Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 4, 2002
The Lessons: Nehemiah 9:16-20, Matthew 14:13-21
Sermon: "Give thanks with a grateful heart"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Ezra said, "But they and our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments; they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them. Even when they had cast an image of a calf for themselves and said, 'This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,' and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud that led them in the way did not leave them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night that gave them light on the way by which they should go. You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst."
Jesus withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Give thanks with a grateful heart
Jimmy is three years old. When he goes to the store with his mother or his father he is always getting into trouble. His parents have the grocery list. They are after the fruits, the vegetables, the chicken, beef and pork the family needs. Jimmy has other ideas. He loves cookies, ice cream, and potato chips. When he is walking with his mom and dad he tries to sneak things onto the bottom of the cart. His mom and dad are constantly trying to get him to behave. They are constantly trying to stop him from grabbing the junk food. When they place him in the cart it is just as bad. He leans over and grabs the cookies off the shelf. He even has an easier time of reaching some of the items from the cart. We all know Jimmy does not need the junk food. Jimmy needs the good food his parents are trying to buy for him. However, Jimmy wants the junk food. Jimmy's wants are in direct contrast to his needs.
Can we relate to Jimmy? Don't we often find ourselves desiring our wants instead of being thankful we have what we need? Think with me for a minute about what we really need. We need food. We require water. We need a place to lay our head and a job. Those are our basic needs. Without a doubt we have those basics covered. We often don't want to stop there. We look for a bigger house. We find a bigger or better car. Instead of water we would like Don Perignon. We want the finest cuts of meat. We desire the freshest baked breads. A bumper sticker I saw several years ago sums it up pretty well, "The only difference between men and boys is the size and price of their toys." Our desires, our wants, grow and grow. We get so caught up in the wants and desires that we forget to thank God for providing us with our needs.
The scriptures this morning really help us focus on this issue. Ezra is speaking to the people of Israel. The entire country is having a special day of worship. They have been repenting of their sinful behavior. They are reminded of the wonderful acts of God which brought them out of Egypt. Now Ezra is reminding the people of how their ancestors responded. They turned away from God. As they began to exercise their freedom from slavery they began to chase their desires. The people of Israel decided their wants were more important than their relationship with God. Their desires were so strong that Israel even considered returning to Egypt. They were willing to give up their freedom with God. They were willing to forget who gave them all they needed. God saved them from slavery. God gave them food to eat and water to drink. God even led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night so they would not get lost. The amazing part of this story of the people of Israel is that God kept providing these things for them even when they turned away. God's mercy and graciousness superseded their sinful actions. God still provided their needs. God did not provide for their desires or wants. On this day of worship Ezra reminds the people of the incredible mercy and grace of God.
We see this theme also in the Gospel reading. Jesus has just learned of the death of John the Baptist. He attempts to withdraw into the wilderness for some personal time. Yet, the crowd follows him. Even in his state of mind he responds to the crowd. He cures the sick and then he feeds them. Notice how Jesus feeds them. He has the crowd sit down. He takes the bread and fish. He blesses them. He has the disciples distribute the food to the crowd. They take up the leftovers the over abundance of God's grace. Jesus meets their needs and at the same time shows the abundance of the grace of God.
In the desert God provided the people with manna. The manna had to be collected each morning and consumed each day. They were given specific instructions not to try and hoard the manna. They were given what they needed each day. With Jesus there is an overabundance of food. The people of God do not need pillars of fire or manna. They need healing. They need food. They need to taste and see through the breaking of bread and the abundance of food remaining that the kingdom of God is present here and now. God provides for all of our needs in the kingdom and our response is to give thanks.
If we look closely at the feeding of the five thousand we see similarities between that event and the communion we will receive in a few minutes. We will come forward to the rail as the people sat on the grass. God will bless the bread and wine here as God blessed fish and bread so long ago. The food and the wine will be distributed to the people here as it was then. We will have extra food like the disciples collected that day. We will take this extra food to the people of our community who need to feel God's healing and presence in a physical way. For God is gracious and meets all of our needs.
I believe we have an opportunity today. We have an opportunity to examine what our wants and desires have been. Like Jimmy we might crave the extras. We desire the cookies and ice cream. We desire the power and control to meet our own wants. Perhaps our cravings are actually drawing us away from being thankful to our loving and gracious God? Perhaps we use our energy to meet our desires rather than thank God for what we have?
Today we have the opportunity to examine ourselves. We have an opportunity to reorder our priorities. When we come to the rail to be fed today, we have the opportunity to offer God true thanks for the abundance of grace in our lives. We can offer God our hearts, our souls and minds. We can offer God true love. Amen.