Sunday, July 31, 2011

7th Sunday after Pentecost - July 31, 2011

I don’t want to beat around the bush too much this morning.  The way I see it, the gospel lesson about the Feeding of the 5,000 is fundamentally about two related ideas.  Jesus gives.  And we receive.  And I’ll say it again.  Jesus gives.  And we receive.

So here is how it plays out.  Jesus has just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been murdered in particularly gruesome fashion by Herod.  Jesus had been teaching the crowds, but he gets in a boat and leaves to go to a deserted place in order to spend some time alone.  I think we can all understand this very human impulse.  We call it grief.  It doesn’t work out that way, though. 

When he lands at the deserted place, the crowd of people are there, having followed along the shoreline.  You might expect Jesus to be a little peeved about the situation, “Leave me be.  I need some time alone.”  But he says no such thing.  Instead we hear that “Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

Jesus, the one who was mourning, the one who himself needed compassion, is the one who has compassion on the crowd.  He has compassion on them and he heals them.  He gives.  And they receive. 

This goes on for quite some time, apparently.  There are more than 5,000 of them, after all.  And Jesus gives and gives and gives.  And the crowd receives and receives and receives.  And finally, evening time is coming along; supper time is coming along.

His disciples speak up and tell Jesus that it’s time for all these folks to go back to town so that they can rustle up something to eat before it gets too late.  And then Jesus says something that really makes no sense at all.  “They need not go away; YOU give them something to eat.”  You give.

Now this would seem to run contrary to one of the two main points with which I started the sermon: Jesus gives.  And we receive.  It seems that in this instance, Jesus is telling the disciples to give.  So what gives?

Well, what happens after this command?  The disciples are able to cobble together all of 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish before they come to the end of their abilities.  That is all of the food that they are able to produce.  It turns out that their resources are very small.   This is a problem.  It seems that they cannot do what they have been told to do.  They cannot give the crowd enough to eat, because they do not have it.

But the question I have is this: What is the actual problem?  Is it that the disciples weren’t able to produce enough food to feed everyone?  No, I do not think that this is the problem.  

The problem is that the disciples have failed to understand the nature of giving.  When they look inside themselves for something to give, they find very little.  When they look only towards their own resources, they have next to nothing to give, and the nothing that they have quickly runs out.  The disciples do not understand giving.  They do not understand the truth: that it is Jesus who gives and we who receive.  Because he commanded it, the disciples assumed that they must become the givers, that they must produce something or find something in order to give it.  It does not work this way.  For it is Jesus who gives.  And we receive.

So how then, are they going to be able feed the crowd?  Is Jesus mocking his disciples when he tells them to do something that they cannot do?  No, he is not mocking them.  He is teaching them.  He is teaching them that it is He who gives and they who receive.  And in order for the disciples to give, they must receive; for it is not they who give, but Jesus who gives. 

So Jesus takes the disciples’ nothing (the 5 loaves of bread and the 2 fish) and he gives them an abundance.  And he gives the crowd this abundance THROUGH the disciples.  Five thousand and more are fed that evening not because the disciples dig deep and give what they can, not because the disciples have inspired people to share, but because Jesus Christ, miraculously and powerfully, gives through them.  Jesus gives.  They receive. 

And what of us?  How do these things work today?  It is still our God who gives richly and abundantly.  And it is we who receive.  But aren’t we supposed to give?  Aren’t we commanded to give?  Why am I avoiding saying that?  Because I wish to proclaim something to you this morning.  And I’m going to use something that the Apostle Paul once wrote in order to say it.  This is what he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  He was saying that the life that was in him, the righteousness that was in him, was not his own; but it was Jesus Christ. 

In just the same way I say to you, “It is no longer I who give, but Jesus Christ who gives through me.”  For this is the lesson from our gospel this morning.  Though the disciples were the ones who handed out the bread; it was Jesus Christ himself who was giving.  He was giving through them.  And so it is that he gives through us too.

So receive this blessing in his name:
May you receive until your cup overflows.  And may God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit - bless your neighbors through you.

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