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August 6, 2023

10th Sunday After Pentecost

Isaiah 55:1-5

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:13-21

Lectionary 18

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you

from the one who does the most with next to nothing. Amen

When we join Jesus today in the gospel

he is going through a rough patch

It all started out well,

preaching, teaching and healing the crowds who have loved him,

but it’s a lot

the crowds are always there

there is always someone who needs something from him

and then he hears the news of the death of John the Baptist,

The one who started to gather the crowds,

The one who prepared the way

The one who baptized him and was present when the Spirit came upon him


beheaded in prison by Herod

Jesus is shaken by this

he needs some time alone to grieve and pray

So “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.”

It seems like Jesus only gets the time in the boat to himself

because we are told that “when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd”

and though we know that Jesus is tired and sad and needing time to pray

when he saw the crowds that greeted him

“he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”

Now I think we tend to undervalue

the strength of the emotion we label compassion

But the Greek makes clear that this is such a strong emotion

There is a physical component to it

What Jesus feels is a visceral, gut wrenching reaction to the crowds,

he feels their pain and need in his body

and he responds to their need with the care they seek.

It’s a big crowd so he’s busy all day.

His disciples have caught up with him

and they’re helping as they usually do

but they are tired too

so when it gets to be evening

they say to Jesus ‘look we’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting late,

The people need to eat, send them away to the nearest villages to get something to eat.’

But Jesus responds “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”

and Jesus blesses and breaks the bread

and gives it to the disciples to distribute

“and all ate and were filled; and they took up what was leftover of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”

Jesus takes the scraps,

what the disciples call ‘nothing’

and turns it into an abundant feast.

When Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowds something to eat,

their immediate reaction is to say ‘we have nothing.’

We tend to exaggerate

when it comes to counting our resources,

we often discount or pass over the last little bits,

the five loaves and two fish,

because we see them as not enough,

‘it might as well be nothing for all the good it will do’

we are programmed to think

and so we don’t immediately count it,

but when we pause and take stock,

and it turns out we do have at least a little bit,

Jesus says, ‘bring them here to me’

and Jesus blesses our leftovers,

then gives them back to us to distribute, to work with.

Did you notice that?

The disciples point out the problem

of the crowds of people needing food

and Jesus turns it right back around to the disciples,

they are capable of fixing the problem that they’ve noticed he seems to say.

This seems impossible to the disciples,

but when they bring what they have to Jesus,

he makes it possible for the disciples to feed the whole crowd.

This is how Jesus works,

Jesus takes what we call ‘nothing’,

our leftovers that we forget about or discount,

creates new life and then hands it back to us to distribute in the world,

and he does it with more than just loaves and fish,

we see this throughout Jesus’ ministry.

He comes as a baby to a people that pretty much count for nothing

in the grand scheme of the Roman Empire,

he grows up in a little town

where people ask if anything good can come from there

and when he starts his ministry

he goes out to the desert where people are so desperate for hope

that they have gathered around a man dressed in camel’s hair

who dines on locusts and wild honey.

After he is baptized

he takes the leftover people,

those whom society counts as nothing

and turns them into disciples,

blesses them and sends them back out into the world

to share the good news with even more people.

He teaches them how to live

so that they bear good fruit,

and when people bring Jesus those who are sick

Jesus heals them,

he even heals based on the request of friends

who come to Jesus and say, I trust that if you just say the word my friend will be healed

and based on this belief Jesus heals.

The leftovers, the next to nothings, the small things

These are Jesus’ favorite things to work with,

last week we heard Jesus’ teaching

about faith the size of a mustard seed

and how the kingdom of heaven is like yeast,

just a little bit will make a whole lot of bread.

Jesus works with the smallest of things

The things that are overlooked or discounted as not enough

in his hands they change the world.

Even knowing this,

we still tend to act like the disciples,

we look around at the enormity of need in our world

and compare it with what little we have,

and we despair of anything changing.

We say things like:

“We barely have any kids in our congregation!”

or “so many of us are so old, how can we do any ministry?”

or “our giving is impossibly low, how can we pay the bills?”

and we wonder if there is much of a future for the congregation

and then almost as an afterthought,

we say ‘but here is what we do have,

we have a big building,

and passionate people who care about Jesus,

who care that people are fed,

and kids get the supplies they need to study,

that seniors have a safe place to go during the day,

we have people who want to make music to praise God,

people who believe and live out the value that all are welcome,

this is what we have,

it’s not much but if you think you can do something with it Jesus here you go’

and God takes what little we have

and uses it to change the world,

even if it is just our small piece of the world,

and the kingdom of God comes near.

Jesus will gladly take the scraps we bring to him

and turn them into new life,

that’s what he does

but we shouldn’t be surprised

when Jesus turns it back around on us

saying “you give them something to eat”

because in Christ, we are more than enough.

And Jesus will take us and turn us into abundant life. Amen

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