Sermon for August 2 Matthew 14:13-21
Beloved, God can do amazing things with what we are willing to give. But I want to start at the beginning of the passage for today. Our reading today starts out with, “when Jesus heard what had happened.” But what had happened? Herod the local ruler had beheaded John the Baptist. The one who baptized Jesus, whose refrain of, “repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” is the same one Jesus will repeat as he goes about in his ministry. Now Jesus hears about his violent death. He also hears we can assume, that Herod is saying that Jesus is John the Baptist returned from the grave. In other words, he can expect similar treatment because he is doing similar things.
So then we get to our verses for today and Jesus first gets in a boat and goes to a solitary place by himself. He takes some down time to process his friend and co-worker John the Baptist’s death, to mourn for him perhaps. I wonder too if he talked with God about what this would mean for his ministry going forward, that maybe it was time to step it up a notch knowing if the same fate befell Jesus as John, they would need more practice in this kingdom work to be able to carry on. So maybe it was time to get his disciples to participate in some kingdom of heaven work- they had been sent out once but we don’t hear in Matthew how that went. Maybe Jesus thought about those things as well as the mourning he didn’t get to do before John’s body was buried. In any case the disciples are about to get a master class in what the kingdom of God looks like.
So when Jesus sees the large crowd, he is moved with compassion, again, and begins to heal. It turns into a long day and his disciples notice it is getting to be dinner time. Let’s wrap up for the day, tell people it’s time to go home, the disciples say, thinking maybe Jesus is so involved with healing he doesn’t hear his own tummy rumble. They can go back to the villages and buy some food, let’s dismiss.
Jesus responds,” you give them something to eat.” We hear by the end of the story there are 5000 men, plus women and children. The disciples are overwhelmed by the numbers but simply say, “Here is what we have, five loaves of bread and two fish. “ probably thinking Jesus will say, oh you are right that’s barely enough for the 13 of us, let’s send them away and we’ll eat that. But no. he says, bring them here to me. He directs people not to leave, but to sit tight. He gives thanks to God for that paltry amount of food, and you know the story, the miraculous multiplication, well really it doesn’t say how but somehow the people eat and are satisfied. 5000 plus. With twelve baskets of leftovers.
In the book we studied in my first fall here, Claiming resurrection in the dying church, Rev. Anna Olsen uses this story as a template for the choice before many churches. She has us imagine that we are one of the disciples there with Jesus near the lakeshore so long ago, and that we have actually thought ahead and packed ourselves a little fish sandwich that morning, knowing it might be a long day and our tummy might rumble by nightfall. We will anticipate the satisfaction of biting into the fish sandwich once the long day of ministry is over, enjoying it with the disciples and Jesus.
But then Jesus asks for that sandwich. The one we have carefully packed and are waiting to bite into. Jesus wants us to give it up, give it away. To people who could have brought their own but didn’t think ahead like us. There is a moment’s hesitation. Do I really have to give up MY fish sandwich?
But Jesus is asking. So in the best cases, we do, we give up that satisfying crunch of the crust, the umami and saltiness of the fish against the bread- can you almost taste it… in the best cases we listen, we obey Jesus and we give up our fish sandwich, knowing that in his hands something wonderful can happen.
And it does. And all are filled. And go home rejoicing at how Jesus made a huge picnic dinner possible for all of those people. Can you imagine the surprise, the joy, the feeling of togetherness and celebration- uncle Tim isn’t sick anymore and look- more than enough food for all. They won’t forget it.
So now us, my beloved in Christ there are many points of intersection here. We are in strange times of much illness and death and fear. Sometimes we get some painful news and we need to take some time to process, to mourn, to ask God, now what? Jesus did that, he didn’t plow ahead like nothing had happened, he acknowledged that something big had happened, he was – well it doesn’t say just what he was feeling but I imagine he was sad, maybe discouraged maybe puzzled or even fearful, by the turn of events- the point is he honored that moment by taking some time for himself. I hope we do that, when we can, with what might be some bad news we get lately. Tell God about it, acknowledge something big has happened. And I think because he took that time he was better prepared to do the ministry before him for the rest of that day. First the compassion and healing, tending to people, which turned into this beautiful story of miracle food and a big picnic party, where all ate and were filled.
And also I want to lift up today that this story of ministry, directly attending to what people need, continues in Jesus’ body the church still today. I would love to be celebrating in person with you today, but I hope my joy can pass somehow through these wavelengths and reach you. Because Palm UMC has a lot to celebrate. There are many ways we here are living out Jesus’ example of tending to people and their real needs, giving what we have so God can do great things.
You may know the story of how almost a year ago we started collaborating with Cruisin for Jesus. Marian met Buffy in a Wal-Mart and told him about her church’s fundraiser coming up, the Oriental Dinner, and Cruising for Jesus loaned us coolers that day. but then Buffy came on a Sunday when I was making everybody learn the Lord’s prayer in Spanish. It turns out that Cruising for Jesus does this thing where they help other churches meet local people and bless them with Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations providing all the food or presents. Buffy liked the idea of a little church working on learning a little Spanish to better serve their neighbors so they included Palm UMC for last Thanksgiving and Christmas. They pushed us to find some people to invite, maybe some new people we could get to know and introduce to our church. So we did! and it was beautiful, a little like loaves and fishes multiplying.. we started to get to know some new people… and then the pandemic hit. But Cruising for Jesus has a reputation for being able to give stuff away so not too far in they delivered a lot of stuff to us, that they had received, including the socks that appeared in another sermon. Among all of that were some backpacks. And now our own Susan and Janice and Marian have taken it upon themselves to get school supplies to fill these backpacks and give them to kids who have come to Sunday school, and some kids we met at those holiday events, and some kids who came to some of the Youth activities we had.. it turns out we needed a few more backpacks, so we are purchasing some more with church funds, So tomorrow Susan and Janice will get together and bring a few more backpacks to bring the numbers up and all the supplies, and then take them to the families. Our church is bringing a blessing to families, and hopefully they can sense God’s love for them through this action. It will be a different sort of school year and we are including a note about God’s love for the kids too. So we have taken a gift we received, helping multiply it and do even more good, yes even during this time of pandemic.
Also Susan and Janice and Marian have been working on a second round of gift bags for some of our eldest members who may not be able to get out much, so there are some things for them to keep occupied with. Yes there are a few workers putting in the time, but all of this is possible because of the whole church, the gifts we share and the way we love one another that can spill out in these tangible actions. Kathy Lamb has been occupying herself by making these cute cross and flame magnets, another blessing going to both children and seniors, and really there is enough for anyone who wants one. More multiplication of signs of love so all may be filled with God’s love.
Then on another level, but still local, on the district level of our United Methodist church, we have a fund now that is ready to distribute some emergency funds to people hit the hardest by this pandemic throughout the Central Valley, those not eligible for the government stimulus or unemployment. I volunteered to be on the team for this fund and I am enthusiastically promoting fundraising for it. I asked our council to agree to a goal for Palm UMC to raise $1000 to go towards helping people, and they agreed. Then I mentioned that goal at our circuit meeting last week to my colleagues… and Friday I heard that our District Superintendent was inspired by our giving goal to ask other churches if they can also pledge raising $1000 towards this fund. “If little Palm can do it, why can’t you?” So now we are on the hook friends, we are going to be the example to follow for other churches in the district. And I’m thrilled because it is so similar to what Jesus did 2000 years ago. Oh you think that’s your fish sandwich, you think it’s for you? How about you give it to me and see what can happen?
So yes our church, and many churches, are a little down in the giving, a little unsure of the long term future, wanting to hold on to what we have for ourselves. But so many faithful followers of Jesus can say, you know what, I will give up my fish sandwich, because there are other people in need, too. When we do, Jesus does amazing things.
And today, if you are with us live, we will remember Jesus in a simple meal of bread and grape juice, because he continued to eat with people all his life, people he was not supposed to eat with, and then when he gave himself for us he symbolized what he was about to do by calling himself the bread, his blood the wine. The feast of his giving so others can be blessed, others can have life to the full, others can know the love of God, is what we still enact, the feast has multiplied through the centuries. And all ate and were full- may we strive toward this mission in as many ways as we can, giving faithfully whenever Jesus calls us to, knowing that with his blessing amazing things can happen, Amen.