Sermon, Pentecost 9A, Sunday August 6, 2017
Matthew 14: 13-21
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’
16 Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’
17 ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.
18 ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. 19 And he told the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Fed to Feed
What a feast! Ten thousand plus people sitting down late in the day somewhere like out the back of Eudunda.
It was a miracle for sure. But there are deeper miracles here than just those couple of fish and a few bread rolls becoming more than enough to satisfy the stomachs of so many.
The real miracle here is why this happened.
To get that we need to get that first line….
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
What had happened? The news is the murder of Jesus’ cousin and Baptizer, John, at the hands of the dreadful Herod family had happened. Jesus needs space. You usually do when you are that first shock of grief.
Even more when it is mixed with white-hot anger. John was brutally murdered by a power-hungry, lustful, egocentric and paranoid family named “the Herods”.
It happened at a toxic feast. It was the people who were toxic, not the food.
But Matthew is moving us to this other feast now. It is not toxic at all. We are moved from this picture of the lifestyles of the rich and shameless to the life of God among us.
But like two royal sons, Jesus is not going to get the space he needs. The crowds, who are looking for his wonders and words are also on the move. Jesus is in the boat. They are on foot. They beat Jesus around the lake. The grieving, tired man nears shore. He is confronted with a seething mass of needs. The sheep without a shepherd need one, and he is it.
One word tells us the kind of God who is going to give a feast here. It is a big word, a strong word: “Compassion”. This is not just being a little bit emotional; enough to give a few dollars to a charity. This is being gut wrenched. Jesus is churning in his gut at the need of the people and is compelled to respond with gifts from a heart of love.
This feast will not be toxic. This feast will be satisfying – not just for the body, but for all of a person.
Now this is unusual. In the first century, gods aren’t normally supposed to care about people like the crowds. Gods were either impersonal beings with little emotion and care, or just the rich and powerful using you as a pawn in their divine games.
Lutheran preacher, David Lose, puts it well, “The gods of the ancient philosophers, were considered dispassionate and so were regularly referred to by cozy names like “the Unmoved Mover” or “First Cause.” At the other end of the spectrum, the gods of the Greek and Roman empires were notorious for using humans as playthings, ordering the world to their whims. At best, gods were supposed to take the side of the rich and powerful, to stand with people like Herod and his well-fed party guests, sanctioning their exploitation of the poor and even the bloody murder of a truth-teller like John. They were definitely not known for siding with the oppressed, the ordinary, the downtrodden, or the hungry.
(http://www.davidlose.net/2014/07/pentecost-8a-the-real-miracles, The Real Miracle of the Story, from “In the Meantime” blog.
I hear people naming God as an impersonal force, a theory of everything, a scientific proof, a mathematical equation, a natural phenomenon or moral standard. At best, this “god” can only keep life going; like a Divine Watchmaker.
The rest is all up to us. “Be who you are”, we hear. In the end it is all on us. I live the way I determine in an unstoppable natural world that is often against me. The strong survive and weak perish and it is their fault for perishing or being hungry or in need.
Others just feel trapped and overwhelmed with the goings on of life. It is like God is fickle, unpredictable, even nasty at times; like a lottery wheel spinner.
People feel locked in no matter what choices they make or how hard they try. Stuff happens through no fault of their own and it is unfair, unjust and unfathomable. People give up on God and themselves.
There is a real despair to this and it is in our community and maybe our families.
Which way do you find yourself going at time – impersonal God incapable of interest in you, or fickle God you are never sure about?
But here is God according to the gospel witness. God is a person. God not only does not blame people for their hunger, but actually does his caring work in real time and space in real ways for real people.
And his care is more than for the stomach. It is for the body and the soul. And it is over-abundant, bottomless. Like Christmas Day lunch, there are leftovers because no one could possibly eat another thing!
That is the first miracle – the compassion of God in action.
But the second is how he does this compassion feast.
The miracle here is what Jesus does in the disciples. They are reluctant vehicles of God’s compassion. Notice their response to the overwhelming needs? “Send them away, Jesus”, they beg. People are just problems. They can starve for all we care!
This isn’t just unrealistic, it’s ridiculous…and even a little insulting. Could 10,000 people go buy food from nearby small towns, say like Coonalpyn, who are losing their only shop anyway? These people probably didn’t have money to buy a pie for the whole family, and there are not that many shops around!
So Jesus tells his disciples to get over their callous self-concern. “You feed them”, he says.
That’s the second miracle. Jesus uses reluctant disciples, and changes them in the process. By Jesus words in action, they are moved from, “we have nothing here but five loaves and fishes”, to one of thankful abundance – “thank you, God, for these loaves and fish!”
People not ready, not willing or even able are caught up in Jesus words of abundant grace. They become the distributors of what he provides. They become useful and thankful. In a stunning joyful conclusion to what he saw, Matthew declares, “All ate and were filled.” “All”: disciples and crowd and Jesus.
This miracle continues in us.
He says to us, “You feed them”, and not just for the stomach but for the whole person. Like an aid worker on the back of a truck in some starving camp in Africa, Jesus gives the bread of life and we give him out to the crowd for life.
Will we be moved from focus on ourselves and everything we can’t do or don’t have, to trusting Jesus for what he has and gives us to give?
I pray so.
Because then he will say to us what the Fat Controller says to Thomas the Tank Engine. “You are a very useful engine”!
As we trust him for the bread and take up the job of giving him out, we will be instruments of his super-abundant food for the body and soul. We will make a real difference around here – not just in providing things – but the giving of peace and hope as we love.
So, might it be time to give up that easy or comfortable work or project to do something needed and noble for half the money and twice the difficulty.
Is it a moment to give up the dream of more dollars and more status to dig in with the kids, the grand-kids, your spouse or your wayward friend?
Let’s make the difficult decision to change our programs, staff, buildings, attitudes, and our focus, for the sake of that overwhelming crowd and their well-being in the hope that they receive Jesus.
Let’s stand up against false beliefs about the God, not so much by trying to win the argument but by living in Jesus’ compassion as we serve, live, give, weep and laugh with them all.
When a 150 year old community of faith makes a promise that no one that comes to its doors will be turned away unwelcomed, unfed, unloved, God is still at work performing miracles through disciples eager or reluctant, and everything in between.
When a 150 year old community of faith says, “We are here to feed them” not only food but life-giving words of peace and love and hope in Jesus’ name”, many more will “eat and be satisfied”, and we will be too.
Read from the beginning of Chapter 14 about the “toxic” feast with the Herods and then see how our text begins. Jesus is needing time and space to deal with grief and anger.
Have you ever had experience of this kind of situation in your own life? Share that experience….
Jesus is confronted upon arrival at his destination of a massive crowd. Have you ever been exhausted or unwell or unable to keep going only to find out that you just have to? Share that experience…. Where did you find the strength or inspiration to keep going?
The disciples don’t come off too well in their rather callous response to the situation. How do you identify with their response in the situation? Share your understanding of why they might have responded this way.
What do you make of Jesus response to his disciples, “You feed them”. What is Jesus doing here? He could make manna fall from the sky and quail fly in to be caught. God has done this before! What do you think about my assumption that Jesus is involving them in the process so that they are changed by the process? They are called to get involved, reluctant of even uncaring though they be and yet, they too “eat and are satisfied”, like all the people and Jesus.
What kind of situations have you been in where you started out reluctant but by getting involved and taking someone else’s lead, you got to experience the joy and satisfaction of a job well done that pleased God too? Share your stories…
Do you sense Jesus calling you feed anyone – not just with food but with his word and your gracious presence? Pray for that person.
Do you sense the Lord calling you to take up a task or get involved in a part of his mission here at St Petri or somewhere else? Pray about that.
Pray for the Spirit’s grace to fill you up today so that you can “feed” those around you with his grace in word and deed.