Sunday, August 3, 2008

Good News: There is an Overflow

(A sermon based on Matthew 14:13-21 for Sunday, August 03, 2008)

How do we best bear witness to Christ in this world that so desperately needs Christ? We can do so by displaying something that is in very short supply—compassion—by practicing something that is very seldom practiced—hospitality.

If we are going to be like Jesus, if we are going to live a life like Jesus, then we are going to display compassion. Lots of things get in the way of showing compassion. After all, we all have our own problems, we all have our own griefs, we all have our own struggles—we all have our own lives. I would not want you to hear me saying that we should not tend to our own hurts and wounds; clearly, for our sake and for the sake of those closest to us, we should. But we cannot let the problems that should unite us with all humanity serve rather to isolate us from other people.

Jesus was fully divine and fully human, but make no mistake about it—he was fully human as well as fully divine. And so, when Jesus received word that John the Baptist, who was not only his forerunner but his cousin as well, had been beheaded by Herod Antipas, he attempted to go into seclusion for a time. Such an attempt was perfectly understandable and perfectly appropriate; Jesus was grieving his colleague and family member and he was no doubt pondering the implications of John’s death for his own destiny. No one could blame him for seeking time alone.

But the people found him. Jesus had taken a boat to the other side of the lake but when he got there the crowds were waiting for him. He did not send them away. Rather, he had compassion on them and spent all day ministering to their needs. You get the impression that even at those times when Jesus’ own grief and his own troubles were overflowing, his compassion overflowed all the more. Perhaps his own struggles fueled an even greater empathy with others who were struggling.

Have our lives been flooded with the compassion of Christ? If so, then his compassion that floods our lives should be flowing out in compassion for others. True, we have our struggles, too, but we have experienced the grace of God in the midst of our struggles; we know the love of God in the midst of our troubles. The people in our lives, the people in our town, the people in our world, the people all around us, are looking for a sign that someone cares and if they can see that we do, they just might get a glimpse of the compassion, love, and grace of God.

I said at the beginning that we could bear witness to Christ by displaying compassion and that one way we could display compassion was to practice hospitality. That’s what Jesus did. At the end of the long day, when his disciples wanted to send the crowds away so that they could get something to eat, Jesus instead wanted to feed the folks right there. He wanted his followers to feed them! Now, let’s not be too hard on the disciples. They were concerned about the people, too. They knew that they would be hungry and they wanted to send them off to find something to eat. But Jesus wanted his followers to practice hospitality; he wanted them to play host to those in need and to share what they had with those in need.

But the disciples did not have much to share. They thought that they had even less than they had. “Here is all we have,” they said, “five loaves of bread and two fish.” It was the equivalent of the Fish & Fries meal at Captain D’s. As we eventually find out, there were 5000 men plus women and children who needed to be fed. Understandably, then, the disciples asserted that what they had was not enough. They had taken stock of the needs and they had taken stock of their inventory and they had very reasonably concluded that what resources they had were not enough to provide adequate hospitality to the people who were there.

Isn’t that the way we all too often are? Don’t we as Christian individuals decide that the gifts or resources that we have are just not enough to meet the needs of the people around us? And it’s understandable—we take stock of ourselves and we say, “What can one person do?” Or we say, “What can I do with what I have?” Whatever our logic, though, we conclude that what we have is not enough. Don’t we as a church all too often conclude that the gifts or resources that we have are just not good enough or are just not adequate to provide adequate hospitality to those in need around us? And it’s understandable—we take stock of ourselves and we say, “What can a church our size do?” Or we say, “What can a church with our demographics do?” Or, “What can a church with our resources do?”

Well, whether we’re talking about individuals or a church, the answer is the same; we take our resources—whatever they are, however meager or plentiful they are, whether we think they amount to anything or not—and we place them in the hands of Jesus. We accept that Jesus is our Lord and that as our Lord he calls us to show compassion like his and to practice hospitality like his—that he expects us to love, to accept, and to help people and that he expects us to expect that he will bless and multiply whatever we have so long as we are using it for his glory and to share his love and grace. When Jesus took those five loaves and two fish and blessed them and broke them and gave them back to his disciples to pass out to the people, it was enough. When Jesus takes whatever we have to offer and blesses it and gives it back to us to give to the people, it will be enough.

Notice, though, that when Jesus took what the disciples offered and blessed it and they gave it away, it was not just enough—it was more than enough. Do you see what happens as the disciples offer their meager resources and Jesus blesses them and then the disciples pass the blessed meager resources back to the community around them? They went from having not enough to having enough to having more than enough! By the grace of Jesus, there was an overflow!

I wonder—what did the disciples do with the twelve baskets full that they collected? What did they do with the overflow? I hope that they went into town, found people who needed food, and passed it out among them. I hope that they gave it to a Roman soldier who had become weary and famished while manning his station. I hope they took it to the leper colony outside of town. I hope that they gave it to pilgrims as they passed through the area. I hope they took it to the houses of the tax collectors and sinners.

Let’s tell the truth—we have, by the grace of God, more than enough. We have been blessed with the love of God; we have been blessed with the grace of God; we have been blessed with the gifts of God; we have been blessed with more than our fair share of everything we need to be the church and to do the work of the church. We have an overflow. The only question is, what are going to do with the overflow? What do we do with the abundant love, with the abundant grace, with the abundant compassion, with the abundant gifts, and with the abundant help? Do we “invest” it in ourselves? Or do we spread it around to others?

You see, because we have been given much, we too must give.

You see, grace added to grace leads to an abundance of grace.

You see, we have a tremendous overflow out of which to share.

How can we not?

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