We were back in Matthew this morning, looking at the Feeding the Multitude. It’s so nice to be in the sanctuary, albeit warm!
Here is the text from my sermon, as well as the video to the whole service.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 2, 2020
Why We Keep Going
I have to be honest, when I first looked at this morning’s scripture I hesitated.
Now – don’t get me wrong: The loaves and fishes story – the feeding of the multitude – is one of my favorites pieces of scripture.
But I was not sure I had it in me to preach about a story that, so often, I associate with gathering big groups of people together to share a meal.
Because we cannot do that right now.
I talked about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief in my newsletter article this week with regards to the stages of covid grief I find myself moving in and out of. Kübler-Ross talked about denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I added a sixth stage – the “over it” stage that, perhaps, she overlooked.
The truth is, this story kind of triggered something for me – a sadness and a longing for the life we all knew prior to March. Of all things, it made me think about my picnic table – this beautiful, enormous, hand-crafted picnic table that I found for an incredible price on Facebook marketplace last year that Bruce had to borrow a truck and drive to the middle of Rhode Island to retrieve. I bought that table with a vision (there’s my star word for 2020) of gathering people around it and feeding them and finding sacredness in that fellowship.
And here we are.
But, you know what? This story is about a miracle; it is about being in the midst of scarcity and finding abundance, it is about believing in the impossible and it is about God showing up when all seems lost and proving, in no uncertain terms, that God is not done yet.
Which is something I think we all need to be reminded of right now.
The feeding of the multitude is a really important one in scripture – this story appears, in some form, six times throughout the Gospels.
Now, you may recall that there are only four Gospels. There are two different stories of the feeding of the multitude – one where 5,000 are fed (which is the story we just heard) and one where 4,000 are fed. The feeding of 5,000 is recorded by all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and the feeding of 4,000 is recorded in Matthew and Mark.
The important thing to know about where and how this story appears in the Gospel of Matthew, which we just read (and the Gospel of Mark, for that matter) is that is happens at a pivotal moment for Jesus and the disciples.
The feeding of 5,000 occurs immediately after the brutal murder of John the Baptist. John, if you recall, was beheaded at the hands of Herod the ruler and his family. His head was given to the daughter of a woman named Herodias, who was the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herodias was the one who wanted John killed. The girl brought John’s head to her mother and then the disciples took John’s body and buried it and then went to tell Jesus what had happened.
This is where the story in today’s reading. Our scripture begins, “Now when Jesus heard this,” and the “this” the Gospel writer is referring to is John’s beheading.
So they are not really in a great place. Jesus and the disciples are grieving the loss of a dear friend and partner in their mission. When he hears the news, Jesus attempts to retreat to a quiet place by himself, but people follow him. The disciples, in letting Jesus know that there are a ton of people around and it is getting late and there is not a whole lot of food to feed everyone, tell Jesus that he needs to send them all away so they can buy their own food.
If you were to just read this text on its own, you might think that the disciples are being rude or inhospitable in wanting to send everyone away. But when you look at this story in the broader context of what is happening, you realize that they are grieving and overwhelmed and really just needing a minute to process things before figuring out to do something – feed 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish – that seems impossible.
And yet – the impossible does happen.
The disciples are weary – and rightfully so. They are grieving the loss of John the Baptist and likely tired from their journey to this place – and yet God is not finished yet.
The loaves and fishes story – where Jesus takes mere morsels of food and is able to provide an abundance of food to thousands of people reminds us that when we are tired, when we are weary, when we are grieving and when we have just about lost all hope – well that is when God does some really incredible things.
But I think it is important to remember it does not just happen. Right? Because in this story, Jesus – refusing to let their grief win, refusing to let their sadness and their weariness get in the way of what they needed to do, which was to feed those 5,000 people – said, “No, no, no – we are going to feed these people; bring me what we’ve got and we will make it work.”
This story is about a miracle; but it is also about Jesus and the disciples’ role in that miracle, as well.
Because they did not give up. They did not send those people away. They kept going and they figured it out.
There was work to be done. And so even in the midst of the “over it” stage of grief that they were in, they kept going.
And that is when the impossible happens.
In a way, this story was actually really fitting for me to think about this week, because, as much as I hate to say this, covid is not going anywhere right now. It is going to impact our lives and how we do church for awhile.
And I think it would be easy to let ourselves get lost in the grief of what that means. We are all tired and weary and, well, “over it”.
But there is still work to be done. There is work to be done in our lives, in our own personal faith journeys and at the church (which now beautifully extends beyond its walls).
So we have to keep going. We have to figure it out. We have to refuse to let our grief and our sadness and our weariness get in the way of what we need to do – what God is calling us to do.
We had an unbelievable fundraising campaign this week that raised well over $3,000 and I said in my appeal letter that, despite the fact that we are unable to physically gather right now, our work continues.
(And, as a quick aside, I do want to say thank you to everyone who donated to the campaign and shared it, because, my goodness, it made a difference and I am humbled by and grateful for your support.)
Remember what I said about this story; it reminds us that, in those moments when we feel like we just cannot keep going – when we are tired, when we are weary, when we are grieving and when we have just about lost all hope – well that is when God does some really incredible things.
But we cannot give up. We have to keep going.
So I know everyone is tired and kind of over the whole covid thing – I get it, I really do. But we have to keep going – we have to keep going not only because there is work to be done, but also because this story teaches us that when we push through that spiritual exhaustion, that is when God takes over and does the impossible.
And this is why we keep going. Because we believe that God is not finished yet. And that God is about to do something really incredible.
Do not let your grief win. Keep going. Believe that the impossible will happen.
And one day we will all gather around my picnic table. And there we will find nourishment and abundance and hope. And there we will also be reminded that of why we kept going.
Church family – there is still work that needs to be done. This is why we keep going.
Thanks be to God!