Ninth Weekend After Pentecost (A/RCL): “YOU feed them!” Divine Miracles/Human Work
August 5-6, 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
“If you feed them, they will come.” It’s rare that we gather without food and drink. We were thrilled when Justice & Peace hosted refreshments after 8:45 worship a few Sundays ago, because we’re spoiled by and are missing Holy Trinity coffee hours and are anticipating their return in the fall! We’re looking back on that great Tuscan dinner hosted by Gathering of Men a year ago and are looking forward to an October celebration of “What Luther Ate”! (Stay tuned for more details.) Early Wed. morning worshipers are treated to John’s gift of Dunkin Donuts, or Carolyn’s hot casseroles, or Joan’s cinnamon-sour cream coffee cake or Jane’s fresh bagels…. And the sight of fresh produce from “The Farm,” colorfully laid out in the Pop-up Farm Market, makes us all want to rush home and make a salad! We love food and are certainly not confined to those Lutheran jello molds and unidentifiable potluck casseroles that Garrison Keilor spoofs.
In recent weeks Jesus has been talking – a lot. Our Gospels have been a long series of parables. This week Jesus acts. The story starts out with Jesus hearing of John the Baptist’s death and withdrawing in a boat “to a deserted place by himself.” (Matt. 14:13) We can only guess He wants to grieve in private, to pray solo, and to distance Himself for awhile from the murderous reach of Herod Antipas who had John beheaded. But wouldn’t you know the paparazzi are stalking Him and the people are shadowing Him, waiting for Him to come ashore and see their plight and meet their needs. And He does:
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. (Matt. 14:14)
When the disciples’ internal dinner bell rang, they approached Jesus to send the people away and fend for themselves for an evening meal. That was only logical, right? They were accompanied by a ton of people in the middle of nowhere. But Jesus gave them pushback:
“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16)
The way the original reads, that you is punched: “… you give them something to eat.” They’re more than skeptical and come back with:
“We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” (Matt. 14:17)
Kind of a contradiction, right? I almost want to say, “Ok, do you have ‘nothing’ or do you have 5 loaves and 2 fish??” ‘Goes back to last week’s sermon: we’re so afraid, so diabolically convinced that our little puzzle piece amounts to nothing. But we’re not Lone Rangers – we’re part of a much larger community, the Body of Christ. Put the little puzzle pieces of all the individual members together, and there’s a wonderful kingdom picture they create. Give Jesus 5 loaves and 2 fish and He’ll feed the 5,000! (Which is really more like 20,000, since 5,000 is an incomplete headcount of only the guys.)
So here’s how it goes: God feeds us. We feed others.
God has a need to feed greater than any Italian mother:
· Manna in the wilderness for the Israelites
· An unfailing jug of oil and jar of meal for the widow of Zarephath & her son
· Meat and bread airlifted to despairing Elijah by a raven
· Gallons & gallons of water turned into lots and lots of wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee
· 5 loaves and 2 fish feeding a picnicking multitude beside the Sea of Galilee
· a cup of wine and a loaf of bread, taken, blessed, broken and shared as the Body and Blood of our Lord at a last supper that became the first Lord’s Supper
God accepts the God-given blessings we bring to the table and multiplies them for the sake of the world. Who’d argue the truth that we are incredibly blessed? Here’s one tiny example. Last week Ellen posted on the bulletin board pictures of the traditional oven used by the Malawians Katherine Christopher is living with while serving in the Peace Corps in Africa. The oven is made of brick, cow dung and termite poop. It is better than cooking over an open fire, which would deplete Malawi’s natural resource of trees. I compare that with my beautiful, versatile, gas convection oven, and I realize I am not nearly grateful enough for my blessings!
The God who continually and bountifully answers our frequent prayer, “Give us today our daily bread,” expects us to share our blessings with others. That God says to us, “You give the hungry something to eat. You give the homeless shelter. You give the naked clothing. You give the sick healing. You give the displaced a refuge.” As one pastor has written, “Divine miracles can require a lot of human work.”1
If we see someone literally drowning, we’re going to throw them a life preserver not a Bible. Jesus Christ calls us to live lives of faith active in love: not just to pray for the hungry, but to feed them, not just to pray for social justice but to work toward it, not just to express our faith in the pew but out in the world. Christianity is not a bystander religion; it is a get-your-hands-dirty, make-your-neighbor’s-need-your-own, preach-the-Gospel-with-your-deeds, not-just-your-words way of life.
We are blessed, not just because we have all this “stuff,” but primarily because we have this amazing Savior. None of us is a host in this place: we are all guests of the Most High. Yes, we can and should offer others a warm welcome, but we always need to be mindful we ourselves have been welcomed. We have nothing to give others that we haven’t first received from the hands of our loving God. Much of what comes to us materially, financially, isn’t meant to stay with us, but to flow through us to others. God answers many prayers through people. Don’t forget: “Divine miracles can require a lot of human work” and are often funded by human generosity.
We feed, nourish, strengthen others in many ways, not least with the true welcome of acceptance. Jean Vanier who founded the L’Arche communities for the profoundly differently abled, has said, “Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive.” So we work and pray to increase the welcome our faith family offers, sending out the word: “You don’t have to be:
· From an intact family
· From any particular political party
· Or an American citizen
to find a welcome here.” We’re guests, too, simply passing along the welcome and acceptance our gracious God offers us. Being on the receiving end means we’re on the giving end, too. “You give them something to eat.” Amen
1Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at CrossMarks Christian Resources (Matthew 14:13-21, Proper 13 – Year A)
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham