Sunday, August 6, 2017

More than enough

Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus, the disciples, and the crowds have been at a days-long preaching and healing session. They are tired, in need of rest, in need of some time away from the crowds. Jesus has just learned of the execution – the murder – of John the Baptist. They get into a boat and try to escape, but the crowds follow them along the shore and meet them when they land. There is to be no rest, again.

But instead of sending the crowds away, urging them to come back tomorrow, Jesus gets out of the boat and begins to heal the people. Later that same day, even more exhausted and hungry, the disciples approach Jesus. “It’s late, we are all tired and hungry. The folks are hungry. Let’s send them away to find food.”

Jesus says, “No, I have a better idea. You guys feed them right here. How much food do you have around?” They look in their bags and discover a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. Notice that in Matthew’s version of this story, there is no little boy offering his lunch. Jesus says, “Ah, that will do. Go tell the folks to sit in groups of 100 or 50. And take this food and give it to them.”

The disciples did as they were told. How long, I wonder did it take them to reach all those folks? How did they have enough energy to do that much more?

I remember the latest cruise Mike and I took, with about 5,000 passengers. There were three dining rooms with two seatings, early and late. There were probably 300 servers. They managed to feed us all in 75 minutes for each seating.

I compare those figures with this account of 12 people feeding 5,000. Even with such a simple meal, and if each disciple gave a basket of food to each group of 50 or 100 people, it still would have taken time and energy. So, in addition to feeding people, Jesus also slowed time and boosted the energy of the disciples. … Or, maybe, the disciples numbered 50-100, not just 12. That would have sped up the food service a lot.

However the food was distributed, there were leftovers! Twelve baskets of leftovers! Everyone had their fill. In an age when a large percentage of the population was often hungry, having enough to eat was rare. Eating enough to be full was even more rare.

So, we have several miracles here: the meager amount of food was multiplied to feed thousands of people. The people were fed quickly. And the amount given was so abundant, there were leftovers, which were gathered up to feed more people the next day. I like to think of this and other miracle stories as God-incidences.

… How many of you believe this miraculous feeding really happened? Lots of people try to explain away the miracle of this story.

·         Often the skeptics say, there were lots fewer people, so maybe 50, or 500, instead of 5000 plus women and children.
·         They say everyone had a little food and shared it. The real miracle was that people shared with each other.

But, I believe this was a real miracle, that Jesus took a little bit of food and multiplied it. If Jesus was present at the creation of all that is, he can multiply a little food and give hungry people what they need.

I also know that it took people to do the actual handing out of food. The bread and fish did not suddenly appear on picnic blankets in front of the crowd. The disciples had to distribute it.

… We tend to believe that miracles like we see in the Bible don’t happen in our day. But, congregations and organizations feed thousands of people in this area every day. The people who receive the food and personal supplies believe they have been given a miracle.

While I was in seminary and wondering how to pay the bills, several times I received a miraculous gift – a check from some women who wanted to say they were proud of me. Perhaps that has happened to you, too, a miraculous appearance of money or some other need suddenly fulfilled. Let’s not discount those times as coincidence. They are more, they are God-incidences.

For people who live in less-developed parts of the world, everything they have is a gift from God. Lutheran World Relief works hard to make their lives better. One way is through the quilt project. LWR takes the quilts we make and give them to people who have little. The quilts are used as blankets, as sleeping mats, as tents, as wraps to hold a baby on Mom’s back. In 2016, over 300,000 quilts were distributed in Africa, Asia, and South America.

Here is a video is about two women and the quilt that ties them together. The video itself simply shows scenes from their lives without dialog. Notice how they do many of the same things, but in different ways.

Ndenaghafumwa Umburi lives in Tanzania and is the mother of five grown children and a disabled son. She and her husband have a small farm on Mt. Kilimanjaro. … Ellie Ramsay lives near Baltimore, Maryland, and is an active member of her church and a dedicated LWR quilter. She and her husband also have five grown children.

(Show video)

For Ndenaghafumwa and her family, the quilts are a miracle that women like Ellie and her friends made happen. Miracles happen, but God needs us to be the able-bodied assistants.

I wonder how St John can make miracles happen. I know the teachers and students at Harbour View Elementary appreciate the gifts we have collected for them. And the Christmas Angel Tree families must feel like the gifts are miracles.

Since the gospel story is about feeding people, I ask this question: Can we feed hungry people? Is there a desire at St John to help feed the people in this area by collecting food for a food pantry at another church? Can we make small miracles happen for hungry people?

Please pray with me. Merciful God, you fed the thousands in Galilee with an abundance of food. Remind us that with you, there is no limit to what we can do. Fill us with so much we have no choice but to share it. Amen