The Very Rev. Tom Callard – August 2, 2020
Our Gospel today follows Jesus and the crowds of people who have been traveling with him . And the story begins with Jesus trying to get away. He just wants a long weekend somewhere in a deserted place off by himself, to turn off the phone and disconnect the wi-fi. But the people keep texting and calling and emailing. I know in my experience when I’m away I’m really not bothered when people text and call and email me, because I know we have this connection, and it’s important, and I can always say, not right now, I’ll get back to you when I’m back. And I think Jesus is even less bothered by this than I am.
It’s clear that Jesus is here to be with us. Sure he needs a little time off from time to time, but his pleasure and purpose and meaning lie in being with the people. This passage has a wonderful way of expressing how Jesus is physically with the crowd. And if you wonder what the crowd in the Gospel means, it means us.
I remember in seminary learning that that there are basically two groups of people following Jesus. There are the disciples, who are the skilled leaders being trained for the leadership in the ministry of the Jesus movement, who will carry on his work when he’s gone, and this group includes the 12 as well as some of the women who were with him, and these are the ones with whom he spends most of his time. And sometimes as the Gospel speaks to us, we are those disciples. And then the other group following Jesus is the crowd, the people who are there everywhere he goes. And these are the ones getting healed, being fed, being taught. And sometimes as we hear the stories in the Gospel, we’re the crowd.
So today we hear that Jesus has compassion toward the crowd. And it’s worth taking a moment to think about this word compassion: It means that you suffer with someone. And so we see we have a God who is compassionate with the crowd, which means that our God is here with us, God is not out there or up there hurling lightning bolts down on us, or off resting in heaven after having created and set the universe in motion. But God is here with us in the crowd. In this pandemic. In the chaos of our lives. In our boredom. In our pain.
I know it’s been a lot of months, but do you remember what it’s like to be in a crowd? I know I miss that. Do you remember what it’s like to be in a big crowd – for example if you’re leaving a Red Sox game where you’ve just beaten the Yankees and you’re walking back to your car, in this river of people just moving along, shoulder to shoulder. And you know you’re not all alike, you’re not all in agreement, and that there among the crowd you’re going to find all sorts of humanity.
In that crowd following Jesus just like any crowd, there are people who have done bad things, people have abused others, who have lied and stolen and cheated. There are addicts and people who are sick and others who do not have long to live, and there are plenty of people who are just lost, and heading in the wrong direction in their life, and just spinning their wheels. And others who are doing fine, living wonderful lives.
In any crowd, any church, any family you get this incredible mix. And when we hear today that Jesus has compassion on the crowd, it means he has compassion on a lot of different people. He doesn’t care who you are and what’s going on in your life. His compassion extends to us whatever our state might be.
I don’t see a lot of compassion out there. I don’t see compassion spoken about by our government. I don’t see compassion as being the driving force directing policy. Compassion is what allows you to see someone else as a child of God, and to feel their struggles. So when you see someone who is hungry you want to give them food, and you know someone is thirsty you want to give them water. And you have this bond which would never allow you to put your knee on someone’s neck or put them down because they are different from you, because you know that despite your difference, you and they are one. In the same crowd, with the same Jesus Christ.
If you feel ever a lack of care, that you have been forgotten or turned away or cast out for whatever reason, if you feel that politicians or police or public policy does not care for you, please know you’re still part of Jesus’s crows.
And then the passage, having started with the crowd, moves on to the second group of people who are following Jesus, who are the disciples.
I have always understood that when we hear stories of the disciples, we are hearing stories of us as leaders in the church.
And so the disciples come to Jesus with a problem which is that there are too many people in the crowd, and they are hungry and they need something to eat. And they are trying to solve the problem by telling Jesus that he’s got to send the people back to the towns so they can buy food.
And it’s similar to the way we go to God and we say: God help me because I’ve got this problem. I’m in a mess, the world is in a mess, my life is in a mess, and I’ve got this thing I want you to take care of. Maybe it’s a big thing. We’ve got this virus. Our government is falling into chaos. Our world’s climate crisis is getting worse. There’s so much racism and this ingrained white privilege in our country. In my own life I’ve got this and this and a whole List. And so Lord I’m turning to you, I need your help, what have you got for me?
But then what does Jesus say today? The disciples say to him, you’ve got to send the people back so they can buy food, and what does Jesus say? He says: You feed them. It’s a brilliant answer. It’s the only thing he could say. These are the disciples. And it’s like he’s saying to them: Look, I called you, I invited you to drop your nets, I placed my seal upon your head, I have been teaching you all these things, I’m using you to build my church and spread my kingdom. And I gave you hands. God gave you hands. Why did I do all this? Why did God give you hands, if you’re going to keep coming back to me for everything. You feed them.
Think of all the things we’re praying to Jesus for right now. How many of those things can we do something about in our life? How many of those things can we get involved with, by joining something or signing something or clicking on some link or picking up the phone and calling someone to make a difference in a big issue that’s going on right now. We’ve got a lot of power. It’s small, but there are many of us. And we’ve delegated to Jesus things that we can fix and put on his shoulders problems that are within our power to solve. Not everything, but many of the things we’re praying for right now we can do something about.
But we don’t see it within ourselves, and we say just what the disciples say in the Gospel today. I don’t have what it takes. And we hold out what little we have, and it’s five loaves and two fish. And we say I only have five loaves and two fish.
But tell me, in your life, did you ever feel like you had more than five loaves and a few fish?
I bet churches say all the time– if we only had more resources, we would do this. You know after Covid19, when people are coming back we’re going to be rebuilding, we’re going to need resources and at some point we’re going to look around and realize that all we have are five loaves and a few fish, and I hope we remember this story.
Young people today who are starting out, people my daughter’s age who are heading into their senior year of college or high school, will be starting work and facing a difficult reality, and they need to know this story.
And us old people, who are settled, whose lives have been disrupted by this disease, who look anxiously at the world and worry because we think we don’t have enough and we believe our security lies in having way more and more loaves and fishes, I hope we remember this story.
For we are the disciples of today. We only need faith. I forget this story, but I want to remember it. I want to remember Matthew chapter 14 verse 18, the moment when Jesus says this thing, which is so powerful and life changing for all of us who only have just five loaves and a few fish, when Jesus says Bring them here to me.
Because these are life changing words, especially for those of us who want to be disciples, and look at the problems of the world and think they are insurmountable and look at the struggles in our own lives and think they are incredible. Because Jesus says, Bring them here to me. And he means he will change them, and take them, and do what he does, which we cannot do.
Take my loaves and my meager offering, take my weakness, my brokenness, which I bring to you.
This past Tuesday I ran into a woman outside the Cathedral who is not a member but a person I’ve seen around here a lot. And we started talking and after a moment of niceties she said, well you know really I’m not doing well, because my son, who has been living in Puerto Rico, was just killed. That’s horrible, I said.
And she explained how he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, he was in his twenties, hanging out with the wrong people, and she tried to get him to change his life, but nothing happened. And so she got this week this horrible news.
And she had been walking around all week, all these days, with this news.
And I asked her if she had had a service or prayers or anything, but she had not. And she said she couldn’t go to Puerto Rico now and she wasn’t planning on doing anything for him. And I so said, let’s pray. Would you like to pray? And so she went home and got a photo of him and we knelt here and prayed for him and for her, and we lit a candle and then we placed the candle and the photo of her son up there. on the altar. We gave them to Jesus.
And I don’t know if this can take away a mother’s pain or begin to address the horrible issues she is dealing with but I could tell it was cathartic, and she walked away different. Matthew 14:18… bring them here to me. Lay them at my altar, put them here in my hands. Give me your five loaves and few fish. Give me your hungry and your hurt. Bring me your pain. And I will ease it. Bring me your small offering and I will multiply it and use it. I am the transformer of life, Jesus says.
We have so little power. We have just a few loaves and a couple fish. And all this is built up inside us. And we wander around out there, or we shelter in place and day and night look for solutions but all we find is frustration, anxiety and fear. Yet when we remember that we are that crowd for whom Jesus has compassion with whom he sits and waits and lives, and when we remember that we are those disciples for whom Jesus has promised so much, to whom Jesus has given so much, then we are great. We have enough. Our baskets are full. And our life can have peace.