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  After Pentecost for the web

Sermon of August 6th

   Time After Pentecost   

Matthew 14:13-21

 
Let us pray. Speak to us Lord, speak to us.
For we are listening. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen. 
 

  

Theme:      “Bring them to me.” Jesus said.
Doctrine:    God’s Lordship
Image:       Feast…
+ Need:     We need to know that God’s ministry does not rely on our capacity.
Mission:     We are Jesus’ hands to distribute blessings to those who are in need.

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In Matthew’s gospel, there are two feeding the multitudes stories: One is feeding the five thousand and the other one is feeding the four thousand in the 15th chapter; the one we hear this morning, is important enough that all four gospels authors have decided to keep it in their writings. My questions are: what makes this miracle so special, what does it tell us about God, and what does it mean to us?

Before Matthew tells us about this extraordinary event, he told us what had happened to Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. At the feast that Herod prepared for his guests, which was requested by his daughter, John was beheaded. When Jesus heard the news, he was very much disturbed, to the point, he felt he need to take a break and have some quiet time for himself, so he withdrew in a boat.

John’s martyrdom alerts Jesus that his mission is not an easy mission. Although now he is in a boat and apart from his enemies and from the demands of the people, he cannot stay there forever. He had to get out and meet with whatever awaited him.

The image of a boat reminds me of the ‘nave’, a term that we refer to a worship place like where we are sitting. I don’t know the exact reason why you are here this morning, but I suspect, when you come here, you may never think of staying here forever, for this is only a boat for you to have a quiet hour, (provided you come in here on time), to take a break from your crazy situations. Then, like Jesus, you have to get out and meet with whatever awaits you.

Once Jesus’ feet stepped on to the shore, what welcomed him was a multitude of demands. People did not know Jesus’ need. Don’t get me wrong, I did not say these people cared less about Jesus. What I say is, because of their own immense need, they were unable to see the need in the other person. They came not to console but with their requests and high expectations. They all wanted Jesus to pay attention to them. Jesus could have said, “Leave me alone and give me a break.” But he did not. 

Right in the beginning, Matthew tells us straightforwardly who Jesus is: He is good to all, and his compassion is over all his works1. Please pay attention to how Matthew describes Jesus: He went ashore, saw the great crowd; driven by his compassion, he attended to those who await his help, and he healed their sick.

Now let the camera zoom out a little bit. Besides Jesus and the crowds, we see Jesus’ disciples are there with him. And they are very observant. They realize that a potential problem is soon to arise. It is out of kindness, I believe, they advise Jesus to send the people away before it is too late. It is a reasonable approach, isn’t it?

I remember years ago when I served in Nova Scotia, the parish organized two community turkey dinners annually. They did not serve 5000 thousand men but almost five hundred each time. They prepared a certain amount of food based on their previous experience, and they knew exactly how and when to signal the people about the shortage of food and invite them to come earlier next year. I wonder what would happen if I told them those people need not go away even though I know there was no enough food in the kitchen. I wonder what would happen if I said to them, “you give them something to eat.”  

I can imagine the expression on the faces of Jesus ‘disciples. They were surprised. They rolled their eyes when they heard Jesus say, “They need not go away.” What shocked them most was what Jesus continued to say, “You give them something to eat.” “Are you serious?” They couldn’t believe their ears. 

It would be more comforting if Jesus said, “Oh, don’t worry, they don’t need to go away, I have hidde enough food somewhere and I will feed them.” But Jesus did not say that, but rather, “You give them something to eat.” Why? Why us? You know that we have nothing but only a little, and we are so sure that it is not enough to feed the needy.

Since few months, Liga, Carol, and I have regularly met with some other local churches in Orleans. Together, we try to develop plans and strategies to serve the community as Christ’s body. It is good to see the openness and willingness from the participating churches to work and do ministry together for the sake of the kingdom of God and the community. From what is happening, I see a glimpse of the movement of God’s Spirit.

During our meetings, we usually exchange information regarding what events are coming up at churches; then we discuss what we can do to serve the needy in Orleans as Christ’s body. The picture we see is that the demand is huge and we are so small and so incapable to meet the need. Easily, we are trapped and held there, and hesitate to take action or try another possibility. When that moment happens, I see the contiguous power of dismay. One after another, I heard the words ‘we cannot”. 

I believe, this is the reason for the increased number of the so called ‘dying church’. I feel sad and even angry sometimes at church meetings not because I hear the powerful words “we cannot” but because of our focus on ‘we’.

There is no dying church but dead cells in the body of Christ. God’s church will never die if you have read the bible, Church on earth signifies not a building nor an institution, but a people, the bride of the Son of God in the process of purification. In fact, God’s church is growing in another part of the globe. Why does it happen to them and not the churches in North America or in Europe? The reason is, I believe, our attitude and our mindset are wrong.

Last week an ethnic congregation from the west side of Ottawa came and seek whether this facility suitable for them to start a satellite worship place in Orleans. I showed them around, and when they looked at our land and backyard, do you know what they said to me?  “Why do you have so much land but built a small church? You should think big!” My response is an absolute Amen not only because we have a big piece of land, but also because we have an ALMIGHTY GOD, an all-powerful God. We forget what we are taught: “Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thanks God for what He has done."2 

This morning, Jesus stands in front of us and shows us what our attitude and mindset should be as Christ’s body. Yes. Jesus had his own needs, he was heartbroken and deeply dejected, but when he saw the needs of others, he prioritized his own needs after those of others’. Matthew tells us that Jesus did take care of his own needs but after he served others. We may argue that of course Jesus can do that because he is the Son of God. Have we forgotten that he was fully human too? Besides, are we not sons and daughters of God as well?

So often, like the disciples, when we see a potential challenge, our immediate reaction is to do our best to avoid it. We know that we cannot send our challenges away, but we can avoid them by ignoring them or by giving ourselves valid reasons to not commit. The disciples had a good one, “we have only five loaves and two fish.” “Do the math, Jesus, it is not that we don’t want to help, we can’t because we don’t have enough. We don’t even have enough to feed ourselves, we have 13 grown men here and we are hungry and tired too.” They are right, and they are telling the truth. I really hope that Matthew had put some ‘ink’ on describing Jesus’ facial express here. He didn’t, rather he introduces another surprise.

Jesus said, “Bring them to me.” If you were Jesus’ disciples, how would you feel? If Jesus asked you to give him all that you have, and your only recourse was to survive? I suspect, even if you were as obedient as the disciples, handing all that you have over to the Lord, is indeed an extremely reluctant act. That is what wrestling with God is like. It is hard, but their sacrifices paid off. A miracle emerge because of it.

If you have the insert with you, shall we read together from verse 19 to 20? Then he [Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two first, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  Now you have read it, what do you hear? What do you see?

This is what I see: the introduction of the miracle begins with a picture of Jesus installing ‘order’ back into a chaotic void. In the place of emptiness and hopelessness, Jesus instructed the hungry crowds to sit down. From the reluctant hands Jesus received the offering of obedience. Instead of looking at the loaves and the fish, or the great crowds; Instead of comparing the size of these two, Jesus looked up. He looked up - Jesus involves the One who sent him, his gesture points all those around him to the all-powerful One. Here, Jesus demonstrates what we should do when the need and the demand are bigger than our capacity - Look up and offer all that we have, our worries, our limitations to God and await His response. 

Although some biblical scholars suggest the readers to link Jesus’ gesture of blessing and breaking of the bread as Holy Communion, personally, I believe that here Jesus is indicating to his disciples that He is the host of the feast and he takes full responsibility in what he is doing:  It is the Lord’s decision to use their insufficient offerings to feast the hungry multitudes.  

I don’t know about you, if I were one of the disciples, I would have had peace. Do you know why? Because it is not my problem anymore; the problem now belongs to Jesus or to God. It is their battle. What I do now is anticipate the outcome of Jesus’ decision. It works, Matthew tells us not once but twice in next chapter. So, do we believe it?

Of course, not everybody will choose to believe, it is their choice; How about you? Do you believe? If your answer is “I believe in God”, here is another question for you - What kind of God do you believe in?

In the boat, this worship place, through the liturgy, God installs order back into our crazy and chaotic lives. It reminds us that God is here not only with us and for us, He is the host and the master of his ministry. We come here to worship, we seek not entertainment nor our preferences being served, but rather, we come here for solitude and to seek God’s help ~to reorient our lives back to order, back on track, back to the faith that we confess together, back to solidarity; so that we can once again be ashore, with our limited capacity, to meet with whatever awaits us in life.

Since 2015, the RLC envisioning team: Liga, Randy, Carol, and Fred, have been praying and working diligently and tirelessly to discern what direction this congregation should take to fulfill our call as a mission oriented congregation and as people of God’s kingdom. Last week, with the approval of your council, a letter was sent to you inviting you to partake in a pilot mission program with and for others that will take place in November in RLC. It is a brave leap and it takes Christ’s faith to do it. You are blessed because you have a council, a leadership, who are willing to choose to put other’s needs before your own needs. And I am convinced that it is not them but the Lord in your leaders who has made this decision and has worked on it.

This morning, Our Lord Jesus says to all of us, “Bring whatever you have to me.” This is an invitation, like the disciples, if we accept and hand over all that we have to Jesus, and pass on whatever Jesus gives us, miracle will be unfolded. This is what I believe anyway. How about you?

 

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1 Psalm 145:9
2 Philippians 4:6

 

   

 

©2017, Pastor Mei Sum Lai, MDiv. Please do not reproduce this article in whole or in part, in any form, without obtaining the written permission of the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Updated: August 14th, 2017