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"Making Something From Nothing"
Matthew 14:13-21
     I've been told, by those I have read and by those I have studied under, who know far more about this sort of thing than I do, that the more one studies a biblical text, and the more one immerses oneself in the words of a biblical text, the more will be the meaning that comes out of that text. 
    And I must admit that I have found this to be true.  But I have been especially impressed by the meanings implied by different translations of Matthew's telling of Jesus' feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes.
    Looking to the seventeenth verse of the fourteenth chapter, we find these translations:
    "We have here BUT five loaves and two fishes."
    "We have NOTHING HERE EXCEPT five loaves and two fish."
    "We have NOTHING HERE BUT five loaves and two fish."
    "We have EXACTLY five SMALL loaves of bread and two fish."
    "We have ONLY five loaves here and two fish."
    "ALL we have here are five loaves and two fish."
    "BUT WE HAVEN'T ANYTHING HERE EXCEPT five loaves and two fish."
    Of course, all of these are translations of the SAME original text.  But how many times have you heard these kinds of responses to situations? 
    What is striking to me here is that the disciples are but one step away from saying, "We have nothing."
    But back up two verses, and you can get a better sense of where they're coming from.  What they're saying in the fifteenth verse is, "Hey, we're out here in the middle of nowhere, and it's been a long day.  Get rid of these people."
    And it is in the midst of the small-mindedness, the self-centeredness, the limited vision of his disciples, that Jesus shows us the immensity of the power of God, and sets for us the model of what the Christian church, the Christian society, should be like.
    I would call your attention once again to the nineteenth verse, and reading from the New Revised Standard Version:  "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."
    In this single verse we have not only a preview of the last supper, but also five very specific steps for how to make "something out of nothing."
    Now I don't really mean “nothing.”  But lots of people think that if they have very little, they have nothing.  And that's a mistake. 
    What Jesus tells us, and demonstrates to us, is that no matter how seemingly little we have, it IS something, and we can do much with it.
    I said there were five steps.  And I really did MEAN that.  If we take them seriously, prayerfully, we can perform what might otherwise seem to be miracles with the little we have.
    The first step is in the TAKING of the loaves and fishes.  Too often we reject, we diminish, we demean, we ignore what we have because we think it inadequate, insufficient, too little to concern ourselves with.  What we should be doing is ACCEPTING what we have, acknowledging it, proclaiming it. 
    Where would Jesus have been if he had said, "Yeah, you're right.  Only seven pieces of food for five thousand people.  Forget it."  The greatest contributions to this world have often come from people who felt that they had very little to give. 
    The greatest contributions to the church have often come from people who have felt inadequate to the task.  We are told that Martin Luther was continually overwhelmed with his own sense of his personal sinfulness. 
    We must, therefore, TAKE our own loaves and fishes as the first step toward reaching our miracles.
    In the second step, Jesus LOOKED UP TO HEAVEN.  We are NOT in this alone.  The almighty creator is with us and knows that this is difficult for us.  God knows we need help and is ready to provide it.  But we must GO to God to find it. 
    Putting our faith and trust in God we will be continually reassured that our loaves and fishes are important and that we can do much with them. 
    We need to remember that our God is as caring for the person with one talent as for the person with one million talents.
    In the third step, Jesus BLESSED the loaves and fishes.  He told God, "Thank you."  And this is a tough step for many.  Too often, we think we have nothing to be thankful for, so we don't bother to thank God for what we DO have. 
    But if we IGNORE God, what should we rightfully EXPECT God to do for us? 
    A number of years ago, for a feature story, the Kansas City Star interviewed a number of people in the area at Thanksgiving to ask them what they were thankful for.  They got a wide variety of responses.  One response was, to me, particularly disturbing. 
    The person interviewed was not only not thankful, but bitter.      All he could do was complain about how tough times were, and about how meaningless Thanksgiving was.  And here is the irony:  He was fully employed.  He owned a nice home. 
    He was happily married.  And he had two beautiful daughters. 
    I've come to believe, in my own life, that whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, it's time to start thanking God for what I have, because so many have so much less.
    In the fourth step, Jesus BROKE the bread.  This is the step of preparation.  The preparation for giving.  It is the acknowledgment that the bread is no longer ours.  It is for others. 
    And as we accept our talents, our gifts, as things for which we are truly grateful to God, and things which we are prepared to give away, those gifts begin to magnify themselves, and they take on value which we could never have predicted. 
    But the key to this is to become committed to the giving of our loaves and fishes.
    Finally, in the fifth step, Jesus GAVE the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  Now, notice where we have come from the first step to the fifth step.  In the first step, Jesus TOOK.  In the fifth step, he GAVE. 
    And the purpose for the taking in the first place was to give.  I think too often we think we have so little because all we can think about is what we want to KEEP.
    When I was living in Kansas City I would, from time to time, look around my small apartment and I would think of friends who had giant houses filled with all kinds of goodies, and I would think how little I had.  At those times I was focussing on keeping. 
    On the other hand, I have been known to give things away.  About seventeen or eighteen years ago, when I was living in a 700-square-foot apartment, I felt it necessary to thin out my library.  When I had finished, I had filled twelve heavy boxes. 
    I called a former teaching colleague in Kansas City to find out if she would be interested in having them, and she was thrilled with the offer.  I didn't miss those books. 
    And after a while I even had difficulty figuring out where I had been keeping them in the first place.  When I had put the focus on GIVING things away, suddenly I was, in a sense, a wealthy person, with far more than I needed.
    But there is another lesson to be learned from the feeding of the five thousand, and that is the model for the church which we can see in this incident.  And I want to make several points here.
    First, note the concern and sympathy Jesus had for the multitude.  The disciples were ready to disperse them, to call it day. But Jesus said, "They need not go away:  you give them something to eat."  Even after spending the day with them, he was prepared to do more. 
    Even though the disciples were tired, and were looking for excuses to call it quits, Jesus was ready to keep on going.  This is one of the finest images of the shepherd and his flock.  The shepherd who knows no limits to his commitment to his sheep. 
    How often do we find ourselves saying, "Well, I've done all I can.  Nobody can possibly expect me to do any more."
    Second, note the ability, and the desire, of Jesus to meet the most fundamental needs of people.  To feed them.  Often we like to draw limits on the church.  We like to say, "such an such is the church's business, and we don't have any business doing anything else." 
    Or we like to think that particular human needs should be met by other organizations, institutions, or agencies.  But not by the church. 
    For example, many think that the church should remain utterly independent of politics, even though that often removes us from meeting such needs as hunger and health.  Perhaps we need, more often, to ask ourselves what Jesus might do in those situations.
    Third, notice the orderliness and the thriftiness in this story.  In the nineteenth verse, Jesus ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and in the twentieth verse, they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 
    Remember, we're dealing with five thousand people here.  This is not your usual church social.  But nevertheless, there is apparently a fellowship, a decorum, that could be a model for the modern church. 
    Luke goes even further, to tell us that the multitude sat down in groups of about fifty each.
    Fourth, and this observation is dependent on the view of certain biblical scholars with whom you might disagree, this incident illustrates the ability of Jesus to bring out the altruism in his followers. 
    Those scholars would contend that there was more food available than the five loaves and the two fish, but that Jesus was able to get the multitude to pool its resources so that those who had food were giving it to those who lacked food. 
    In other words, we have the ultimate sharing relationship among an extremely large, and mixed, group of people.
    So, in a sense, Jesus is, in two contexts, creating something out of--pardon the expression--nothing.  In the first context, he is creating food for a multitude out of five loaves and two fishes. 
    And in the second context, he is creating the basis for a meaningful church group out of a multitude of five thousand.
    Now, quite obviously, he is not dealing with "nothing," because he refuses to recognize the limitations that WE might be tempted to see. 
    Unlike his disciples, he refuses to recognize superficial limitations, but rather chooses to call upon the assistance of God to overcome those limitations. 
    The question before US is this:  Are WE to behave as his disciples did on that day, or are we prepared to move forward--in faith--as Jesus did?

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