07 August 2011

Sermon on the feeding of the 5,000

Put yourself in the disciples’ place. They had followed the Lord to a desert place for renewal. But then the crowds came, and Christ in his compassion healed them. Now it was getting late.
The disciples took note of the time, and place. They saw the peoples’ need, and were concerned. “We need to let them go,” they thought. “They’ll need time to find food.” So they came to Christ, and asked him to release the crowd.
Now come those shocking words. The Lord responded, “They don’t have to go away. You give them something to eat.” Catch the weight of those words. “YOU give them something to eat!” Here they were, twelve men more or less—poor men, with little or nothing to their name. There was the crowd, thousands and thousands of them. And now, their Lord says to them, in essence, “Feeding that crowd is your responsibility.”
I wonder, sometimes, if we ever see the needs around us as our responsibility. Most of us have learned the survival skill of looking the other way, of not paying attention to the needs around us. The homeless guy at the entrance ramp, the lonely people in the nursing home, the single mother who’s trying to figure out how to feed her kids: there’s just so much need that if we thought about it, we’d be overwhelmed. And so we ask ourselves, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and move on, never thinking that it was Cain, the first murderer, who first posed that question.
Politically, both the left and the right have ways of avoiding these needs. The man on the right, the conservative, may say “Those folks have needs because of bad choices they made. Let them figure it out for themselves.” The people in our text, for example, should have thought about how they’d provide for themselves in a desert area.
And those on the left, the liberals, likewise avoid the needs. “We should tax the wealthy, so that society can take care of these needs.” In other words, there is a problem. But it’s not my problem. It’s the other guy’s problem.
But Christ calls us to see the problems around us, as our problem. Maybe some folks made bad decisions to get them where they are. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore them. And if we wait for the government to fix the problem, we’ll be waiting a long time. The needs around us are here and now, and they’re our responsibility.
Only when we see the greatness of our responsibility, will we learn the greatness of our Lord. The disciples answer Christ, “We have only five loaves and two small fish.” That was barely a snack for a couple of people, let alone thousands. But Christ says, “Bring them to me.”
“Bring them to me.” Here’s stewardship in a nutshell: that we take whatever little we have, and bring it to Christ. You know, for every age there’s always an excuse for not giving. The young person says, “I don’t make enough, and I have lots to buy.” Then when college is done, it’s “I have to pay off my loans.” Then comes a family—“I have to buy a house…I have to take care of my kids.” And then comes retirement—“But I don’t have enough saved, and what will come of me?”
Bring your resources to Christ. When we give that tithe, that 10% of our income, it represents giving all that we have. Indeed, the most important thing we give is our very bodies. St. Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as living sacrifices, wholly acceptable to God.”
The needs before our parish are daunting indeed. We have been given this little building, on this little piece of land. We’d like to do so much more: to build a permanent temple, with a cemetery, a school or old folks’ home. We’d like to help our neighbors in practical, useful ways. How can we do it? Well, we can’t, in our own strength.
We must learn, rather, to bring what we have, to Christ. Let it be our business to be faithful in giving, faithful in serving our neighbors. And let it be his business to give us what we need to serve those in need: whether it be a permanent temple and a school to teach his word, or food pantry to feed the hungry—or whatever else he has in mind.
You know the rest of the story—how that the disciples brought their food to Christ, and he blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them to give to the crowd…how everyone ate his fill and still there were twelve baskets left behind.
Still today the Lord multiplies the loaves. We offer him bread and wine, his gifts mingled with our labor. And he gives it back to us as his own life-giving body and precious blood. He feeds our bodies, he forgives our sins, he fills us with his own indestructible life. Give as much as we can, we can never outgive our merciful and man-befriending God.
So let us rise from this place, filled with his gifts, ready to embrace the needs we see around us—to make them our responsibility. Let us bring to him the little we have, with grateful hearts, and learn in our own lives how good the Lord is. Let us be faithful with the things of this passing life, so that we may receive a rich reward in his kingdom, which has no end. Amen.

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