Grace to you all and peace, from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Have you ever had a time when something had such a big emotional toll on you that you experienced a physical reaction to it? I can think back to my sophomore year in high school, when they announced who made it into the audition only choir, and who didn’t. Needless to say, I was one of the people who didn’t make it in, and I was heartbroken about it! Right when I read the list, my chest tightened up and I was swept with a feeling of sorrow. Now, in hindsight, this was a pretty innocent thing to be so shaken up about, but at the time, that was a great disappointment. And there are other life changing events that come to mind for me. –The unexpected death of close loved ones–even seeing the footage of the twin towers collapsing–I wonder about all the different events that those of us gathered in this room this morning can remember? The events that once brought, and maybe still ellicit a physical response.
In this morning’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus having a physical reaction, a gut reaction, to the crowd that had followed him. It reads “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” One of my favorite words in the Greek New Testament, in splagchnizomai, which literally means to have one’s innards be moved. It is a very visceral description that can be lost when we say “had compassion,”–It was a gut reaction, because Jesus’ feelings and care for the crowd was something from deep inside.
This deep love Jesus had for the crowd is what led him to heal the weary and sick people among them. This gut feeling is what gave him strength after learning that his cousin, the person who had baptized him had been beheaded by the governor of that region.
After Jesus’ demonstration of his love for the crowd, the disciples, feeling a pain in their own bellies–hunger– worried that the crowd wouldn’t have food to eats, and asked Jesus to send them away to buy food. The disciples’ worry that the crowd might not have food came from the fact that in scripture, the “crowd” was composed not of disciples, or of the social elites. But of the people society pushed aside. It was the tax collectors and other “sinners” who obviously wouldn’t have much to offer. The disciples had fallen into the trap of believing that even with Jesus among them, that a crowd of “sinners” wouldn’t have enough.
After graduating from college, I spent a year in Washington DC working at a school in the Anacostia neighborhood. It was when working in Anacostia that I first learned that I was working in a food desert–a place where it is hard to access affordable, healthy food. You see, even though I was living in our nation’s capital, for the people who lived in Anacostia around the school, there was little to no easy access to healthy, nutritious food. If my students were hungry, they would run to the corner store and get French fries with mambo sauce and a soda. And food deserts, and the wider problem of food insecurity, not knowing where you are going to get your next healthy meal from isn’t just something faced in densely populated cities, but is something that can be found across our country. In 2014, 14.7 million households were food insecure.
With increasing unemployment and the pandemic interrupting food supplies, it will continue to be harder and harder for some people to get the food they need.
A world where there is not enough is not what God desires. As the Prophet Isaiah spoke, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” The world that God desires God’s people to bring forth is one where all have enough–no, not enough, but Isaiah says “delight yourselves in rich food.” We aren’t supposed to simply be surviving, bug God’s desire, God’s design is that we would thrive!
The disciples came to Jesus and told him to send the crowds away. When Jesus initially told the disciples to feed the crowd, they said they had nothing. They had Nothing…but five loaves and two fishes. So really they didn’t have nothing, but they had five loaves and two fishes.
And Jesus knew what five loaves and two fishes could do. So he took the food, blessed and broke the bread and gave it to the disciples to share with the crowd. Something we should note here is that the story says nothing about Jesus multiplying the fish and the bread. It says nothing about him beginning with five loaves and two fish, and then magically having thousands of loaves of bread and fish appear out of nowhere. Jesus simply took the food, gave thanks blessed it and broke it.
The disciples took the bread and the fish, and after sharing it with the people who were gathered, “All ate and were filled” and they had twelve baskets left over! How on earth did that happen? And while feeding five thousand might seem pretty amazing, we need to remember that it would have been closer to twenty thousand people, because the women and children were not counted in the 5000.
Jesus, through his faith in the abundance that God provides for creation, was able to feed a crowd that would fill the Allianz stadium in Saint Paul. And the most amazing part to me, as an outside observer, is that it was not Jesus that did the feeding, but it was the crowd who witnessed Jesus’ confidence in abundance that God blesses creation with.
It was the crowd of tax collectors and sinners. It was a crowd that the disciples had discounted as not having anything to offer who had provided for the feast they enjoyed. And when they finished eating, there was even a surplus that could be shared with others who had not been able to be there. That could be shared with other communities of followers as a catalyst of the abundance we find in God through Christ.
Though as followers of Christ, we are called to be disciples, I wonder if when thinking about the gospel for today, that as a community we are called to be more like the crowd that followed Jesus. Dear people, like the disciples that gathered around Jesus, and as we proclaimed in the confession and forgiveness “we do not trust [God’s] abundance, and we deny [God’s] presence in our lives. We place our hope in ourselves and rely on our own efforts.” Rather than the disciples who didn’t trust in the abundance of God, we are called to see the ways that Jesus calls us to generosity, and through that generosity we can accomplish the flourishing of all of creation.
In the 142 years that Faith Lutheran Church has been ministering to those in Isanti and beyond, I would guess that there were years when the feeling of “not having enough”, or scarcity was on the minds of those gathered to worship. I would even think some people gathered here to worship today have experienced that feeling. Yet even with that, 142 years later, Faith is still present here, serving as a place where the gospel, the good new of Jesus Christ can be made know to any who desire to learn! In these last 142 years, there have been people who recognize God’s abundance in this place and through their dedication, we can continue to proclaim Christ in this place.
This past week, over twenty children participated in a virtual VBS program that was hosted at Faith. Thanks to the dedication of Denise and Ashley, these children were able to learn how to pray, to recognize God, and share their faith with others. What an amazing gift for them, and one that will impact the rest of their lives. As a community, I pray that we continue to be like the crowd who gathered around Jesus on the shore of the sea of Galilee–a people who through the recognition of Jesus presence among us know the abundance of God’s love for us that we can reflect to the whole world. Amen.