SERMON 31 JULY 2011 - “Bring your nothing to me” By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai
Prayer: May the words…
There have been times during my ministry here at St. Andrew’s when I have felt absolutely empty and depleted of all energy and resources and I have stepped faithfully out of my front door on a Sunday morning completely reliant on God to inspire me and give me the words to preach to you from the pulpit. These times are when I am at my most vulnerable and I think I have nothing to say and nothing to offer. There have been times when even during the offering I’m thinking God what are we going to do? I have never said “God what am I going to do?” I have always felt a dual responsibility to provide inspiration for God’s people. “God you put me here, so you better perform a miracle or your people are not going to be fed. Do you want them to go home still hungry?” And the amazing thing is that those are the fullest times of my ministry, I pray the prayer of illumination “May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight Oh God our strength and our Redeemer, Amen.” And it is at that point that the miracle occurs and the words begin to flow. In my emptiness and my vulnerability the Holy Spirit always steps in and fills me to overflowing and strengthens my confidence. It’s scary stuff; there is doubt and uncertainty because that’s just human nature at its best. I remember sharing with Bruce afterwards about this vulnerability and Bruce you have said to me, Fei you should have more of these sorts of times because this is when you are at your best (or words to that effect).
There have been times when I have been called on to pray and preach in the Samoan language with absolutely no notice at all and my Samoan language is not that good at these sorts of times. I remember gulping at the shock of having to offer a pastoral prayer to a family whose mother had just died at our family home, this was about 20 years ago. I was also traumatized by the event as it had all happened in my bedroom and she had died on my bed. At the request of our family minister
for me to pray I stood to my feet numbed by the experience but performing my duty to do what was required of me at the time. I opened my mouth and I said in Samoan “Agaga Paia e, fesoasoani mai…” and that is all I remember. I sat down at the end of my prayer feeling that something amazing had just happened. My minister and my father said to me, that was a beautiful prayer, and even to this very day I can’t remember what I said or how long I prayed for. All I do remember is that God filled my emptiness and used me to minister to a family in need at that particular time. I have to admit its horrible feeling vulnerable and uncertain, but God remains faithful to us especially at these times and waits to perform miracles when we least expect it.
“We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish.” said the disciples. Jesus says,“Bring your nothing to me.”
This story reminds me that sometimes Jesus is asking me to simply give my nothing—my little loaves and fishes—and then to stand back and watch Jesus teach a different kind of economy, an economy grown by God’s abundance. You know this story. After the news of the murder of his friend John, Jesus retreats to a lonely place; I imagine to mourn. The locals get wind that Jesus has come. The crowd is overwhelming and needy. Jesus heals with compassion. The crowd stays late, and the disciples want to send the people away so they can get something to eat. Jesus wants to teach his disciples something fundamental about the nature of God. Jesus says, “You feed them.” The disciples look puzzled. They have nothing. No food. No reserves. They stare out at a hungry mass of people that looks more and more like a hungry mob. The disciples respond, “We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish.” Jesus says, “Bring your nothing to me.” He blesses the fish and bread and proceeds to distribute food to the masses. As Matthew tells the story, “All were filled” (Johnson, Jul 28, 2008)1 from the five barley loaves and two fish. With that gift Jesus gives thanks and begins to distribute the food. Miraculously, all have plenty to eat. The crowds of people are in need. Not only are they hungry; the food supply is limited, and there does not appear to be enough to satisfy the hunger of all. Obviously, some will be sent away with little or nothing. Those responsible for controlling the crowds wonder how this precious food should be distributed. Then, in the midst of this need, something extraordinary happens. Not only is food provided, but more is available than is required. How did this happen? What are we to make of it?
The feeding can be taken as a nature miracle; Jesus producing food for the hungry crowd as a sign that he is the Son of God. At the opposite end of the scale it can be taken as a "miracle of sharing”. We notice that Jesus did not start with empty hands. Were there many people present who had food hidden away in their lunch boxes? We have no way of telling. In a sense it does not matter.
It is clear that even the disciples do not expect Jesus to feed the people in the way he does. He also makes the excessive generosity of Jesus very clear. Jesus instructs the disciples to gather up the scraps. What started with five loaves and two fish ends up with a satisfied crowd and twelve baskets. One can only assume that the twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. In other words, there is in Jesus enough to satisfy the religious needs of all.
The miracle asks the church the question, "Doyou believe God will provide what you need to do the ministry God wants done?" Note the essential qualifiers -- what we need, not want, and the ministry God wants, not necessarily the ministry we’ve planned. Another way to ask the question: Do we operate according to a mind-set of abundance or of scarcity?
There is much hunger in the world today. Millions of people go to sleep with empty stomachs. We see the current crisis in Somalia; children are bloated from malnutrition and too hungry to cry. More than twelve million people facing starvation in the worst drought to hit East Africa in 60 years. 37.4% of children are suffering from acute malnutrition, the highest rate ever. Severe drought, soaring food prices and conflict have left millions at risk of starvation and disease in Somalia, Kenyaand Ethiopia. Pastures are barren, livestock are dying, water sources are dry and children are starving. It has been described as a “human tragedy of unimaginable proportions” by the UN.
When some hear the Gospel message they respond I don’t want life after death I want it now before death. What do we do? What can we do? Why can’t God perform a miracle for these people now, today? There is much about man-made barriers preventing aid from getting through to those in need, monetary aide form the USA decreased because of its own debt crisis. I’m afraid I have no answers or solutions to these age old questions either. We can only pray and hope that all agencies will work together to relieve this world crisis.
God is ever faithful in our times of crisis and emptiness, Paul often talked about when I am empty then I am full. Sometimes it is good to bring our vulnerability and emptiness to the foot of the cross and wait for God to work his miracle in and through us when we least expect it. “We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish,” said the disciples. Jesus says,“Bring your nothing to me.”
1. Johnson, T. D. (Jul 28, 2008). The God of abundance
April 2011 to June 2012