Saturday, August 1, 2020

JUSTICE: Give them Food

Feeding the 5,000 in Matthew 14:13-21
There is no justice where there is starvation, whether of heart, mind, body, or soul.

"Jesus said unto them, "They need not depart. Give ye them to eat." Matthew 14:16 KJV

 Sacred meals in the scriptures speak a message all their own. Each is a language of love, and of compassion, and of nourishment, both physical and spiritual.

God invites us, and calls us, and challenges us to make sure that everybody is properly fed with the sustenance they need for body and soul. Many of the great stories that we have, like the one about Zacchaeus, and the one about Mary and Martha and others like that all take place around the table, a dinner table, a meal table.

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on August 2, 2020  
for Briensburg UMC

The Lord's prayer teaches us a very clear, succinct petition. When we pray, say, "Give us this day our daily bread." Whenever we do any kind of a study about that, we understand that that simple verse unpacks into a whole array of meaning, of need for our daily sustenance in every dimension of our lives.

Jesus taught everybody, and healed them, and then he fed them. Then he went and left, and the next day the crowd went around to the other side to find him, and there he continued to teach them about the spiritual food. He wasn't putting one against the other. He was putting them both together.

He talked about the children of Israel going through the desert and God providing the manna and the other daily food for them as they traveled for forty years in the Exodus. Then he said, "I am the bread of life," and he spoke of his own body and blood as food, nourishment.

In Compassion, Jesus Heals

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude,
and was moved with compassion toward them,
and he healed their sick. 

Vs 14 (KJV)

In this passage of scripture about the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus was teaching and saw these people. In the King James Version, it says, "He went forth and saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick." A lot of times we have these different reasons that are given that people think of why Jesus maybe did the miracles that he did, and it really is pretty simple. It says right in the Bible, several of the times when he does the miracle, he uses this very word. He had compassion on them. That's why he did it. The same reason John 3:16 says why  God sent Christ to be our Savior in the first place, because he loved the world.

Sometimes it's hard for us to wrap our minds around how that could be a whole motive, even for God, even for Jesus, because it's difficult for ourselves or in our world sometimes to think of somebody having a pure motive of nothing but love and compassion. Even if we do even begin to think about that, the people that come to mind are extraordinary saints of the faith who've done these just over the top things, because we just can't place ourselves or other people that we're familiar with, either personally or through the news or however we familiarize ourselves, we can't imagine people just having love as their motive.

But for those who do have love as their motive, or shall we say to the extent that we have love as our motive, then these works of Christ, these miracles are a part of our lives, both as recipients and of channels or instruments of the miracles to some degree, pretty much to the degree that compassion is our motive.

The World Expects Everyone to Fend for Themselves

Send the people away
and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.

Vs 15 (GNT)

The world has a different approach. The world expects everybody to take care of themselves, and if they can't make it, then they have the sayings about the strong survive and all that. They kind of have and then people will sometimes make an exception. Well, if they're really bad off, maybe we could help them a little bit or allow somebody else to help them. If not necessarily us, but somebody. We wouldn't get in their way too much, as long as they didn't help them too much.

I think we see that happening right now. We see that with the crisis that we have in our country. We see that tension of people wanting to help more and other people wanting to make sure that people don't get helped more, even though it doesn't take anything away from them. It doesn't take anything off their table. It doesn't take anything away from their power. In fact, it actually would empower them more greatly to do so, and yet that resistance is there of helping people, because that's what the world expects.

In the Good News Translation verse 15 of the 14th chapter of Matthew, that's where we're getting all this today. Jesus said ... or the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Well, you know, it's getting late and people are getting hungry." They said, "Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves."

That's really the expectation. I mean we should try to do what we can for ourselves, and we should encourage others to do that, too. You know, like the saying, if you give a person a fish, then they'll eat for a day. If you teach them how to fish, then they'll eat for the rest of their life, something like that. But they still have to eat today. They still have to eat until they do learn how to fish, until they do learn or ...

Not only, and part of the problem is not just learning how, the people learning how to tend for themselves, but people having the opportunity to do so. If there aren't any jobs, then it's hard to get a job. Then if the jobs pay slave wages, or as we like to say "minimum wage" or worse, as many of our jobs in our country do, because there's a lot of jobs that don't even pay minimum wage. There are a lot of loopholes that prevent, that make it where people don't ... where people get around that and don't have to pay a minimum wage.

Then if the prices all around go up unjustly and the wages go down unjustly, or the jobs are lost unjustly, then that's a matter of justice, isn't it? That's unrighteous. That's unholy. It's flies in the face of everything the gospel of love and redemption is about.

Jesus Expects Us to Take Care of Each Other

“They don't have to leave,” answered Jesus.
“You yourselves give them something to eat!” 
Vs 16 (GNT)

 One of the things that James said that gets people riled up sometimes, but he said that what good does it do if you go and pray for people and say, "Be well, and be warm, and be fed," but then you walk away and don't try to help them in the very least to have those needs be met? It doesn't do any good at all. You're just saying things.

Jesus expects us to take care of each other. This is what Jesus answered to those disciples when they said, "Send them off to take care of themselves." "They don't have to leave," answered Jesus. "You, yourselves, give them something to eat." I think that's a challenge for all time, for all ages in every circumstance. There's no justice where there's starvation.

I know there's that verse that says, "If they will not work, let them not eat," something like that, but I think that's thrown around in a lot of ways that it was never meant to, it was never meant to be used. There's a difference between those that simply refuse to, do not want to work, don't want to support themselves, or be creative, or do anything and the vast great majority of people who want to do more, who want to work, who want to figure out their own way, and have their own freedom, and have their own livelihood, and pursue their career but are held back. That's a form of oppression, a great form of oppression, and it happens all around the world in all kinds of ways and degrees.

Sometimes it's intentional. There's a lot of places in the world where people are intentionally shut out of jobs. There are a lot of places in the world, in our country, where people are intentionally held down to where they can't get a better job and for all kinds of reasons that people come up with for making it where they can't be the one to get the job because of those reasons of those issues of justice that we keep bringing up, that we keep trying to address. Racism, and age, and gender, and sexual orientation, all of these things that hold people back and then you turn around and say, "Why aren't you doing this?" Well, because people put in laws to prevent it. They set up systems to discriminate, and to hold people back, and to shut people out.

But Jesus expects us not to do that. Jesus expects us to take care of each other. That doesn't just come out of this passage. It comes out of ... It doesn't come out of a whole ... It comes out of a whole array of teachings of Jesus and of the other prophets throughout the scriptures. It comes out of the teachings of the apostles.

It comes out of a particular incident that is very similar to this on a very small scale. At the end of Jesus' ministry pretty much, after the resurrection, the disciples went fishing. As they fished all night, they didn't catch anything. They looked up on the shore, and there somebody called from the shore to them, so they looked over there. He said, "Children, have you caught any fish?" They said, "Oh, we've been fishing all night and we haven't caught hardly anything." He said, "Well, throw your net over on the other side," and so they did and they caught all these fish. Peter said, "Oh, it's the Lord," and they took off for shore.

When they got there, Jesus had some bread and fish on the fire, just like this. He had some bread and fish like this feeding of the 5,000 was about. He took the bread and fish, and they shared that together. When they got done eating, then Jesus talked to Peter and he said, three times he asked him, "Do you love me?" Each time, peter assured him forcefully that he did, and each time then Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep."

We've already kind of seen and the whole gospel shows how when Jesus talks about feeding, he's talking about with all kinds of food. He's talking about physical and spiritual. He's talking about our daily bread, our daily needs for sustenance, and so it covers the whole range of human need, that is focused in and symbolized most greatly by the loaf of bread.

When we partake together of the sacrament of holy communion, reflective of the meal of celebrating and remembering Passover, when we share that bread, when we break this bread and drink this cup, then all that comes together with a message. This message. "You give them something to eat."

Our Resources Seem So Scarce

We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.
Vs 17 (KJV)

Well, we, like those disciples, could probably very much relate to what they said, because our resources to carry this out seem so scarce. Now, there's a lot more that we could do if we had a lot more resources with it. Maybe that's part of the hesitation. There's kind of a sense that ... It's natural for us to have, I suppose, a sense that there's just like a finite amount of resources, and so that if we share those, then somebody else loses what somebody else gains. If more people share, then that means less for everybody.

But in this case, there were 5,000 people, but a young person brought what he had and offered it to the disciples for this work of the Lord. The disciples brought it to Jesus, and they said, "We have here but five loaves and two fishes." As they pointed out, that wasn't very much to share between 5,000 people, and really probably more than that according to how they counted people. They counted people.

That's a big thing of justice, too. How do you count people? Who counts? Who does the counting? Who gets counted, and how much does that person count when they get counted? Those are some pretty big issues historically for our country, even now during this census period. That's been another way people have been oppressed, even in our country, for the centuries is just how they did the math, how they do the math.

But anyways, he had this meager amount of food, five ... That wasn't even as much as this last breakfast I was just talking about when Jesus said, "Feed my sheep," when he was fixing bread and loaves on fire for 12 of them, much less for thousands.

Jesus Multiplies Our Offerings to Be More than Enough for All

Everyone ate and had enough.
Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full
of what was left over.
Vs 20 (GNT)

But he took this amount, and the Bible tells us that Jesus blessed this bread, and these fish and blessed them, and they distributed it, began to distribute it to all the people. In the Good News Testament, it says it this way. "Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up 12 baskets full of what was left over."

These leftovers kind of put it out of mind that just a little tiny taste was enough to fill everybody up. It wasn't that. It was that the food was multiplied over and over and over, and everybody was full. Everybody got what they ... It wasn't by just because if they passed the loaf around and they got a little whiff of it, it filled them up miraculously. No. It was because they had enough to eat. They had enough to eat, and everybody eat, and then have 12 baskets full of food leftover.

There's some other stories like that in the Bible of food being multiplied. The point of it is that Jesus multiplies whatever we bring. Whatever we offer, he multiplies that to where there's plenty for all, and more than enough. That's a pretty big, important thought and promise really implicit in this feeding of the 5,000.

Now, when we bring and offer our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness to the Lord, then he multiplies all of that in ways that we can't even begin to imagine, let alone figure out how, and turns it into plenty for everybody. Now, the pie is not finite. It just makes more pies. If one pie's not big enough, then make it two, or five, or however many, 12 baskets full of whatever it takes.

Christ invites us to trust that providence, and act on it, and receive and give accordingly. I'd like to close with this song, not sing it. I'll read it, and it's short, familiar hymn.

Break Thou the Bread of Life,
Dear Lord, to me,
As Thou didst break the loaves
Beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page
I seek Thee, Lord;
My spirit pants for Thee,
O Living Word.

[ Thou art the Bread of Life,
O Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth
That saveth me;
Give me to eat and live
With Thee above;
Teach me to love Thy truth,
For Thou art Love.
Oh, send Thy Spirit, Lord,
Now unto me,
That He may touch my eyes,
And make me see;
Show me the truth concealed
Within Thy Word,
And in Thy Book revealed
I see the Lord. ]

Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord,
To me, to me,
As Thou didst bless the bread
By Galilee;
Then shall all bondage cease,
All fetters fall,
And I shall find my peace,
My All in all.

(by Mary A. Lathbury, 1877)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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