I love the story about a nine-year-old boy named Danny who came bursting out of Sunday school like a wild stallion. His eyes were darting in every direction as he tried to locate either mom or dad. Finally, after a quick search, he grabbed his Daddy 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, 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 getting’ 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. They made it!”
By now old dad was shocked. “Is THAT the way they taught you the story?”
“Well, no, not exactly,” Danny admitted, “but if I told you the way they told it to us, you'd never believe it, Dad.”
Skeptics over the years have tried to do the same thing to the miracles of Jesus. To try to explain away the supernatural power that Jesus has to perform miracles. This is especially true when it comes to the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.
One popular explanation – and you’ve heard me talk about this many times before – but one attempt to explain away this miracle – is to say that people were so moved by the generosity of a little boy who shared his lunch – that everyone in the crowd who had brought food with them brought that food out of their traveling pouches – and lo and behold, everyone had enough to eat. And then the point of the story turns away from who Jesus is – and what he can do – and turns it into a nice Sunday School lesson about sharing. It’s an unfortunate attempt to take the miracle out of the miraculous.
Folks, let me tell you, that if Jesus is indeed the Son of God – if Jesus is exactly who he says he is – and I believe he is – then there is no question but that he performed miracles, and on a regular basis. So when you read or listen to the telling of the miracles of Jesus – please remember that the purpose they serve is to tell us something about who Jesus is – AND then to get some kind of a response from us.
Our Gospel lesson today is that well-known episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples of the feeding of the 5,000. And since it says there were 5,000 men, besides women and children. So it might have been two to three or more times that many. Think Coca Cola Field in downtown Buffalo where the Bisons play, and fill that stadium and you get the idea of just how many people all together might have been there. By the way, Coca Cola Stadium holds just over 18,000. I had to look it up.
Interestingly, as the day begins, we find Jesus in a boat trying to get away for a little down time. But when he gets to shore, and climbs out of the boat, he sees this crowd of people waiting for him. And when he sees the crowds, we’re told the first thing Jesus says is, “Aw, nuts. Not again!”
No, no, no, that’s not quite right. The first thing we’re told is that Jesus has compassion on the crowd. And after a busy day of healing – and perhaps a little preaching on the side – it’s evening. Jesus is so determined to heal as many people as he could, that he kind of loses track of time. These thousands of people are going to – you know – be in need of a restroom – and they’re going to want something to eat.
It would be another almost 2000 years before Wegmans begins to deliver groceries. There’s no Mighty Taco to go to. No pizza delivery. And that’s when the disciples come up with this brilliant solution. “Jesus, you need to send these folks away now so they can get something to eat. Send them away, Jesus.”
But Jesus? Oh yeah, remember the first thing Jesus showed to these people? Compassion. And even after a busy day, he is still showing compassion. He says, “They need not go away. Peter, Andrew, Philip, Matthew, Thomas – you all – you give them something to eat.”
“Lord? Hello-o! You’ve gotta be kidding, right? There’s a Coca Cola Stadium sized crowd of people here. All we’ve got in our hands are five loaves of bread, and two fish.”
And Jesus says, “You bring them here to me. I’ll take what you’ve got – and you sit back – and watch.” And Jesus takes that bread. And he takes that fish. And he looks up to heaven, and he blesses it, and he breaks it, and he gives it to his disciples, and they give it to the crowd, and everyone eats. And is it enough? No! It’s more than enough. Remember? How many baskets full are left over? Twelve. That’s right, twelve. One basket for each disciple to bring back full.
It is a miracle. From five loaves of bread and two small fish – remember, there was no other food – Jesus miraculously provides from THIS bread and from THIS fish enough food for everybody to have enough – in fact it is more than enough.
May I suggest to you that whenever Jesus performs a miracle – that miracle begins with compassion. But then, at least in this case, something else was needed. And that something else was when somebody else placed something – in this case bread and fish – into Jesus’ hands. Somebody else gave Jesus something to work with.
Now Matthew doesn’t tell us this, but when the Gospel writer John shares this story he identifies a young boy as the source of this bread and this fish. His mother had packed him a lunch for the day, and this is what the disciples brought in their hands and placed into Jesus’ hands.
Do you see what’s going on here? God can use whatever it is that we have in our hands and when we then take that and place it into God’s hands. No matter what it is. Some gift. A passion for some ministry. Some person moved by compassion into an act of kindness. God can use those things – God can use us – for God’s glory, for the benefit of others, and for our own good, as I like to say.
Now, feeding hungry people is part of what it means to be church. And we do. We’ll have a special emphasis in October and November where we can support the ELCA World Hunger program. Of course, we can give anytime during the year to World Hunger, as well as canned goods and other non-perishables to the food pantry in the hallway. Each month we take what all of us have contributed and deliver it to Resurrection Lutheran Church in the inner city of Buffalo where the need is truly great. And here’s the thing. The people who are served by the contributions that you and I have made will know that the church – all of us – have joined together to help feed hungry people. They will know that someone cares – and like Jesus – has shown compassion – in the name of Jesus!
Because you see, there are starving people out there who are starving for more than food to fill their stomachs. They may not know it – but they’re starving for the Good News – the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that when we feed hungry people – and they know that the church is the one that’s doing the feeding – they might just then be open to hearing what the church has to say about Jesus.
Let me take you back a few thousand years. In the first centuries of the church – it wasn’t easy being a Christian. There were persecutions. Often it was against the law to be a Christian. But during these early years of the church, the church grew. And there were many reasons for this, but let me talk to you about one in particular.
In those early years, plagues were common. And the Roman government not only didn’t have social services to deal with widespread outbreaks of various plagues, but the ruling classes didn’t care because these plagues most often affected the lower classes of society.
Can you guess who did care? Can you guess who did show compassion? The church. Christians risked their own health and their own lives by feeding and caring for the sick – and in many cases, bringing them back to health. When no one else cared – the church cared. And as a result, the church grew.
Think about it. If someone’s going to take care of you or your loved one – nurse you back to health – when no one else will – without asking for anything in return – aren’t you going to be interested in learning what motivates a group of people to risk their lives so that others might live? Of course you are. And that’s how the church grew way back then.
Well, the same thing is true today. When we – the church – feed hungry people – we’re doing more than filling empty stomachs. We are opening up the possibility that they might just be willing to hear a message that could turn their hearts and lives around – the same way that the Good News message of Jesus Christ has made a difference in our lives!
We can make a difference. And you want to make a difference, I know you do. Feeding hungry people is just one way. Showing kindness to someone who needs a friend. Being the kind of neighbor that you would want your neighbor to be to you. Touching hearts – changing lives – making a difference in the name of Jesus Christ. In whatever way that looks like.
You see, when we hear or read stories like this one, we have a choice. We can either choose to be bystanders – you know – spectators enjoying a good story – or we can enter into the story. We can stay on the sidelines – or we can get into the game.
So if you want real joy in your life – let me tell you – real joy is found in seeing a need – and meeting that need – by giving of what you already hold in your hands. Not always convenient, I know. And it’s certainly not always easy.
But when we realize that we’re all in this together – won’t there be enough? Yes – and more than enough. Amen