"What This World Needs”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 3, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Acts 2:43-47; Matthew 14:13-21


    This morning we are going to consider a story in Matthew that begins with Jesus grieving over the death of his cousin, John the Baptist.  Jesus was heartsick that John was senselessly beheaded.  As we remember the story, John’s death came as a reward from an intoxicated King Herod to a young girl who pleased him through her sensual dancing.  John’s death sent shockwaves everywhere in the region.  This news was akin to a head of state being assassinated.  Jesus needed to get away from the crowds of people that were everywhere. 

     Galilee is 50 miles from north to south and 25 miles from east to west.  This is about fifteen times the size of Bermuda.  We have learned from Jewish historians that there were 204 towns in Galilee, each containing a community of over 15,000 people.  Galilee had a population of 3,600,000 people.  If we compare the density of people to our living conditions in Bermuda, instead of having 65,000, our island would be the home to 240,000.  Try to imagine that!

    To get away, Jesus decided to travel east across Lake Galilee where he could find peace and aloneness in a more desolate location.  He and his disciples probably crossed the lake at its widest point.  The eight miles of quiet sailing would have given Jesus the time to collect his thoughts.  As they were landing, however, Jesus and his disciples discovered that thousands of people had made the journey around the north end of the Lake and were waiting for them. 

    Even though he was mourning the loss of his cousin, Jesus began to teach and heal people.  We can almost sense his spirit becoming re-energized as he walked among those who had come to be with him.  Perhaps they hoped that Jesus could help them to make sense of this savage order by King Herod that took the life of John.    

    As the sun was starting its decline in the western sky, Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “We had better send these people on their way so that they can get something to eat.”  Jesus said, “They don’t have to leave. You give them something to eat.”  They looked at Jesus and said, “We only have a couple of fish and five loaves of bread.”  Jesus answered, “Bring the fish and bread to me.”  

    As he bid the crowd to stay where they were, Jesus looked up, expressed words of thanks to God, broke the bread and gave it back to his disciples and said, “Start feeding them.”  Matthew wrote: “Everyone ate and had enough.  Then the disciples collected twelve baskets full of what was left over.”  (Matthew 14:20)

    When we studied this event in Sunday school as children, we were always left with more questions than we had answers.  Try to empathize with a teacher that had 24 little people asking, “Did Jesus make the fish?  What kind of fish were they?  Did the loaves suddenly appear? Who baked all that bread?”  Looking bewildered, the only explanation our teachers ever gave us was that this was one of the many miracles Jesus performed during his ministry.

    There is a difference between Matthew’s version of this story and the one found in John’s Gospel.  In Matthew the bread and fish appear to be part of what the disciples brought with them.  Jesus says, “Give them what you brought in the boat.”  In John, the bread and fish belonged to a boy.  Jesus took the bread and the fish from the boy and told the disciples to give it to the crowd.” (John 6:10f) 

    As I was preparing my sermon, I began to smile at this striking difference.  John’s version reads a lot like what governments do.  It is easy to give away what is not yours.  The dollars of taxpayers are much easier to spend.  Matthew has Jesus telling the disciples to give away what they brought for themselves.   

    When the crowd saw what was happening, they followed what the disciples were doing with their food.  Like a giant human-wave that makes its way around a huge athletic stadium, people got out their food and began to share.  No one would have walked around Lake Galilee without taking sufficient food for the journey.  The miracle that occurred has been largely ignored by Sunday school teachers.  The miracle was not about bread and fish being created out of thin-air.  The miracle was that everyone shared their food.

    When Jesus had 5,000 eat together, that crowd had every kind of individual you might imagine.  The act of sharing food with each other invaded the ghettos of prejudice that people had in their minds concerning the strangers that sat around them. The sharing of food suspended their hesitancy and reticence even when they knew that most of them had different ancestors.   

    What is so fascinating about Cup Match is that the competition brings our people together every year unlike anything else can do.  The togetherness that everyone shares has nothing to do with politics, ideology, religious beliefs or levels of education. What brings our people together is a friendly competition between Somerset and St. George in a game of Cricket.  For a couple of days people develop amnesia.  Skin color does not matter.  Age does not matter. Ethnicity does not matter.  What matters is who wins the trophy at the end of the match.        

    The Olympics brought the world together in Russia, no less.  The World Cup experienced 31 nations advancing toward the winner’s circle through the various levels of competition.  Does anyone know what this means?  When divisions occur among people, it has to do with how they are thinking.   Conflicts and wars will never stop until a spirit of community materializes among the family of nations.   Jesus taught and lived a value system that creates individual peace that becomes contagious.    

    During the Civil War in the United States, families and close friends were divided. What brought them together on Friday and Saturday nights was something everyone enjoyed. Soldiers from the Confederacy would cross the James River in Virginia and enter the various dance halls on the Union side.  Men wearing gray and men wearing blue uniforms would dance with the ladies and have a great time.  During many weekends, people had amnesia during the war.

    One of the most intriguing events that happened during World War 1 was the Christmas Truce.  The French and British were dug in against the Germans.  The two sides were separated by the length of a football field.  The Germans started something that initially confused their enemies. Since it was Christmas Eve, they lighted candles and began to sing Christmas carols.  Not to be out done, the French and British troops sang louder. 

    On Christmas morning, a lone soldier walked out between the warring armies tossing up and down a football.  Miraculously, the fighting stopped.  Both sides scored off a level playing field and played together until after Boxing Day.  There was laughter, food and German beer.  The two armies ate their Christmas meal together. The troops had decided that the problems between their countries would be settled by people other than themselves.  Meanwhile, they decided to play football. 

    These are such interesting stories because they tell of a spirit that too often is set aside by people who operate from a different value system from those that promote community.  These stories give us an indication that if we are left alone, we can figure out how to enhance our sense of community.  An example of how this can happen was in our lesson today from the Book of Acts.  We were designed to be kind and to know the joy that comes from sharing,

    During the end of our first year in Bermuda, we began seeing grocery store advertisements celebrating Thanksgiving.  We could not believe what we were seeing in the headlines. Turkeys, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies were on sale. 

    I said to someone, “Did the Pilgrims first land in Bermuda before they made their way to Plymouth?”  She smiled and said,

You will learn that it does not take much for Bermudians to celebrate.  We don’t care what that cause is or what or who we are honoring.  What our government needs to do is make Thanksgiving a National holiday. All of us prefer a holiday from work so we can gather with family and friends and celebrate.  Who cares where the Pilgrims landed?

    What this world needs is to celebrate what we have in common instead of nit-picking at our differences.  These latter thoughts are the ghettos in our minds that need to be torn down.  When people are in a boat together, the only way to move forward is when people on both sides of the vessel are rowing together.   Most of us know what needs to be done to create a peaceful and prosperous community.

    Jesus did it with the sharing of food in a highly diverse group of people.  We will never succeed in building trust with each other if we wait for other people to make the first move.  Jesus told the disciples, “No, we will not send these people away.  Share your food with them.  You set the example.”  For that moment in time, this small world was one. 

    In spite of the differences in how we would solve the world’s problems, receiving the bread and the cup this morning serve to remind us that now it is our turn.  As we live in the midst of conflicting values, it is we that must share what makes a community work.  When God works through our humble efforts, miracles happen.