Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: August 2, 2020
Year A, Proper 13: Psalm 23; Genesis 32:22-31;Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
That’s one of the most famous stories of the Gospel – it’s one of the miracles that we always hear. Jesus fed 5,000 people. It is one of Jesus’ great miracles, maybe THE great miracle. Jesus has taken to fish and five loaves of bread and fed 5,000 people. That is a miracle!
Of course, logistical questions make us question whether this was possible – did it really happen in this way? Were there really five thousand people there? Did a bona fide miracle happen, or did people just start pulling out their owns stashes from their knapsacks?
Well, first – to the people who say it’s – nothing, nothing is ever impossible with the love of Jesus Christ. It’s also true that miracles don’t just happen when magical things happen. Miracles happen in our everyday world, our every day lives. Sometimes when we focus on the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, we often overlook another miracle and the other part of this gospel.
The Revised Common Lectionary that we use for Sundays has done again what makes it sometimes difficult to follow the Gospel action. We’ve skipped from the parables we’ve heard for the last month to the middle of the next chapter of Matthew. Our passage starts with “Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Why is Jesus alone in a boat?
He had been confronted with upsetting news. The beginning of this chapter of the Gospel has John the Baptist being beheaded by Herod. Jesus has gone away, he has withdrawn because he has learned of this terrible event. So, Jesus does what we would likely do. We withdraw. We grieve. That’s what Jesus does. He probably weeps. Maybe he even shouts and curses. I’m sure he prayed, and that he mourned.
What happens next?
A crowd begins to form. “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” Amidst his own pain, his own grief, his own anguish, Jesus had compassion and cured the sick. The anguish that we heard in Paul’s letter that his kin are separated from Christ.
He had compassion for them. Christ’s compassion, Christ’s generosity is what draws him out of the boat, away from the deserted place
Jesus grieves. Jesus sees. Jesus has compassion. Jesus feeds five thousand and then some with food to spare. Jesus’ grief is transformed into compassion, which gives way to generosity, to reaching out.
That’s the real miracle. The generous heart of Jesus Christ is the core of this story. Jesus was filled with compassion and generosity. We are invited by this gospel story to be generous, to give, and to serve freely, to treat everyone as deserving because they are, simply by virtue of being a child of God; by being created in God’s image and infinitely loved by God. And it is true for every one of us. Each one of us is called to be generous and compassionate, just as Jesus called the disciples by saying “You” give them something to eat. We are called to love and help.
And we do a pretty good job. I’ve seen it in the Beckford Parish community, In March we thought it would be impossible to continue with Emmanuel’s Table in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, five months later we continue. About a month ago, we received a request from the SEARCH House in Mt. Jackson. They need to raise $30,000 for a generator and still needed $15,000. Tiny Saint Andrew’s raised more than 10% of that total. We need to raise money for GAP by next Sunday. It will get done.
Let’s be honest, though. We recognize the disciples’ panic and Jesus’ grief. We have been there. There is too much need in our world. Too many people unemployed, too many people hungry, too many people hurting. Preaching to you from home on this 131st day and 19th week of physical distancing, it’s easy to identify with Jesus being adrift in a boat in a deserted place.
It’s comforting to imagine that Jesus was struggling with the same feelings.
Yet, people await us in our neighborhoods. I remember the first time I was confronted with pictures of incredibly skinny children with protruding bellies, characteristic signs of hungry, malnourished children. I was in college and had just received the weekly issue of Time Magazine. The sad reality is that some forty years later, the pictures are the same. Hunger is still killing millions of children. 14% of Virginia’s children go to bed hungry every night.
Even as we know that our future is very different than our past, are given an opportunity to respond to these needs, to joyfully follow Christ to shore and to set a banquet, not for the elite who had attended Herod’s feast where John was beheaded, but for the children and families who need our help, for the people who need to be assured of heat and electricity where they live. We are presented regularly with opportunities to live in generosity.
In Jesus, God brings us nourishment, indeed miraculous nourishment beyond any expectations. But that miracle requires us to abandon fearfulness and selfishness.
We may still sometimes feel adrift, but when we remember that Christ has already gone ahead of us to Christ will heal us and we will find there is plenty enough. God’s grace and love are always more than sufficient for our needs. When we feel inadequate to do the work of the church, we are reminded that God is with us.
Let me end with this simple prayer from our friends in New Zealand:
God of the hungry, make us hunger and thirst for the right, till our thirst for justice has been satisfied and hunger has gone from the earth; through Jesus, the Christ, the bread. Amen
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.