Sermon #195 St. James the Less #102 8/2/20
Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The Sea of Galilee
Imagine with me for a moment that we are on the bank of the Sea of Galilee. Now this lake we are looking at is a fairly good size, but it can be deceiving that its name is the “Sea” of Galilee.
It is most definitely a lake, but there are so few words in Hebrew for bodies of water that the words “sea” and “lake” can be used interchangeably. It’s nowhere close to being the size of one of the Great Lakes or anything like that.
In total, what you and I are looking at is a lake 13 miles long (which is roughly the distance between here and the airport) and 8 miles wide, and though it may be a little hazy in the distance, we can vaguely see the other end of the lake.
Fishing villages dot the shoreline around this beautiful body of water. And the landscape is green with farmland around the lake but increases in elevation the further we go away from the water. Just a few hundred yards from the shoreline the hills around the lake start going further up until they become quite steep.
This serene lake is nestled in a natural bowl with these steep hills surrounding it from almost every side. You would get the same effect if you cusp your hands to hold water.
The lake can be so peaceful in the evening with the last fishermen coming in around sunset. Though there are small bustling villages that are home to families who’ve spent generations along this body of water, there are alsomany quiet places away from the hustle and bustle. The further up the hills you go, away from the water, the quieter it’ll be.
Feeding the 5,000
This is the scene we are given in our gospel lesson this morning. Quite a substantial crowd, numbering well over 5,000 men, women, and children have spent the evening along the side of one of these quiet hills around the lake being healed and taught by a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth.
Though there is no doubt Jesus is doing some amazing things for these people, his disciples are quite practical. The sun is setting, the villages are a good twenty- or thirty-minutes away by foot, and it doesn’t look like there’ll be a full moon out which means it could be tricky walking the narrow paths with minimal light.
The disciples come to Jesus tired and probably a little hungry (maybe even hangry) themselves when they give their rabbi a stern command, “Send the crowds away so they can go buy food before it gets too dark.” They don’t even preface this with, “Lord, you might want to think about sending them away,” or “Hi, rabbi we don’t mean to disturb you but it’s getting late…”
Though all of this spiritual stuff is great—they have seen a number of healings in the past few hours—but they need to remind Jesus about the people’s material needs. It’s supper time and so we need to call it a day and get back home.
Though the disciples are worried that Jesus has been so engrossed in his ministry that he has forgotten the time, he seems keenly aware that the crowds will need food soon, but they won’t need to go home to receive a good meal.
Jesus’ response is so far from any form of airy spirituality. He doesn’t respond, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry,” or “The water I give, you will never thirst again.”
He doesn’t go into an hour-long teaching, he doesn’t tell them the merits of fasting, or that they should just pray for those who hunger; rather, he says, “They don’t need to go home; you give them something to eat.”
And so they scrounge up what little they have, but it’s absurd to think that even one or two families could be satisfied with five loaves and two fish, but Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, and that blessing is multiplied so that every single person is not only fed, but is satisfied.
There are some great lessons in this short passage. First off, Jesus shows us that he is Lord even of our physical needs. We see that Jesus doesn’t just care about our prayer life or simply “spiritual things,” but he also cares for, and is attentive to, our physical needs—our aches and pains, and even our growling stomach.
Secondly, we see that there is no impractical scheme to feed the masses. No fundraisers or looking to a larger organization to fix the problem. The disciples simply give to Jesus what they have, and he not only makes do with it, but he blesses it into abundance; so much so that there are 12 baskets of leftovers.
Thirdly, there is no grand teaching about ending world hunger. He doesn’t put that kind of pressure on his twelve helpless disciples. Instead he simply says, “Feed the people around you. The ones right in front of you.” Better yet, he might be saying to all of us, “Feed your 5,000.”
If that’s what Jesus is saying to us, then let’s put his very practical command to feed the hungry into perspective. There are roughly 815 million people in the world who suffer chronic undernourishment, that’s a little over 10% of the world’s population (FAO).
Around 37 million Americans struggle with hunger according to one 2018 report, but due to the pandemic more than 54 million may experience food insecurity. Thirteen percent of Middle Tennesseans are food insecure, and just over 20,000 children alone in Davidson County suffer from food insecurity (Feeding America).
A lack of food for families, especially the kind that are healthy and nutritious, is not only a problem in other parts of the world, but here in our own city.
Jesus shows us in this passage that we’re not to just pray for the hungry, but we are to feed the hungry. Prayer is great, but we should hear our Lord’s words echoing in our own ears, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus doesn’t get more practical than right here.
The biblical scholar Dale Bruner summarizes our passage like this: “To help a needy world, Jesus uses what the church has in its hands and gives to him to multiply for the service of the world” (72).
Our Mission Statement
We are a small church, and we could use that as an excuse, but God is not asking us to end world hunger, he’s simply asking us to care for those around us—to minister to the needs of our 5,000.
This command by Jesus is less about our inabilities and inefficiencies as individuals or communities—we could come up with a dozen excuses for why we can’t do something impactful—but this story is all about the God of abundance.
Clearly God has proven that he can do a lot with a little.
What Jesus shows us from our reading is that he is a God who has the ability to bless abundantly. Whether we have much or little to give, God will bless it, and will ultimately use it to his glory.
As a church community we have shown our belief in a God of abundance through our mission statement which says that we want to be a community that “boldly proclaims the Gospel and joyfully shares God’s abundance.”
We want to joyfully share what God has already given to us. We have been blessed by God and we want to share that blessing with others.
Where you and I principally meet this God of abundance week after week is through the Holy Eucharist. We are physically fed with the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, so that we can then go out into the world and feed God’s people. A major way that Jesus feeds the world is through this holy meal every Sunday.
Though it won’t fill our stomach, it has the ability to satisfy us on a much deeper level. It is so important that we come to be fed on a regular basis, but it doesn’t end there. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that we may be the Body of Christ in the world.
Here at St. James the Less we are trying to live into Jesus’ command to feed our neighbors and to be his Body in the world. We have a number of opportunities to give food to those around us.
Our once a month partnership with City Road Methodist helps put meals together for people in Madison, they do so much of the work, we simply help out. Our partnership with Holy Trinity’s Church in the Yard, which will happen at the end of this month, is way to feed folks living in downtown Nashville. And our growing relationship with Christian Cooperative Ministry is yet another way to help feed and clothe our neighbors.
We don’t need a massive budget or more people or a larger facility to carry out Jesus’ command. We have all that we need right here to do God’s will, and that includes you.
Don’t let the excuses creep in. God is working through you and wants to continue to work through you in amazing ways. You don’t have to board any planes and travel to a foreign land, you just need to be willing and ready for God to use you in your hometown, in your modern-day version of fishing village around the Sea of Galilee.
Whatever gifts we have, no matter how ordinary or mundane they may seem, we simply need to offer them to God so that he will multiply it for the service of our community, the world, and ultimately his glorious kingdom.
So my friends, what’s stopping us?
9th Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 13. Year A. Mt 14:13-21. Bruner’s Matthew Vol. 2. Picture here.
https://www.worldhunger.org/world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/#:~:text=on%20this%20section-,Number%20of%20hungry%20people%20in%20the%20world,lower%2Dmiddle%2Dincome%20countries. https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20USDA's%20latest,uncertain%20access%20to%20enough%20food. https://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2018/child/tennessee/county/davidson