Text: Matthew 14:13-21
The story of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5,000 is one of the more well-known bible stories. In fact, it’s the only one of Jesus’ miracles found in all 4 gospels. And, because this story is so well-known, those of you who have been around the church for a while have probably heard just about every sermon imaginable on this story. And that means that there’s probably very little I can say today that you haven’t heard before…..
So, no need to re-invent the wheel, right? The message of the story is a good one…so I say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Today’s story is a story of how God can do a lot, with what seems so little.
I think that we can never hear that enough. We’ve been talking a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven the past few weeks. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a sown seed, a mustard seed, a small pearl, some yeast in bread dough. Small things…small things that God grows into big and abundant things. God, in grace and mercy, shows the measure of God’s faithfulness, doing what we cannot do for ourselves.
And in this story of the feeding of 5,000 – actually more than 5,000 because those in antiquity didn’t think to count the women and children – Jesus doesn’t turn the crowds away in their great need; he deals with them compassionately. And Jesus doesn’t let the disciples’ notion that there isn’t enough to feed the people stop him. With very little – 5 loaves and 2 fish – Jesus feeds them. Jesus does something great to meet the needs of the crowd with very little.
But the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t work in the way we think. And in this story, while people are healed and fed, that’s not really the big point. Because in the Kingdom of Heaven, it’s not so much about what Jesus does, but rather who Jesus is, that matters.
I can’t get Jesus’ words out of my head: “THEY NEED NOT GO AWAY; YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT.” I think we are being called to give – to give something, anything. Because again, the good news is, that God can do much with the very little we have to offer. And I just find this so freeing, because it makes ministry about being church, rather than proving our own righteousness before God and the world.
I think that Christians and the church today are caught up in trying to show that by its ministry, it can “change the world.” We donate, we serve, we minister…..thinking that we’re being called to completely fix the problems of the world. We do these things so we can show people that Christian faith and the church are relevant in the world…and, if we’re being honestly, to get butts back in the church pews on Sundays.
The truth is, our ministry, our service, our donations…..all of it falls short of doing anything on its own. In fact, compared to all the other large organizations that help so many, this little church probably can’t do anything on that large of a scale any way. We probably don’t even make a dent compared to organizations like the United Way, the Red Cross, Greenpeace, and numerous others. The thing is, that’s not what “being church” is about. Because “being church” is about proclaiming the message of a God who in sacrificial love gives away God’s only Son, for the sake of the world. And the church does that by giving itself away in acts of self-giving, sacrificial love to those in the world in need.
It’s not about what our acts of service can do, or don’t do. It’s what they point to – a God who loves the world deeply, and in Christ, God gives life through compassion and mercy, not judgment and condemnation. In fact, God’s love does something so much greater that no organization – our little church, the United Way, the Red Cross can do on its own – it has the power to connect us with those we serve through our common humanity that we share with each other….a humanity with deep need for compassion and belonging, a humanity that God values and loves deeply that God would redeem it through the giving of Jesus Christ to us.
That being said…..we have a great opportunity to be church: our brothers and sisters at Faith Lutheran Church in Suffolk have invited us to take part with them in a ministry called “Micah’s Backpack.” You may be familiar with how it works, but for those that aren’t let me fill you in. Micah’s Backpack serves provides food for children who live with the reality of food insecurity – they often don’t have the guarantee of meals at home, which in turn affects their ability to learn, to get a good education. Free lunches at their schools help with this…but it only covers Monday through Friday. Micah’s Backpack program provides food over the weekends for these children. Students pick up packs of food on Friday, as discreetly as possible to protect them from shame and ridicule, food that will get them through the weekend.
We’ve been invited to participate in this program in two ways: one, but donating food items for the backpacks, and to take part in helping assemble the packs of food that will then be delivered to the schools. For the next 3 weeks, you will be free to donate food items. Each week in worship, we’ll place those offerings around the altar here. If you take the insert in your bulletin out, there’s a list of items and some guidelines for what we’re looking for. But in short, we’re asking you to give – give something….for these little ones to eat. And on the afternoon of August 24th, we’ll take this food down to Faith Lutheran, and any of you who would like to help assemble food packs that day are welcome to do so. Learn more about the program, and learn more about our neighbors at Faith Lutheran….and in doing so, we’re all “being church together….for the sake of these little ones.”
So I invite you to take part in this small project – donate a couple of items of food, an hour or two of your time on a Sunday afternoon. But in doing so, we’ll join our brothers and sisters at Faith Lutheran in being church together, for the sake of these little ones….and in this small act, we’ll witness to a God who does the greatest thing: who in giving the gift of compassion and grace meets our deepest need – to know that our value is found in our humanity, both broken and Children of God. This great gift from God that we know and celebrate every Sunday….a piece of bread and cup of wine, given for you….the greatness of God’s forgiveness and love. No small thing indeed. Amen.