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Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-5

 1“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.”


Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

 1Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever. 2Give thanks to the God of gods, for his mercy endures forever. 3Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his mercy endures forever. 4Who only does great wonders, for his mercy endures forever; 5Who by wisdom made the heavens, for his mercy endures forever; 6Who spread out the earth upon the waters, for his mercy endures forever; 7Who created great lights, for his mercy endures forever; 8The sun to rule the day, for his mercy endures forever; 9The moon and the stars to govern the night, for his mercy endures forever. 23Who remembered us in our low estate, for his mercy endures forever; 24And delivered us from our enemies, for his mercy endures forever; 25Who gives food to all creatures, for his mercy endures forever. 26Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his mercy endures forever.


Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5 [6-13]

 1I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit — 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. 6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — 12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”


Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21

 13When Jesus heard {of John the Baptist’s death}, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


 God’s Abundant Table

The story is told about nine-year-old Danny who came flying out of Sunday school like a man on a mission.  His eyes darted back and forth as he tried to locate either mom or dad.  Finally, after a quick search, he grabbed his dad by the leg and yelled, “Man, that story of Moses and all those people crossing the Red Sea was great!”  His father looked down, smiled, and asked the boy to tell him about it.

“Well, Danny said, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them.  So, the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea.  The Egyptian Army was gettin’ closer and closer.  So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians.  While that was happening, the Israeli Navy built a pontoon bridge so the people could cross over.  And guess what?  They all made it!  By now old dad was shocked.  “Is that the way they taught you the story?” dad asked.  Well, no, not exactly,” Danny admitted, “but if I told you the way they told it to us, you’d never believe it, Dad.”

With childlike innocence the little guy put his finger on the pulse of our sophisticated adult world, a world where cool skepticism reigns supreme.  Today it’s more popular to operate in the black-and-white world of facts, of trusting the science. . .and, of course, to leave no space for the miraculous.  Therefore, it comes as no surprise that when many read the story of the feeding of the five thousand, they tend to focus their attention on the question, “Did it really happen?”  There have been several attempts to “explain” away this miracle rather than to simply accept it as fact.

One popular attempt says that the people were so moved by Jesus’ kindness and the generosity of the little boy, that they brought out the food they had hidden under their clothes and in their traveling pouches.  This way everyone was satisfied.  The problem with this explanation is, how then can you then explain the statement that “they all ate and were satisfied.  And they took up 12 baskets full of broken pieces left over?” (vs. 20).

Another theory says that the story isn’t really talking about physical hunger, despite the fact that they had been in that deserted place all day!, but of spiritual hunger.  When the small amount of food was passed around everyone tore off a minuscule symbolic fragment.  In this, Jesus is said to have satisfied the thirst of the soul not the stomach.  Again, the problem with this attempt to explain away this miracle is simple math.  Even if everyone took a mere crumb, how could five small loaves and two fish have provided for as many as 20,000 people?  I think these attempts to explain away the miracle say more about us, than they do about Jesus.  Since Jesus is the Messiah, then there is no question that He performed miracles, and on a regular basis.  There are simply too many other stories of Jesus’ miraculous works for us to dismiss this account.

Think about it, if Jesus can heal the sick, walk on water, calm the storm, command demons to leave people and raise the dead, then why is it so difficult to believe that Jesus could multiple the loves and fish and feed that gathering of people?  What we need to focus on in this account isn’t just that Jesus could provide food for the crowd, rather it’s to show God’s compassion and love.  Consider the opening of this story.

Jesus had recently left His home in Nazareth where the people had questioned Him to the point that He could do few miracles.  It was during this visit that He learned that His Cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded.  Wanting to grieve, Jesus withdraws to a desolate place to mourn and to pray.  A reasonable human reaction wouldn’t you agree?  However, before He even has a chance to be alone, the passage tells us that “when He went ashore, He saw the great crowd, and He had compassion for them, and He healed their sick” (Vs. 14).  Think about that.

Think back to the last time someone close to you died.  What was your first reaction, to try and tend to everyone else’s needs, or did you want a few minutes to grieve?  What this single verse teaches us, is that God is never too busy that He won’t tend to our needs.  It doesn’t matter how much God is grieved by what’s going on in this world, God will always take the time to listen to our prayers and to respond.  Next, this passage also teaches us that we are part of God’s plan to reach out to meet the needs of our neighbors.

Listen again to verse 16: “But Jesus said, “They need not go away, you give them something to eat.”  When people look to God for help, Jesus oftentimes looks to us to perform His miracles.  But what’s interesting in this, is that the disciples understandably had their doubts.  We only have 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed such a massive crowd.  How often do we look at a few cans of food, a couple of boxes of cereal, and a few boxes of Mac and Cheese and say how can such a paltry amount make any difference when there are so many hungry people in our area.  The answer is, there’s plenty when we bring it to Jesus.

No we, on our own, could never meet the needs of the poor in our area.  But we aren’t expected too.  I challenge you to take a few minutes and talk to Elaine, Samantha and Terry and let them share with you how Jesus, working through the community, meets the needs of the poor, week in and week out.  There are plenty of times that at the end of a day of filling carts that the volunteers working at the Ministry have looked around and asked, what are we going to give to the folks on the next distribution day?  Yet when they come in on that next day, there’s something there for them to give out.  Jesus bids us to feed the people, and when we bring our offerings to Jesus, there will always be enough to meet the need.  We also need to take this one step further and see that God also meets the needs other than food.

Recall that at the beginning of the story Jesus healed the sick.  It’s one thing for us to bring our groceries to church for distribution, but Jesus also expects us to do more than meet the physiological needs of the crowd.  What we don’t read in this account, is the fact that whenever Jesus had the opportunity, He would teach the crowds.  Part of meeting the needs of others is to share the gospel of God love and mercy.

Not many years ago, I was part of a mission trip and part of the activities was to help out at a Salvation Army location.  Upon arrival at the location, we were given tasks like sweeping up, cleaning the facilities, and distributing bedding to all the beds.  After we cleaned the sleeping quarters, we were taken to the kitchen to help prepare supper.  At 5 o’clock, the doors were opened and the homeless were allowed to enter the dining area.  Once everyone was gathered a prayer for the meal was said and everyone was allowed to come and eat.  My first reaction was, this doesn’t make sense.  Shouldn’t we share the gospel with these folks first and then let them eat?  But think about it.

The smells of supper were coming from the kitchen.  If these same folks had slept there the night before they might have received a light breakfast before they were sent away for the day.  By this time, they were hungry.  What do you think was on their mind?  Listening to a sermon by some preacher, or to satisfy the pains of their stomach.  The directors understood human nature. There are times when we must meet a physical need first before we can share God’s love through the message of the gospel.  Once the physical need is met, then, and only then, are they ready to hear the good news that God loves them and died for their sins.  Our call to serve others goes beyond simply meeting a physical need, we also need to be ready to meet the spiritual need as well.  The next thing this story teaches is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Word of the Lord.

For four centuries the Israelites had waited for the Messiah to come.  It had been 400 plus years, before Jesus was born, that Malachi had called a backslidden nation to repentance.  It had been longer still since Israel and Judah had a leader like David or Solomon or Moses.  The scriptures were alive in the life of the Jewish people, as children they grew up hearing the stories of their ancestors and being told that one day God would send the Messiah who would fulfill the hopes and promises of all those years.  The “hunger” of the crowd that day was to hear Jesus teach, and who wanted the answer to the common question, “Is this the one?”  It’s true there were many reasons for coming to hear Jesus, but they all were asking, is this the Messiah, or one of the Prophets?

As the people watched, portions of the 5 loaves and the two fish came to them.  They knew the stories of old.  Of how Elisha, the heir to Elijah’s ministry during the time of King David, once fed 100 men with twenty Barley loaves and 20 heads of grain.  In that story a servant in a time of famine brought 20 loaves of barley and 20 fresh ears of grain in a sack as an offering to Elisha.  Suddenly Elisha says, “Give it to the people and let them eat.”  But the servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” (2 Kings 4:42-44).  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish: a small church in changing neighborhood, an elderly congregation, and a changing neighborhood.  But Elisha says, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’”

The Messiah would come in the spirit of the Prophets of old.  That’s what the people had been told.  Jesus one day asked His Disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?”  They replied, “Some say you are Elijah, some say you are Jeremiah, others say you are one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13-14).  With the question of “is this the One” burning in their minds, Jesus stood on the hillside and fed not 100, but possibly as many as 20,000 people, and not with 20 barley loaves and 20 heads of grain, but with five loaves and two fish.  It was clear to all that day that this man was fulfilling the word of God that had been sent through the prophets.  The question was being answered in their presence, this is indeed the One, God’s promised Messiah.  It’s remarkable to me how much the past is tied to the present.  And how much the future depends on that connection.  We see it in the life of our Lord.

Jesus reveals who He is and teaches who God is by repeating or acting out the stories and lessons of the recorded experiences and yearning of the people.  In this way Jesus fulfills the word of the Prophets.  Jesus steps into their lives and brings the past, the Old Testament past, to life.  He is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets incarnate.  The old stories are breathed to life again.  Here in this story, we have some wonderful theology, but we can’t miss the other messages it teaches us about our Lord.  It’s also interesting to note how the story ends–and they all were satisfied.  Jesus feeds the multitude out of compassion.  There is no final teaching at the end.  Matthew simply says they were satisfied.  Jesus is the answer to all our needs.

It’s in this passage that we learn so much about who Jesus is.  It teaches us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the word of the Lord.  And it teaches us that we’re to serve at the Table of our Lord.  It teaches us that God is never too busy to respond to our prayers.  Back in 2002 the world watched as miners of the Quecreek mine were lifted one by one from a collapsed tunnel.  It was a rescue operation that many thought would end in tragedy.  However, little did the rescuers know, they were participating in a miracle.  For three days the miners were trapped, not knowing if the people above could reach them.

One of the humorous stories told by the miners was that of a lunch box.  Apparently, just as they found the hole that would become their 77-hour life support, a lunch box with a corned-beef sandwich and a mountain dew suddenly appeared floating in the water–now we know what those 9 coal miners ate.  God does indeed listen to the prayers of His people, and He supplies their needs.  What we learn from this story is that God is at work first fulfilling His word, and He is calling us to serve in responding to that fulfillment.  And the final thing we learn from this story is that we’re given the ability to use what we bring.

In 1872, at the age of 16, Booker T. Washington decided he wanted to go to school.  He walked 500 miles to Hampton Institute in Virginia and presented himself to the head teacher.  Washington later recalled, “Having been so long without proper food, a bath, and change of clothing, I didn’t make a very favorable impression upon her, and I could see at once that there were doubts in her mind about me.”  Finally, she said to him, “The adjoining recitation room needs cleaning.  Take the broom and do it.”

A lesser person might have been insulted by being assigned menial work.  But Washington recognized that this was his big chance.  He swept that room three times and dusted it four times.  He even cleaned the walls and the closets.  Then he reported to the head teacher that the job was finished.  She examined that room like a drill sergeant; she even took a handkerchief and rubbed it across the top of a door.  Unable to find even a particle of dirt, she said, “I guess you will do to enter this institution.”

As a 16-year-old, Washington couldn’t do many things, but he could clean a room.   And he did it to the best of his ability.  God chooses to work through you and I, with the gifts He has given us, to do some amazing things in our world today.  However, we must be willing to bring the gifts we have to Jesus.  Our gospel lesson for today is more than a story about a miracle.  It’s a testimony to just how much God loves us.  It highlights the fact that no matter what’s going on in heaven or on earth, God will take the time to listen and respond to our needs.  It’s a story that also reminds us that God chooses to work in and through us, to meet the needs of our neighbors.

Finally, this account is a reminder that even when it seems that what we have to offer isn’t enough, in the hands of Jesus, not only is everyone fed, but they’re also filled until all are satisfied.  This account reminds us that as Jesus showed compassion, so we must show compassion.  That as Jesus taught, we must also teach, and as Jesus provided, we too are called to provide for the needs of others, both physically and spiritually.


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