Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 13)

Text Matthew 14:15-21 (see below)

Even the little things

Have you heard a rousing sermon or been involved in an inspiring Bible study that has challenged you to action as a disciple only to find yourself saying at the end, "That's all very fine, but I don't have the time, or the skills, or even the money to be able to do anything more than I am now". Maybe youíve added, "I am ashamed of how little Iím able to contribute."
If Jesusí call and challenge to be a disciple has resulted in you becoming confused and frustrated, then our Gospel lesson today is speaking to you. Let me read a section of it again.

The disciples came to Jesus and said, "It is very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the village to buy food for themselves.
"They don't have to leave", answered Jesus. "You yourselves give them something to eat!"
"All we have here are five loaves and two fish", they replied. "Then bring them here to me", Jesus said.
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 people. Everyone ate and had enough. (
Matt 14:15-21 GNB).

This story from the Gospels is a familiar one. You might be interested in this piece of trivia, this miracle story is the only one repeated in all four Gospels. Let's see what it is saying to us today.

Jesus had just heard about the brutal and unjust execution of John Baptist. John and Jesus had family connections, John had prepared the way for Jesus to begin his ministry through his no nonsense preaching and he had baptised Jesus in the River Jordan. It is understandable that Jesus was upset and wanted to be alone for awhile to grieve but it was not to be. People followed him. And even though Jesus could have turned them away because of his own personal need we are told he had compassion on this vast crowd of people and immediately began to heal those who were sick.

In fact, he is so busy dealing with the needs of others that he loses track of the time. His disciples remind him that it is late and they are a long way from any villages where such a large crowd might be able to buy food. Out of concern for the crowd, they urge Jesus, "The hour is late.... Send the people away".

The disciples had a problem; they took their problem to Jesus.
Isn't that what we do?
When we have a problem we take it to Jesus in prayer?
We pray for our congregation and the spread of God's Word in the hearts and lives of people both inside and outside the congregation.
We take to Jesus our requests for those who are sick, those who are in public office, you name it, when we have a problem, like the disciples, we go to Jesus.

But now came Jesusí surprise answer. He said to his disciples, "You yourselves give them something to eat!" The gospel writers donít describe the tone of voice that Jesus used when he spoke these words, but the written text gives us a clue about how Jesus would have said this. There is an emphasis on the word you. You give them something to eat. This is not suggestion but a command.

What a shock! Here is Mr Compassion who has compassion for everyone else, but has no compassion for his disciples. "You give them something to eat" sounds harsh and insensitive. How can the disciples do this? Where are they going to get the resources at this late hour in this lonely place to carry this out, that's why they went to Jesus in the first place? Fancy Jesus putting it back on to them to find enough food to feed this vast crowd of people. Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples for a minute and just imagine what your reaction would be if Jesus said to you, "You give them something to eat!" And remember we're talking about providing a meal for at least five thousand people Ė it could have been as many as ten thousand. No small task indeed.

Can you hear yourself here? Can you hear Jesusí response?
Lord Jesus, so and so is sick.... You go and give comfort.
Lord Jesus, send more enthusiastic workers to support the work of our congregation..... You go and give your time and energy.
Lord Jesus, build up the faith of our young people.... You go and give them encouragement and support.
Jesus, inspire people to give more to the work of the church... You go and be generous and supportive of your congregation.

Those first disciples protested, "We have nothing here ...." We just can't. They looked into that basket and there isn't much there - a few loaves, a couple of cold fish. They exclaim: We don't have much to offer! We can't do the impossible! We just can't!

And we join them with our protests. "We just can't. We don't have much to offer. We have so little time to give. We have so few skills that can be of any use in the ministry of the church. Our financial resources are so meagre that we can't do anything. What difference will the little bit I have to offer make when the task is so big?
We would like to do more but we just can't!
Lord, you are asking too much of us! We can't do the impossible. We just can't!"

It follows that because we have so little we have every reason to do nothing, or as little as possible.

And then comes the next surprise in our text. Jesus commands, "Bring those few loaves and two fish here to me!" And taking charge, gave thanks to God, then offered the food to the crowd - and wonder of wonders, there was enough, in fact this wasn't just a snack, everyone was completely satisfied and there was even food left over.

Let's just take note of what happens in this whole event. There is a movement here that you and I need to closely follow.
Firstly, there is the recognition of the vast human need for food in that lonely out of the way place that the weary and empty-handed disciples bring to Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus' sharp demand, "You give them something to eat",
and then finally, his multiplication of the little bit they had to the point where there was more than enough to meet the need.

This was a valuable lesson for the disciples. When Jesus called them to serve, he would not leave them high and dry to do the impossible. They could be confident that Jesus would multiply their small efforts to do great things.

You yourselves give them something to eat?

So you see, Jesusí seemingly harsh and impossible demand is, in reality, a great vote of confidence in you and me. He is saying to each of us, "Go ahead. You give them something to eat. It will be enough. I promise you. I will bless you and what you do. It will be enough".

Jesus is still saying to each one of us, "You yourselves go....".
You go and offer a word of encouragement or visit the lonely and the sick;
you go speak a word of forgiveness, or pray with the troubled;
you go share God's Word of hope and comfort with someone who is troubled and burdened.
You go and give guidance to the youth or spend some time getting to know the joys and sorrows of the elderly.
You go and support the ministry God has given us as a congregation using whatever skills and money are at your disposal no matter how small that might seem compared to the enormity of the task ahead.

There are no exemptions because of age or health or status or financial position. Even when there is only a little that we can genuinely offer, that is all Jesus is asking. Donít focus on the size of the task and the small amount you have to offer or look for easy solutions but focus on what you can do to help. Jesus is asking us to trust him. He can use our "five loaves and two fish" and do great things.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that the ministry of the church is the pastor's job, or those whom we have elected as leaders. That what the disciples thought. They went to Jesus expecting him to fix things. Instead Jesus passed the problem back to them saying, "You go and fix it". Jesus calls and challenges each one of us, "You go!"

We may shake our heads as we look at how little we have to offer in the face of the important ministry Jesus puts before us but letís remember this: your short visit, your small kindness, your few words of encouragement, the short time that you give to someone in need, are all multiplied by our Lord to bring great blessing to those who need your care and concern.

Maybe you have been on the receiving end of some small kindness. It may not have been much - just a few words, or a kind deed, or time spent to help you, and see how the Lord multiplies the blessing. What a difference that made to your whole life. I thank God that there are people who are willing to let God use the small things they are able to do and say, and make a difference in my life. God uses small things to great effect, as we see in this miracle story today.

Today Jesus is challenging us to use what we've got, no matter how little or inadequate we might think it is. By his grace he takes what we have and blesses it, and miracle of miracles, it is enough.

That day out there in that lonely place there was enough to satisfy the hunger of a vast crowd. Today he satisfies the needs of those around us through just the small things we do to help - a kind word, a word of encouragement, a prayer, just being there, helping out, making a casserole, mowing a lawn, supporting your congregation, giving generously and we could go on.

We have every reason to praise the Lord because he performs a miracle and our small word or action bring about unbelievable results. We may not always see the results but be assured he uses Ďthe five loaves and two fishí we have to offer and does great things.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
3rd August 2008

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