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a sermon based on Matthew 14:13-21
by Rev. Rick Thompson

     Every Thursday morning at Holy Shepherd we have "manna".  It happens at our lectionary Bible study.  There is no sign-up list for refreshments, but every week, something delightful to eat during our coffee break appears.  We jokingly call the refreshments "manna," because they appear seemingly from nowhere.

     You probably remember the first story about "manna", centuries before the time of Jesus.  The children of Israel left their time of slavery in Egypt in a hurry, and spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. There was nowhere to get food and water there.  But God mysteriously provided "manna" each morning on the ground—not a lot, but enough to sustain them for all those years.  God miraculously provided water for the people, too.  It wasn't much, but it was enough.

     In today's story, Jesus has just received word that John the Baptist had been beheaded.  Knowing full well that he could be next, Jesus needed some time alone.  He needed to pray and reflect and recharge his spiritual energy.

     But people heard where Jesus was, and they swarmed into the wilderness, seeking healing and wisdom and hope from Jesus.  They stayed all day, and Jesus, motivated by his deep compassion for the hurting, healed many of the sick.  The day was almost over.  People were getting hungry, and the disciples reported this to Jesus.  "Send them to the villages nearby," they recommended, "so they can buy food."   "No, you give them something to eat!" Jesus commanded.  And the disciples protested, "We only have five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus!"  That would hardly be enough to feed 5,000 men, plus women and children—probably 15,000 people or more!

     But in the hands of Jesus, five loaves and two fish were enough.  He took the bread, and blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, with instructions to give it to the crowd.  "Took…blessed…broke…and gave"—does that language sound familiar?

     In the hands of Jesus, it was enough!  It was enough to feed that enormous crowd—with 12 baskets of bread left over!

     Even in the wilderness, it was enough.  It was happening again!  In the wilderness of Galilee, when Jesus blessed and broke bread, a hungry crowd received enough to satisfy its hunger, and there were even leftovers!

     Where God is at work, where Jesus Christ is present—even in the wilderness—there is enough compassion and divine abundance to meet every human need!  There is enough to sustain hungry bodies and spirits, and even enough to share!

     Now, does it seem to you that we're living in a wilderness time?  Doesn't it seem as if the world is a terrifying and lonely place?  It's short on compassion and, instead, full of revenge and hatred.  There are Islamic extremists—not representative of authentic Islam—willing to die in order kill those they consider enemies, and American soldiers in harm's way tyring to stop them. The economy seems to be sinking fast.  There is violent and abusive behavior in the streets and homes of our cities.  There are people—all kinds of people—searching, groping, striving, struggling, all too often in vain, to find a reason to live.

     Would you agree that the world can feel like a wilderness

     And there are hungry people—people starving and dying because they don't have enough to eat.  Most of them are women and children.  According to our church's World Hunger ministry, over 13% of the world's people are chronically hungry.  In the United States, there are 35.5 million people—almost 11% of our population—who are hungry or at risk of hunger, and 12.6 million of them are children. (The percentage of hungry people in the U.S. has increased from 8% in the last three years.)  In the developing world, 8,000–8.000–children die every day from hunger or diseases related to hunger.  That's 1 every 5.4 seconds.  And yet, in the year 2000, there was enough food grown in the world to feed every man, woman, and child 3-4,000 calories a day.  Oh–and 10 children in the world have died of hunger during the time I've reported these statistics to you. 

     Would you agree that this world can feel like a wilderness?

     On my recent immersion trip to Mexico, I learned that 50% of Mexican people do not have meaningful work.  The minimum wage–for those who even have a job–is 52 pesos, about $5, a day.  Peasant corn farmers are being compelled to leave the land and search for work in the cities–work that doesn't exist–because imported corn costs less than the locally-grown corn in Mexico.  Is it any wonder that many Mexican people are desperate enough to attempt to cross the border illegally and risk detention, or being shot at by Minutemen, or dying in the Arizona desert, or getting discouraged and going to work in a sweat shop conveniently located near the border?

     Doesn't it seem that this world is, indeed, a wilderness?

     We live in a world that needs to discover the truth of the story of the feeding of 15,000—that Jesus Christ is enough.  Jesus is enough to feed hungry bodies.  And Jesus is enough to satisfy hungry spirits.  Jesus is enough to give peace and courage and direction and hope—and compassion, so desperately needed.

     And then there's the church.  God's own people.  We, too, are often among those who need to rediscover that Christ is enough.

     How often we are like the disciples.  They had faith—sometimes, to some degree—but often did not really trust in Jesus.  In the wilderness, when it came time to feed all those people—that was one of those times.  When Jesus said, "You give them something to eat," they should have remembered who was with them.  Instead, they replied, as the church often does, "We can't do that!  We only have limited resources!"

     The church says, "We can't do anything about world hunger; there are only a few of us, and there are millions of hungry people in the world!"

     "We can't reach out beyond our doors, or support the wider mission of the church; we can't even take care of our own people, and can barely pay our own bills," the church laments.

      We need to remember something.  We need to remember who's with us in the wilderness of uncertainty and doubt and fear, who feeds us and sustains us, who guides and directs our mission.  We need to remember who it is that tells us, "You give them something to eat!!

     Who is it?  Of course, it's Jesus Christ!  It's the one who fed the multitude with one small meal.  It's the one who had compassion on the sick and the hurting and the needy.  It's the one who came from God to bring us back to God.  That's the one who's with us!

     Who's with us?  It's the one who defeated Satan, who went fearlessly to his own death, who died to forgive sins, and who rose again to release God's power and love into our lives and all the world.  It's Jesus Christ, who satisfies the hunger of both body and soul!  That's the one who's with us.

     We live as God's people in the company of Jesus Christ!  And Jesus has proved that he will provide what we need for our lives and our mission as God's people. 


     Remember that banquet Jesus offered in the wilderness.  Remember the banquet he provides again and again in the Eucharist.  It is a simple meal, with simple folk in attendance, and no one is excluded.  At this banquet, there is healing, and trust, and joy, and sharing.  It is the banquet of life!

     Although it is far from extravagant, it is enough.  What Jesus offers, what Jesus provides—it is enough!  Enough to satisfy the hunger of body and soul.  Enough to sustain the people of God.  Enough to give us life, and hope, and faith.  It may not seem like much, but it is enough!

     There is even enough to share!

     "You give them something to eat," Jesus instructs his disciples—that's you and me, of course!

    The Dalai Lama, world leader of the Buddhist faith, once delivered a speech in which he addressed some of the deep needs of the hurting world, and called for compassion from the world's people of faith.  After the speech, there was a question and answer time.  Someone asked him, "What's your suggestion for addressing the problem of world hunger?"  The audience settled in, expecting a long, complicated answer.  Instead, the Dalai Lama paused dramatically—and then spoke one word: "Sharing."


     In the face of the world's enormous needs for food—food for the body, and food for the spirit—we wonder if we can do anything that will really make a difference.  Well, we can.  We can share!

     When it comes to making a difference in addressing world hunger, there's no better way than support our church's world hunger ministry.  Did you know that overhead is less than 7%, compared to the enormous overhead of more highly-publicized relief agencies?  Did you know that, since our Hunger Appeal began some 30 years ago, there are fewer hungry people in the world, even though the population has mushroomed?  And did you know that $1 will feed an orphan in Zimbabwe or Malawi?  That $10—about the cost of a movie—will ship blankets or health supplies to a family of five after a disaster?  That $250 will provide five goats to a poor farmer in Uganda?  That $1,000 will provide pre-natal care for 125 women in one of the world's poorest countries?  That $150 will feed a Mexican child breakfast and vitamins for a year?

     We think that what we have may not be much—but it is enough, enough to share!

     We have received, and we are asked to give.  We have received the good news that God is with us to forgive, to give hope and life, and we are asked to share that news.  We have received daily bread, financial resources, countless blessings from God, and we are asked to share them to give life to the world.

     Most of all, we have received Jesus Christ.  When we think our resources have run out, there is still Jesus—and isn't he enough? 

     We are reminded and invited to remember that Jesus Christ is enough—enough to provide whatever we need for body and spirit, enough even to share.

     May God give us the courage and compassion to do just that, to share what we have, from the abundance God has given us in Christ!