From Small Seeds to Great Deeds
July 31, 2005
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Matthew 14: 13-21
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
13Now when Jesus heard this, he 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. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When 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.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then 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. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning. I want to give you the whole sermon in a nutshell this morning. Here it comes: Small kindnesses, done with great love, can produce mighty blessings in the kingdom of God.
Small kindnesses, done with great love, can produce mighty blessings in the kingdom of God. I’ll bet you know that’s true. Has a child ever given you a flower or a hand-made card? Has that little one ever said “I love you”? You know what a powerful blessing that can be. It’s a good example of how wonderful a small kindness can be.
My hope and prayer for you today is that you would go forth from this place uplifted and encouraged about the treasure that is your blessing. My hope and prayer for you is that you would go forth from this place today bravely, not doubting the importance of your blessing and your kindness. That is at the core of what Jesus is trying to tell us in this morning’s gospel.
Let’s take a look at the gospel story. It’s one that I’m sure you’re familiar with. Jesus feeds a great number of people. He takes a small amount of food, breaks it and blesses it, and a lot of people get fed. If we only looked at the surface of the story, that’s all we’d find, even though that’s a lot. So you and I need to make a decision about this gospel story. Is this simply the wondrous story of how powerful Jesus is and the fact that thousands of people were fed on that particular day long ago? Or, is this a story about you and Jesus today?
I would suggest that, of course, the first is true—of course all those people were fed; of course Jesus had this wondrous power. But, if that’s all there is to this story, then, as a Jewish friend of mine said of such stories of Jesus, “very impressive.” But if we look at it the second way, as a story of you and Jesus together, then it becomes impressive and expressive, impressive and engaging, because you are part of the story.
I believe with all my heart that in this story Jesus was presenting a story in pantomime. If people were watching this story from a distance, even if they could hear no words, they would know what Jesus was teaching. Let’s take a look at the story together.
This is so beautiful. Take a look. This takes you to the very heart of the Lord. You know how it began. He was trying to go off to a deserted place by Himself, but when the crowds heard, they followed Him. “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” That’s the Jesus we know. That’s the Jesus we love. He had compassion for them. This story is as new as today, even though it was written 2000 years ago.
Jesus cares about you, about the big spiritual things in your heart, but also about how you’re feeling. He cares about every little thing in your life. He cares about the details of how you’re doing. He cares that you are well. He saw the crowd, and the very heart of God which dwelled in Jesus Christ had compassion and love. And so He cured their sick. He made them well again. And undoubtedly He taught them. It got late. Jesus lost track of time completely.
The disciples said, “Lord, this is a dark and lonely place. It’s getting a little strange now. Send the people away so they can buy themselves something to eat. They’re getting hungry.”
And Jesus said this totally surprising thing: “You feed them.”
They said, “What?”
“You feed them.”
Now look at verse 18: “We have nothing here.” That is the quintessential statement of negativity. This story appears in all four gospels. Not many stories do. Another gospel renders what the disciples say as “We have a little food, but what is that among so many?”
“We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And as you know from other gospel renditions of this story, they were provided by a young child. But let’s stay with the statement, “We have nothing here.” Isn’t that the ultimate statement of lack? Every statement of lacking that we can think of is symbolized by this statement.
“We tried that before but it didn’t work.” “I’m too old.” “There’s no hope for me.” “There’s no way out of this.” Any statement of negativity that you can think of is symbolized by this Bible verse. “We have nothing here… but five loaves and two fish.”
How did they get those five loaves and two fish? You happen to know the answer, because you know that a little child volunteered his lunchbox. I’m thinking that the little child overheard the conversation between Jesus and the disciples. He heard them going back and forth, with Jesus insisting, “You feed them, disciples. I need you. You’re my right-hand man. I want to work the kingdom through you.” And they’re arguing back to Him, “But we have nothing here.” And then the child comes up to them with his lunch pail, and he looks at Jesus Christ, and he says, “It isn’t much, but it’s all I’ve got—for you, Jesus.”
And the eyes of Jesus Christ looked at that little boy and must have smiled at him, and He said, “Bring them here to me.” He must have lovingly taken that lunch in His hands and said, “What have you got here, little guy?”
And the boy answered, “Three fish sandwiches and a couple of rolls.”
And Jesus said, “I see. Young man, I tell you what. You trust me?”
The boy said, “I do.” Jesus said, “Little boy, you remember this, okay? Because what you see today a lot of people are going to remember for a very, very long time.”
And the little boy said, “Okay, Mr. Jesus.”
Jesus opened the bag and took out the rolls and the fish sandwiches, lifted them up, and said, “Blessed be thou, God, King of the universe, who bringest all good things from the earth,” the traditional Hebrew blessing, and He broke the bread… and He broke it… and He broke it…. The disciples brought their picnic baskets over. He filled one, and Peter headed one way. He filled another, and Andrew went another way. He filled another, and Thomas went in another direction. Jesus kept breaking, and there was enough food for everyone.
I believe, with all my heart, that the point of that story is Jesus trying to teach us that a small kindness done with great love can become a mighty blessing in the kingdom of God. I believe that His aim was to encourage your heart. I believe that His goal was to give you confidence in the particular blessing and gift that you bring to the world. It is not lost. It is not small. It is powerful. Trust the potential of your treasure. Know that you have something to offer. And if you take that something that you have to offer and say, “For you, Jesus,” He will say, “Bring it here to me and we will do mighty things with it that we will never know the end result of in its fullest.”
What is it that you bring? On behalf of this entire church, I say thank you to you for the gifts that you make to the church, the gifts that we bless Sunday by Sunday. These are investments in the kingdom of God. Because of your gift, people are touched with God’s Word, children are raised in the faith, the Lord’s praises are sung. We will never know the fullness to which Jesus blesses our gifts. But on behalf of all that you do, I say thank you.
What about your prayers? Have you ever had the blessing of someone saying, “I’m praying for you”? What a good feeling that is, to know that someone cares enough to put you and God together in prayer! What an uplift that is! Have you ever had someone pray with you? It’s more than mere words. There’s something special that happens, because it’s touched by the hand of God.
The Starlite Chorale has a mission to perform music for people who can’t get out to hear live music otherwise. We were singing at the home for retired sisters, McCauley Hall over on the hill in Watchung. There are marvelous elderly women, some of them in their hundreds. One sister took my hand after the show and said, “Young man…” I said, “I’m all ears!” “Young man, we pray for you all the time. Did you know that? We pray for you and that group of singers all the time.”
I said, “Thank you, Sister. I need that.” I felt uplifted by that. You know what it feels like to be prayed for. Trust the power of your prayer.
Second, trust the power of your kindness. If you have the nudging to do a kindness, for a member of your family or for a stranger, if the spirit is nudging you, don’t say, “It’s too little; it doesn’t matter.” Yes, it does matter. It matters big-time.
I know a wonderful Christian woman who went into a hardware store and bought a couple of things to fix up her house. She went to pay for it and, looking in her wallet, she realized she was $2.38 short. She said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring enough money. I’ll have to decide what to put back.” Then, from behind her reached the hand of another woman who put a five-dollar bill on the counter and said, “Consider it paid for.”
The first woman turned around and said, “Thank you very much. You don’t need to do that.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, let me have your address. I’ll pay you back.”
“Oh no,” said the woman who had put down the five-dollar bill. “Pay it forward. Maybe someday you’ll be in the situation where someone will need a kindness from you. Don’t worry about it now; do it then.”
My word—that’s a small kindness, but what an effect, because on a Sunday there’s a preacher talking about that to a group of deeply-committed Christian followers, who may go out and tell that story to someone else, who may go out and do other kindnesses. Do you see where I’m going? Small kindnesses, done with great love, can produce great blessings in the kingdom of God.
Dear friend, go forth into the week trusting the power of your gift. Go forth into the week knowing that God has placed within you the powerful seed of the good deed. Go forth into the week knowing that as you say “For you, Jesus,” God blesses what we do to do amazing things. Trust your gift. Place it in His hands, and watch what happens.
God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2005 Anthony J. Godlefski