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July 31, 2005 (Sunday 18 · Time after Pentecost)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

Isaiah 55.1-5; Matthew 14.13-21

Brothers and Sisters, grace and peace to you from God our loving creator and from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

I wonder if it isn't easy for us, citizens in relatively affluent North America, to too easily dismiss the readings today. After all, how many of us have experienced deep hunger--a hunger that comes from not having enough food, from wondering how you will find food for your next meal. Certainly, we have felt hunger, but it is easily alleviated--by a trip to the kitchen cupboard or to the 7-11 on the corner.

So can we truly appreciate what is written in Isaiah?

everyone who thirsts,
     come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
     come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
     without money and without price. (Is 55.1)

You know that there are people who do experience that kind of pressing hunger, who do not know from where there next meal is going to come. Bread for the World's statistics say that 815 million people in the developing world are undernourished. They consume less than the minimum amount of calories essential for sound health and growth. And it isn't just in the 2/3's world that people are hungry. 3.5 percent of U.S. households experience hunger, frequently skipping meals or eating too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. this equates to 9.6 million people, including 3 million children. (Source: Bread for the World [www.bread.org])

But most of us here, even knowing these numbers, we do not personally experience this kind of hunger. So, what does Isaiah have to say to us? How do we hear the feeding of the 5000 from the gospel? I'm here to tell you that they both have a lot to say--because while you may not go to bed with your stomach crying out for food, we all hunger in other ways.

Some of you hunger for healing

  • for physical healing, for healing of relationships, for the healing of the earth

Some hunger for companionship

  • to ease loneliness, to help carry a burden, to share joys or pains

Some hunger for community

  • to ease the pain of rejection, to be your family, to feel as if you belong somewhere

Some hunger for justice

  • for the hungry to be fed, the poor to be no more, the lonely to be comforted, the prisoners to be visited, the environment to be cared for, the naked to be clothed and the marginalized to be welcomed.

And you may hunger in a way I haven't mentioned....

So, what does the Bible say to us today--we who hunger in these myriad of ways? The same things that it says to those who hunger for food--"your hunger is acknowledged and you will be fed."

"Your hunger is acknowledged." That's part of it, isn't it? We want someone to notice that we are hungry--that we have needs that aren't being met. "You will be fed."

It may not be an instant miraculous relief--most of us have never experienced that kind of action, but we are promised that it will be relieved. It may be through the action of others, or through the quiet slow action of time. We are promised, "You will be fed."

In the gospel lesson this morning, when the disciples notice that people are getting hungry, they turned to Jesus and asked him to send the people away to find their own food. Jesus' response to the disciples, "You give them something to eat." How often do you look for someone else to do the work when you see a need? Maybe people should help themselves, pull themselves up by their bootstraps--this is America after all and the "American Dream" is available for all who work hard enough. Or maybe you turn to someone else--someone more "spiritual," someone more "well trained" or more "able" to do the job and so you turn responsibility over to them.

Jesus doesn't let the disciples get away with that--he turns the responsibility back to them. I imagine that there was no shortage of grumbling as they pooled their resources and then turned back to Jesus to report their measly offeringŠmaybe hoping to get out of it. "We only have five loaves and two fish--clearly this isn't enough! Aha, we get out of it!" But Jesus has none of that--I wonder if he had big sigh, when he said "bring them here to me" and then he blessed the food. He then handed it back to the disciples and told them to get to work passing it out. And we are told that there not only was enough--but there was excess!

What does this story say to us? Those of us who hunger, and those of us who see the hunger in the world...all the kinds of hunger. There are two groups to be part of here--the disciples and the crowd. To the disciples, and you are all disciples of Jesus Christ, that is why you gather here together. To the disciples, the lesson says, "you see what's going on, you really do." You are aware of the hunger in the world, of the needs of others. And the gospel says, don't let fear stop you. One of the most common phrases in the Bible is "do not be afraid." It is no small comfort, but you aren't the first to fear, and you won't be the last. The gospel also tells you to pool your resources, pray (Jesus prays over the food, after all) and then go for it. Doing this you are likely to be surprised by what happens--maybe you are more able that you first though, maybe other people will share their limited resources, and maybe just maybe, the hand of God will reach into your life and make something truly miraculous happen.

What does the gospel say to those of you who are sitting on the hillside, you who are part of the crowd--hungering, yearning for what Jesus has to say. To you, the gospel says, Jesus, and his disciples are not indifferent to your need. They see that you hunger, that you have deep desires. The gospel tells you that the disciples may not act, but it isn't out of a lack of love or compassion, but disciples are often paralyzed by fear or by a perceived lack of resources.

Who are you this day? To those of you who feel part of the crowd, who are hungry--welcome! When you come forward and eat at this table, the table of our Lord, you will be fed with the love and mercy of Jesus himself. To those of you who identify with the disciples, welcome to you! When you come forward to kneel at the altar, you are not alone. You likely won't get an instant injection of courage, like the Lion in The Wizard of Oz, but you kneel next to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and with Jesus himself. You are reminded that you are not alone--as you experience the forgiveness and the love and mercy of God.

We are all disciples and we are all members of the crowd. As a member of the crowd, speak out--what is your hunger? As a disciple, look through the eyes of Jesus and see with love and mercy the needs of your brothers and sisters, fellow members of the Body of Christ. You are not alone--you are loved, supported and upheld through the love and mercy of God. Be bold to go out with good courage, trusting in the direction of God prepared to be surprised.

Amen.


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