A Sermon for Sunday, August 3rd, 2014
By Mother Clare Yarborough
Lesson: Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm: Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Epistle: Romans 9:1-5
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21
I. Back from three weeks on the East Coast!
I ate lobster three times, caught up with old friends, went to church three times (saving the bulletins for future reference), and did my best to avoid newspapers, newscasts and all other conduits of Current Events.
In fact, for three weeks the most earth-shattering news to come my way was the trade of Jon Lester and Johnny Gomes to the Oakland A’s, which pretty much smashes any hopes of a berth on the playoffs.
So, a good time was had—a time of lazy mornings, cooler temperatures, reconnecting with friends and family. Thank you for allowing me and Father Smith to have these times away to rest and restore ourselves.
II. Jesus wasn’t so lucky in today’s Gospel.
He tried to get away…but the crowd found out! So here’s the story again—retold and put into the context of the rest of the bigger story.
In the section immediately before this, we hear about what happened to John the Baptist. How he was arrested and imprisoned and finally served up on a silver platter to Herod Antipas. The story is gruesome, even depraved, and must have been hard in the telling and in the hearing.
I can imagine Jesus’ wanting to scurry away and be alone. How hard it must have been to hear how his mentor, cousin, friend had died! How sobering to realize that yes indeed, this is what happens to prophets and saints, anyone who dares to speak Truth to Power. Jesus got in a boat and went to a deserted place, also translated to a lonely place, or an out-of-the-way place…a place to cry, to pray, and to remember.
We’ve all been to these places. In fact, most of the time you don’t need a boat to find such a place. Nor a plane. Nor a car. Sometimes you don’t even need to leave the room to find that tragedy picks you up and drops you in a lonely and desolate place.
The crowd found Jesus out in that lonely place. Perhaps he really was such a celebrity that there was nowhere for him to go without the crowd following. Or perhaps they came for more than just a celebrity sighting. Perhaps they came because they too were looking for a desolate place to be. Jesus was not the only one to mourn the passing of John. John baptized the entire Judean countryside, after all. They flocked to John to hear his message of repentance. They eagerly heard the message of preparation.
But they also heard the news of a banquet, a dancing girl, and a head served up on a silver platter. If Good News travels fast, Bad News travels even faster!
Suddenly, Jesus had company out there in the lonely and desolate place. With John’s death, the Kingdom of Heaven didn’t look so near. Another good man extinguished simply because of a silly promise made to a little girl,
Matthew’s Gospel said that that Jesus had compassion on the crowd. “Compassion” in English is a rather soft word, in the Greek the word connotes a much stronger response—and a better sense might be a translation that says “When Jesus saw the crowd, he was heartsick.”
So he healed them to remind them that God was still present. The Kingdom was still nearby.
“Lord, it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves,” said the disciples.
“You give them something to eat,” was his response.
“We have nothing,” they responded. “except for five loaves of bread and two fish.”
He tells them to bring the food to him, organizes the crowd to sit down on the grass, and then takes the food, says a blessing, breaks the bread and tells the disciples to pass it out. And not only was there SOMETHING rather than NOTHING, there was a LOT of SOMETHING...actually there was an abundance. There were such an abundance that each disciple had to get out a basket and gather up the extra food. 12 baskets in all.
Herod’s banquet ends in a death. Jesus’ banquet? 5,000 well fed men (plus women and children) and enough leftover for another day. And that’s the story.
III. My family tries to make a habit of going to Casa Maria every month to help out with the sandwich making frenzy. I have a pretty good idea of how much goes into making 1,000 egg salad sandwiches. A lot of bread. A lot of eggs. A lot of hands. I have no idea how two fish and five loaves multiplied into enough for everyone, nor how 12 men managed to serve 5,000 plus people—the logistics alone make my mind boggle.
But this is what I do know. It doesn’t matter how it happened. It doesn’t even matter whether I know that this story happened in exactly the way it’s told in Matthew. Or Mark. Or Luke, or John---it occurs in all of them actually.
Every last evangelist tells this story.
It is important for us to know this story.
Not because, I think, it’s about Jesus, but because it is about ourselves.
We are the disciples and we need to have this story absolutely seared into our DNA as Christians. As followers. As disciples.
Because we are always going to have 5,000 people camped out on our lawn waiting for dinner. That’s just the world.
Women and children at the bus station. Gaza and Israel lobbing rockets at each other. Western Africa in the midst of a devastating epidemic of Ebola.
There will always be something absolutely horrible going on in the world and we will never be adequate to the task of fixing it all!
As some disasters disperse, others come to take their place. Addressing the world’s pain is like playing Whack-a-Mole at the amusement park. Except that it’s not a recipe for fun,
Especially for disciples who think they have nothing to give, and so want to send the problems away to the closest village.
But…as Jesus points out—it’s not up to the disciples to judge adequacy of their resources. So what if there isn’t enough to feed 5,000 men (plus women and children)? If there’s something—anything—to give, then sit the people down, take the time to thank God you have something to give, and start passing it out.
What started out as a recipe for despair will turn into a glimpse of God’s Kingdom.
IV. There’s a story I found on the internet, and like most good internet stories it’s been passed around so many times that it’s almost impossible to track down where and when it occurred. But nonetheless I believe it to be a true story much like the feeding of the 5,000 is a true story. What it teaches is True even if all the circumstances surrounding it are not. It is supposedly told by a social worker who lived and worked in the Appalachias:
“The Sheldons were a large family in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. The help they received was not adequate, yet they managed their meager income with ingenuity – and without complaint.
“One fall day I visited the Sheldons in their ramshackle rented house where they lived at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear that strayed into their yard once too often. The meat had been processed into all the big canning jars they could find or swap for. There would be meat in their diet even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high.
“Mr Sheldon offered a jar of bear meat to me. I hesitated to accept it, but the giver met my unspoken resistance firmly. “Now you just have to take
this. We want you to have it. We don’t have much, that’s a fact; but we ain’t
“I couldn’t resist asking, “What’s the difference?”
His answer proved unforgettable.
“”When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, then you
ain’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away even if you got
more’n you need, then you’re poor, whether you know it or not.”
V. Most of us have something to give.
Eggs for egg salad. A packet of size 4 diapers. A car to ferry supplies. An ear to listen. Completely inadequate, but nevertheless something. Therefore we are blessed, blessed by God to have something to give. Strangely, the more we give—the more we find things TO give. The richer we become.
The world is large. The pain is immense. There are 5,000 men (plus women and children) camped out on our doorsteps with more arriving daily.
It’s time to keep breaking out the bread and the fish, the eggs and the diapers and get busy passing them out. We’re disciples of Jesus, so that’s our job.
God will take care of the abundance.
After all, that’s his job.