August 7, 2023

August 6, 2023, The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 6, 2023, The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 14:13-21

After John the Baptist is murdered, Jesus desires a time of solitude. Still, his compassion for others will not allow him to dismiss those who need him, and he is moved to perform one of his greatest miracles.
13Now when Jesus heard [about the beheading of John the Baptist], 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. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, 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. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.



Not only are the baskets of fish and loaves filled to the brim – but these readings from scripture today are full as well.  Full of God’s power and mercy, and grace – full of the good news of who God is for us and for the world. 
This Gospel especially was a favorite of the early church I suppose – and the writers of the four Gospels each thought that they should include it in their retelling of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Because perhaps it is so full of grace and really sums up exactly who God is for us.  Two other things that help us understand the themes.
First of all, they were in a deserted place.  They were in the wilderness.  Not only far from civilization, but in scripture the wilderness is portrayed as a dangerous place.  A place you might not want to stay in.  A place you might not feel safe in.  A place where you are looking over your shoulder and wondering how the resources you brought with you could possibly be enough.  I think we can all imagine a place like that, perhaps both a physical location and an emotional space. 
And like the savior he is, Jesus goes ahead of us into that place and space.  He’s already there by the time people get there and he doesn’t get them to leave and he doesn’t leave them there, but he heals them there, stays with them and feeds them.  There.  In the place that was formerly dangerous, empty, and deserted.  IN the dark place that they might have been afraid to go – Jesus was waiting for them and made it a place of blessing and abundance. 
All the places in your life that are scary and lonely – Jesus is there with you.  It might still be wilderness, but he’ll feed you and heal you there. 
And he’ll ask and empower you to do the same for others.  He’ll say to you, you give them something to eat.   Jesus empowers us to give out of our abundance through the holy spirit.  It is this same spirit we recognize in Holy Baptism.  
In our baptism, and our confirmations – our affirmation of baptism – we recognize that it is not by our own power that we do this work, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And we baptize babies to make explicitly clear that this sacrament, this power, this presence of the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with us, or how much we understand or don’t understand, nor our ability to be a good person or be good at sharing.  
Think about babies – and toddlers for that matter.  They are born selfish!  That is to say, their survival as the weakest among our tribe is dependent on the care of others, and dependent on them doing whatever they can and crying as loud as they can to get their needs met.  In doing so they learn to trust that their parents will provide for them.  Every need they have, every time they feel scared or hungry or sick or alone – they cry out.  Would we, could we be so trusting, as to cry out to our holy parent in every need.  
And as our needs are met, as we learn to trust our parents, as small children, we learn about sharing.  We learn about giving.  We experience good feelings as a child, knowing that there is enough to go around and that the powers that be (our parents) have our best interests at heart.  
As parents we are meant to model the love of our holy parents, God the Father and Creator of the world.  The love of the Triune God that saves and redeems and empowers us is our model for parenting in showing safety, forgiveness, grace, and giving our children the power and independence to discern for themselves.  But we make so many mistakes. 
So often like the disciples we react to situations, instead of showing trust and responding.  We see scarcity instead of abundance.  We worry that we aren’t enough, that our kids won’t have enough, that there’s not enough to go around.  And I’m not talking food – I’m talking love.  Acceptance.  Grace.  
And in our worst moments, when we feel like we have nothing left to give, we make poor and desperate choices – rather than following our saviors lead.  Jesus was touched out and exhausted, and he had just heard some particularly grievous news.   He withdrew to a place, by himself, to recharge, to reconnect with God, his heavenly parents.  And guess what – after he did that, he saw the crowds anew, he saw with fresh eyes the needs before him, and the compassion and healing he could offer.  
I just returned from a week’s retreat for clergy couples.  This took place at a church camp in Virginia, and is geared not just towards the needs for continuing education for clergy, but for our families as well – having both workshops for the adults and child care for our kids.  We even got a special date night, when the kids watched a movie and we were treated to a lovely dinner and some space just to be a couple.  But the biggest gift was the very last day, when all were trying to wrap up and pack up.  They provided child care for an hour so that we could pack the care and refocus our energies on what would be a long travel day of transition for our families!  Just that hour gave us the time we needed to take a breath, gather the laundry, make some order from chaos in the back seat of the car,  and then worship together as a family able now to fully focus on the task at hand.  It was a holy gift.  
God always provides for our basic needs – and the bible is full of examples of God feeding His people!  Not only does God provide, but he provides abundantly and encourages us to share.  Jesus is concerned with making sure people’s basic needs are taken care of, that they could all remain together and get fed. 
Throughout our whole lives, God is present with us, providing daily bread and everything we need for life abundant.  As we grow in faith and trust, being fed by the word and fed at the eucharistic table – we learn what it means to give of ourselves, working for justice and peace in all the world, so that all may be fed.  Amen

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