Saturday, August 5, 2017

Year A, Proper 13, Matthew 14.13-21, "Hunger Games"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
There is a hunger in the world that only Jesus can satisfy.  It has little to do with how much is in our bellies, and much to do with the yearning deep within our souls. 
“Give them something to eat.”  Jesus says.  “Give them something to eat.”
“But there are so many, and we have so little”, the disciples respond.
One can hardly blame the disciples for stating the obvious.  There were only twelve of them, and the crowds numbered over 5,000 men, plus the women and children.  The task would have been enormous.  They simply did not have the resources to do it.
We are a small congregation.
And there is so much to do. 
When we consider all that we SHOULD be doing as a congregation it is easy to become overwhelmed with the task and then think only about the scarcity of our resources. 
I mean really, let’s be honest here, it’s a challenge to just keep the church clean and the doors open.
There is so much more that we could be doing.
Yes, we collect a little food each month for the food bank.  We give offerings as we are able.  But the truth is that it seems very much like it must have seemed for the disciples that day.
There were thousands of people with nothing to eat and only a dozen disciples to do anything about it. 
And Jesus has the audacity to say “Feed them.”
Given the circumstances, how can we help but say anything other than “How?”
“How can we who are so few, feed the crowds who are so many, when we ourselves have so little?”

Let’s step back here for a moment and ask the question:  “Why should we feed the hungry in the first place?”
I read an interesting article this last week from the Washington Post on poverty.
A recent poll revealed that Christians in this country are more likely than any other group to blame poverty on a lack of effort by the poor. 
Not every Christian believes this, but over half of the Christians polled did.  The poor are poor because of their own lack of effort.  It has nothing to do with the circumstances that surround their life.  If they would simply work harder and make better choices they wouldn’t be poor.  They wouldn’t be hungry.
In contrast to Christians, by a margin of 2 to 1, atheists, agnostics, and those with no affiliation believe that poverty is caused by circumstances and cannot be blamed on the poor.  The poor are victims of circumstances beyond their control.
Is hunger a religious issue, or a political issue?
Do we have a moral obligation to feed the hungry?
Are programs of our government beneficial and necessary or do they contribute to the problem?  Should there be food stamps, or the Women, Infants, and Children program.  What about Aid to Families with Dependent Children?  What about food banks and the distribution of commodities to the poor?
Are such efforts of our government a moral response to the needs of the poor in our country?
Or do they simply reward the lack of effort on the part of the poor with a free meal?
One of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked was asked when I visited a Lutheran congregation in Russia that we were partnering with.
“Is it true that there are poor people in America?”
“How can there be poor people in a country that is so rich?”
The answer is complicated.
I had to admit that there were indeed poor people in our country.  But, I also shared with them that the poor in our country in fact often had far more than they did. 
When it comes to issues of poverty and hungry, what do we do?
Is this a political issue?
Is this a religious issue?
And in the end, does it matter?
“They need not go away, you give them something to eat.”
On that day, Jesus answer was straight forward.
It didn’t matter if the crowds were to blame for not bringing food with them to eat.
It didn’t matter if it was merely a lack of planning, or deep poverty that caused the hunger.
In fact there is no indication whatsoever that the crowds were even poor.
All we know is that evening had come, and there was nothing in that place for the crowds to eat, and that the disciples suggested that Jesus dismiss the crowds and send them into the nearby towns where they might buy something to eat.
“No, you give them something to eat.”
From the prophets in the Old Testament, to Jesus in the New Testament, there is one reason and only one reason to feed the hungry.
We feed the hungry because they are hungry.  Period.
We can debate forever how to best deal with the question of poverty in our land.  Jesus makes it much simpler.
They are hungry.
You feed them.

But we can’t, was the disciples response.  All we have is five loaves of bread and two fish.
Scarcity.  We’d love to do what Jesus says, but we have so little.
Imagine if Jesus told us, Peace Lutheran, to feed the hungry in Spokane.  Thousands of hungry and we are so few.  Impossible would be our response.  Impossible.
How can we who have so little offer enough to care for so many? 
It’s simply not possible.
But with God, all things are possible.
“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. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”
Perhaps the only thing that is scarce is the faith to believe that God can do what we cannot.
They are hungry.
Feed them.

But there is more to it than that.
In the Gospel of John, when Jesus feeds the five thousand, the crowds continue to follow him even after he went away.
When they find him, Jesus says:
"Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."
There is a hunger in the world that only Jesus can satisfy.  It has little to do with how much is in our bellies, and much to do with the yearning deep within our souls. 
Our human tendency is to concern ourselves primarily with the hunger in our bellies, and we devote a tremendous amount of effort to insuring that we are always well satisfied.
But there is a deeper hunger that no amount of food will satisfy. 
And when Jesus feeds the hungry, it serves as a sign of something far more important.
There is a hunger in our souls that only Jesus can satisfy.
Are you loved?
Are you forgiven?
Is there a meaning and purpose to this life?
Is death the end?
Does anything really matter?
Or should we just eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die?
What is truth?  (That was Pilate’s question for Jesus.)  Is there any way to really speak about ‘truth’, or is everything simply a matter of personal opinion?
These questions and many more like them, are the hunger of our souls. 
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Jesus said.

The people are hungry.  Feed them.
Feed them with the food that endures for eternal life.
One of the problems with feeding the hungry is that tomorrow, they will hunger again.
There is nothing that can satisfy us completely.
Except for Jesus and the grace of God we find in him. 

Can we look beyond the physical hunger that we all experience, to the spiritual hunger that lies deep within?

One of the things I shared with the council last week is that as Lutherans we have tended to be more willing to share the tangible things that we have with the poor, things like food and clothing and shelter – than we are to share our faith.
But this is the thing.
There is more to life than three square meals a day.
And the greatest treasure of all that we have to share is our faith in Christ Jesus.
You are loved by God.
You are forgiven for Jesus sake.
God has a purpose for your life.
And even death has been conquered.
Yes, how we live our lives matters.
And Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
This is the food that truly satisfies.
This is the way of eternal life.


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