August 6, 2023, Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, "You Give Them Something to Eat"
August 6, 2023, Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, "You Give Them Something to Eat"
“You Give Them Something to Eat” Text: Matthew 14:13-21
a sermon by the Rev. Anna Von Winckler
Click HERE to view/download the worship bulletin.
I think that you have all learned by now that I have a passion for international mission. If you haven’t picked up on that, let me just say,”I have a passion for international mission.” I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to serve God in partnership with brothers and sisters of other countries. One of the greatest blessings for me has been to learn about God from a different perspective. To hear God’s Word through a different voice. To see God at work, bringing blessings to people in need within a context vastly different from my own.
In 2006 I had the opportunity to go on a mission study week in Zimbabwe and Zambia. If you kept up with global affairs in 2000 to 2001 you may remember that the dictator of Zimbabwe, President Mugabe, confiscated land from the white farmers and redistributed it to its black citizens. It was done with such violence that many white farmers and their families were killed, while many others fled. There were, however, some who chose to stay. While on this mission study I had the opportunity to meet one of those farmers who had stayed and to hear his amazing story.
And now that I hopefully have your undivided attention, I will say that I will be returning to that story in a little bit. I will say, however, that this story from Matthew was transformed for me when meeting with this farmer, his wife, and his neighbors.
Feeding the 5,000. It is the only miracle story, other than the resurrection itself, that is found in all four gospels. We have that number so fully engrained into our minds.5,000, but while we are told that there were 5,000 men there were women and children present as well. IT is thought that there were between 15,000-20,000 people there that day – and all needed to be fed. I can’t even wrap my head around feeding that many people!
This story comes to us after Jesus had found out that John the Baptist had been killed. His cousin. His friend. He wanted time alone to process his feelings, his loss. But the people followed. Wanting to be near this man who could heal, who spoke truth, who brought peace. And, so, there they were – all 15 – 20,000 people with Jesus, who. must have been tired and hungry himself, having spent the day preaching and healing. But then it began to get late and being that the disciples cared about Jesus and his physical needs, as well as their own, they suggested to Jesus that since everyone was probably hungry, he should just send them away so everyone could eat and get some rest.
But think about it. For there to be that many people, they had to have come from all over the region. Where were they all to go to find food? Would the small villages that doted the hillsides have enough food to purchase at this time of day?
There are a few things we learn about Jesus in his exchange with the disciples when they suggest this idea. First, Jesus knows there is no place to get food. He feels compassion for the people and so he tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” And that leads right into the second thing we learn in this passage, the disciples have a responsibility for the people. It is not just up to Jesus to feed them. He is telling the disciples that they need to learn to be responsible for the hungry as well.
There are different tones to be found in the way the disciples respond to Jesus in the different narratives, from incredulous, almost sarcastic, to matter of fact, but regardless they see this as an impossible task. How were they to feed them when they had only five fishes and two loaves?. Of course the miracle that was about to take place was not just about showing that he was God’s Son or about literally feeding the people, but that the disciples wouldn’t always have Jesus around; and, as a good parent does with raising a child, Jesus begins to teach them what their responsibility will be when he is gone and how they are to go about meeting the needs of God’s children.
“You give them something to eat.” They don’t know how to do that. But Jesus shows them. He blesses what they have brought before him, the five fish and two loaves, and they are sent out to distribute it and miraculously the baskets stay full. All are fed and there are even twelve full baskets left over!
I heard about this being lived out, literally, when I was in Zimbabwe. This white farmer was an amazing man. Before his land was confiscated, his young adult son was thrown into prison. Trying to find information on his son and how he might be able to get him out, the farmer went down to the jail. There he was also thrown into prison. It was cold and little food was provided. After some time, they were released, but most of his land was taken over. He was allowed to stay in his house and have just a small parcel of land.
What happened when these farms were taken over and given away by the government was that people with no farming experience were given land. Some were given land but had other jobs in the city, working with the government and things like that. And, so, much of the land was not even planted. And those who did want to farm the land had no idea what they were doing. What occurred because of this violent takeover was that there came a massive food shortage in this country over the next few years.
This farmer saw that the new landowners didn’t know what they were doing and so he offered to teach them how to farm. He taught them which crops to plant and when, how to develop an irrigation system. And the land that he loved became fruitful and these new farmers began to prosper as their crops succeeded. People were fed, literally and spiritually, through the actions of this Christian man. You give them something to eat.
This is Christ’s call to all of us. What Jesus said to the disciples that day is the same thing he says to us. Don’t send them away. Don’t look for a way out. Don’t hope that they will find a way or that someone else will do it. And don’t wait for tomorrow. The need is now and you can do this. You can give them something to eat.
But too often we sound and act like the disciples, don’t we? We don’t have enough bread – whether that means time or money, energy, or ability. We don’t have enough love, compassion, true interest in the welfare of the other person. We look at the huge need and then at ourselves and we’re skeptical. We’re pessimistic. Maybe we’re preoccupied or distracted, tired or just plain lazy, or uninspired, selfish or self-absorbed, insecure, or unconvinced that our five fish and two loaves will even begin to make a difference in a need so great – 5,000, 15,000, 150,000. It is all the same when you only have five fish and two loaves. It won’t feed the people who are hungry.
But just like the disciples in the Gospel, Jesus gives us something greater than even our best excuses. He gives us more than just another miracle, too. He gives us something better than even fish and bread to chew on. Jesus reveals to us just what a high opinion God has for us. For us! Not just the lost and the lonely, the sick and the needy people on that hillside that day for whom he shows so much compassion – Jesus reveals to us that he has confidence that we, his disciples, we who believe in and who want to follow him so faithfully, we are capable of caring for the masses.
What I hear Jesus saying is, “Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Don’t pretend you haven’t the time or the skills or the resources to do God’s bidding in the world. Don’t pretend you’re not qualified or capable. Don’t put it off another day or time or moment when it might be more convenient for you, because waiting another day is too long for them. And don’t wait for me to do it in your place. I am already there waiting to assist you.”
For just like Jesus multiplied the fishes and the loaves, Jesus will multiply what we put out there, whether it is our finances or our time or our talents. And there may be times when we see we don’t have enough and that is when we go back to God in prayer and ask for more – more to help feed those who are hungry, to heal those who are sick, to clothe and house those who have nothing to wear and no place to live. God can make it happen, but we were commissioned to continue Jesus’ work here on earth through the power and the blessing that comes to us through the Holy Spirit. For this is what Jesus did with those twelve disciples. He sent them out to share those meager bits of fish and bread. Five fish and two loaves of bread broken into twelve baskets. So little! Yet it was Jesus who had given those fish and bread to to the disciples to distribute. It was Jesus who had blessed those fish and loaves. That is where it all starts – with recognizing that these gifts that we give come to us from God to share. And in sharing they are blessed, and we, too, are blessed in the giving. The people more than ate their fill. They feasted! That’s what happens when we trust God to multiply our offerings. When we commit ourselves to God and to the tasks that God presents before us.
That farmer shared his knowledge and his equipment until those men could buy their own equipment and had the knowledge of when to plant the crops. His faithful response in his small corner of Zimbabwe helped to turn around the food crisis. He went and he fed the people with the time and talents that he had been blessed with and in so doing people were fed and they prospered.
There is so much need here and around the world. People who are hungry – hungry for food, for security, for shelter; hungry for peace of mind, for peace within their spirits; hungry for hope.
In a few weeks we will be starting our book study and I hope that in the discussions that ensue that people will be able to identify ways we can take our loaves and fishes and use them to feed God’s people. Let us move forward in this New Season with hope and expectation that we can be faithful with what we’ve been given to care for God’s people. Remember, the widow committed her last coin to Jesus and she was blessed. We may think we don’t have much, but we have so much more than so many others. God will not only bless but enrich us in ways we cannot even begin to imagine when we trust God with what we have and what we give and do the work that we are called to do.
“You give them something to eat.” Amen