Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What's in your basket?

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, August 8, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church of Sterling, KS.  To listen to the sermon audio, click here.

Read Matthew 14:13-21 and Isaiah 55:1-5 here.

Follow along and take notes using the YouVersion Bible App Event page here.

There is a chef who runs the kitchen of a big hotel in Abu Dabi.  During Ramadan he has to be prepared to feed 20,000 people.  To accomplish this, the chefs in his kitchen chop up 15,000 lbs of vegetables, boil 11,000 lbs of rice, and roast 10,000 chickens.  Can you imagine?[1]

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus feeds 5000 men, plus women and children. So maybe as many as 20,000 people. All of them fed from five loaves of bread and two fish.  How is this possible? Maybe this was like when we take communion and everybody just gets a little piece of bread?  But, no, the text says that they “all ate and were filled.”  And then there were even leftovers.  Twelve baskets full of the leftovers.  That’s even more than they started with.

It’s a miracle.  A really big miracle. 

Other than the resurrection this is the only miracle that is recorded in all four of the gospels.[2]

Why is this miracle the one that all four writers made sure to tell?  Because it shows us something important about the nature of God, our generous, faithful, loving God:  He longs to bless us.[3]  The more we are participants in that blessing, the more we are blessed.

How do we become a part of this blessing?  
How can we receive and share God’s blessings?

First we have to show up.

Jesus had just heard about John the Baptist’s death and he went off by himself – probably to grieve and to pray.  He’s out in a fishing boat, and as he’s coming in to shore he sees that crowds are there waiting for him.  He could have turned around and stayed away from the crowds, but he didn’t.  He had compassion on them, and came anyway. 
Jesus showed up.

What about those crowds?  They heard that Jesus was there so they came.  Some probably came out of curiosity, just to see who this was.  Some, though, came hungry for the life and healing that Jesus offered.  Whatever their reason for coming, they were there, and because they were there they got to be a part of this miracle. 

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

We come to Jesus and find through him that God blesses us.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (5:6).  Come hungry and be filled.

So come, and come hungry, and receive God’s blessing.

Those crowds came having heard what Jesus had already been doing – preaching the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and speaking with authority unlike anything they’d heard.  Many came with expectations.  God was doing something and they expected to see it.
Psalm 145:15 tells us that waiting on the Lord with expectation is the right thing to do:  The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”

So come, come hungry, and come with expectation.

What do you think it might have been like to be in that crowd that day?  In my mind it’s like a crazy scene from a Monty Python movie, with lots of dirt and grubbiness, and jostling and pushing and yelling.  Maybe it wasn’t so crazy, but with so many people all trying to see Jesus, how could it not be?

Imagine if this was today?  Somebody would post a Facebook event:  Jesus will be at Sterling Lake tomorrowCome see the messiah!  Maybe the Facebook ad would include some of Isaiah’s words:
All you who hunger and thirst, come!  You who have no money, come! (55:1-2)

Some of us would come.  Some of us would avoid the crowd and send Jesus a private message or text instead.  But not Snap Chat…Jesus wouldn’t Snap Chat…or maybe he would.  A discussion for another time.

Some of us would be the ones organizing the event – like the disciples.  Maybe trying to manage the chaos, and protect the Messiah.  The disciples were keeping a good eye on things, and they were being fairly insightful to realize that the people were going to need food.  So they offer a solution – send the people away to go buy food in the villages.

I’m not surprised that Jesus didn’t like this idea very much.  They might not all have been able to find or afford food.  Some would surely have gone hungry. 

But Jesus has another plan:  “You give them something to eat.”
“Us?  But all we have are five loaves of bread and two fish.”
The disciples couldn’t see any way in which this little bit of food would feed 20,000 people.  Maybe they forgot who they were with?

We don’t know for sure whether this came before or after the wedding in Cana, the story in John’s gospel in which Jesus turned the water into wine.[4]  If the disciples had been at the wedding before this, maybe they would remember what happened and expect that Jesus might do something similar here. 

If Matthew is telling these stories in the order they happened, then the disciples would have just recently heard the parable we talked about last week about the mustard seed, the tiny seed from which big things grow.[5]  Maybe they didn’t connect that idea with this situation.  After all, that was just a parable, right?

Surely they would remember the stories of Elijah and Elisha.  One day a man brought Elisha twenty loaves of bread.  Elisha told him to pass it around so everyone could eat.  The man pointed out that there wasn’t enough for hundred people there.  Elisha said, “God says there will be plenty.”  So they passed the bread around and there was enough with some left over. (2 Kings 4:42-44)

Maybe the disciples didn’t see how five loaves and two fish could do the job because Jesus said, “You do it.”  You give them food.  If Jesus had said, “I’ll do it.  I’ll give them food,” they might have had higher expectations.
They hadn’t yet heard what Jesus told the disciples during his last night with them, described in John 13 through 17.  In John 14:12, Jesus says: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

If you were there that day, standing with Jesus among the disciples, looking out at the hungry crowd, what would your response have been?

What about now? In your own life, where are you seeing a situation, noticing a need? Maybe you’re saying, “Somebody needs to do something about that”?
What if Jesus were to be saying to you, “You do it.  You do something about that.”
What would you do?

Like the disciples, we tend to underestimate our resources and abilities.  We tend to forget that we aren’t working alone, we’re working with God.

If we will show up, and if we will come hungry
with expectation for God to be present
and to help us do whatever he’s given us the vision to do,
who knows what might happen?

We tend to underestimate our own blessings.  The disciples said, “All we have are these loaves and fish.”  They hardly thought they had enough to even mention.  We too have things that don’t seem like much to us but with God’s help could be of great help to someone.  We have abilities we might not think worth mentioning because they are easy for us, but to someone who doesn’t have that ability, we might be an answer to prayer. 
Wherever we see a need, with whatever we have, and whoever we are, Jesus says to us, “Bring them here to me.” (Matt. 14:18)

I read this week about a church that saw a need in their community that they could meet, so they are offering free oil changes to single moms.  To those who have the ability and resources to easily do oil changes, that may not seem like such a big thing.  To those single moms, those oil changes are such a big blessing that some are moved to tears.[6] 

What do you have?  How might it be the blessing someone else needs? 

What’s in your basket?

We’ve been talking about physical things – bread, fish, oil changes.  Our reading from Isaiah today reminds us that our deeper needs are spiritual.  Physical things meet physical needs, but spiritual things have lasting effect and bring life to our souls.  We may be discounting our spiritual blessings even more than we discount our physical blessings.

Years ago there was a woman in our church at the time who was battling breast cancer.  As the fight wore on, she made it to church less and less.  There were many days when she was too exhausted to even make it out of bed.  Those who went to visit her were always happy for an opportunity to go visit her again, because their own spirits were lifted so much from spending time with her.  As her physical strength waned, her spiritual strength grew, and her faith was an encouragement to us all.

Our spiritual blessings are worth more than we often realize.

A monk found a precious stone one day. A short time later, the monk met a traveler, who said he was hungry and asked the monk if he would share some of his provisions. When the monk opened his bag, the traveler saw the precious stone and, on an impulse, asked the monk if he could have it. Amazingly, the monk gave the traveler the stone. The traveler left quickly, overjoyed with his new possession. However, a few days later, he came back, searching for the monk. He gave the stone back to the monk and made a request: "Please give me something more valuable, more precious than this stone. Please give me that which enabled you to give me this precious stone!"[7]

It is the love and grace of the Holy Spirit living in us through our faith in Jesus Christ that allows us to be generous.

Ephesians 1:3- All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.

We worship a generous God. He longs to bless us.  The more we are obedient participants in that blessing, the more we are blessed.

Whatever we have, whatever we are, wherever we are, we can be a blessing to others if we are willing to give thanks for all of it and use whatever is in our basket.

What’s in your basket?


  1. Your reference to the oil changes offered single moms reminded me of a little ministry Gary and I were involved in for a couple of years. On a Saturday in December, a month that people can find financially challenging, a small team from our church went to a couple of local laundry mats with Christmas goodies and bags of quarters in hand. Not going to lie – the first time we did this, it was a little scary not knowing how people would react or what exactly was going to happen. As people came in and loaded their machines, we stepped up and filled the coin slots, offered them some refreshments, and explained we just wanted to be a bright spot in their day. Our little gesture was met with lots of surprise and gratefulness, and blessed so many. The truth is we felt much more blessed by the people we met, their stories, and the opportunity to share a little of Jesus’ unconditional love with complete strangers. It was a good reminder that God is so faithful if we just step out and trust what He has put on our hearts!

    1. What a great idea and a great time of year to do that. Definitely stepping out in faith!