Sermon by Reverend Dr. John Mann | August 2, 2020
Matthew 14: 13-21
You can teach people to share, but you cannot legislate generosity.
How we learn to share and how we actually share is an illustration of the true nature of our common bonds – family systems, friendships, community and religious groups. Like most areas of life, actions speak louder than words.
I served a church that decided to hold a fundraiser – a fish fry. There was one guy in the church who took it upon himself to catch most, if not all the fish for the annual fish fry. He loved to fish, so fish he did. He would clean and fillet each catch, wrap it up, label and store it in a freezer in the church basement. In that way, between January and September he would catch enough for the fish fry; somewhere between 80 and 100 pounds. That was a generous thing to do.
Most of the time when we support a worthy cause we are happy enough to give our time or donate our money. If we decide that the cause is no longer worthy, then we give our time or donate our money elsewhere.
There’s a certain kind of giving that appears generous, but which in reality is anything but generous. Think of it as giving with “strings attached.” I will give the gift, but with these strings I’ve attached to it I will be in control of it. Sometimes those are the strings of responsible accountability.
But sometimes the strings are all tied up in stinginess. “I’ll give the gift, but it’s still mind.” What happened with the fish fry was that the fisherman had a falling out with the church. He decided to leave the church. Good Christian that he was he wanted to make sure that the other Christians got the point of his leaving. So before he made his final exit, he went down to the freezer in the church basement and packed up all the fish he had caught for the fish fry. Sixty pounds of fillets by that time.
He took his fish and went home.
That should teach them! Teach them what, though? Word got around and people from around the area started catching fish for the church. They ended up with more than enough for the fish fry. The guy who took his fish home just ended up looking foolish.
It seems that if we are of a mind to share, then we will always have something to share; we will always have a reason to share; we will always have people to share with.
Likewise, if sharing is not part of our mind-set, then we will never have enough; we will never have good reasons to share; no one will ever be worthy of our giving.
Sometimes we ask, “What would Jesus do?” and we come up with likely answers. I tend not to worry about what Jesus might or might not do. There are stories about what he did. More important than what he might do is the question, “What would Jesus want me to do?”
A story in Matthew’s portrait of Jesus reveals one answer. It happened this way –
Everywhere they went people were talking about what happened to John the Baptist. Jesus was shocked at the news. John had been arrested and was being held in Herod’s jail. He had publicly criticised the king’s moral values.
Herod put on a dinner party one time and part of the entertainment was provided by Herod’s niece Salome who performed a suggestive strip tease. In front of the guests Herod told her she could have whatever she wanted in payment. He was probably thinking she would want a new pony or some such gift.
Her mother had told her what to ask for – the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. So Herod couldn’t go back on his promise. He had some guards go down to the cells and cut lop off John’s head and bring it up for show and tell.
It was the sort of thing that made people wonder, “What kind of a world are we living in?” Jesus needed to get away and be alone and think about it. He was traveling around the Sea of Galilee, a lake actually and he got in a boat rowed over to a more deserted part of the shore.
A deserted place – a place like the wilderness where he was tested – a place where he could have some peace and quiet and try to figure things out.
But he was too well known for that now. People figured out where he was going and when he got there a fairly large crowd had gathered.
What did they want from him? What does anyone want from Jesus? He gave them the only thing he had just then – compassion and healing. What else can you do for people when you live in a system where politics and religion conspire to keep people down; and in a world where those who try to rise up get their heads chopped off?
He would heal those he could and that would have to be enough. That’s what Jesus would do.
After a long day the disciples of Jesus said, “It’s been a long day. These people need to leave. They’re getting hungry and we don’t have any food for them. They should go into the towns around here and buy stuff from the marketplaces.”
It was a reasonable view. A fairly common world view in fact. Like many groups have a reasonable world view. It could be characterized in four simple terms.
1. This is not the right place. (It never is)
2. This is not a good time. (Likewise, never)
3. We don’t have the necessary resources. (We only have enough for ourselves)
4. They need to be responsible for themselves. (It’s their own fault – they are lazy and shiftless, etc.)
They probably hoped that Jesus would see the reason of it – that he might say to the crowds something like, “It’s been a good day, we’ve had some great healings and now it’s time to go home. God bless you one and all.”
But he didn’t say that. He said to his disciples, “They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“What?! All we have are two dried fish and five loaves of bread! That’s not even enough for ourselves!”
What Jesus was about in his life and work was stepping into the difference between “what we have” and “what God has” and bridging that difference. It’s a difference mostly of perception.
Jesus was trying to open their eyes – to get them to see that their view of God was based on the idea of scarcity. It follows then that if resources are scarce, God is stingy. As long as there are always poor people to siphon off resources, then measure your charity. Don’t be extravagant because in the long run it won’t do any good. Save some for yourself. Don’t dare to dream, rather, protect what you’ve got. Send them away!
This story raises questions. It presents us with the challenge of defining our outlook on life, our world view and our understanding of God.
Is our God the God of abundant resources?
Are you generous with God because you believe God is generous?
Do you live with any sense of gratitude, even gratitude that might cause you to respond to God in some extravagant way?
Jesus told them to use what they had. He blessed it, broke it and they passed it around. When they decided to risk seeing God’s possibilities, they used what resources they had. When everyone had eaten their fill, they had more leftovers than what they started with.
That’s how it’s supposed to work in the realm of God. There’s no magic formula for miracles of this sort – all it takes is the willingness to share.
Jesus is always telling us, “You give them something to eat.”
Miracles happen because –
This is always the right place.
Now is always the right time.
We have all the resources we need to accomplish God’s purposes.
Everyone is welcome.
And there are usually plenty of leftovers.