Sermon  for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 
(Proper 13)

Text: Matthew 14:19-21
He ordered the people to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left over. The number of men who ate was about five thousand, not counting the women and children.

Divine abundance

Someone once had the bright idea of writing a book containing Godís personal diary. At one point in this diary God gives his thoughts on abortion and this is what he supposedly wrote, "Iím against it (abortion). Iím for babies, lots of babies, all colours and sizes and shapes. I like babies. I know that there are some who worry about there being too many of them and what will become of them in the future. But I like them. I want more of everything. Iím against limiting anything."

And looking at our text today, we read of Jesus feeding more than 5,000 people. There really does seem to be something in the idea that God tends toward excess, extravagance and exuberant abundance. It seems he doesnít know when to stop giving.

We are told that a huge crowd followed Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus probably wanted to get a breather, a vacation from all those hurting people who were pressing in upon him. But thatís not what he got. Even out in the desert, there were thousands of people, all looking for his help. Jesus had compassion on them and healed them.

It grew late. The disciples urged Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can buy something to eat. Jesus tells the disciples to provide food.
"Where in the world do you expect us to get enough to feed all these people? There must be more than five thousand of them out there."

They only have a couple of fish and a few loaves. But Jesus blesses what they have and it is enough. Everyone eats. They werenít given a light snack either. We are told that everyone ate enough to feel full. Can you imagine how much bread and fish it would take to fill more than 5,000 people, perhaps 10,000 may be like it? But thereís more. There are twelve baskets full of food left over. Food just overflows everywhere.

All this takes place in the wilderness, a deserted lifeless place, and yet the desert becomes a place of plenty. There is healing for all those people with illnesses of every kind and who had followed Jesus to this barren place because of their need. There is food galore for the hungry thousands. They sit and eat, and feel as if they had eaten a home cooked meal and were satisfied. There are even leftovers.

Iím sure when the early Christians read Matthewís Gospel, this extravagant generosity of Jesus would have reminded them of the way God cared for his people as they wandered in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Every morning a flaky substance called manna was on the ground and from this they could make enough bread to satisfy the whole family. In the evening, quails would rest near the camp and they were caught and eaten. They could collect as much as they desired to meet the needs of that particular day. Even though they too were in a lonely and deserted place, the people of Israel had plenty to eat.

In addition, the early readers of Matthewís Gospel would have pricked up their ears when they heard that Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, broke them and gave them to his disciples who then gave it to the people. Isnít that what Jesus did at the Last Supper on the night before he died. They remembered how the extravagant and overgenerous love of God led to the death of his Son on a cruel cross. They remembered the way God still extravagantly offered his love and forgiveness to them even though they were sinners and didnít deserve it. He gave them healing and strength for body and soul as they ate and drank in Holy Communion.

Nothing has changed since that day in the wilderness when so many were fed. God is still generous and lavishing his love on us, providing for all our physical needs. Next week is our Thanksgiving Service and we will especially focus on the way God has so excessively blessed us with such a good life here in Australia. What do we have to complain about? Yet we still find something to gripe about. Not enough of this or too much of that.

If we have been made in the image of God, then why arenít we more like God Ė extravagantly generous, excessively concerned about the needs of others, and lavish with what we have to help others?

Our sinful nature has taken control. We have got to grab, hoard, pile up, accumulate and guard. A child quickly learns to say, "Itís mine and you canít have it." We forget that everything comes from God's hand. And the text today reminds us that God has not been stingy in the way he has provided for all of our physical needs. Neither has he been tight-fisted and sparing with the way he has dealt with our spiritual problems. What more can he give than his own Son to deal with our selfishness,
our inconsiderate behaviour,
our greediness,
our unhealthy craving for wealth and leisure,
our uncaring attitude toward those who are facing hard times,
our ingratitude to God for his generosity.
Jesus lavishly and abundantly has forgiven all of our sin.

We are well off, but what about those places around the world where it seems that they could do with a good deal of God's generosity to overcome hunger and a lack of the basic things required for survival.

In the Courier Mail on Wednesday there was an article headed African famine stalks millions and with it a photo of a starving child crying in pain. In seven countries across southern African 14 million people face starvation. The famine has just started with the loss of this yearís crops because of drought. The story is told of a family whose only food was pumpkin leaves. None of us could imagine eating pumpkin leaves. In some places like Zimbabwe, once regarded as "the bread basket of Africa", the crisis has been made worse because of the seizure of farms and the collapse of the agricultural industry. There too, ordinary men and women and children will suffer a severe shortage because of bad management by the political leaders. In Malawi, the situation has been made worse by an incompetent government selling off the reserve stockpile of grain last year, and so people are suffering.

What has happened? Has God fallen asleep on the job and forgotten to be excessive in his generosity toward them? What about that baby whose photo appeared in the paper? Most likely that child has already died of malnutrition. Where is Jesus who can make a small meal feed thousands? Why doesnít God feed the starving in the same way he fed the hungry people of Israel in the wilderness?

We can ask questions like this until the cows come home, but it doesnít help those people one bit. But Jesus does give us some instructions on how we should deal with a situation like this. In Matthew 25 he talks about
giving food to those who are hungry,
a drink to those who are thirst,
welcoming the stranger,
giving clothes to the naked,
taking care of the sick,
and visiting those in prison.
He concludes,
"Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me" (Matt 25:40).

Jesus firmly places on our shoulders the responsibility to take care of those who for whatever reason are suffering. Yes, the leaders in those countries have been careless and thoughtless; the farming practices in some places leave the people open to crop loss; governments have spent more money on civil wars than on caring for their people. It would be easy for us to say, "It serves them right", and walk away.

Jesus could have quite easily used that argument out there in the wilderness when all those people foolishly followed him without making provision for the journey. But he didnít. And itís interesting to note what he says when the disciples point out the dilemma of no food and so many people. "You yourselves, go and give them something to eat." He places the responsibility fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the disciples. Jesus then generously supplies the food so that the disciples could be generous toward the hungry people. We read, "He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  Everyone ate and had enough." (Matt 14:19-20).

God has been generous to us so that we can be generous to others. He has been exceedingly generous toward us so that we take what we have and recklessly share it, give it away, throw it away on the hungry and the poor. By the way, when I say hungry and poor I include not only those who need a good meal and somewhere to live, but also those who are hungry for the Word of God, those who poor because they do not know Christ. And we know all too well that right here in our own country there is a life threatening poverty Ė God's generous love and grace is not known.

Finally, what can you do to help alleviate the hunger and poverty in our world?

  1. Acknowledge that God has truly been wonderful to you and thank him for his goodness. There may be things that you would like to see better in your life, better health, better relationships, but in spite of these Iím sure you are able to thank God for his excessive generosity to you.
  2. Be aware of those people who need help. Ask God to make you sensitive to their needs. Some people have physical needs, others emotional, and others spiritual needs.
  3. Ask God to give you a generous heart. As I said this generosity goes against our human nature, so we need the help of God's Spirit.
  4. Decide to help and determine how you can help. Some people can be helped immediately and directly. Some require the combined resources of many people which may mean responding to an appeal or giving on the offering plate.

Let me conclude with Paulís words from 2 Corinthians, "God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause" (9:8). May God give each of us a renewed gratitude for his overflowing generosity and help us to be generous in the same way to others.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
4th August, 2002

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