Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bread, Fish and an Act of God

Below is the full text of the message for tomorrow morning. I post it because I am hopeful that it spark a conversation in our congregation and among friends on what this passage has to say about how we respond to those who are hungry and hurting in our midst and across the globe.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Grace and Peace, Tom O

“Bread, Fish and an Act of God”

Matthew 14:13-21 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 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." 16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18 And he said, "Bring them here to me." 19 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. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. NRSV

I. Introduction
This morning’s worship service invites us into the midst of two meals that serve as testimonies to the heart of Christ. The first meal is bread and wine and is offered as an act of symbolic theology. It is an act of remembrance – a meal that becomes a symbol of the great grace gift found in the body and the blood of Jesus. The second meal is bound in scripture. It is a story that many have heard from childhood. I has been told and retold so many times that I hesitate bring into a Sunday morning worship experience. It is the story of the feeding of five thousand. But this story deserves our attention because there are some vital issues that we miss when this great story is left in the way it is shared with children. So, I invite you to wander with me into scripture as we take a grown up look at a story of bread, fish, and an act of God.

II. A Heart of Compassion Vs.13-16
The story begins with Jesus alone. He had just heard that his cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod at the whim of his daughter. John’s followers had buried him and raced to tell Jesus. The news was hard and hard to hear. Jesus took a small boat and tried to find a deserted place where he could be by himself. The people in that region also heard the news. The report that John had died sparked something within them. Verse 13 tells us; But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. Jesus had every reason to push further away, to claim time for himself. But instead he went ashore he had compassion on them and cured the sick among them. Compassion - I think my understanding of this word changed during language school in Thailand. The Thailand language claims two distinct terms to deal with this idea. One is hen-jai – or my heart sees and understands. I think this is the kind of feeling we most often claim as a culture – we see, we try to understand – but it is best if we can find a way to keep those in pain or desperation at arms length. If they get too close – they might rub off on us. But there is a second word the Thai language claims – I think it better captures the kind of emotion – the kind of heart – we see in Jesus. That term is naam-jai – or heart cries with you and for you. In a moment when Jesus had every right to focus on himself, he saw the pain in the crowd and dove in. He immersed himself into their sweat and agony.

Soon the day began to give way to evening. The disciples began to worry. There were people as far as you could see and they knew they would be getting hungry. They came up with a plan and took it to Jesus. The plan, let’s stop helping them and send them into the villages in the area so they could buy food. Jesus had another plan. It was remarkable – unbelievable – an act of grand scale. Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."

It is this kind of heart that we hear in “for God so love the world he gave his only Son” that calls us to the table of bread and wine. It is the kind of heart that will demand an act of God.

III. A Heart of Doubt Vs. 17
I can only imagine the look on the disciples faces. Did Jesus not realize how MANY people were around them? Did Jesus not realize how few resources they had at hand? Did Jesus not realize how isolated they were from a ready resources for food. No matter how they looked at it the math simply did not work. Jesus’ words must have rung in their ears; "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They understood Jesus’ heart for the people, but they did not think he understood what he was asking of them. I understand their reaction. I can hear them say that it is easier said then done. How do you feed so many hungry people? One of the places where remnants of a sense of helplessness are burned in my mind and still tug at my heart is the images of hungry children I have seen across the globe. In cities as diverse as Bangkok and Moscow, New York and Rio de Janeiro, Beijing and Oklahoma City, the complexion of the children were different, but the look of desperation was the same. How do you feed so many hungry people? This morning we have commissioned one who seeks to be the hands of Christ among the hurting children in Peru. Will we stand with him?

So, with a heart of doubt they brought the picture of their reality to Jesus. They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." John’s account tells us that the loaves and the fishes we the lunch of a lad among the crowd. I believe they wanted Jesus to see how ridiculous – how comical – how impossible – his request was. They had claimed a theology of scarcity – of limitations – based only on what they could see, what they had in their hands, what they could do on their own. It seems that for a moment they had forgotten who they were with. What they were about to learn is that Jesus did not expect them to have all the answers, what he wanted from them was faithful obedience.

IV. A Demand for Obedience Vs. 18
Jesus did not get into a long conversation with them. In a single sentence he commanded; "Bring them here to me." The disciples’ worldview was limited to what they could accomplish on their own. They were wrong! Their task was not to argue or try to figure it out themselves. Their task was to be obedient. He wanted them to understand that it was not enough to just know about those that were hungry or hurting – they need to get their hands dirty and their hearts broken.

V. An Act of God Vs.19-21
The stage was set for the unthinkable…the disciples and the crowd was about to witness an act of God. Hear again verses 19-21. 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. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

It is interesting how many of the scholars want to spend energy trying to decide the head count. Is it the five thousand? Is it the three thousand mentioned elsewhere in scripture? How many women were there? How many children? To be honest this is the least significant part of the story. The disciples witnessed something remarkable. They could tell you that the crowd was so large that they could not imagine feeding them. They could tell you that there were men, women, and children almost as far as they could see. No one from Disney was there to organize people into ever moving lines – no one was there with a clicker counting people as they took their meal. What they could tell you with absolute certainty was that they witnessed an act of God where five loaves and two fish were multiplied over and over again until everyone had enough to eat and there were some serious leftovers. Jesus demonstrated a theology of abundance where it is not about the math, but about an understanding that the compassion and power of God can change everything.

Have you ever experienced a moment where the math did not work but God moved anyway? How bold was it for Dr. Holcomb to challenge this church to build an education building in the midst of the Great Depression? How much bolder was it when you realize the intended purpose for the new building was to enhance the comfort of the church, but to reach out to young people whose lives and problems broke his heart?[1] The math didn’t work – until it did, with dollars to spare. In our season as missionaries in Thailand we dreamed of launching a training center, but the math did not work, until it did by an act of God. Are we ready to trust God enough that we will be obedient and faithful even when we are not sure how it will all work out? Are we willing to try grand things for God that requires an act of God? Are we willing to get our hands dirty and our hearts broken like our youth did in Cohoma, Mississippi? Are we willing to rub shoulders and share our lives with those in pain and agony?

VI. Conclusion
We tell our children the story of how God used a lad’s lunch to feed a huge crowd. If we leave it there then it is a nice story – even a fun story. But when we realize that Jesus used that moment to teach his disciple (and us) a compassion that calls us into close quarters with those who suffer – the story becomes a grown up challenge. When we realize that Jesus uses this moment to teach his disciples (and us) obedience – even when the math does not work – the story becomes a grown up challenge.

This morning’s worship service invites us into the midst of two meals that serve as testimonies to the heart of Christ. Bread and wine beckons us to remember the great grace gift of the body and blood of Jesus. Bread, fish, and an act of God beckon us to rediscover a heart of compassion and recommit to a life of obedience to the voice of God that carries us into a world of hunger and pain. The first meal reminds us of the broken Christ, broken that we might have life. The second meal beckons us to claim a broken heart for those who hunger – in body and in spirit.

May we be ready to get our hands dirty.

May we bring them to Jesus, who is the Bread of Life. Amen.


[1] Blackburn, Bob and Turner, Alvin O., First Family: A Centennial History of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, (SafeSport Publishing: OKC, OK, 1990), pp.64-65.

No comments: