Sermon: You Feed Them
Scripture: John 6:1-14
I don’t know about you but I am becoming increasingly anxious by the world in which we live. It seems the news is never good. Global terrorism. Countries on the verge of economic collapse. Drought and famine. Starvation. Human trafficking. Climate change (whether man made or not.). People addicted to all kinds of things. Political unrest and turmoil across the globe. I don’t know about you, but I feel so helpless sometimes in the midst of the immense needs of the world. And certainly, our community has not been exempt from difficulty.
So many shootings. Teenagers being killed. People on nearly every street corner looking for help. You know some of them are legitimately in need but how do you separate those from the ones who are simply perpetuating a scam.
Twice a day people line up at God’s Pantry just looking for enough to get them by
for a few more days. People coming in everyday filling out Alms requests. And it
seems like so many lately have been experiencing very significant health issues.
Families are strained. Parents worry about all of the negative influences on
kids these days. On and on and on. There are times when I feel so overwhelmed
by it all and I just want to shout at God – “I’m just one person. What can I do
in the face of so much need?” Do you every feel like that. I once heard a
preacher talking about a church that he went to serve. It was a small church
when he went and the preacher said from the first day he started praying, “God
send more people.” And he said God answered his prayer and more and more
people started coming to the church, each with different needs. So many people
that the small church soon reached it’s capacity to meet all the needs. And they
ran out of space to put all the people. But the people kept coming. And so the preacher went back to the altar and prayed: “People.
People. People. What are we to do with all these people? Can’t you send
some of them somewhere else? We can’t possibly meet all these needs.” And
then he fell quiet and in the quiet stillness he heard God say, “You take care of
them.” Well that’s what this interruption is all about. The Disciples come to
Jesus when He is teaching and touching the multitudes that have
followed them and they say, “Pardon the Interruption Jesus but there are so many
people. And they are getting hungry. There are so few of us. And we have
such limited resources. We can’t possibly take care of all of these people. You
have to send them away.” But Jesus said, “no you take care of them. You feed
them.” You see, Jesus was always focused on the need, more than the resources.
And that’s what He wants His Disciples to do also. But instead they are fixated on
the limited resources in comparison to the immensity of the need. And that
happens in the church also. All these people have become an interruption. God
calls us into a ministry, and one of the first questions we ask is can we afford do
that. Do we have the resources? Do we have the people? But, this story tells us
that those are the wrong questions because quite frankly if we start by focusing on
our limited resources, we will end up sending away more than we take care of.
The question we need to ask is whether we as a church or as a disciple can afford
to not do what God is calling us to do. You see, Often times when God calls
us, we view it as an interruption rather than an opportunity. But God wants
us to focus on the need rather than what we perceive as the scarcity of the
resources. So the Disciples do what we would do. They check the treasury and
confirm that as they feared there is not enough money to feed all of these
people and so they do what any church would do. They pass the offering baskets.
Only instead of money, they are looking for food. And the basket comes to a little
boy, who is clutching the lunch that his Mom had packed for him before he
went off to listen to the Rabbi. And when the offering basket came to him, the
little boy looked at the five small loaves and two fish that his mother had packed
and wondered how much of it he should put in the basket, and how much he
should keep for himself. After all, it was such a small amount and the crowd
was so large. Meager resources. Immense need. What good can I do. A few
years ago, a third-grade student was faced with the same dilemma. He had
learned that there were a lot of people living on the streets, no place to call home
and he wanted to do something for them. And so, the boy, began to save
his small allowance until he had enough to buy a cooked ham to give to a
homeless family. And he took it to the pastor at his church, and asked him to help
him get it to a homeless family. And the pastor thought it was such a small offering
in the face of such great need. But it was all this boy had to give, and so the
pastor shared with the church what the boy had done, and soon others in the
church went and bought a ham, and what was such a small offering became in
Jesus hands more than enough. And now the ministry which was born from this
little boy’s efforts, now called Hams for the Hungry, raises nearly 40,000 dollars
annually to help feed the homeless of that city. You feed them, Jesus said.
Or consider this, I once read in an article about the work that Albert Schweitzer
did in Africa in the twentieth century and the partnership he formed with a
thirteen-year-old boy who read about the work that Dr. Schweitzer was doing in
Africa, and how short he was of medical supplies. Dr. Schweitzer said that one of
the things he needed the most was common aspirin that could easily be bought off
the shelf in the US but was hard to get in Africa. So, the boy gathered together
all the money he had and discovered it was enough to buy a few bottles of aspirin.
But he discovered that it would cost more to ship the Aspirin to Africa then he
had paid for them in the first place. But the boy was not to be deterred, so he
wrote to the Air Force, and asked if they could fly over Dr. Schweitzer’s hospital
and drop the package of aspirin down to him. Well a local radio station picked
up on the story and broadcast it. And in a matter of days, 4 ½ tons of
medical supplies had been collected and enough money to fly the boy and the
supplies 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 ten seconds, somewhere in our world, someone dies of starvation,
with children being the most vulnerable. Currently there are an estimated 70
million refugees worldwide seeking shelter from war and famine and other kinds of
disasters. Hundreds of families in our own community come to God’s Pantry
seeking relief from hunger every year. Addictions of all kinds are tearing apart
families and destroying lives every day. There are so many in need all around us.
Even among us. And time and again we are confronted with the same question
that the Disciples were confronted with and ultimately this little boy was confronted
with: what can I, what can we, possibly do in the face of such immense need with
the limited resources that we have. It can be so overwhelming that the little bit that
we might be able to do is just a blip on the wave of human misery. But here’s the
thing, in nearly 38 years of ministry, I can’t recall any ministry that came about
because there was an abundance of resources. Ministries are born out of
human need. And in the face of that need, Jesus calls us to do our best. To give
our all. The people did not come to Jesus out of their abundance. They
came out of need.
You feed them, Jesus said. Don’t send them away. You take care of them.
But Jesus our resources are so limited. All we have is five small loaves and two tiny
fish. What difference can we really make in the lives of all of these hungry
people? Meanwhile there’s this little boy wondering how much of his lunch he
should give? The Rabbis required 10% but that would just be a half of one of the
small loaves and just a tiny piece of a fish. Not enough to sustain Him, much less
the thousands of hungry people gathered there. No, he decided, Jesus needed it
all. Everything I have to make a miracle happen. So with his own stomach
rumbling a bit from hunger, the little boy put his whole lunch in the basket. In his
hands it seemed so little, but in Jesus’ hands it was more than enough. You see too often we find ourselves adopting the mindset of the apostles? The need is too
great, we can’t help them, no matter how much we want to, Jesus. We just don’t
have the resources. I’ve got my own bills to pay. The church is running a deficit.
We just can’t do anymore. Send them away.
But Jesus says: You feed them. So what do we learn from this Interruption?
First, I think we need to remember that we live in a world of abundant
resources. The church needs to operate from a theology of abundance
rather than one of scarcity. Not too long ago I overheard a conversation
that a couple of people were having about the problem of starving
children . And one of the people made the comment that the solution would be “to
teach the people of those countries where this is such a problem to not
have so many kids.” Decrease the need, and your resources will go a lot further.
And there is certainly something to that. But the problem is not a lack of
resources. It is a problem with the allocation of resources. There is plenty of food in
the world to feed everyone, but it isn’t getting to everyone. Back in the 1970’s, my
family would take vacations to Colorado, which inevitably meant driving across
Kansas. And I remember seeing bill boards along the interstate that read, “One
Kansas farmer feeds 100 people and you.” And every year that number would
increase. In 2016, the signs would read 155 people and you. Our world is rich in
all resources. God made sure of that. To believe otherwise it seems to me is to
believe that God doesn’t want some of His children to be on this planet.
A reporter once interviewed Mother Teresa of Calcutta concerning her outspoken opposition to abortion. And the reporter asked, “Mother Teresa,
doesn’t it bother you that so many children come into this world unwanted?”
“Unwanted by whom?” Mother Teresa asked. “I feel sure that God wants them,
for why else would He give us so many (to care for)?”
You see, the disciples looked at the multitude that gathered as a great problem,
but Jesus saw them as a great opportunity. God had given them all these people
to minister to. Remember what Jesus had told them soon after He had called them to
be His Disciples? The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. In Jesus heart
and mind, they couldn’t send them away. You feed them. The problem is not
inadequate resources. The problem is getting everyone to share what God has
already provided. There is more than enough. No one should go from here
hungry. You feed them. In a commentary on this passage, C.S. Lewis once
wrote that in feeding the 5000,
Jesus simply accelerated something that happens naturally over a long period of
time. . . wheat multiplies in the field and is then made into bread to eat. Fish
multiply in the sea and become the staple of the diet of many people. 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. Eventually they would have all been fed, but if they had sent them away they would not all been ministered to and they would have wasted God‘s great blessings of a multitude of people hungry for the word of God.
Too often we look through the eyes of the Disciples, we may view the need all
around us as a problem. We can’t possibly meet all the needs even here in
Lexington, Kentucky. But if we view it from Jesus’ eyes, whatever we do, whatever we give is an investment in the blessings of God. As a church, God sends us more and more persons to minister to, and he has blessed us with a great fellowship, and he has blessed us with a great vision for ministry, and wonderful facilities and he has placed us here in the middle of a multitude of people who are starving for His word and so much more. So many opportunities for worship, and Bible study and service. So many people on our doorstep. And He has blessed us with the resources to address those needs. He has provided. We are people of great abundance. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes we don’t feel very abundant. But the truth is that God has blessed us with great abundance. But the problem is that we too often choose to hold on to those resources and send the people away instead.
I read the other day that within 10 years , one out of every seven people in the U.S.
will be a millionaire. (Let‘s see, we average close to six hundred on Sunday, so
that means that about 90 of us will be millionaires. But most of us don’t give like we have great abundance to share and so too often the church is forced to operate out of a scarcity mindset. So ushers let‘s pass those plates again.).
This story tells us that we have the resources from which God can make miracles
happen, but we have to be willing to give them. To give all that we are. Surely this little boy wasn’t the only one who had resources to share. There were probably those in that great multitude who had much more to share than the little boy. But in John’s telling he was the only one willing to give all that he had. You and I are a people that are abundantly blessed in this life. We have the resources, whether it be loaves and fishes, or time, or money, to meet whatever needs God places before us, if we are willing to step out and give all that we have, all that we are. In Jesus’ hands we become the miracle.
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.” And when the offering
was collected they had underwritten the project.
I believe that when God calls us into a ministry, he has already blessed us with the means to respond to that call. We might not realize it. We might believe we are inadequate. That we have so little to give. We might believe that our five loaves and two fish are in no way enough to meet the great need, and in our hands they aren’t but when we give what we have and are to God, He will make the miracle. We are truly a blessed people. God blesses us to be a blessing to others. You feed them. And praise God that we can! A boy who had so little, is the catalyst for so much because he believed what Jesus needed was all that he had to give.
And then finally we need to remember that 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 . The measure we
get back is always far greater than the measure we give. It is a divine
law of investment. But we‘ve got to stop thinking, “We have nothing to give.”
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
One commentator on this passage writes:
There are ways to explain the feeding of the 5000. Who knows how Christ did
it? The point is that when Jesus is present, 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
“When Jesus is present, miracles happen.” The church is called to be the
presence of Christ in the midst of a world that is in such great need. We provide
what bread and the fish we have, and trust God to make the miracle. As a
church, God has blessed us with great opportunities for ministry.
Sometimes I like to go up on the roof of the church and look back on the
neighborhoods behinds us. From there I can see hundreds of apartments filled
with young families, and children and single adults and retired persons. And many
of them are spiritually hungry. And we can, like the Disciples, choose to send
them away. Or we can pray that God opens up opportunities for ministry and
share what we have, who we are. We can be, like this little boy, all in for Jesus.
We can rejoice in the people that God is blessing us with, the opportunities for
ministry and give Jesus all we have, no matter how small or large that is, and trust
Him to make the miracle. Trust Him to make us the miracle.
When I was District Superintendent, the school at Red Bird Mission, which serves
several of the poorest counties in America, was struggling to survive, and the
Lexington District began to partner with them. We collected school supplies and I
took them down there, along with an offering from the churches of the District. It wasn’t much really but in Jesus’ hands it became a miracle and the school continues to operate today. And in the midst of all of that, I had a conversation with one of the teachers at the school. And she told me that at Christmas time that year the school was collecting a shipment of food for the poor people of Appalachia. The children brought their canned goods, and boxed food items and dropped them in the bin. They didn’t have much themselves but what they had they shared. Well, one little girl in the fourth grade was upset because she had forgotten to bring her food for the collection and it was the last day of the drive. But 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. And in it was 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 whole lunch to share with the people of Appalachia .
Lord the need is too great. The multitude is too large for us. Send them away.
No, Jesus said. You feed them. And with the help of a little boy who was willing
to give his all for Jesus, they did. I wonder what Jesus can accomplish in our
community if all of us are willing to be all in, give our all for Jesus. Pardon the
interruption. But don’t be discouraged. Don’t be overwhelmed. Give what you
have, what you are, and I will do miracles through you.
Lord, we look at this story and say that the feeding of the thousands
was the miracle. But the true miracle was what you did in the heart of that little
boy, and those disciples that day. Make a miracle in our hearts this very day, that
no matter what resources we bring, whether large or small, we are blessed to give
our all, so that you can make miracles happen in our community and in our world.