Sermon: You Feed Them
Scripture: Matthew 14: 13-21
In addition to the scripture already shared, hear also these words from John 21:15-17, a conversation between the resurrected Jesus and Peter. John writes:
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, do you love Me? He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” Jesus said to him again a second time, “Simon, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My sheep.”Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, do you love Me?”Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.
I’m going to say something to begin that you might find a little surprising but when Jesus began His church in the shadow of the remains of a pagan Temple in the gentile region of Caesarea Phillipi, I don’t think He envisioned that it would develop the way that it has developed in the 2000 years since. I don’t think he intended for us to take it literally when he said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” I think he was talking about Peter’s faith and saying that his church would be built on faith in God and, pointing to the pile of rocks that was all that remained of the Pagan Temple which once stood in that place, not on buildings built by men. But it didn’t take long for humans to begin to invest in beautiful edifices. All over the ancient world there are the remains of churches that were built to commemorate the faith of individuals and specific events that took place on that spot. Churches were often built as monuments to the faith, rather than an extension of faith. Built to commemorate, even celebrate, rather than empower faithful expression. And I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when He said that He was going to build His church on the rock of Peter’s faith. Or when He called 12 distinct personalities to be His disciples. And I don’t think that’s what He envisioned when He went to the cross or stepped out of the tomb on Easter morning. I don’t think that when Jesus talked about His church, He was envisioning the Temple as much as He was envisioning the faith of the individuals who populated the Temple. Peter, because of your faith, you will be My church. He never intended for the church to be the reflection of His ministry. His intention was that the church would empower us, you and I, to be the reflection of His ministry. But through the centuries, we’ve gotten that all turned around, so that now, too often, we humans think that our place in the religious order is to empower the church to be in ministry, rather than be empowered ourselves to be in ministry in and through the church. I think that’s how we can understand exactly what the resurrected Jesus was saying to Peter on the shore of the lake after all the Disciples had spent an unsuccessful night fishing. They thought there was safety in numbers. It was important that they stick together. Isn’t that what Jesus intended when He called them in the first place? But, see, they had it wrong. Jesus’ intention was for them to learn and then scatter throughout the world as His witnesses. And so He takes Peter aside and says: “Peter if you love me, you feed my sheep.” You are the church Peter. You feed my sheep. You see, we tend to think that a strong, Christ centered church is one that works together to accomplish great things. And there is certainly great truth in that. This whole Change The World emphasis began with Pastor Mike Slaughter and the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio, which is a church with several thousand members. And in his book, Change The World, Dr. Slaughter talks about his church raising over a million dollars in one Christmas offering for clean water projects in Africa. It’s a wonderful story, but it is not a model of church that is applicable to St. Luke or most churches that are much smaller than that. If Jesus’ Disciples had stuck together and established a church in Jerusalem or on the shores of Galilee, and ministered to those who came to them, the witness of Jesus Christ would have remained contained in a pretty small area. It was only when the individual Disciples began to spread across the Middle East, and Asia and into Europe that the church of Jesus Christ began to grow like a wildfire. It could not be contained, just as Jesus could not be contained by the tomb. When, as a staff, we first started talking about participating in the Change The World weekend, we began to brainstorm about some mission project that we as a church could engage in. Figuring we could get 50 – 100 people to come and participate in some type of community outreach on Saturday, May 17. But then we began to ask whether we would have a greater long term impact on our community and world if we could do what Jesus did with the Disciples after the resurrection when He released them to go into all the world, release the 600 to 700 people that participate at St. Luke on a regular basis to be involved individually in community and world changing service. So that our change the world event would become a celebration of what each one of us, as disciples are doing to change our world, in our own way. And the more we talked about that, the more we realized that was closer to Jesus’s model of a world changing church. Peter, I have a lot of hungry sheep out there. If you love me, you feed them.
But you see, I fear that most of us in the church look at this exchange between Jesus and Peter, and fall into the same trap that the Disciples did when they looked out on thousands of hungry seekers in the story that we read and concluded, “what can I do in the face of such immense hunger?” We think what can I do to really bring about change in this world. There’s so much need, and I’m just one person. But Jesus says: You feed them. When Jesus emerged from the tomb he unleashed the power of resurrection, the power of new life, and changed the world forever, one person at a time. So for the next few weeks we’re going to be thinking about. How can you and I change the world?
Several years ago, the World Methodist Council held a meeting in Calcutta, India. Calcutta is one of the most poverty stricken areas of the world. I heard a Methodist Bishop describe his experience at that conference. He said the Conference went longer then expected and so he was forced to leave his hotel late at night in order to catch his plane home. So he called for a driver and when the car arrived, the Bishop grabbed his bags and ran to the street to meet him. And hurrying down the hotel steps in the dark he said he nearly fell over something he did not see. And he could not tell what it was because it was so dark. He tossed his bags in the trunk of the car and settled in for the long ride to the airport. But as he did so, he glanced back to the steps to see if he could make out what he had nearly tripped over and in the dim light he was shocked to see it was a mother and a child lying on the steps. The Bishop asked the driver to wait while he went back to help them, but before he could get out of the car, the driver pulled away. “There is nothing you can do for them,”he said. “They will be dead by morning.”And then what the driver said next horrified the church official, “In the morning the sanitation workers will pick up their bodies. Every morning they pick up the bodies of nearly 10, 000 people who have died the night before in the streets of Calcutta. You’re only one person, sir. What can you do.” And after thinking about that for a moment and knowing that he was going to miss his plane, the Bishop said, “I may not be able to do anything about the 10,000” the Bishop said, “but perhaps I can help that poor mother.” And he insisted that the driver turn around. You feed them, Jesus said. I remember reading once that Mother Teresa, who ministered in Calcutta, was asked how, with her meager resources, she could help to feed the millions of starving people in the world. And she replied, “One soul at a time.” You feed them, Peter.
A few years ago a third grade student wanted to do something for the homeless people in his city. And so Matthew LeSage, saved his allowance until he had enough to buy one cooked ham to give to a homeless family. And then he went out into the streets and found a family to help. Well, a TV station picked up on the story and suddenly people from all over the city began to join Matthew in his efforts. This past year, the program which was born out this little boys allowance, now called, Hams for the Hungry, raised nearly 40,000 dollars to help feed the homeless of that city. You feed them, Jesus said.
Many years ago, a thirteen-year-old boy read about the work that Dr. Albert Schweitzer was doing in Africa, and how short he was of medical supplies in the face of the tremendous need. So the boy gathered together all the money he had and discovered it was enough to buy a few bottles of aspirin. But once he had bought the Aspirin, he didn’t know how he was going to get it Africa. And so he wrote to the Air Force, and asked if they could fly over Dr. Schweitzer’s hospital and drop the aspirin down to him. Well, a radio station picked up on the story and broadcast it. In a matter of days, 4 1/2 tons of medical supplies had been collected and the boy and the supplies were flown to Dr. Schweitzer’s hospital. Dr. Schweitzer commented, “I never thought one child could do so much.” You feed them, Jesus said.
In our world today:
- more than a billion people live on less than one dollar per day.
- Every few seconds, somewhere in our world, a child dies of starvation.
- Currently there are an estimated 50 million refugees, seeking shelter from war and famine and other kinds of disasters.
- Diseases that are treated and eradicated in some parts of the world, cause thousands of people to die in other parts of the world.
How can we minister in the face of such immense need? It is so overwhelming that the little bit that we might be able to do is just a blip on the wave of human misery. You feed them, Jesus said. But Jesus our resources are so limited. What difference can we really make?
Don’t we often find ourselves adopting the mindset of the apostles? The need is too great, we can’t help them all, no matter how much we want to Jesus. Send them away. No. You feed them.
There is this great multitude of people to hear Jesus. 5000 men according to Matthew’s count. And when it got to be dinnertime, the disciples knew they could not feed all these people and so they go to Jesus and ask Him to send them away. Let them go into the villages and buy their own food. “NO”Jesus says, “You feed them.”And so the Disciples search the crowd and all they can find is a little boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. When offering them to the Disciples the boy probably said, “I have these. But what difference can they make among all these people?” Little did he know that he was changing the world just by sharing his lunch. So they bring that to Jesus. You see I think Jesus links this story with the resurrection when in this post resurrection conversation he tells Peter the same thing he told him in the face of that multitude. You feed them. Now I don’t know about you, but when I look around at all the need around us, ministry, the idea of changing the world, can be pretty overwhelming to me. So, as we think about changing the world, what do we need to draw from this story?
First, in the resurrected Christ, we have all that we need to change the world. I think we need to see that we live in a world of abundant resources when Christ lives in us. Even for the disciples this was not a problem with the abundance of resources, it was a problem with the allocation of resources. Jesus knew that there was plenty of food to feed everyone. The problem was how to get it to all those hungry people. Our world is rich in all resources. God made sure of that. I read the other day that Americans throw away enough food to feed all of the starving people in the world. The problem is not in the amount of resources, it’s in the allocation of resources. Humanity, not God, has turned it into a question of the haves and the have nots. In God’s eyes everyone should be a have. The disciples looked at the multitude that gathered as a great problem, but Jesus saw them as a great blessing. God had given them these people to minister to. They couldn’t send them away. You feed them. There is more than enough. No one should go from here hungry. You feed them. In a commentary on this passage, CS. Lewis once wrote that in feeding the 5000, Jesus simply accelerated something that happens naturally over a long period of time. For example, he said, wheat multiplies in the field and is then made into bread for people to eat. Fish multiply in the sea and become the staple of the diet of many people. So, Lewis concludes, through the creative power of God at work in Him, Jesus sped up the process by multiplying the bread and the fish to feed the multitude. If they sent them away like the disciples wanted, eventually they would have all been physically fed, but if they had sent them away they would not have been spiritually fed. That’s where their real hunger was. Jesus knew that for them to be receptive to His word, they needed to also have their physical needs met. Otherwise they would have wasted God’s great blessings of a multitude of people hungry for the word of God.
If we look through the eyes of the Disciples, we may see only the problem. What are we to do in the face of all that need? How can we change the world with all it’s problems? But if we view it from Jesus’eyes, it is not a problem but a blessing from God. God has blessed each one of us with opportunities to serve and be in ministry, but too often we see the immensity of the need rather than the abundance of the resources he has blessed us with. Look at all those hungry people. You feed them. We are people who have been greatly blessed because we get to serve in the name of the risen Christ. We are blessed so that we can bless others. You feed them.
Tony Campolo is a well known Christian writer and speaker. He was once invited to give an address at a Conference of Christian women. While he sat and listened, the speaker before him challenged the women to give several thousand dollars for a mission project. And then he asked Campolo to come and pray for God’s blessing as each person considered their own response to the goal. Campolo stood, but to the amazement of everyone he graciously declined to pray. And then he approached the microphone and said: “You already have all the resources necessary to complete this mission project right here in this room. It would be inappropriate to ask for God’s blessings, when in fact God has already blessed you with the abundance and the means to achieve this goal. The necessary gifts are in your hands. As soon as we take the offering and underwrite this mission project, we will thank God for freeing us to be the generous, responsible. and accountable stewards that we’re called to be as Christian disciples.” You feed them.
When God calls us into specific areas of service, he has already blessed us with the means to respond to that call. We might not realize it. We might believe we are inadequate. We might believe that all we have is five loaves and two fish, but when we love God, He will make the miracle in us and through us. We are truly a blessed people. Each one of us can change the world. Do you love me Peter? You feed them. And praise God that we can! Just think how we could change this community if all of us individually unleashed the miraculous power of the risen Lord in our families, and our work places, and our school, and our neighborhood. You can change the world, one person at a time. You feed them.
We serve an abundant God. Not only did He meet the needs of the multitude, but He provided much more than was needed. Leonard Sweet writes:
Our God is a generous God, a God of great abundance. . . we’ve got to stop thinking, “We have nothing. I’m only one person, what can I do in the face of so many hungry people”What God provided that day was more than enough. Our faith, which can grow to abundant proportions, can be strong enough to get us through any hard times. Our faithful service can change the world.
One commentator on this passage writes:
The point is that when Jesus is present in us, miracles happen. They happen in operating rooms. They happen in marriages. They happen in all kinds of settings. When Jesus is present, great things happen! All Jesus needs is a little to work with, but when He is given something to work with, amazing things happen.
And you and I can change the world. God blesses us everyday with great opportunities for ministry. There are hungry, hurting people all around us. Sometimes I look out at Alumni Drive and contemplate the hundreds of cars that pass by this church every day and wonder what needs are present in those who pass by? How many are starving because they do not know that the tomb was empty and that Christ can live in them? And we can, like the Disciples, choose to send them away or let them pass by. Let them try to be fed somewhere else. Shake our heads and say “we can’t do it. We don’t have enough.”Or we can rejoice in our blessings, and give Jesus what we have, and trust Him to make the miracles through us. . The wonderful heritage of the people of God known as St. Luke Church, has always been a willingness to share the blessings of our faith. And I know that we are ready to respond once more. To give our loaves and fishes, and rejoice in the miracle that God will make. You can change the world. You feed them Peter. You can change the world in the power and name of Jesus, no longer in the tomb, but now living in and through you. And you will be amazed at the difference that one person can make.
I read about an elementary school that was collecting a shipment of food for the poor people of Appalachia. And on the designated day, the children brought their canned goods, and boxed food and dropped it in the bin. But one little girl had forgotten to bring her food for the collection. “It’s ok,” her teacher said. “Your canned good wouldn’t make that much difference anyway.” But the little girl believed that her contribution would make a difference for someone and after school when the teachers began to separate and box up the items to be shipped, they found in the midst of the canned goods and other food items, a paper bag. It contained a peanut butter sandwich, an apple and a cookie. And written in large letters on the side of the bag was “Christy —Room 104”She had given her lunch to share with some child in Appalachia.
Lord the need is too great. The multitude is too large for us. Send them away. No, Jesus said. You feed them. Want to know how to change the world? We do it one soul at a time until Jesus Christ is in every life.
If you love Him, you feed them.