9th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who does the most with next to nothing. Amen
When we join Jesus today in the gospel
he is going through a rough patch in his ministry.
It all started out well,
preaching, teaching and healing the crowds who have loved him,
until he goes home to Nazareth,
where the people look at him and say
‘isn’t that Joseph and Mary’s boy?
The one we used to see running around with all the other kids?
We know he’s not special’
and they won’t listen to him,
and he is unable to do many deeds of power among them
because of their disbelief.
He expected this would happen,
prophets being without honor in their own country and all,
but it still had to hurt
and then on top of this rejection
he hears the news of the death of John the Baptist,
beheaded in prison by Herod
and it’s too much
he needs some time alone to grieve and pray
So “he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
But when the crowds heard it,
they followed him on foot from the towns.”
It seems like Jesus only gets the time in the boat to himself
because we are told that “when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd”
and though we know that Jesus is tired and sad and needing time to pray
when he saw the crowds that greeted him
“he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”
Now ‘compassion’ is a weak translation of the greek.
What Jesus feels is a visceral, gut wrenching reaction to the crowds,
he feels their pain and need in his body
and he responds to their need with the care they seek.
It’s a big crowd so he’s busy all day.
His disciples have caught up with him
and they’re helping as they usually do
but when it gets to be evening they’re getting tired and are ready to be done
they say to Jesus ‘look we’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting late,
send the people away, they uh, they need to eat,
yah maybe if we put our request out of care for the crowd we can get a break.’
But Jesus responds “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
They replied, ‘we have nothing here, but five loaves and two fish;
and he said bring them here to me”
and Jesus blesses and breaks the bread
and gives it to the disciples to distribute
“and all ate and were filled; and they took up what was leftover of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”
Jesus takes the scraps,
what the disciples call ‘nothing’
and turns it into an abundant feast.
When Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowds something to eat,
their immediate reaction is to say ‘we have nothing.’
We tend to exaggerate
when it comes to counting our resources,
we often discount or pass over the last little bits,
the five loaves and two fish,
because we see them as not enough,
‘it might as well be nothing for all the good it will do’
we are programmed to think
and so we don’t immediately count it,
but when we pause and take stock,
and it turns out we do have at least a little bit,
Jesus says, ‘bring them here to me’
and Jesus blesses our leftovers,
then gives them back to us to distribute, to work with.
Did you notice that?
The disciples point out the problem
of the crowds of people needing food
and Jesus turns it right back around to the disciples,
they are capable of fixing the problem that they’ve noticed he seems to say.
This seems impossible to the disciples,
but when they bring what they have to Jesus,
he makes it possible for the disciples to feed the whole crowd.
This is how Jesus works,
Jesus takes what we call ‘nothing’,
our leftovers that we forget about or discount,
creates new life and then hands it back to us to distribute in the world,
and he does it with more than just loaves and fish,
we see this throughout Jesus’ ministry.
He comes as a baby to a people that pretty much count for nothing
in the grand scheme of the Roman Empire,
he grows up in a little town
where people ask if anything good can come from there
and when he starts his ministry
he goes out to the desert where people are so desperate for hope
that they have gathered around a man dressed in camel’s hair
who dines on locusts and wild honey.
After he is baptized
he takes the leftover people,
those whom society counts as nothing
and turns them into disciples,
blesses them and sends them back out into the world
to share the good news with even more people.
He teaches them how to live
so that they bear good fruit,
and when people bring Jesus those who are sick
and therefore at that time counted as unclean,
Jesus heals them,
he even heals based on the request of friends
who come to Jesus and say, I trust that if you just say the word my friend will be healed
and based on this belief Jesus heals.
The leftovers, the next to nothings, the small things
are Jesus’ favorite things to work with,
last week we heard Jesus’ teaching
about faith the size of a mustard seed
and how the kingdom of heaven is like yeast,
just a little bit will make a whole lot of bread.
Jesus works with the smallest of things
The things that are overlooked or discounted as not enough
in his hands they change the world.
This applies to us as well,
when we’re on our last nerve,
or our patience is wearing thin,
or the world has told us we’re lacking in some way,
if we don’t think we can go on because we are weary,
if we have come to believe that we have nothing to give.
Jesus still finds something to work with in us.
As a world, as a country,
we are going through a rough patch right now,
a time when it seems like there is not enough all around us,
whether it is medical equipment,
support for families or even normalcy
and it is frustrating and disheartening
and Jesus is with us.
Jesus hears us when we cry to him.
When we pour out our pain and suffering
Jesus hears us and has compassion for us,
and then takes what little we have left
and uses it to change the world,
even if it is just our small piece of the world,
and the kingdom of God comes near.
Jesus will gladly take the scraps we bring to him
and turn them into new life,
that’s what he does
but we shouldn’t be surprised
when Jesus turns it back around on us
saying “you give them something to eat”
because in Christ, we are more than enough.
And Jesus will take us
And turn us into abundant life. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.