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You Give Them Something To Eat

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker. Posted in Sermons

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost (18A) - Matthew 13:13-21

Packing is hard. It’s a bigger task than I’d expected. At Christ Lutheran, we have a nice, three-bedroom parsonage just off of Maple Street, which is where I have been living for four and a half years. It’s a much bigger home than I have needed, and I promised myself I would not fill it with unnecessary possessions in the time I was here. You can guess how well that worked out. In less than a month, I will be moving all of my worldly goods into a dormitory room smaller than the size of this chancel. And so I’m finding I need to get rid of a few things.

Take books, for example. I am an unashamed bibliophile. I’ve loved to read ever since I was small, and I think that my lifelong interest in foreign languages, and my draw toward the scriptures, the book of our faith, is probably related to that love for books. But in my sorting and shifting, I’ve discovered that I don’t love to read books nearly as much as I love to simply collect them. I mean—I do read, I read a lot. I always have a book near me, wherever I go and whatever I’m doing. I literally have a bookshelf permanently set up in my car—a milk crate on it’s side in the trunk, with a bungee cord across the front of it to make sure the books don’t escape. But, by far, the majority of the books I have are books I haven’t read yet. To me, that makes sense; once I’ve read it, I don’t have a lot of reason to keep it, except in a few cases of reference works or old favorites.

But honestly? I’ve taken 453 books and audiobook CDs to the Beaman Library [in West Boylston/across the street] in the last few months, most of which I have never read. 453! I still have about ten boxes that I want to go with me, along with another four that I plan to donate to a seminary library a friend is setting up in Burma, if things go well. If not, next year’s booksale will have a lot of Christian theology available, so make sure you stop by and support our great library [here in town].

The last time I dropped by with donations was just a week or so ago, and the woman who helped me take the enormous box I’d brought in down to the basement said something interesting to me. She said, “You know, instead of buying all these books, you could just borrow books from the library.” It was interesting because it was a foolishly obvious thing to say, and yet, I didn’t really have a reason why I didn’t operate that way. Why is it that, after giving away all these books, I still have literally hundreds of books packed up in boxes to go with me? Particularly when I am about to go to one of the best theological schools in the country, where I will have a huge theology library directly across the street from my home, where a copy of every book I own no doubt resides? I could get rid of every single book I own—not counting the 314 volumes Amazon tells me I have on my Kindle—and still have access to every single one of them any time I want. What exactly IS this obsessive book-collecting all about?

I think the key is found in the difference between the book that I borrow and the book that I own. Both contain the same information, the same treasures to share with me. Both are equally available to me. But there is an emotional difference. When I return a borrowed book to the library, it is an ordinary transaction, like buying milk and eggs at the grocery store, or putting gas in my car. It has no emotional content. But let me tell you: Every single one of those books that I own and now am giving away? It feels like giving away a childhood friend. There really is no difference in the transaction itself, but the things that I own? I own them. They are mine.

They are mine, and that somehow helps to define who I am. They are mine, and that means they are not just an object, but a relationship. They are mine, and in a society like ours—where everything we do and everything we are is driven by a consumer attitude, tied up with our money and how we spend it—what is mine shapes my social standing, my self-worth, my value to others, my emotional and psychological well-being, the amount of power I have with other people, the amount of power I have to change my own lot in life. They are mine, and I need to make sure they stay mine, because it will change who I am if they are not.

That reality is bound up in our language, too. When we talk about people, about how good their characteristics are, about how we evaluate them, we use money words, talking about a person’s “value” and “worth,” almost as if the only thing that matters about other human beings is the way we can measure them in dollars. I discovered this week that there is a website out there called “celebritynetworth.com” where you can look up the total value of famous people’s assets. An example: Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, is worth 1.5 million dollars. Justin Bieber, the 24-year old Canadian teen idol singer, is worth 265 million dollars. That fact makes me wonder what exactly our values in this world are.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples worry that the people gathered to hear his teaching are going to run out of time to get something to eat. They want Jesus to send them into town to buy food. When Jesus tells them that the people can stay, the disciples complain that they only have a little bread and fish. Not enough time, not enough money, not enough food. Send them, Jesus, away from you, because there’s not enough for them here. You hear the problem with this, don’t you? Jesus is enough. Jesus is more than enough. Jesus is present in abundance, and that should be fairly obvious, because however hungry the crowds are, they haven’t gotten up to leave yet, because they are more hungry for what Jesus has to offer them than they are for the food they could find in the markets in the villages. And Jesus is feeding them.

So he does what he always does. He performs a bigger miracle, to show that he has power for the first one. He produces food for thousands with plentiful leftovers so that his disciples might see that if he can feed the body, perhaps he can also feed the soul. Just as he told the paralyzed man to stand up and walk, after he’d told him his sins were forgiven. Just as he raised a twelve-year old girl from the dead after stopping a twelve-year old hemorrhage in a woman’s body. We think we never have enough. Jesus provides abundance upon abundance upon abundance.

The message is the same in our Old Testament reading. Isaiah proclaims water and food, wine and milk, given to everyone who is thirsty, without money and without price. God promises abundance so great that whole other nations shall run to Israel in order to proclaim the goodness of God’s favor and providence. In what God will give them, there is steadfast, sure love, and real life. And what do the people do in response? Isaiah has to implore them not to spend their money on things that don’t nourish, or to work in vain for those things that do not satisfy. Because that’s what we do. Why, when God provides for us in such abundance, are we so guarded with what we have?

I mean, really. I’m going to move all these books to Princeton, where the same book will be there in the library. It’s not that, if I need one, I should trust that God will provide. It’s that, God has already provided, and I KNOW that God has already provided, and I’m still going to behave this way, when I could send them to Burma to help establish a library and a seminary to spread the Good News in southeast Asia. For absolutely no reason except that I want to have my own stuff. And for clarity? Not even preaching this sermon has changed my mind. I’m taking those books.

You would think this is the part of the sermon where I would talk about how we should live more simply, being better stewards of the possessions we have, and giving more to those in need. Those things are true, of course, but that’s not where I’m headed with this. The fact is, we are all here because Jesus has already fed us. We KNOW God’s abundance. We have experienced God’s abundance. Each one of us has at least ten times as much as we need. And I’m not talking about stuff, or options, or groceries. I’m talking about the thing that feeds and nourishes us best. Our lives, yours and mine, have been changed dramatically by the presence of God’s love for us, particularly through Jesus Christ. Oh, it may be hard for us to articulate exactly how that is true. The language is difficult to get at, mostly because we are out of practice. But if it wasn’t true, you would have slept in this morning, or gone to breakfast with friends, or gone golfing like all those people [I’ll see when I pass the Wachusett Country Club in a few minutes]. God has fed us with more than mere food. And God does it again this morning, in the Word that we hear proclaimed, and the bread and [wine/juice] in the banquet God lays before us, and the fellowship we share with one another. We are fed, and will be fed again, and are filled to overflowing with God’s love. And God has given it to us without money and without price. That is the very definition of grace. Our lives have been transformed for no reason whatsoever, except that God has decided to transform them. We have become better people, we dwell in love for one another, our values are shifted so that we honor our neighbors and even our enemies, simply because they belong to the same God that we belong to. We become loving people, we become discerning people, we become generous people, we become joyful people, we become well and whole and truly alive. Better than endless fish and bread is this food with which Jesus feeds us, and we find far more than twelve basketfuls left over.

So why do we keep all these leftovers to ourselves? If we have such evidence of God’s abundance, why do we still hoard all of God’s love? We know God will always feed us more. We know that there will be more than we need. So why don’t we invite our neighbor to have some too? Why, when your neighbor is starving for God’s love, don’t you point out the banquet laid out right in front of his eyes? Why keep God’s abundant love to yourself?

“They need not go away,” Jesus says. “You give them something to eat.”