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Genesis 32:22-31;Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5;Matthew 14:13-21
August 2, 2020 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Jesus shows the disciples this morning that there are many things they can do. He doesn’t have to do everything.
The crowds are following Jesus wherever he goes and he has compassion on them and decides to heal their sick and be with them for a while. It was always the poor people who were not jealous or skeptical or hostile to him. They could see what he did and they took him at his word.
It is late and the disciples want him to send them away. But he wants to feed them. All he does is take what they have and divide it among the crowd. They are the skeptical ones now, but when everyone was done they had leftovers…more than they started with.
It reminds me of a summer I was doing a public information program on corrections and there was a nun at the College of Great Falls who taught sociology and she was on a number of the panels. She would ride with me and we enjoyed getting to visit about whatever along the way.
So I stopped in to visit her the next year when I was home. We sat down in the chapel and she noticed it was supper time. She asked me if I wanted anything to eat and I said, “Sure.”
“Well,” she said, “there is a McDonalds right across 10th Avenue South. I’d like a Big Mac with fries and a vanilla shake and get something for yourself. I’ll wait here.”
She had taught me a lesson on serving and how easy it is to serve and that opportunities to serve are looking you square in the face… if only we would see them. You just have to do something… sometimes a lot and sometimes a little…but you need to be ready to do it when the time comes.
There was an old man I got to know when I was at Huntley. His name was Bill Rogers. He only came out to church one time but he gave us money to do things… $5,000 at a time.
I asked him why he did it and he told me he was an old man and somehow he had ended up with more money than he had ever expected, and probably more than he was ever going to spend.
But he said he couldn’t do much because he was in his 90’s. There were things he wanted to see someone do, though, and through church he had met a lot of young people who could do a lot of things and they wanted to do the same things he wanted to do.
But they didn’t have any money to do it with. So if he could give them enough money to do what they both wanted to do, it was like he got to do it, too. The money had come too late for him to check all the boxes on his bucket list, but they were helping him do what he wanted done.
Sister Providentia wasn’t going to walk across 10th Avenue South in her habit, and she knew that anyone who was back in Montana from law school in D.C. would have the price of a Big Mac on him…and he needed a little help learning all the ways he could serve God…and her.
I fell in love with that nun that day, but there were others on other days. She would find a way to teach them, too. And enough of them fell in love with her that the College of Great Falls is now called the University of Providence…a good name for a school that is teaching young people how to live a good life and be a good person.
Her father had been a Congressman from California. I would be willing to bet that he doesn’t have a college named after him. I bet he would be as surprised as I was and as happy as I was to know that his daughter had achieved such a high distinction.
Jesus needed help distributing the meal that the people around him needed. The disciples were able to do the leg work while he took care of blessing it to last until all were filled.
It looked like a little, but when you engage with God…partner with God…it becomes enough…a lot… a meal the world will talk about to the end of time.
We suddenly have someone knocking at our door, looking for a place to serve a meal to seniors with the meals on wheels program. We would be the distribution point, if all goes well, for our little but far-flung community.
Meals would be prepared in Kalispell and sent to us. People would assemble them and reheat them…or freeze them…and deliver them to us and our neighbors.
We also have ACES looking for a new home until they can find a permanent place for their program. They are looking for a place to prepare 40 meals a day for their after school program for young people…75 percent of whom qualify for the free lunch program at the school.
We also have groups who have used our building as a meeting place for a few years now: the bridge club, AA, Rotary. They have suspended their face to face meetings for the time being but we also need to be ready to host them when conditions permit…or require it.
I don’t know where any of this will go. The groups may find more suitable quarters elsewhere. We might decide that it is not a good fit for us.
But for some reason a little coincidence has presented to us… once again…at this hour of contemplation…the story of a great multitude who were filled and had leftovers…when all they could find amongst them were five loaves of bread and two fish.
At the same time…on the same day of worship…we have been assigned to read once again the story of Jacob at a critical moment in the story of God intervening in human history.
He has just left his uncle, Laban, after many years of labor for Laban’s benefit. He and Laban decide it is time for them to part ways and together they draw a line neither of them will cross.
Jacob is also about to confront his brother Esau whom he bargained at a moment of Esau’s weakness to get birthright as the firstborn for a bowl of stew…then tricked their father Isaac into giving him the father’s blessing that sealed the deal.
He has been hiding out with Laban all these years because Esau swore to kill him for his treachery. Now he is leaving Laban and is about to meet his brother.
It is at this time of severing of old ties and needing to mend even older ties that he spends a night wrestling with a man until dawn. It sounds like the struggle comes out a draw, but the Good Book says the stranger acknowledges that Jacob prevailed by the stranger…God… and God blesses him…we are left to assume…because he has prevailed.
Moments of decision sometimes jump up in front of us quickly… like the hungry multitude that was following Jesus. At other times, things fester and accumulate until a decision has to be made…whether we are to turn to the left or the right …or move forward.
What Jesus’ disciples had to do …what Jacob had to do…at their moment of decision…was to empty themselves of all their plans and make new ones. When our playbook no longer addresses the situation in front of us…it is time to come up with a new playbook.
That is an apt description of the situation we now find ourselves in …in the midst of a pandemic… having to discern how it is that we will continue to be a vital faith community like we have always been…when the world around us has suddenly changed.
This happened to Moses who, in his isolation and in the midst of much loss…found himself standing in front of a burning bush…and talking to it…and listening to it.
This happened to Paul on the road to Damascus. He had seen his life’s work very clearly and followed it passionately until he was struck blind and found himself talking face to face with the risen savior he had so vigilantly persecuted.
This happened to Elijah who defeated the priests of Baal and then had to flee into the wilderness to save his life…and heard God’s voice….not in the earthquake or the great fire, but in a still small voice.
It seems that we humans need to be humbled…completely…before we can hear the loving voice that has been speaking to us all our lives. So it is with us…and our faith community…today.
In the midst of all the chaos around us we are given an opportunity to decide what we will do with the days the good Lord has given us… what we will make of the many blessings we have received up to the present hour…from God and from those who founded this church and moved it forward o the present… what Laurel and Hardy would have called a fine kettle of fish…and what Matthew describes as five loaves and two fishes.
It is an hour that we would all be blessed to spend some time with the one who brought us together today to worship our Creator…our Redeemer…and our sustainer.
It is a good time to ask ourselves how we got here…what we are being asked to do in God’s name…and which way we are to go from here.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world, through us….and through me…this day? Amen.