TEXT: Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:16-18)
As I look back over my decades of pastoral ministry—and consider my long career in a mainline denomination—I wonder whether at times I attempted to make my preaching too sophisticated. Sometimes, we tend to miss simple truths, stated plainly and simply—what some would call the “old time religion.”
That’s one reason why—in my last pastorate before retirement—I always appreciated our “God is good” chant at the start of worship. When I would shout, “God is good,” the congregation would reply with enthusiasm, saying: “All the time!”
This is a simple, yet marvellous expression of the truth we know about God’s power to provide for his people. It is also a fundamental truth of what we call “good news.” From today’s gospel lesson, we learn once again that God is God—that God will provide what we need. We re-learn, in the midst of the Body of Christ, that God will lift up amongst us resources to accomplish his holy and life-giving purposes.
In Matthew, chapter 14, we encounter people who, having followed Jesus into a desolate rural area, now find themselves hungry. The disciples suggest that Jesus send them away to get something to eat. But Jesus has something else in mind. Maybe it was his way of saying, “God is good.” But the disciples did not know how to reply, “All the time.” So Jesus told them to feed the hungry people themselves:
Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” (Matt. 14:16-18)
He was saying, “You don’t think there is enough for this great multitude, but there is enough—because God will provide.”
And God did provide. Following the meal, there were a dozen baskets full of leftovers. “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (v. 21).
This miracle—where well over 5,000 people are fed with five loaves of bread and two fish—is a kind of “acted out” parable. It reveals how God can raise up, in the midst of his people, just what they need in that moment. How? Well, we don’t know how. But we doknow why: because God is good—all the time.
This miracle can give us hope and direction—if we can see that everything is possible with God; if we can see that looking to love—the love that comes from God—can be the key to meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters.
But perhaps we are too sophisticated to believe in miracles—to believe that God really is good—all the time; that the power of God can, in every instance, provide more than we can hope for or imagine. Sometimes we know so much we cannot see the truth … but then Jesus faces us down with his familiar words: “You—you give them something to eat.”
The goodness of God assures us that God’s love, moving in us and overflowing from us, can provide whatever his people need—because God is good, all the time. In every circumstance of life, God’s power works toward lifting up whatever promotes love in that situation. Wherever there is injustice or pain or grief or hardship or hunger, God is there. Why? Because God is good—all the time.
As the apostle Paul says so majestically in his Epistle to the Romans: “… in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Paul reminds us that in all things God’s abundance will, in the final analysis, be sufficient to meet our needs. Right here, right now—in the midst of who and what we are—God will provide; because God is good, all the time.
This does not mean, of course, that Christians will be without problems or suffering. No. But it does mean that God will give us the grace and strength to bear the load as we overcome and move through whatever misfortune may befall us. And perhaps that is what we most need to remember on this day, in the midst of a global pandemic which has so far claimed almost 700,000 lives.
Yes, I think this is what we need to remember, looking back on recent months. Months wherein we’ve seen horrendous acts of senseless violence play out on our TV screens—and even in our daily lives. Months which have laid bare too many dismal failures of political leadership across North America and the world. Months and weeks and tragic hours which have forced us, as a society, to confront the ugly reality of systemic racism in our most trusted institutions.
Ours is not a faith of easy answers and unrealistic solutions. But Jesus entered our human life and died upon the cross for us. And by doing that, he demonstrated something. He showed us that—through whatever we experience, through whatever may trouble us, throughout whatever distress or threat or sorrow we may feel—we need not despair, because our God is in it with us.
God will lift up in our midst exactly what we need to make it through. Why? Because God is good, all the time. And because God calls us to demonstrate goodness—and courage, and compassion, and faith—all the time. And maybe, in that call of God, we find humanity’s only real hope for peace. Just as on that day so long ago, Jesus took the little bit of food his disciples had and multiplied it fantastically, so on this day, I believe, he is asking us to offer him whatever scraps of peace—of goodness—we may have. And if we offer it, he will surely multiply it.
As someone once said: “Peace has to start somewhere.” And given the violent history of the human race—and the conflict that is so pervasive in our society—I think it goes without saying that it has to start small. Looking at how the best efforts of governments have failed—from the League of Nations to the UN to who-knows-how-many Middle East peace talks—it should be clear that the big solutions do not work very well.
Peace, I think, is a grass-roots process. It has to start small. It has to begin with small actions—lots of them—by people like you and me. People who write letters and sign petitions and march in demonstrations, yes; but also people who look for places where peace is absent—in their communities, in their schools and workplaces and homes—and who offer in those situations whatever small portions they have of the peace of Christ.
If we do that, our Lord will multiply what we offer.
God is not far away and aloof from us. He is not somewhere else. In his life and death and rising, Jesus shows us that God does not stand outside of life, but is right here with us—beside us—in our broken and troubled and suffering world. As Paul assured the Roman Christians, there is nothing—absolutely nothing in all of creation—that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:39)
In whatever crisis or issue we face in life, in whatever trouble may come our way, the power of God’s love will provide us with what we need. From the midst of the Body of Christ, God will lift up the resources to accomplish his loving purposes—because God is good, all the time.
Can I get an “Amen”?