February 24, 2019 Sermon
Jesus Made Known:
Feeder of the Hungry
First Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-15
13 Now when Jesus heard this, 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. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When 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.”
Second Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:16-21
16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then 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. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Message – “Jesus Made Known: Feeder of the Hungry”
There are so many sub-plots going on in today’s scripture reading, so many things I’d love to explore in our time together today. For instance:
- The passage begins with the words, “When Jesus heard this…” I hear those words, and I want to know what Jesus heard. (Turns out, he had just received word of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, in case you wondered.) But more than just wondering what Jesus heard, I want to know and understand a little more about why Jesus went to a deserted place, why he retreated from people when He received tragic news, some of the tragic news that went along with His ministry. Maybe there’s a message in there about what we’re supposed to do when we receive tragic news. Maybe retreating from the world from time to time, even as followers of Jesus, isn’t such a bad thing. There’s a message, a sermon, in there somewhere.
- Then the passage continues to describe the response of the crowds. They followed Jesus. They chased Jesus while he was trying to get some alone time – time to grieve, maybe? time to get strength from God to continue forward given the brutality of His opponents, maybe? time to chat in earnest with the Father about the direction of His own ministry, maybe? – they chased Jesus while Jesus was trying to get away from them. How selfish! Yet, can’t we be like that sometimes, always WANTING from God but not quite as often GIVING to God? There’s a message, a sermon, in there somewhere.
- As the story continues and the crowd of people turns into a HUNGRY crowd of people, the disciples go to Jesus and ask Him to do something about the problem of the hungry crowd. The disciples have witnessed Jesus’ power. They know what He can do. And they went to Him out of great faith. I think, sometimes, we forget the faith those disciples displayed in this story…especially given Jesus’ response to them. There’s a message, a sermon, in there somewhere in the faith of those disciples, first recognizing the need of others and then taking the need of others to Jesus.
- And through the whole of the story, I wonder if there are any connections with another wandering from a long ago time, a wandering in and through the wilderness described in scripture, the Old Testament, in which God’s people wandered from place to place, often without food, even with recalcitrant people who doubted that food could be provided in the wilderness. Might there be a connection? Surely there’s a message, a sermon, somewhere in the potential connection between this wilderness happening and the wilderness happening of the Exodus.
- Oh, and one more thing. Maybe I’m the only one who would care, but why does Matthew refer to the people gathered in that wilderness using the plural form of the word that means “crowd”. Why does Matthew refer to the people as “crowds” instead of “ crowd”. I bet I’d have to do some intense research to answer this question, but I bet there’s a message, a sermon, in there somewhere.
But this is the season after the Epiphany. Which means we should filter today’s story from scripture through the lens of what God was making known about Jesus’ identity in the story. So focusing on the crowds or the disciples just won’t do. Focusing on God’s Old Testament people, Israel, and their wilderness wandering won’t do, either. And even focusing on Jesus’ decision to get away – while it most definitely reveals something about Jesus’ identity – it’s not the primary focus of what God reveals about Jesus’ identity in the passage, and so it won’t do.
No, during this season after the Epiphany, today, we’ll focus on something I haven’t mentioned yet, something that’s not a sub-plot but is rather THE plot for this season: we’ll focus on what it means that God revealed Jesus’ identity as a “feeder of the hungry”.
We all know that Jesus fed hungry people, right? In this story, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 hungry people. In another very similar story, Jesus fed 4,000 hungry people. In a resurrection appearance, Jesus fed the disciples, hungry after working all night trying to catch fish, a breakfast of bread and fish. And, of course, during the Last Supper, Jesus broke bread and gave it to his disciples….which reminds me, Jesus didn’t just literally feed hungry people, Jesus also metaphorically fed hungry people.
Consider the crowds of today’s scripture reading. Those people, they were so hungry for something different than what was offered by an empire that had just executed a religious leader that they followed Jesus out of the populated areas controlled by the emperor and even the emperor’s civil and religious servants and into the wilderness on the other side of the lake where God offered a different way through Jesus. They hungered for cures from their diseases, as well as various other kinds of miracles; they hungered for right teaching; and, yes, they hungered for food.
And so it’s no surprise that the very Jesus who had previously told the multitudes to trust in God for their needs and who would later command his disciples to feed hungry people in response to God’s love made known in Jesus, it’s no surprise that Jesus would literally feed these crowds after spending the day caring for their other spiritual and physical needs out of compassion for them. Except, maybe it SHOULD be a surprise that Jesus fed them…because, let’s face it, after one afternoon in the wilderness, it’s very doubtful that anyone in that deserted place was in imminent danger of starving; it’s very doubtful anyone there wouldn’t survive until returning home in the morning without a meal. So maybe we should be surprised. And there’s definitely a message in Jesus’ decision. In providing for the needs of people, even when the needs weren’t critical, weren’t life-threatening, Jesus taught something about God’s provision. Perhaps Jesus was even pointing to a future…maybe even a kingdom, God’s kingdom…in which no one would ever experience need again, no one would ever hunger again…literally or metaphorically.
So maybe we should be a little more surprised than we tend to be that Jesus chose to perform a miraculous feeding of those crowds.
But what I imagine we can all agree IS surprising concerns some aspects of HOW Jesus fed them.
The first thing that’s surprising about how Jesus fed these crowds is that Jesus didn’t actually DO the feeding; His hands didn’t put food in front of the hungry people. Jesus’ disciples told Jesus to send the crowds away so they could get something to eat, to which Jesus responded by telling the disciples to feed the people, right then and there. It’s strange, right? Do you have any doubt that Jesus could have snapped Jesus’ fingers or blinked Jesus’ eyes or just think miraculous thoughts and cause a three-course meal to appear before each of the people in that deserted place? In other words, do you have any doubt Jesus could have done this by himself, just like Matthew described Jesus as healing the sick in that crowd without any indication that Jesus required the assistance of His disciples?
But, for some reason, for THIS miracle, Jesus chose to require the participation of His disciples. Jesus produced the food, for sure, but Jesus also told His disciples to distribute the food. Which ought to get us wondering why.
Y’all, I believe Jesus required the participation of His disciples in that miracle as a way of pointing to the future ministry of Jesus’ followers, a way of pointing to a future that includes our present, a way of pointing to how God’s kingdom really works throughout time. Because God’s kingdom here on earth, it’s not a place where God, even God-in-the-flesh, does all the work and the rest of us just sit back and get “fed”. No God’s kingdom is a place in which people do the work – whatever they’re gifted to do and capable of doing – of following Jesus’ example to help others. And it’s a good thing God’s kingdom is like that, it’s a good thing God calls us to collaborate with God in continuing Jesus’ ministry. It’s a good thing for at least two reasons. Reason Number 1: helping people, doing the kinds of things Jesus did, it feels good, it feels fulfilling, it’s what life in God’s kingdom feels like. Without the work, you don’t get the benefit of the work. Let’s face it: as appealing as it may sound from time to time to sit around and do nothing, the reality is that a life spent sitting around and doing absolutely nothing, especially nothing to help others, would feel rather pointless. And Reason Number 2: once Jesus ascended into heaven, if God didn’t continue Jesus’ ministry through our work, if God didn’t call us to collaborate with God in transforming the world into God’s kingdom, there would pretty much be no more kingdom of God…because there’d be no one left to usher it in. If we just sit back and expect God to usher in God’s kingdom here on earth all by God’s self, we’re going to be very disappointed when we don’t ever experience God’s kingdom. So…Jesus’ called His disciples to participate in the miraculous feeding; that’s the first thing that is surprising about how Jesus fed these crowds.
The second thing that’s surprising about how Jesus fed these crowds is that Jesus didn’t start from scratch; Jesus didn’t start with nothing. Jesus took the resources – five loaves and two fish – that were already available and that had been sought out by Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus multiplied THEM.
We’re so used to the story that it might not be as surprising as it should be, but, really, you’ve got to know that Jesus COULD have made meals appear from nothing. Someone who had the power over nature to calm the seas, very God-with-us (you could say “Creator-with-us”), didn’t NEED a starter kit to get the job done; Jesus could have created from nothing. Which ought to get us wondering why Jesus chose to start from SOMETHING.
It’s kind of like the offering we take every Sunday morning. Does God really NEED us to return some resources to God in order to do God’s thing? Does God really need us to recognize that everything we have belongs to God and we are but managers of it before God can act? Absolutely NOT!! God is God. God can do whatever God wants. Which also means God can choose to wait until we act out of faith to give some resources to God before God will start the miracle-engine going…if that’s what God wants to do. And, apparently, that’s what God wants to do. Y’all, if you’re selfish and stingy with the resources entrusted to you, if you decide what’s yours is yours and you’re not going to share, our story from scripture this morning indicates that the world, all of creation, will suffer from your selfishness. The literal and metaphorical hungry will increasingly be fed when we make the decision to put some of what we call “our stuff” into use for God’s purposes. Just like those five loaves and two fish.
The third thing that’s surprising about the how of Jesus’ feeding the crowds is that Jesus, by his miracle, produced TOO MUCH. Jesus miraculously produced enough food to feed all those people PLUS twelve baskets full of leftovers. From our modern viewpoint, we’re probably wondering what Jesus’s disciples DID with all those leftovers – did they recycle them somehow? From our modern viewpoint, this might look like waste. But really, y’all, resource conservation has nothing to do with the point of the leftovers. The point of the leftovers is that God’s provision is MORE than enough; the point of the leftover is to attest to the greatness of the miracle; the point of the leftovers is to indicate that in God’s kingdom extravagance and plenty will replace the hunger characteristic of the kingdom of humanity. THAT’S why Jesus produced too much….to point to something better, better to the people of His day and better to us.
Y’all, when we look around our world, too often we see something less than the perfection of God’s kingdom, too often we see the shortfalls of the kingdom of this world. We look around, and we see:
- People literally starving, dying for lack of food. If you don’t see them, I would suggest you’re not looking. I see them out my window every day, and I I see them in news stories about what’s happening around the world.
- We see people hungering for shelter. Every day, I see people living in the streets; I talk to people who are trying to live out of their cars. I go to sleep some nights worrying about whether or not some of my friends in Sherwood Park are going to be frozen to death by morning.
- We see people hungering for human interaction and compassion. Do you notice all the lonely people you pass each day during the course of your life?
- We see people hungering for medical and psychological help.
- We see people hungering for freedom from three jobs and 80-100 work weeks (spread out across those three jobs) just so they can barely survive.
- We see people addicted to all manner of drugs, typically because they are hungering to escape from some kind of pain in their lives.
When we look around our world we see people hungering every bit as those people in a deserted place who ultimately received everything they needed and more because God in Christ was in their midst…and because a group of Jesus’ followers did as they were instructed by Emmanuel to meet those needs.
Jesus’ identity as “feeder of the hungry” reminds us that Jesus is exactly what all the literally and metaphorically hungry people of our world need. God wants to feed them. God provides all the resources – physical and spiritual – to meet their needs. But just like in the story, God requires God’s people, God requires Jesus’ followers, God requires US:
- To take our resources to God,
- To allow God to miraculous transform our given resources into what is needed,
- To listen for God’s instructions for how we are to take those transformed resources out to the hungry people,
- And to complete the job by actually taking those transformed resources out to people in need.
When WE step out in faith to collaborate, to participate, with Jesus, feeder of the hungry, all forms of hunger – literal and metaphorical – all forms of hunger around us will disappear..because the hungry will be fed. Amen.