Sermon - 9 Pentecost
In the Name...
One Saturday, a retired minister got a phone call from a church which was very small and poor. The pastor was ill and the elder asked if this minister would preach. He agreed, and so, the next day he and his young granddaughter journeyed to the church where only a dozen people showed up for worship. During the collection, the minister saw it was just a few coins and dollar bills, so he quietly slipped in a $5 bill.
After the service, the elder thanked him profusely and gave him an envelope apologizing that they couldn't do much. The minister replied it didn't matter, he was happy to help out. When he opened the envelope at home he saw they had given him - the $5 bill. Turning to his granddaughter, the minister asked, "Did you learn a good lesson today?” "Yes, Grandpa," she replied, "If you had put more in you'd have gotten more out."
Our Gospel today presents us with one of Jesus' miracles which is so well-known as to be proverbial - the feeding of the five thousand, the miracle of the fish and loaves. But, as well-known as it is, it is only the first of two miraculous feedings which occur in the gospel. This one takes place on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee at a place called Tabgha not far from Capernaum. The second, which involves four thousand people, takes place on the eastern shore of the sea in the region of the Syrian Decapolis. When we look at the accounts, we see that both feedings have many elements in common but, there is at least one important difference.
In today's gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to get their own food. But, in the second feeding they ask Jesus, "How can we feed this crowd?" That is quite a different reaction and one which shows that in between the disciples had learned an important lesson, a lesson of faith.
Back in 1989, a couple in Wrightsville, North Carolina - Reb and Jackay Place - were about to fulfil a dream and open their own restaurant. The building was fixed up; the kitchen was stocked. All that remained to be done was pass the final inspection. The day before the inspection, however, Hurricane Hugo hit the area and, after it was over, only a few buildings in town still had power - one of them being this restaurant. The couple wanted to start serving the emergency workers but, were told that without the business licence they couldn't run their business. So they put a sign in the window advertising free meals. Apparently, they weren't allowed to sell, but, they were allowed to give.
Well, the strangest thing happened. The word got out. Stores and other restaurants which had been damaged began sending over truckloads of food and supplies. Volunteers arrived to help cook, serve, wash dishes. In the end, 16,000 meals were served at this little restaurant which had started with minimal supplies on hand. A miracle, if you will.
At Tabgha, near Capernaum, the disciples were what the world calls "realistic." Send the crowds to town. Let them fend for themselves, they're not our problem. A story from Africa tells of a farmer praying with his son one night at bedtime. The farmer says to his son, "Let us pray for that poor man who lives down the road, that the good Lord may help him.", but, his son turns to him and replies, "Oh, father, we don't need to bother God about that. We can do it ourselves."
The farmer shows concern for his neighbour by praying, but, as his son reminds him, sometimes when we pray, God’s answer to us is, "You can do that." "You can do that."
We can all get caught in the "realistic" trap. One hears, "If we just had more of this or that, then we could do thus and such." But, you never hear Jesus saying that. We can become paralyzed by what we perceive as a lack of resources, but, whatever is present, whether it be a little food or faith the size of a mustard seed, that's enough for what he wants us to do. Wherever Jesus is present there's always enough and that is one lesson of the feeding of the five thousand. Sometimes it is called the multiplication of the fish and loaves, but, it can also be called the multiplication of the disciples' faith.
That's why the next time there's a hungry crowd, the reaction of the disciples is, "How can we help?" All they want is guidance on how to accomplish the task. The task itself is obvious to them.
As we think about our world, we know its problems are massive. We always think of places like the Sudan or India when we think of precarious existence, but, we don't have to go that far. Much closer to home there are people who live with the threat of becoming homeless if they suffer one economic reversal - people who depend on expensive medicines never knowing when those might stop working - people who go to work every day wondering if they'll return to an empty house because of a domestic dispute. We all know how fragile our own lives are. We have our own problems. And so did Jesus.
There's so much in this story that it's easy to miss important details. Did you realize that at the time this happened Jesus was suffering deep personal grief over the death of a close friend and relative - his cousin John the Baptist? News had just arrived that John had been executed, and that's why Jesus got into the boat and went to a quiet place to be alone, to cry.
Remember how we feel when a close friend or relative dies, especially if it was sudden or tragic. But, the crowds found him, and even though he was physically and emotionally upset and drained, he didn't tell them to leave him alone. He listened to their problems, healed their sick, and taught until the day was done. The disciples came to Jesus out of concern for him. He needs a rest. The last thing they think he needs is to worry about the crowd's lack of dinner plans. They want to help him. "Send them away". Jesus replies, "You really want to help me? Help them."
A man’s wife died. He was inconsolable. He took flowers to her grave every Sunday. In his grief, he met for a couple of months with a counsellor. One day, the counsellor said, "This week, I don’t want you to take the flowers to the cemetery. I want you to go to the hospital and give a flower to each patient you find there." The next week, the man came to his session in a cheerful mood. He said, "I had a wonderful time giving those flowers away. Everyone appreciated them. I met so many new people. I'm going back this week with more."
In the face of human need, and our own, all we have are five loaves and two fish, or a bouquet of flowers, or whatever, but, with Jesus, it's enough - enough to eat, enough to heal, and enough to teach about him. This Gospel reading calls us to abandon the excuse of not having enough to do the work he knows we can do. The Good News is that whenever he asks us to do something in his name, everything we need will be provided.
So, what are your "loaves and fish"? Bring them to him and watch them multiply - with faith.
In the Name...