Monday, August 1, 2011

From Meager to Miraculous

In Nomine Iesu
St. Matthew 14:13-21
July 31, 2011
Pentecost 7—Proper 13A

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

“The devil is in the details,” someone has said; but I beg to differ. At least where God’s Word is concerned, there’s good news in the details—abundant good news, overflowing good news, with at least a dozen basketfuls leftover. You know the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand. It’s recorded in all four gospels. It’s also the perfect place to go digging in the details for some genuine, 24-karat good news.

Let’s start with some detailed numbers: five loaves and two fish. We are told exactly what kind of food and what quantity of food was on hand in that desolate place where a crowd of thousands had managed to track Jesus down. Five loaves and two fish. Those details really aren’t necessary. It’s not something we absolutely need to know to appreciate the miracle that Jesus performs. I’m always a little surprised that the evangelists thought it so important to tell us that there were precisely five loaves and two fish.

In fact, it’s even more surprising when you stop and consider that Jesus didn’t need them. Jesus didn’t need any loaves or any fish. Jesus could have miraculously fed that hungry crowd out of thin air. Simply by saying the word or snapping His fingers or blinking His eyes or raising His hands to heaven Jesus could have conjured up a bounty of bread and a feast of fish. After all, as the Son of God, Jesus was there way back at creation fashioning all the fishes in the sea and giving all the grains that go into making bread. No, Jesus needed neither five loaves nor two fish to fashion a feast in the wilderness.

Yet those details are right there ready to jump off the pages of our Bibles: five loaves and two fish—unexpected, unnecessary, uncalled-for details. I think we need to dig a little deeper into those details. I think the Holy Spirit is calling attention to those loaves and those fish. I think there’s good news in those loaves and fish.

It was getting to be evening. The day had begun when Jesus was told about the execution of John the Baptizer, His cousin. That solemn news led Jesus to withdraw to a quiet, remote place of solitude. But the crowds followed Him. And when Jesus saw the crowds He was filled with compassion and healed their sick. Five thousand men were there; but add in the women and children and you’ve got yourself a Whitefish Bay-sized crowd. The disciples were tired and they dropped a not-so-subtle hint that Jesus should send the crowd home for supper and call it a day. But Jesus wasn’t ready to call it a day: “You give them something to eat,” He told His disciples.

The disciples protested with the facts—with hard numbers. You can’t argue with hard numbers. Five loaves and two fish were all they had. It wasn’t enough. But follow those two fish. Look at those loaves and watch what happens. Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” And the disciples did just that. They took their meager, paltry provisions and placed them into the hands of Jesus. Exactly five loaves and two fish were placed into the Savior’s hands.

And you know what happened next. Those meager portions were miraculously multiplied. Jesus then equipped His disciples to do the very thing that had seemed impossible only seconds earlier. The disciples gave the people—all of them—something to eat—generous portions that fully satisfied every last man, woman and child. In the hands of Jesus what was very little—what was obviously insufficient—became more than enough. Paltry provisions became plentiful. Scarcity became abundance. The meager became miraculous.

This isn’t just a nice story about Jesus feeding a crowd of hungry people. Nor is it some kind of a lesson for us to go out and feed the hungry. No, these details declare that in Jesus Christ the meager becomes miraculous. These details delineate what happens when we take our paltry possessions and our measly monies and our trivial talents and—in faith—place them joyfully into the hands of Jesus.

That scene from the seashore in today’s Holy Gospel gets repeated every time the offering plate passes your pew. There is an unseen reality going on every time you place a gift in the offering. If you want, you can think of your offerings as loaves and fish. Now, from an earthly standpoint, those loaves and fish will be used in a multitude of ways. One of every five loaves and fish given here at Our Savior gets sent straight out the door for mission work in Milwaukee and around the world. Other loaves and fish are used here—for utilities, for salaries, for office equipment and the like. That’s what you see; but here’s what you don’t see: every offering you give is just like loaves and fishes placed directly into the hands of Jesus, where something truly miraculous happens. You can’t see it; you can only believe it. But unless you believe it—unless you believe that the offerings you give are given right into the Savior’s hands, you will never know what it means to be a joyful giver. You will never be able to marvel at how Jesus multiplies the meager into the miraculous.

By nature we don’t believe it; and that’s obvious. For if we truly believed that our offerings were direct gifts to Jesus, well then, then preachers would have to preach about limiting your giving to ten percent and not getting carried away with what you give. “Be careful not to add an extra zero as you write out the offering check.” I have neither preached nor heard a sermon like that. That’s because most of us are too busy counting our loaves and fishes, admiring them, investing them, drawing hope and safety and security from our loaves and fishes. And when it comes to our loaves and fishes we always want to do what’s sensible and reasonable and logical. But remember the sensible, reasonable suggestion of the disciples was simply to send everybody home—to call it a day. But Jesus had a better idea: “Bring those five loaves and two fish to me . . . and watch what happens.”

What will you do with your loaves and fishes—with your dollars and cents? As you ponder that question, don’t forget that those dollars and cents are in your hands because the Lord Himself put them there. He’s the Giver of every good and perfect gift. As you ponder that question, don’t forget what Jesus does with those offerings you return to His hands. In the Savior’s hands, our meager offerings are multiplied for the good of the whole Christian church on earth and for the life of the whole world. And in the end, there’s even more left over.

What will you do? What will you do with your loaves and fishes—with your dollars and cents? Will you do what’s reasonable and logical and keep them close so you can be sure there’s food on your table and a roof over your head? Or will you—in faith—place a generous percentage of those dollars and cents back into the hands of Jesus—full of faith and hope and love—trusting Him to put food on your table and a roof over your head?

Of course, you can’t place your offerings into the hands of Jesus without also noticing those hands of His—how they are now forever scarred with the marks of the nails. Those nails were placed there for you—so that you wouldn’t get what you deserve to get for your sins. For when He was crucified, Jesus poured out His love for you in a way that did not count the cost. Jesus poured out His love for you in a way that no amount of dollars or cents could ever purchase. And with that love of Jesus, you are fully satisfied. For Jesus doesn’t parcel out His love in little increments, based upon what you deserve, or in a way that is logical or reasonable. He gives His love in ways that are prodigal, wasteful and lavish—with basketfuls left over.

The same blood that was poured out for you at the cross is also poured out for you here today in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus the Good Shepherd has—right here—prepared a table before us. Our cup runneth over. It’s a meager meal by all appearances—a meager amount of bread and wine. But with these meager portions Jesus miraculously feeds you with His holy body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins—for your eternal good. In this miraculous meal Jesus fully satisfies every heart that hungers for forgiveness.

We have a lot to learn from those five loaves and two fish. Those loaves and fish traveled from the disciples’ hands into Jesus’ hands, where they were miraculously multiplied. But the loaves and fish didn’t stop there. Jesus Himself didn’t distribute the food. No, He gave the multiplied loaves and fish right back into the hands of the disciples; and the disciples distributed the food to the people. The impossible became possible. What was out of the question one minute, was perfectly viable and do-able in the next minute. And Jesus once again used His disciples to do the un-doable.

Jesus is also using us—using this meager congregation with our meager resources to accomplish the miraculous. Jesus Christ is the reason. Jesus alone is the reason that one of every five dollars that pass through those offering plates is sent straight out the door—for the education of special needs children, for the education of pastors at our seminaries, for outreach to students at UW-Milwaukee, for expectant mothers at A Place of Refuge so that they can choose life instead of abortion. All those wonderful things—miraculous things, really—begin here—begin with you, the baptized children of God, who are unafraid to generously share your loaves and fishes by placing them into the hands of Jesus.

Those hands are the hands that blessed and healed. Those hands show the marks of His love. Those hands will raise your body from the dead on the day of resurrection. Those hands will welcome you and embrace you when you depart this meager life of loaves and fishes for the heavenly feast of salvation which Jesus Christ is preparing for you. Amen.

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