There’s Always More Than Enough
There is a misunderstanding about God and Jesus. I have heard it mentioned that “Jesus makes God more user friendly.” The first time I heard this was in my home congregation in Dallas. My Pastor explained the relationship of Jesus to the Old Testament God in those terms and on the surface it makes sense. When we think about God in the Old Testament we jump to the passages that reveal a vengeful God a God who tells the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites and who destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. It is easy to believe that the God of the Old Testament isn’t very user friendly and that through God’s son God became more compassionate and loving.
Personally, I don’t think that the vengeful God image is a fair characterization of who God is in the Old Testament. Does God do some pretty brutal things in the Old Testament? Yes. Does that mean we don’t look at the big picture of God in the Old Testament and allow the complete and complex picture of a merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love to shine through? How would you like to only have the no so loving and brutal actions be the focal point of who you are as a person? The truth is that in order to understand the true nature of God in both the Old and New Testaments we need to appreciate the whole story.
The same God who said, “Wipe out all the Canaanites” is also the same God who saved Rahab the Canaanite who saved Joshua’s spies. The same God who wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah is also the same God who saved Nineveh from destruction. For every vengeful act committed by God in the Old Testament there are one or more examples of mercy and forgiveness. So, what are we to take from this wishy washy behavior? I think we are to understand that God is slow to anger, but when he blows he really lets rip.
You all know people who have this quality. On the whole they are gentle, loving, mild mannered people who don’t get too upset about much. However, there is a line and once that line is crossed then watch tout. For God the line tends to be idolatry, the worship of other gods. God can handle pretty much any sin and work around and through it, but the worship of another god tends to be God’s breaking point. I can’t really blame him for that especially when God works so hard on our behalf and the least we can do is acknowledge God’s gracious work by worshiping God alone.
So, what is it that God does for our behalf? God, created the world for us and when we went and messed up God’s original intention for creation, God made sure we were provided for outside of the garden. God chose Abraham to be a blessing to us all through Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. Even when Abraham and Sarah do their hardest to undermine God’s promise God remains faithful. Through God’s promise to Abraham God is working to re-establish his plans for all creation and throughout it God stays faithful. Over and over the people undermine God’s intention for the world through self-serving actions and God reaffirms God’s intention for all of creation. When we focus on the wrath of God we miss all the beautiful attributes of God in the Old Testament.
What was God’s overall intention for creation in the Old Testament? The same thing God intended for humans at the beginning of creation. God wanted to live in harmony with humans and creation and for humans to live in harmony with one another, God, and creation. God wanted people to understand that to truly love God and one another it meant that we were to care for one another the way God cares for us. Throughout the whole of the Old Testament God is reminding people that the welfare of others shouldn’t only be a passing thought, but the way we structure our lives. To truly live in harmony with God means to understand that God’s whole being is focused on loving and providing for all of creation for the sake of creation and not for any extrinsic gain for God. Whenever we become self-serving, and me centered God is there reminding us that it isn’t about me it is about all of us. Being in harmony with God isn’t about having “My” needs met and then maybe I will have time for others. Rather, to be in harmony with God and God’s will is to realize that our true needs are met only when my neighbor’s needs are met too. God’s will is for our welfare and our brother’s welfare.
The passage we have in Isaiah 55 about receiving bread without paying, and water without paying is a beautiful example of God’s will for all of creation. This depiction of God isn’t in the New Testament, it is in the Old Testament. Isaiah isn’t describing a groovy progressive God, no Isaiah is describing the God that is featured throughout the whole Old Testament. God wants us to receive the gifts of sustenance freely and without cost.
When we understand this aspect of the Old Testament God then the feeding of the 5,000, not counting women and children, makes complete sense. Jesus’ act of mercy and compassion for the crowd is only a reflection of God’s mercy and compassion for all of creation. Jesus’ miracle in the wilderness is amazing, and I believe it was a miracle, but if we focus only on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, we miss the bigger lesson.
Jesus, we are told from the beginning of our gospel reading, compassion for the people in the crowd. Jesus looked out over the crowd and could see how desperate they were to hear the good news. I would venture to say that Jesus looked out at the crowd and could understand their hurts, their pains, and their vulnerabilities. And, I get it I really do because when I look at this congregation I see people who are struggling with life’s challenges. Now, think about what Jesus saw and felt upon looking out at a crowd between 20 and 25 thousand. He had spent the day healing people, preaching to people, and exuding compassion on people. The wealth and depth of sorrow in that crowd is beyond imagination.
Now, think about what the disciples saw when they looked out over a crowd of 20 to 25 thousand people. The twelve saw a logistical nightmare. There wasn’t enough food for people and the next town was a good distance away. The disciples wanted to make sure that the crowds could take care of themselves so that they could sit down and eat in peace. Could you imagine the looks on their faces when Jesus told them to give the crowds something to eat? Could you imagine how they felt when they looked at their measly five loaves and two fish and though “How?” Jesus was trying to get the disciples to see the crowds as people and not as a crowd. Furthermore, Jesus wanted to demonstrate that the love of God is not limited to our lack of faith and trust in our resources. For in God’s hands our gifts can go a long way and do go a long way when we offer them up to do God’s will.
Now, I believe that the five loaves and two fish did feed the whole gathering. Some believe that Jesus set an example of sharing and through the example people shared of their own supplies so that all were able to eat. I believe that both happened. I believe that through the offering up of their meager supplies Jesus was able to feed all and that those who witnessed the miracle shared of their resources too. What Jesus demonstrated was God’s will to be our brother’s keeper and how God uses our faith and gifts to care for all.
Now, stop and think about that could fill a stadium. This would have been a rag tag group of people. I am sure there was every walk of life gathered there. There were professional people, poor people, worthy people, and unworthy people. I am sure that some of the people gathered might have come for reasons that weren’t all that holy or noble. Maybe a few of the people had hit the wine jug before heading out to the wilderness. We just don’t know who was in the crowd, but think about what a crowd that was half the size of Albany would look like. Jesus really didn’t care about their character, or their worthiness, or their intentions. Jesus only cared about their hunger and he fed them all and when all was said and done there was more than enough to go around, but only if we are willing to let our resources, designated for us, be used by God.
It is hard. I get it I really do. There are times when people come to our church and are just plain rude. We’ve had people step into the office and say, “Gas vouchers?” as if it is something we should just have on hand because they need gas. Or, we have people utilize the food pantry that I know have good paying jobs and really don’t need free food. We’ve had people utilize the food pantry because they have wasted their money on things they shouldn’t have and now don’t have money for food. I want to be judgmental and self-righteous, but the truth is that I don’t know their story and I haven’t walked in their shoes. We give because we are called to give and for no other reason.
Our discipleship in the world towards others should be viewed in the same way that we view communion. When you come forward and put out your hand to receive the sacrament I give you the bread and the wine because you need it and not because you earned it or deserved it. You need God’s love, mercy and forgiveness just like the crowd needed to be fed. No strings attached. You don’t worry that there won’t be enough bread or wine for everyone and that you’ll be left out. Intrinsically you know there is always enough. Now, I am going to suggest you do something different when you come forward and kneel, I want you to think about the people who are kneeling with you and stop and think about how much they need God’s love and think about what the words “The body of Christ given for you” means to them and how badly they need to hear those words and receive God’s grace. We don’t need to know why they need to hear those words and receive the bread and wine, we don’t need to know if they deserve the sacrament or not. We just need to make sure it is available to them. That is how we view our food pantry, our community dinner, and it is how we are to view every aspect of our lives.
Let the compassion that Jesus had for the crowds reside in all of us for all and let us trust God with all our gifts so that God’s will may be done.