YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT!
The text for this sermon is today’s gospel reading, Matthew 14:13-21, the Miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. This sermon was given at Resurrection on August 3, 2008, the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (8:15 service only). 1
Dear Friends in Christ,
Next Sunday is our Three Church Picnic. All the other church picnics that I’ve attended in my life were single church picnics and the amount of food on the tables was amazing. Just think what it will be like at this year’s picnic. Think how much food will be left over at the end of the picnic. It looks like today’s story of the feeding of the 5,000 presents some similarities. A really big church picnic of sorts. Only, there were no announcements ahead of time of when and where to show up. Or even to bring along food for yourself and others. No, that picnic was all impromptu and no one knew what to expect. It just happened because people wanted to see and hear Jesus.
They were gathered there on a hillside over looking the Sea of Galilee, enthralled with Jesus’ words and then some stomachs started grumbling. So Jesus, deciding he had talked long enough, began to be concerned about the people’s hunger. He stopped and said, “Let’s feed them.” Jesus was expressing the heart of God when he was noticing the people’s needs, both spiritual and physical. The disciples weren’t sure what to do – the number of people was too great and the amount of money they had wasn’t large enough to travel to town to buy something. Yet Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
God’s heart was similarly touched when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness and they too became hungry. God provided manna and quail so that his people could be nourished and sustained for the long journey. Missionaries have long known that an empty stomach rarely leads to a soul redeemed. That is why the Church, our Congregation, needs to understand what it means when Jesus says, “You feed them.”
Would you agree that the compassionate thing to do is not always the practical thing to do? The practical thing to do when you are confronted with 5,000 people is to send them away to get their own meal. The disciples did the only thing left for them to do: they met and reported to Jesus, “We have looked at the budget, taken a tally and concluded that there’s not enough her to feed all these people. Even if we send out, the closest fried chicken place is 10 miles away. Not even Dominos can handle a crowd like this. Let’s send them home.” That’s practical advice.
Well, Jesus didn’t even put it to a vote. He said, “Come now, you can do better than that. Work with what you’ve got.” No matter how poor you think you are, no matter how limited you think your resources are, work with what you’ve got. You are in deep trouble, there seems to be no way out. You are at the lowest point and Christ turns to you and asks, “How many loaves have you got?” Examine your resources.
He said to the disciples, “Work with what you’ve got.” By the way, what you got?” They replied, “five loaves and two fishes.” It’s not much by any standard. Not for 5,000 people. People of lesser faith in the power of God would have said, “Well, I see your point.” But Jesus isn’t put off by anyone, least of all you and me scurrying about worrying whether or not we will raise the budget this year. Christ is not interested in budgets anyway. He is interested in people growing in faith and trusting in his power. Budgets are only a barometer of how people are growing in their faith and trusting in his power.
Our ministry in this congregation for feeding the homeless is one prime example of operating without a budget. A number of passionate people in this congregation believe that we are called to feed the hungry poor in this community. Many of us must agree since every month all the food is donated and teams of RLC folks prepare and serve the meal at the Thurman Brisben Shelter in downtown Fredericksburg. And now we have started preparing and serving meals on the fifth Saturdays of the month at the Presbyterian Church in downtown Fredericksburg. All this comes from your faith-inspired generosity and the unexpected generosity of funds from Thrivent.
Practical, reasonable Lutherans can be troubled by the idea that we can’t always see ahead of time how everything will be paid for before responding to ministry needs. I must admit that part of me is in this category. If I could have it my way, I would want to see everything spelled out in great detail and especially the bottom line: how are we going to pay for this? Then I and all practical-minded people are confronted by Jesus in scripture, this Jesus who seems to believe too much in the power of God. Jesus is much more the risk taker than many of us. Jesus is always ahead of us, calling us forward, challenging us to be more than we think we can by the grace of God.
That day at the lake, Jesus told his concerned disciples, “You feed them with what you have.” They said, “We only have five loaves and two fish. Not much.” Jesus told them, “You have more than you think. Work with what you’ve got.”
Do you see the risk involved in following this Christ? We all want to be one-talent people holding on for dear life to the few chips we have, while all the time Jesus wants us to make like the five-talent man. He wants us to bet the whole ranch on Beautiful Dreamer to show in the third. “You provide the bread. Let me take care of the miracle.”
God works through us. That was one of themes that came up over and over again this past week at Vacation Bible Camp. The parables of Jesus so often point toward listening and acting upon God’s Word. So today, we are confronted with how we can participate in acting upon Jesus’ instructions. What little thing can we individually offer? A word of hope, a helping hand? Though it may seem useless to you against the vast needs of the world, do it. Whatever the deed, God will bless it and spread it.
Some weeks ago Amy Hollingsworth spoke to us about her book. She talked about gifts that the dying leave us. As I was preparing this sermon, I thought of my parents who are both now in heaven. Here’s a gift they gave me so many years ago (one I didn’t really appreciate back then , a gift that now is a wonderful memory and an insight into how God works in our world today.
We were vacationing in the High Sierras in California, at Virginia Lakes. We were there for a week. Along about Wednesday, Dad and Mother realized that we would be there on Sunday and there was no church nearby. They decided to have a worship service beside the lake and open it to anyone who wanted to come. I was in grammar school. I remember thinking even then, “Who’s going to come? Aren’t people on vacation?” Dad took my little brother and me with him and visited every campsite, telling folks that there would be a worship service on Sunday morning in the field by the lake at 10:00 and they should come and bring a lawn chair. Sunday morning came and by 9:45 no one except our family was there. But then they started coming – family by family. By 10:00 we had at least 100 folks assembled for worship. My mother, the musician, led the singing of old gospel songs. My father preached that day on the Feeding of the 5,000. And this little boy learned a lesson about how God works.
You provide the bread. Let God take care of the miracle.
1 I am indebted to The Rev. William J. Carl, III, for a good portion of this sermon. He inspired me and I hope his words mixed with mine have been blessed by God and now will inspire you.