowd? Not likely; if Jesus is able to create just enough, I don’t think he made a mathematical error, and made too much by mistake. More likely the excess was on purpose; we must remember that the life that our Creator wishes for us is one of “abundance”. While we are prone to forget that all good things come from God, and that in Christ we are provided all that we need, even more so we often fail to recognize yet another fact. And this truth may be even more important in our understanding of who we are as members of God’s family. When we do take the time to remember, and are thankful that God always provides enough, we sometimes forget that no matter how small the amount, there always seems to be leftovers. There is always an “abundance” through God’s grace.
It’s what we do with these superfluous gifts; with the extra, the leftovers, that defines who we are. Emanuel’s mission is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and be a place of shelter. These are things this community, this assembly does as a unit. Through donations to organizations providing food to our hungry neighbors, Emanuel’s Closet, and the flung open doors of this building. These are examples of our collective leftovers. Clothing we’ve outgrown, more food than we really need, a building we only use a few times each month; even in pre-pandemic times.
These are wonderful examples of God providing us all we need, then by His grace, giving us our twelve baskets of excess to be shared with those in need. These things are the basics, like the bread and fishes Jesus distributed to the five thousand. But we are capable of individually sharing our leftovers, the individual abundance we have through God’s grace.
That limitless love that God shows us through the sacrifice of his very own Son. God’s unmerited grace toward us has no limit; there is so much that it can’t be contained, there are always leftovers. And, if we are individually to follow this Jesus, then we must recognize that we are called to share this abundance with others.
Imagine if every time we stop and remember God’s abundant gifts to us, we made a point to share a little bit of the leftovers with another? It may be a donation to the food bank, volunteering in a soup kitchen, working at Emanuel’s Closet once we are up and running; there are immeasurable ways to physically share a portion of what God has graciously blessed us with. Then there are those not quite so obvious needs, those really basic ones that Jesus so often attends to. And no, we’re not expected to perform Christlike miracles. But we are called to be an expression of God’s love, as revealed by Christ. It’s quite simple, really. All we have to do is distribute a portion of the leftovers of God’s grace already granted us. A kind word, a smile, a gesture of understanding, a reassuring hand (albeit with “social distancing” these days). A receptive ear, a sympathetic tongue, a compassionate heart. God’s love may be manifest through us in these and countless other ways.
And the sharing of God’s abundance with others is not just something we think would be nice to do. In our Gospel lesson this morning, when the disciples tell Jesus that the people gathered should be sent away to buy food for themselves, Jesus doesn’t make an off-the-cuff suggestion. He tells them, “you” give them something to eat. The Greek is very specific with the word used; it means “you, yourselves” are to do this.
Oftentimes in the world there is scarcity, quite more than we would care to admit: in God’s kingdom there is always abundance. And like the disciples, we too have been instructed to share our abundance whenever we find people who are in need. Whether food and clothing or heartfelt consolation and comfort; Jesus directs his commandment also to us, just as if we were standing with him in the desert, surveying the hungry crowd. “You”, Jesus commands; meaning you, me, each of us is to provide from our abundance where there is scarcity, where there is need.; Jesus demands this of us, just as he did of the twelve disciples in the desert.
And in these times of distress, worry, and fear, there are likely needs our neighbors struggle with that we can’t even imagine. The world has not seen a global illness like this in over 100 years. We truly don’t know what scarcity our neighbors are facing, what their needs might be. I would issue each of us a challenge; this week, do something, it doesn’t matter what, to share from your abundance to address the scarcity that another of God’s children might be facing. There are the needs we’ve noted: food, clothing, the like. And, also those non-material things that people find themselves dealing with; loneliness, crises of faith, emotional distress of all kinds. So, here’s the challenge, based on Jesus’ admonition to the disciples that “they” should provide for the people in the crowd. Donate a box of cereal or an outgrown shirt or pair of pants. Call a neighbor you think might benefit from a friendly, reassuring voice. Act in whatever manner you find the Holy Spirit calling you to do. Like Jesus said, “you” give them something to eat. “You” offer the clothes off your back. “You” are you brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. Rise to the challenge; share your abundance with the world.
If you’re not confident you have this ability within you, be assured that you most certainly do; God makes sure that you have an abundance of the ability to share. So much so, that you will find you have plenty left over; I’d say about twelve basketsful!
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, help us to acknowledge the abundance you provide for your children. And open our eyes to see where there is need, where others live with scarcity. Make us willing to share our abundance with those who are in need, and who would benefit from the excess in our extravagant baskets of loaves and fishes. And we pray these things the name of Jesus Christ, the One who provides abundant life to all. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.