Sunday, August 2, 2020 Feeding Five thousand “Food For…”

Now may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and Redeemer. 

As I start this sermon on Jesus feeding the five thousand, I thought it would be fun to play a little “family feud” you know where folks finish the phrase, “survey says!”  So, I know you have cell phones and I know many of you are more than experts at texting so here’s my #, text me your answer to finishing the phrase “Food for …”

There’s food for …thought, health, delivery, the diabetic, the hungry, the poor, the stomach.  It wasn’t too long ago back on Father’s Day we had first communion and I talked about “food for the soul.” In our gospel this morning Jesus feeds five thousand- a miracle with a purpose beyond just “food for the stomach.”  Certainly, Christ meal does that, “food for the stomach” first and foremost. But if that’s all you notice, all you pay attention to, you’re missing the point.  The way the account is reported of Jesus’ miracle of feeding the five thousand, it has all sorts of little hints that it was more than a miracle of “food.”  

Verse 21 has an innocent line “They ate and were filled.” which is filled with meaning.  The Greek word translated “filled” could also be translated “satisfied.” We all know what it’s like to eat a disappointing meal, one that just doesn’t satisfy.  Maybe its too greasy, maybe there just not enough, maybe it lacks flavor but whatever the problem is with the meal, it doesn’t satisfy.  Here this simple meal that I sometimes flippantly call first century “fish and chips” is described as allowing everyone to eat and be satisfied.

One of the images of heaven is a place where everyone eats and is satisfied.  Isaiah talks about it as a “feast of fat things”, Jesus several times compares the Kingdom of God as a great banquet, or a wedding feast.  He reminds us those not at the feast will be where’s there is a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  However, those in the kingdom will not only have more than enough to eat but also know the joy of good company so that all who eat will be satisfied. 

In that heavenly vision of what God has promised it’s not just food centric.  Food in and of itself doesn’t make the dining experience “satisfying.”  The write of Proverbs says it well when he says, “It is better to eat soup with someone you love than steak with someone you hate.” (Prvb 15:17)  One could finish that opening phrase I asked you about with food for “gathering around.”  Often times that is what makes a meal most satisfying.  One might phrase it this way “food for company.”  It’s the relationship with those you’re eating with that brings out the flavor even if it is just soup… not steak. 

 My wife’s grandfather, Ed Ericson, had a wonderful phrase at the end of really good family gathering meal.  He’d set down his silverware, smile a big smile and say, “I’m not made at anyone!” Can you picture that moment?  Have you had the opportunity for one of those moments?  The family gathering has been joyous, the meal scrumptious, the laughter generous, and you set down your silverware and think “wow I’m satisfied, life is good!” or as Ed would say, “I’m not mad at anyone.”

It seems today we have less and less of those moments.  It seems like folks finish a meal and say, “I mad as hornets at everyone!”  We have more and more people operating out of fear and hate than faith and love.  Yet in this meal Jesus shares, this miracle of food for five thousand, we get a glimpse of heaven.  A moment where everyone is satisfied.

I think we need, during our modern day setting of COVID chaos and social unrest, a vision of something other than what the nightly news is selling.  Something that cheers us on and lifts us up and can unite us in purpose.  This vision, this heavenly promise, can be that thing. We need those heavenly promises right now… to believe there will be another day, a different day a day when we are COVID free, or … arthritis free,…or cancer free even if it means it’s a day in heaven.  When Jesus takes and blesses that food and the impossible happens and all eat and are satisfied, we are reminded “with God all things are possible.”

Another little line of our gospel that’s chalk full of meaning is that line in v. 20 “There were leftovers.” I don’t know where you land on the spectrum about leftovers but my older sister and I land on opposite ends. My sister absolutely hates leftovers.  She’ll scape off the plate into the garbage! Okay not a big deal but then she’ll come over to the serving bowls and do the same!! I’m not sure why she does this, as I say I’m on the other end of the spectrum, but I do kid her that’s it’s simply a reflection on her ability to cook.  Nobody wants to endure her meals extra innings! 😊 

I on the other hand, find leftovers great! It’s less work and often second time around it has more flavor and taste.  The second time around for things like chili or soup or spaghetti almost always seem better. Even scripture here seems to imply leftovers are good. But before we begin a leftover feud let me admit scripture here is probably mostly trying to point out that there is more than enough when God is involved. 

God is a God of abundance not simply subsistence. The leftovers of this meal had a specific number of containers:  twelve baskets.  Why twelve, it’s a hint folks?  Think twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve disciples of Jesus. Each one of those twelve is symbolic of everybody together, Joseph isn’t left out anymore the twelve brothers are together.  The twelve tribes of Israel recalls a time before the North and South were divided and all God’s people were together under God’s guidance.  The twelve disciples was a re-establishment of that coming together of God’s people under God’s Messiah.  To have enough leftovers for another entire round of twelve was a way of saying it was enough for the whole family… nobody left out.  Scripture wants us to get the fact that God has enough for all and no one needs to be left out, going hungry, dissatisfied. 

Right now, we have multiple movements across our country voicing the cry of those left out.  We need to listen and respond to their cries of injustice and being left out because God never wants any of his children left out. 

Now when I say that followers of Christ need to make sure that no one is left out, DO NOT hear that we need to capitulate to violence or incite hate.  Do Not hear we need to support the idea where if you can claim you are left out then your best option is to lash out.  NO, NO, NO. That’s wrong, lashing out, rioting, violence that’s all sinful.  Just as two wrongs don’t make a right… two sins don’t make a solution only a bigger problem! One sin in retaliation for another sin solves nothing and messes up everything.  So, we need to proceed with caution not abandon.  But most importantly we need to proceed with faith.  Faith that God’s got enough for all and eventually through God’s love- not government programs, through God’s grace- not people’s greed, through God’s forgiveness- not people’s need for retaliation… we will arrive at a better day for ALL not just the few. 

COVID 19 won’t go away with two extreme ends of the spectrum battling it out.  One end promoting reckless abandon or the other end promoting draconian measures. However, I’m convince it will be mitigated, lessened, and eventually solved by proceeding with caution for all by the majority in the middle.  That majority in the middle between the two extremist ends is often called the silent majority.  It’s that silent majority that over the decades and centuries our country has relied on to direct our course.  It’s a silent majority that from the beginning to this day has operated with Faith not Fear.

It is that silent majority that now needs to kneel down in prayer so it can rise up with a voice of calm assurance and become the Vocal Majority.  The vast silent majority that rejects violence as a solution needs to kneel down in prayer and then, renewed with the Spirit’s strength to forgive and its power to speak the truth in love, Stand UP and Stand Firm to say a resounding NO! to violence while also saying a resounding NO! to injustice.

Twelve baskets left over is God’s message of abundance.  I sometimes think if God texted an answer to that opening finish the phrase Food for… it wouldn’t simply be “food for the soul,” it would also be “food for the world!” Our God is not a God of scarcity. Our God is a God of abundance. Our God is a God who can love with abandon, forgive generously, and stand up relentlessly for what is right. And God calls us to do the same: love with abandon, forgive generously, stand up relentlessly for what is right. 

But that’s exhausting, frustrating and disappointing.  I’m sure as you hear that expectation- love with abandon, forgive generously, and stand up relentlessly for what is right you’re saying but Pastor Mike that’s just too hard!  How is that possible?  How does that happen? You are right, that is too hard for us, by ourselves with our meager resources.  We can’t do it.  We don’t have the stamina, the resources, and we don’t have the heart to do it.

Know what’s even more unsettling, I hate to tell you this, but the government doesn’t have the resources to satisfy everyone, either.  So many people at the extreme ends think if we can’t do it then the government can.  Yes, the government can keep on printing money, passing laws and punishing people but that is not the same as loving with abandon, forgiving generously and standing up relentlessly for what is right. Its scary to admit but the government doesn’t have what it takes, never will have enough resources to get to the point where all have enough and our satisfied. But here’s the thing even though we don’t have it and the government doesn’t have it… God does. 

When the silent majority becomes the vocal majority that has faith in God then impossible things happen: an overwhelming self-serving empire can be defeated, and an evil Third Reich can be eliminated. 

God doesn’t ask us to do this great task with what we don’t have.  When Jesus fed the five thousand, he didn’t demand the disciples first create a “Go Fund Me” program!! He said, “Give me what you’ve got and watch what I can do with it.”

So often we convince ourselves that the little I have to give isn’t worth it.  We look at the world’s major problems and think I got nothing that’s make a difference. And yes, with man some things just aren’t possible.  But time and again we know in faith, “with God all things are possible.”  When we try to do it on our own, we won’t find satisfaction.  Yet by giving God our little loaves and fishes we can not only find satisfaction but satisfy the needs of others. 

The prophet Isaiah in our first lesson tries to explain this to folks trying to do it all on their own apart from God.  “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Eat what is good delight yourselves incline your ear and come to me so that you may live… nations that do not know you shall run to you because of the Lord your God the holy one of Israel.”

With God all things are possible!  God’s love is that abundant, that powerful and its here in his meal… this is food for the soul, food for thought, food for the world! God’s meal is food for the impoverished, the unforgiven, the frustrated, the forgotten.  Do you fall into one of those categories?  The impoverished, the unforgiven, the frustrated, the forgotten, then this meal is for you. This is a meager meal but don’t forget because of God it is also a miracle meal.  This meal is not so you can be more of the same but a miracle meal to totally transform you into the beautiful creature God intended you to be.  Look at who you are and what you hunger for and know that God wants to feed and nourish you to be the redeemed, loved child he equipped you,… designed you,… fashioned you,… molded you, knit you in your mother’s womb, created you to be!!

This miracle meal holds the ingredients of abundant love, generous forgiveness, and strength for service.  Jesus in the breaking of the bread, the breaking of his heart and of his body builds a new kingdom of abundance and love.  Come to him with your small gifts, dedicate them to him, trust him with them and watch what a satisfying thing he can make out of your life for you and for those around you.  It’s time for “food for…” (let God fill in the blank).  Amen.