This Sermon was preached the Rev. Nancy Vogele on August 16, 2017, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. The Gospel reading was Matthew 14:13-21 – The Feeding of the 5,000
Have you ever shied away from doing something because you didn’t think you had what it took to do it? I have. Maybe it’s because we don’t think we’re qualified or we don’t think we have enough time or energy. Maybe we say to ourselves, “I don’t have the patience to do that.“ Maybe we don’t think we’re creative enough.
It’s true: none of us is perfect. Some of us lack money. Some of us lack time. Some of us lack expertise…or confidence…or motivation. With all that we’re lacking, we might even asked this morning– since we are in church– how God expects us to live our lives let alone minister in his name.
From our gospel lesson this morning, I’m sure that’s what Jesus’ disciples were thinking towards the end of the day. Jesus and, I presume, his disciples wanted to get away for a while– have a day off. They planned to go to a deserted place where no one would bother them. But true to Murphy’s Law, instead of getting away from the crowds, the crowds simply figured out where they w
ere going and followed Jesus and his disciples to that lonely place. And guess what? Jesus had compassion on them. He spent the whole day curing the sic
k. That’s draining work. Ask any nurse or doctor. All day people coming forward with one disease or another: blindness, leprosy, deafness, lameness, demon possession– you name it, I’m sure Jesus saw that day. And I’m sure his disciples were there helping him.
Now, I don’t know about Jesus, but when evening came, I’m also sure the disciples were exhausted. You could hear
it in their comments. They’d had a hard day at work and they wanted everybody to just go away and fend for themselves for dinner. Besides, they thought they were going to have a quiet day just themselves. They didn’t have enough food for more than 5000 people.
And so, their request to Jesus that he should send the people away to the neighboring villages for food is a very reasonable request.
But Jesus didn’t think so. And that must have been an overwhelming moment for those guys. They’d had i
t. They were spent. And now Jesus wants them to fix dinner…for 5000 plus people…impossible!
Sometime it seems that life is asking us to do the impossible. Somehow we manage to get through the day or through the week or through some ordeal only to realize that there’s more to do. Ugh!
How on earth can I keep going? How, on earth, am I supposed to do that? I’m tired. I didn’t ask for this. Besides, I’m not even qualified!
But life just happens. It doesn’t wait for us to have the time or energy or skills to deal. Sometimes, it just feels like too much.
And because we are in church, you might want to ask God why it seems like he is asking us to do the impossible. Like the disciples, we just want a day off without the crowds, without the worries, without all the things we have to do. Where is God when you need him most?
Well, God is not our Fairy Godmother so don’t expect God to appear with a magic wand to wave over our problems and make them disappear. It’s doesn’t work that way. We can’t just wish our problems away – we can’t just ask Jesus to send the crowds away to get dinner on their own.
God doesn’t magically turn us into Christian superheroes either in order to tackle any challenge in a single bound.
No God meets us in the midst of our life’s challenges and reminds us that we must face them and can face them with God’s help.
We never feel qualified for the task at hand – we aren’t, but God equips us for the task.
When you had your first child – and even your fourth child for that matter – you didn’t feel qualified to be a parent – you weren’t equipped to be a parent. But God was equipping you to be just that – a parent…and a good and loving one.
To take a church example, no one on the pastoral care team or Council or the Call Committee joined their team fully equipped for that ministry. Sure they had experience but it’s only as they step out in faith that God can really begin to equip them.
And when you call a new pastor to this place, that pastor – no matter how much you think to the contrary – won’t be qualified to be your pastor. Of course, that person will come with all sorts of experience and expertise, but the person will still not be qualified to do all that God is asking that person to do here at Our Savior.
But God will equip each of us for our respective ministries as we step out in faith.
In whatever we do, it is only in stepping out in faith that God can begin to equip us. Look at Moses. He had to step into the Red Sea in faith before God could part the waters. Trusting God, he had to strike the rock with his staff before God could bring forth water for the Israelites.
God doesn’t do these things for us or despite us. God does these things with us and through us.
The disciples only had five loves and two fish that day. And they knew it wasn’t going to be enough. That’s why they told Jesus to send the crowd away. But Jesus didn’t allow the disciples off the hook that easily. He told them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
Think about what must have been going through their heads at that point. I can imagine some sarcastically thinking, “Yeah, right. Dreamer Jesus and another one of this pie-in-the-sky ideas. Forget it buddy. I’m tired.” Others probably reacted like I would, saying, “What?! How are we supposed to do that? We only brought enough food for just us. How do you expect us to feed this crowd?” Some disciples probably just shrugged their shoulders, by now used to these crazy ideas of Jesus.
All Jesus says, in response to their objections, is “Bring me what you’ve got.”
Even if it’s only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Even if it’s only the lukewarm desire to teach or that undeveloped wish to reach out to those in need. Even if it’s only that ache or panic about all that needs doing. Whatever you’ve got, Jesus will take it.
And you know what he does with it? He offers it up to God for us. He blesses it – transforms it – and then breaks that little gift wide open to release all of its potential. And then he gives it back, saying, “It’s enough. In fact, look at this! It’s more than enough.”
He gives it back and says, “Take, eat. Drink this all of you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
There’s a Christian song that I learned in college that goes, “I’m yours, Lord. Everything I’ve got. Everything I am. Everything I’m not. I’m yours, Lord. Try me now and see. See if I can be completely yours.”
That’s what Jesus wanted to know that day. He didn’t want to know if the disciples had planned ahead and packed a picnic for 5000 plus people. Jesus wanted to know if the disciples were willing to trust him with whatever they did have – however inadequate it was. Jesus wanted to show them that when they offered up what they did have, that it could be transformed into enough – into more than enough.
Last April, Lynn and I went to New York and saw an amazing Broadway Musical called, “Come From Away.” It’s a story about how a small town at the easternmost edge of North American completely gave of themselves and in so doing, performed a miracle.
On September 11th, 2001 shortly after the terrorist attacks, the president ordered all planes flying in U.S. airspace to land immediately. Other plans destined for the U.S. had to immediately find alternative places to land. Many planes ended up at Canadian airports – some rather remote. At one such place – Gander, Newfoundland, total population of 10,000 – air traffic controllers, in the space of three hours, had to land and park 38 big jets on the airport’s single runway. Did they think they could land all those planes? I don’t know. They just landed one and then another and then another until 38 were on the ground and packed onto the tarmac.
But that was just the beginning. With nearly 7,000 passengers arriving unexpectedly, airport personnel were overwhelmed. Security and customs officers made preparations to process them, but the passengers had to remain on board worried, confused and completely cut off from the outside world and the news of what had happened.
Some of the passengers had to remain on their airplanes for as long as 30 hours! But when they finally disembarked, they got a warm welcome. It turned out that the people of Gander had come together like never before to make sure every single person would be taken care of.
Although Newfoundland is the poorest province in Canada, everyone helped out. When calls went out for food and bedding, Ganderites emptied their own cupboards and closets and went to the airport. And since passengers were only allowed their carry on bags, Genderites showed up with clothing as well.
“They were there all night long bringing food and standing at the tables, passing it out,” said one passenger. Asked who was manning the tables, she added, “They were the grocer, they were the postman, the pastors. They were your everyday citizens of Gander who just came out.”
But that wasn’t all. More hurdles had to be faced. Gander had only a few hotels, with a total of 550 rooms. 550 rooms in the face of nearly 7,000 stranded people sure sounds like trying to feed 5000 plus people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
What did they do? They opened their schools, churches and homes to the visitors they called “the plane people.” The town’s bus drivers, who had been on strike for weeks, came off the picket lines to shuttle passengers to their new quarters. The local telephone company set up long-distance phone banks so that passengers could call home (This was before cell phones were ubiquitous). Wires and cables were strung so that television and internet connections were available.
Finally, after four days, the airport and the skies reopened and the “plane people” headed home after tearful, heartfelt goodbyes.
The people of Gander, Newfoundland, give us a wonderful example of what can actually be accomplished if a community of people just takes that step forward in faith.
Our Savior Lutheran Church has such a wonderful history of taking those steps of faith and accomplishing incredible things. From the thousands of quilts you have made for refugee relief to the hundreds of meals served to those in need. From the many challenges you have faced and issues grappled with and resolved. And there is still no lack of good work to be done – from working to improve the lives of those who are suffering most here in the Upper Valley as well as around the world, to teaching our own children, growing up in this unsteady and confusing world, to be loving and caring because God is loving and caring and calls us to be loving and caring to one another.
We’re not called to do it all, but to do our part – as individuals and as a community of faith. God has always equipped us in the past. And God will continue equip us now. Christ will take whatever we have, bless it and break it wide open, releasing gifts we never knew we had.
So even if you only have what seems like the equivalent of 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed thousands, offer up to God whatever you’ve got, step forward in faith, and see what happens. AMEN.