Friday, August 12, 2011

Discipleship


A sermon based on Matthew 14:13-21
July 31, 2011

The feeding of the five thousand – this may be one of Jesus’ most important miracles because it is in fact, the only one of his miracles during his ministry that is recorded in all four gospels (other than the miracle of the resurrection of course). All four gospel writers thought that this story was important enough to include in their gospel, and so this story is worth a second look to see what it has to teach us today.

This story takes place immediately after Jesus and his disciples are told about the death of John the Baptist. That’s the news that Jesus heard that caused him to take a boat to a deserted place to be by himself. Jesus must have felt grief at the loss of his cousin and fellow-worker for the Kingdom of God. But a great crowd followed Jesus and would not let him be alone.

Jesus could have been upset at being denied time alone, or he could have been overwhelmed at the size and need of the crowd. I know that I would have felt those things. The text tells us that there were 5,000 men, plus women and children – so there is no telling what the actual number of people was, just that it was an enormous crowd. The text also tells us is that when Jesus saw the crowd “he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” Jesus had compassion. An important lesson that we can take away from this story is that God is love.

Jesus had compassion and didn't send away people who needed to be cured. And when the crowd became hungry and the disciples wanted to send the crowd away to find food on their own, Jesus had compassion on the hungry and ordered his disciples to feed the people. Jesus said to his disciples, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." The disciples replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."

It is interesting that the disciples describe what they have as nothing. What they had was meager, but it was more than nothing. All the disciples saw was the fact that they did not have enough. I’m sure that we all have had similar situations – where all we see is what we lack and not what we have. It’s hard to see the potential in what we have when we are focused on what we lack. Jesus saw what the disciples had – five loaves and two fish – and he saw the potential. Jesus told his disciples to bring the bread and fish to him.

 “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”

Jesus started with a prayer. Jesus looked up to heaven – he was honoring God. And when Jesus blesses the loaves and fish that is an expression of praise and thanksgiving to God. Blessing food is not only about the food itself, it is even more about God who provides the food for us.

This story has several things to teach us about discipleship.

First of all, we should start with prayer. Prayer grounds our focus on and in God. Prayer is how Jesus started, and we should aim to learn from his example.

Secondly, this story teaches us that we have responsibility as disciples. Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowd. We call this story by the title “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand,” but in truth we could call the story, “Jesus feeds the Twelve; the Twelve feed the five thousand.” After blessing the loaves and fish, Jesus gave them back to the disciples; the disciples were the ones who handed the food out to the crowd.

We have responsibility as disciples. We are entrusted to be the body of Christ – the hands and feet that do God’s work in the world. God works through us. How many times have we only seen what we lacked and not seen the potential for what we have when God works through us? Too many times I would imagine. And having been blessed, have we always shared that blessing with those around us? I’m afraid the answer is not as often as we should. It’s hard to see all the possibilities when life has taught us hard lessons, and it can be hard to share when we are afraid of being limited and maybe being without in the future. But if we open ourselves to God’s love and the love of one another, then we have to take seriously our calling as disciples to serve those in need.

The third thing that we learn about discipleship from this story is that God will give us the power that we need in order to work for good in the world.

God gives us the power that we need in order to work for good in the world. We are not absolved of our responsibility as disciples just because we lack in some way. Whether we lack in resources (like the disciples) or we lack in skills or something else – God will supply what is needed if it is God’s will. You may have faced a situation in your life where you didn’t feel like you could make it through, but somehow you did. It is God who strengthens us when we are week, inspires us when we are downtrodden, and it is even God who gives us a kick when we need to start moving.

The lessons that we have learned from this old story can serve us well today. The disciples did not have enough food to feed the crowd and thought that it was impossible, but by following Jesus’ instructions and by working together there was more than enough for everyone. That’s good advice for most situations where we have a lack of some sort. If we start in prayer, remember our responsibility as disciples and open ourselves to God working through us – then there is no telling what wonders can be accomplished. The only thing we can be sure of is that God’s love, working through us, is exactly what this world needs more of.
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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.