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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

June 16, 2019

Matthew 14:13-21


Here’s what I wonder:  What brought the crowds there?  Why did all those people listen to the rumors of where Jesus could be found, and then follow him there?

The story says that the crowds followed him on foot from the cities.  What motivated them to do that?  What drove them to walk long, hot, dusty miles to reach the place where Jesus was said to be?  What inspired them to set out from home with no particular guarantee that they wouldn’t get there too late and find a scene reminiscent of the Woodstock Fairgrounds on the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend?

Perhaps some of them were on a lark, just bored on a weekend and looking for something interesting to occupy their time.

Perhaps some of them were friends of friends, people who knew people who had encountered Jesus and come away with a compelling story to tell.

Perhaps some of them were curious about this teacher and healer whose reputation was growing.

Perhaps some of them were seeking the healing for which Jesus was known.  Healing for the pain that mortal flesh sometimes bears.  Healing for the fearful, lonely places the mind can take you.  Healing for the wordless ache of a wounded spirit.  Healing for the sorrow of relationships torn by death or distance or disagreement or disgrace.

Perhaps some of them were intrigued by his teaching.  The promise of a world in which blessing is extended to those who are poor, meek, grieving, persecuted.  The call to forgiveness over vengeance, mercy over judgment, peace over violence.  The thought of a God who scattered seeds profligately, leaving no patch of earth—no matter how stony—unturned.

Perhaps some of them were inspired by the sense of purpose his disciples seemed to have.  Even if they were a little rough around the edges, it was so obvious that they were connected to someone, something, that grounded them, that centered them, that gave their lives meaning.


There were a lot of people in the crowd, that we know.  Five thousand men, the story says, plus women and children.  And if they were anything like us, anything like this congregation, then they probably had at least as many reasons for being there as there were people in that crowd.  But here’s what they had in common.  They were tired, for they had been journeying for a long time to get there—some carrying sick friends on their backs; others dragging enormous, heavy baggage behind them; some slogging through sticky mud and treacherous quicksand; others lugging toddlers whose legs got tired along the way.  They were tired.  And they were hungry.

Here’s what else they had in common.  They all got fed.

The disciples, who were having an all-too-human sort of day, said to Jesus, “Send them away.  Let them fend for themselves.  We only have these five loaves and two fish.  We have more important things to do than go chasing after picnic supplies.  We’re tired.  We were hoping for some quality time with you.  Just send them all away.”  But Jesus—you know Jesus—Jesus said, “Bring me what you have, and ask the people to sit down on the grass.”  And somehow, in his hands, what they had, who they were, became more than enough.

Whether they were there on a whim or as a result of a lifetime of desperation…  They got fed.

Whether they were hungry because they had no food to bring with them or because they just carelessly forgot their sandwich that morning…  They got fed.

Whether they were utterly convinced by this Jesus character or still had some serious doubts…  They got fed.

Whether they were brand new to the Jesus movement or a long-time disciple who really should have known better than to be so stingy…  They got fed.

No matter who they were, no matter where they were on the journey of life or the journey of faith, they all ate until they were satisfied.

And there were leftovers.


But that’s how it is with Jesus, isn’t it?  That’s how it is with the people of God, isn’t it?  That’s how it has been for us, isn’t it?

In more ways than I can recount, Jesus has showed up for us, among us, within us, around us, beside us, in these six years we’ve shared.  He has gathered us in from all our varied places and backgrounds and circumstances.  He has welcomed each one of us, specifically, as God’s beloved, the apple of God’s eye.  He has noticed our needs; he has kept us from being sent away to fend for ourselves.  He has received what we have to offer—even when it seemed as meager and insufficient as five loaves and two fish for thousands upon thousands of people—and somehow, miraculously, he has made it, made us, more than enough.

He has nourished us on bread and cup, on scripture and song, on prayer and Bible study and plenty of meetings.  He has nourished us on chicken pot pie and American chop suey, on grilled chicken and spaghetti and meatballs, on deviled eggs and finger sandwiches, on goldfish crackers and rainbow-frosted cakes and homemade chocolate sauce with orange oil.  He has nourished us on tender words, gentle gestures, casseroles and rides to church and notes of care.

And through us, he has nourished this community—with hot lunches and AA meetings, with yoga classes and school vacation programs, with book study groups and rainbow flags and donated food items every month.


That’s how it is with Jesus.  That’s how it is with the people of God.  That’s how it has been for us, and that’s how it will continue to be.

Whenever you show up—tired or hurting or grieving or sick, depressed or anxious or addicted or lonely, joyful or celebrating or proud or hopeful, determined or committed or focused or inspired—whenever you show up, however you show up, God will welcome you exactly as you are.  God will ask you to stay.  God will pull up a chair to the table, or spread a blanket on a nice patch of grass, and invite you to sit down.  God will feed you.

And if you, like the disciples, should find yourself tempted to send others away to fend for themselves, God will remind you that you, too, know what it feels like to be the one who is not sure they will have a place at the table.  That you, too, know what it feels like to be a stranger and be welcomed.  And God will open your hearts even wider to every neighbor in God’s good creation.

And if you, like the disciples, should find yourself tempted to believe that what you have is insufficient, that there is not enough food or time or money or volunteers or power or prestige or hope to carry on, God will remind you that Jesus fed the multitudes from a few loaves and a couple of fish.  If he could do that, then surely he can work with whatever it is that you have to offer.

And maybe, just maybe, some far-off day, two thousand years or so down the road, people will hear a story about that miraculous time when new possibilities, bountiful feasts, tender mercies, and a whole lot of love were made manifest here on Woodstock Hill.

May it be so.


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