5,000 Dinner Guests and Not Enough Food

Opening Reflection

Our calling is to respond in love and service to the needs of our communities. We are grateful to our sisters and brothers around the world who hold us in prayer as we hold them. We should not be afraid “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

5,000 Dinner Guest and Not Enough Food

A Reading from Scripture                                                        Luke 9:10-17  CEB

10 When the apostles returned, they described for Jesus what they had done. Taking them with him, Jesus withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds figured it out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about God’s kingdom, and healed those who were sick. 12 When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.” But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (They said this because about five thousand men were present.) Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” 15 They did so, and everyone was seated. 16 He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers.

Today is the second Sunday in Lent. Lent is a time for reflection and redemption, a time to draw closer to God as we ask for and receive forgiveness for our mistakes and seek to live better and love others as Jesus did. The Lenten season is 40 days plus Sundays, and we will continue to work with the Gospel of Luke as we look at the meals that Jesus had with others.

All of us gather with family and friends for meals – sometimes we call it the breaking of the bread. Being together with others is absolutely vital to our mental health and stability. We have companions – the word companions means — people we break bread with. During the pandemic, we have not been able to have meals with our friends and family as much as we did in the past. It has been difficult. Dinner, sitting down for dinner, is so important for family life.

For the weeks of Lent, we will be looking at dinner stories that involve Jesus that we read in the Gospel of Luke. There are over seven dinner stories in Luke. Jesus was always involved with people for dinner — food and companionship was critical and formative to the ministry of Jesus. The Scripture for this morning is the story that all of us have heard – the feeding of the 5000. This story is found in every Gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. – also, there are two other stories about the feeding of the four thousand.

These stories about the feedings of the multitudes are very important to us because they challenge us to be responsive to God’s interruptions to our lives and the miracles that can occur. These stories also challenge us to be fully engaged with the needs of people.

In Luke, the story begins just after the disciples had returned from their missionary journeys – 2 by 2 where they went into the countryside sharing the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They were so excited to share their experiences with Jesus. But Jesus was absorbing the murder of his cousin John the Baptist. All of this was leading up to the beginning of today’s readings. It was clear to Jesus that they needed to get away from the pressures of ministry and life – they needed a break – a quiet place to rest and regroup. A time for prayer and reflection was needed. Have you ever felt that way? Life has just gotten so complex or frustrating or seemingly impossible. The pandemic has gotten us down, the taxes are due soon, my friends are not available, or I cannot visit them. Jesus and the disciples need some quiet time. Ann and I try to take time away so that we can regroup and pray in order to be strong enough for the demands of chemo and life. We are purposeful about it.

As Scripture points out —- Jesus and the disciples go in a boat and headed to a remote place of peace and quiet near a city called Bethsaida which is near the Golan Heights. This is what they really needed to become reenergized. But it was not to be! When they get there, there were more that 5000 men women and children. A very large crowd! Their plans were interrupted.

Have you ever wished you could just hang around your neck one of those “Do Not Disturb” signs like the ones you put on hotel doors? I sometimes wish God would let me get away with doing this. When I am busy—which is most of the time—I like to really focus on what I am doing. But I cannot just tune out the rest of the world because I believe God wants us to be ready for interruptions. Moses was peacefully tending his sheep, when God called him for a very big job — being the leader of the Jewish people who were enslaved in Egypt. Of course, Moses fought this interruption but finally yielded to God’s call — Let my people go!

There is another especially important portion of the story about the feeding of the multitudes. It was now late in the afternoon.  He welcomed them, spoke to them about God’s kingdom, and healed those who were sick. 12 When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.” It was time to go! But Jesus had other plans — 13 Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.” But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.”

The key word is YOU! Talk about interruptions — this is classic — YOU feed them! As they organized the crowd into smaller groups and with an extremely limited supply of fish and bread, the feeding began. When everyone was satisfied there was ample food left over.  What happened? Was it a supernatural miracle? Maybe! Or, maybe the feeding happened because many of the people had brought food with them. It was the women who planned to have food for the families – the men didn’t even think about that. The miracle is that people began to share their limited food sources and others did also. And everyone was satisfied. What the disciples had said they could not do – God did!

God works in mysterious ways. Remember the Moses story. The Jews are now in the desert of Sinai and they are complaining about the lack of food and start to complain. God provided manna – in the morning there was a rice like food on the ground and after grinding it they could make bread. God provides.

We have seen so much need for food during the pandemic. So many people unemployed or under-employed – the need is so great. We have the Texas unexpected weather issues that has created so much hardship. The front page of Saturday’s Carroll County Times shows food being gathered for Carroll Food Sunday. We are gathering food for NESAP.

There is more to the YOU story. For many years Art and I have been in a Friday morning prayer group. A dedicated member, who died about a year ago, was with us for many years. He always challenged us as to how would we reach out to others. Steve Hull had founded The Least of These Ministries in 1998. On an earlier trip home from the Dominican Republic where Steve had been with the Haitians who were working in the Dominican Republic cutting sugarcane, Steve would later tell us his story. Steve said: I heard God speak directly to me — I want you to go and to feed my people! Like Moses, Steve said – you got the wrong guy! But the call persisted – feed my people. This began the Least of These Ministries.  The Ministry provides one meal a week consisting of uncooked rice or Manna Packs, beans, and eggs to several thousand people in the Barahona area bateys.

‘Manna Packs’ are protein-fortified rice meals provided through a partnership with Feed My Starving Children. The Least of These Ministries currently distributes over 880,000 meals per year, a project that has been faithfully ongoing since 1998. PGUMC can support this ministry during these very difficult times.

When Jesus met people with problems (hunger, illness, or any other human challenges), his pattern was not to scold them for what they had done wrong, say God was teaching them a lesson or try to be too busy to help. Jesus was about meeting needs. Facing a large, hungry crowd, his disciples pragmatically said, “Send these people away.” But Jesus’ reply was “You give them something to eat.” Jesus regularly worked with his followers to make things better. Most of us think, “Somebody should do something about…” It’s true—no one of us can solve all the world’s problems alone. But Jesus’ word to the disciples —“You give them something to eat”—challenges us, too. Does Jesus call you today to be a channel for his power to flow? How can you discern when you are the “somebody” God is calling to do something?

Any gardener or farmer knows one planted kernel of corn can bear several ears with a few hundred kernels each. God built many multiplying dynamics like that into the “natural” world. Jesus multiplied “five loaves of bread and two fish” to feed 5,000 people—the same power at work in a more unusual way. Knowing what Jesus did with that small lunch, what talents or resources might you offer to Jesus, trusting his power to multiply your gift to bless others?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, keep my inner “ears” open to the ways you call me to let your power flow through me. Multiply my small gifts into life-changing outward or inner nourishment to uplift others. Amen.