Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
August 24, 2014
Matthew 14: 13-21 (CEB)
13When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. 14When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. 15That evening his disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
16But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.”
17They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.”
18He said, “Bring them here to me.” 19He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves apart and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. 21About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten.
This is a really busy time of year for everyone. Peak vacation season is quickly drawing to a close. The kids have headed back to school and are getting into that homework routine again. Extracurricular activities are kicking off. There are lots of Fall events to plan for. And all of us are left to adjust our schedules accordingly. For us, we’ve been getting Mary Ellen back into the school mindset, getting up earlier because her school starts earlier this year, and getting her signed up for some new after school activities. On top of that, both Ken and I have been busy preparing for our Charge Conferences, which are now less than a month away. That means lots of extra meetings for both of us in a short amount of time. This week alone, between Mary Ellen’s back to school schedule and our own meeting schedules, both of us had meetings or something else going on at work every night. I’m sure many of you are experiencing the same sorts of things. No wonder we are always asking, “Where has the time gone?”
In any case, I share that with you to say this: when my schedule gets really busy and I’m getting home really late at night, all I want to do is sit on the couch with Ken and either read or watch a movie; something that doesn’t require any brain power or interaction. I’m told this is a common trait of introverts, but the truth of the matter is that every now and then, we all get to a point where we need a break. Where we pick up in Matthew’s gospel this morning, that’s exactly how Jesus is feeling. He’s been at this ministry thing for many, many months now. He’s been walking all over the Galilean countryside preaching, teaching, healing, and ministering. Then, on top of that, he has just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded by Herod. That’s why Matthew comments, “When Jesus heard this, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Jesus is worn out, sad, and probably even a little scared. He just needs some time to himself, like any of us would.
But it is not to be. Jesus is well-known at this point, and the crowds follow him ceaselessly; hoping to hear his teaching, hoping to be healed. So, as Jesus rows out into the water for some quiet time, the crowds are following him on the shoreline, calling out to him. At this point, many of us would probably make the decision to just ignore the rest of the world for a little while. We turn our phones to “silent” and say, “Forget it.” But not Jesus. When Jesus saw the crowds, Matthew tells us, “he had compassion on them.” So Jesus immediately rowed back to the shore and he began healing the sick.
And here is our first lesson from the story of the Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus didn’t pull back into his shell when people needed his help. He had compassion on them, and he helped them. You know, I think one of the most difficult, hardest truths of Christianity to swallow is that it’s not all about us. We don’t mind “talking the talk.” And every now and then, we’ll donate some clothes or food for a needy person so that we can feel like we are doing what Christians are “supposed” to be doing, though really it’s more because we were doing a little Spring cleaning and just needed to get rid of some stuff. But when it really comes down to it, how often to we actually set aside our own plans, even our own needs, and show compassion to another?
I was reading an article this week about a new book coming out called Almost Christian. It was written by one of the premier theologians in the area of Youth Ministry, and it the book grew out of a research project called the National Study of Youth and Religion. Sadly, the study revealed that most American teens who called themselves Christian were indifferent and inarticulate about their faith. Though 75% of American teenagers claim to be Christian, only half deem it important, fewer than half practice their faith, and most can’t talk coherently about their beliefs. Based on these findings, the book claims that more and more teenagers are embracing what is called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” which is essentially a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem. In other words, we are teaching our teenagers a “gospel of niceness,” where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. We have lost the Christian call to take risks, to witness, and to sacrifice for others. But the thing of it is, this is really a problem across all age ranges, not just among teenagers. With that in mind, one of the most important reminders from the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is that “it’s not about us.” Being a Christian is not about what God does for us, or about what makes us feel good; being a Christian is about what we do for others. We must have compassion on others in their time of need and act on that compassion, even if we may not feel like it at the time.
Still, there’s more to be gleaned from this story of the feeding of the 5,000. The day was quickly turning to night, but Jesus was still busy healing and interacting with the crowds of people around him. So the disciples, probably a bit bored and hungry by now, decided they would project their sentiments onto the crowd. “Jesus,” they said, “It’s getting late. You’ve got to stop. You have to send these people away so they can go and get some food.” But Jesus wasn’t done with his work, and that’s not how it works when you’re the host anyway. So Jesus tells the disciples they need to feed the people. Again, the disciples are probably a little agitated as they inform Jesus that, quite simply, there is not enough food to feed all the people. When you talk about a crowd numbering in the thousands, five loaves and two fish may as well be nothing.
So here we have these disciples who are bored, agitated, hungry, and skeptical. They are 100% convinced that they don’t have the resources they need to do what Jesus has asked them to do. So their solution is to send the people away. But that is not Jesus’ way; not at all. Yet, how many times have we been just like those disciples? Jesus calls us to live in mission, and our response is, “Well, I just don’t have time for that.” Or, “That’s too far too drive.” Or, “Those homeless people make me uncomfortable.” Jesus calls the church to expand it’s ministries out into the community and make the lives of the people better, and we say, “Our church just doesn’t have enough money to do all that.” We are skeptical. We convince ourselves there are numerous reasons that we can’t do what Jesus has called us to do. We decide it’s more important to look after our own interests first and to send everyone else away because it’s just too hard to show compassion for others when we have so many hardships of our own. In short, we are like those disciples doubtfully conversing with Jesus so long ago.
But here’s the thing: the disciples’ skepticism didn’t change Jesus’ charge to them. He told them to feed the people, and that’s what Christ expected the disciples to do, even when they pointed out the limited resources with which they had to work. Any reservations we might have don’t change Jesus’ charge to us either. We are called to put others first, we are called to show compassion, we are called to make sacrifices, and we are called to work with what we have been given, even when that seems inadequate. Still, it’s important to note that we are never called to work alone. The reason the feeding of the 5,000 worked was because after Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowds, he took their meager resources, those five loaves and two fish, and he raised them to heaven in blessing. Then, as the disciples began to distribute the food, they found that there was plenty for everyone with some to spare. They had done the work Christ called them to do, Christ had blessed that work, and as a result, the people who needed to be fed by Christ were!
For far too long, we have viewed our Christian faith only from a selfish perspective. We come to worship so that we can be fed, losing sight of the fact that this is the time for us to direct all gratitude and praise to God. We try to avoid sin and do a few good deeds here and there, but we never go to the point of really making sacrifices. We follow this “moral therapeutic deism,” and live with the expectation that God is the divine therapist who can boost our self-esteem because after all, it’s all about us anyway. Then, when we become aware of God’s extravagant call upon our lives, we start making excuses about why we can’t be involved with that and why it just won’t work. And ultimately, I think this is why Christianity is suffering today. Christians do not live lives that are consistent with the life of Christ. We don’t step up to the plate when we don’t want to. We don’t show compassion to our neighbor in need. We don’t have faith that Christ will bless the work that needs to be done. So we just don’t do anything. And, quite simply, it’s time for that to change.
As we reflect on the story of the feeding of the 5,000, we need to understand that it’s time for all of that to change! It’s time for us to set aside our selfishness and show compassion to our neighbor in need. It’s time for us to step up to the plate and stop making excuses about why something won’t work. It’s time for us to have faith that when we work within Christ’s will and according to Christ’s call, Christ will bless the work and make it happen through us.
Again, I remind you that there are so many ways you can do this already in place in this church. Start by adjusting your attitude when you come to worship on Sunday morning; instead of coming hoping you’ll like the music and not be bored with the sermon, come thinking about how you will use this time to give thanks to God in a special way. Then, set aside one Thursday a month to literally feed hungry people through the Mustard Tree Ministry. If you can’t make that once a month commitment, then go ahead and commit now to be at the Stop Hunger Now meal-packing event on Sunday, September 14, (here) at Grace. You can make prayer shawls for people experiencing extreme hardship and in need of prayer. You can join the choir. You can gather items for the (Soddy Daisy) food pantry, or donate your old clothes to the Salvation Army. If none of those things strikes your fancy, think about what you love to do and ask God to show you how you can use that gift to serve someone in need. If you are following God’s call in your life, then there are truly no excuses out there, and you can be assured that Christ will bless the work that you do so that it will have an amazing impact for God’s kingdom! And that, my friends, is what’s truly great about being a Christian!