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Feeding the 5000

August 14, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Mathew 14:13-21

Imagine that we – Hope Lutheran Church – had an unlimited budget.  Imagine that we could spend as much as we want on whatever we want and never accrue a penny of debt.  What do you suppose we would do differently? 

Stadium seating with gold plated pews… or maybe we’d go with La-Z-Boy recliners? Titantron screens? Catered brunches from 5 star restaurants every week? World class musicians playing on state of the art instruments?  A personal pastor for every member? Slickly produced services, broadcasted in primetime and streamed around the world? 

If there were no limit to our budget, how much bigger would our reach be? 

But instead we have to settle for what we have.  One lousy preacher. 40-year-old pews. And the same old Jesus we’ve been preaching for 2,000 years.  But if we just had more money… boy… there’d be no stopping us. 

Or maybe it isn’t really money that’s limiting us.  Maybe, in fact, our limited resources are meant for God’s glory.  After all, the story we read today about Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 would not have happened if they had enough money to cover it. 

I would suggest that we aren’t really limited by our finances.  We are limited by our hunger.  For that to make sense, let’s go back to the text. 

You’ll remember that the crowds have come out to the middle of nowhere to hear Jesus.  They are hanging on His every word.   So much so, that the disciples take it upon themselves to suggest that people should go home to eat. 

If people were leaving on their own, this wouldn’t have come up.  No one in the story seems to be concerned with dinner except the disciples.  It’s as if the crowds were hungrier for Jesus’ words than they were for bread.  But it’s the disciples who have their minds on their stomachs. 

I wonder if, after hearing Jesus preach so often, they’ve kind of grown too familiar with it.  They’ve lost their appetite for it. And so their minds go to earthly things… specifically they begin to think about what they lack. 

And when you think about it, it’s rather presumptuous.  “Jesus, you should send these people away so they can eat.” As if Jesus is less aware of their needs than the disciples.  As if Jesus is less concerned with caring for the crowds than the disciples.  We should probably learn from their mistake here: if you ever start to tell Jesus how He should do His job, you’re probably about to say something foolish. 

From an earthly standpoint, the disciples seem to be helpless. It would take a small fortune to feed all these people.  Getting the food from town and bringing it back would be a logistical nightmare.  There is no practical way to meet the need with the limited resources they have. 

And Jesus has the audacity to say, “They’re fine.  You feed them.”   

“But Jesus… We don’t have enough.  Not by a long shot. I mean, I know that you said not to worry about what we will eat or drink.  Just seek first the kingdom, and you’ll take care of the rest. But this isn’t a metaphor.  This isn’t a teaching illustration.  These are real hungry people.” 

“I know.  I really meant what I said.  These people have sought the kingdom.  I will take care of the rest.  Bring me whatever you can scrounge up and you will have plenty to feed these people.” 

If the disciples had an unlimited budget and a bottomless pool of labor, they could have probably handled this food problem all on their own.  They wouldn’t have needed Jesus at all… and they would have learned nothing about Jesus in the process. 

Which brings me back to today.  If we had an unlimited budget and a bottomless pool of labor, how much would we lean on Jesus?  How much would we learn about Jesus? Would we seek His kingdom first… or ours? 

I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus is every bit as powerful today as He was 2,000 years ago.  I believe that there is as much need today as back then… in fact, I believe that we have a poverty right here in America that rivals any the world has ever seen.  It’s not a poverty of empty bellies or homelessness.  Even the poorest among us, by worldly measures, are some of the richest people who have ever lived in all of human history. 

But when you think about the spiritual emptiness, the broken homes, the desperation, the despair, and meaninglessness that’s in our own neighborhoods… from God’s perspective there is incredible poverty and hunger all around us.  And there is nothing that can meet that need but Jesus himself. 

And when we think that our reach is limited by our resources, then we’ve really missed the point of this story.  If a mountain of money would empower us to be the church He wants u to be, then He’d give it to us.  But I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth. 

We aren’t limited by our resources.  We are limited by our hunger.  If, like the disciples, we are focused on what we don’t have, then we are hungering for the wrong things.  If we are focused on what we want and what would make our lives better, we will never be satisfied.  But if our hearts and minds – which is to say our priorities and our desires – belong to Jesus, then he will make what we have more than enough. 

There’s a curious ending to this story, you know.  I mentioned earlier that the disciples were likely motivated by wanting to feed themselves.  Rather than Jesus feeding them along with everyone else, He instead tells them to feed others.  He didn’t have to. He could have just snapped His fingers and made a plate appear in front of each person there. But instead, He told His hungry disciples to feed others. Don’t worry about your own belly, you take care of them. 

This may seem like a bad deal for the disciples, until you get to the end of the story. When everyone was fed, there were 12 basketfuls left over.  12 baskets, 12 disciples.  Jesus hadn’t forgotten His disciples. Rather, He wanted them to see that if they put others first, they would still be provided for. 

Many churches and many churchgoers suffer from a consumer mentality when it comes to God’s Word.  They come to church only focused on what they get out of it.  “Did the music touch me?  Did the message inspire me? Did we do the things that are meaningful to me?” Consequently, these folks wind up getting less out of it.  Moreover, they are often easily offended or disappointed.  They rarely reach out to others in meaningful ways, and are the most likely to make visitors feel unwelcome. 

But what if instead of focusing on what we get out of it, we come to church focused on what we can take away to share with others?  What if we assume that the sermon isn’t just for us, but also for the people we know who aren’t here?  What if we were more concerned about meeting the needs of others than having our needs met?  Do you think that your needs would not be met along the way – and that in abundance? 

We have more than we need to feed the hungry souls around us, right here and right now.  We have Jesus, who fed thousands with a few loaves and fish.  He has more than enough to meet the needs around us, and His invitation to us is the same today as it was back then, “You give them something to eat.” 

By Pastor Michael Cofer Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Mathew 14:13-21 Imagine that we – Hope Lutheran Church – had an unlimited budget.  Imagine that we could spend as much as we want on whatever we want and never accrue a penny of debt.  What do you suppose we would do differently?  Stadium seating with gold plated pews… or maybe ...

Parable of the Net

July 30, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:44-52

Ever seen River Monsters?  It is a great show that follows the adventures of Jeremy Wade in all sorts of remote and exotic corners of the globe.  He’s smart, he’s got a cool accent, and he’s a man with a plan. 

See, Jeremy Wade is an angler.  And the stuff he does is just incredible.  He knows how to choose just the right line and tackle, hook and bait, to cast into any river and pluck up the exact fish he’s looking for.  It’s really amazing. 

He throws in looking for some giant catfish, and two commercial breaks later he’s yelling “Fish on!” and hauling in some 400 pound leviathan of a catfish. 

I don’t have those kinds of skills.  I just put a worm on a hook and hope for the best.  My approach to fishing isn’t highly targeted. Nobody is going to make a TV show about my angling conquests. 

When Jesus talks about bringing the good news of God’s Kingdom to the world, He calls it “fishing for men.”  I used to picture the kind of fishing that I have some experience with.  The kind of fishing that pros like Jeremy Wade make look so impressive and heroic. 

So I could talk about identifying the kind of person you’re hoping to bring in, and selecting the right kind of bait to attract them and setting the hook as they are brought to the baptismal waters…. And the sermon writes itself from there, right? 

Only, this is completely different from what Jesus is talking about when he teaches about being a fisher-of-men. Sharing the Gospel isn’t about angling.  In fact, one of the obstacles we might face when sharing the gospel is people thinking we “have an angle” or that what we offer is “bait” rather than real food. 

No, Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  That’s because fishing with a pole is mostly recreational.  In a survival situation, you can probably provide for yourself and a couple others with a pole.  But commercial fishermen today as well as in Jesus day don’t use rods and hooks.  They use nets.  You will never catch as many fish with a pole as you will with a net. 

Now, of course, nets are not highly targeted.  When you throw a net in the water, you’ll pull in all kinds of stuff.  Some of it will be useless trash.  Some of it will be inedible fish.  But you’ll also pull in good fish. 

See, Jesus makes this very clear in his explanation of the parable: It is not the job of the net to sort out the keepers.  The net just needs to be open. 

A baited hook pretends to be something it isn’t.  The fisherman bobs it around to make it attractive.  It looks good; it smells good (to fish, I mean).  It promises one thing, but it has a completely different purpose. 

 

The reality of God’s Kingdom is beautiful enough that it doesn’t need bait to make it attractive.  And I’m not ashamed of what the Gospel of Jesus does promise. We are being pulled toward Christ, steadily and relentlessly.  We are being brought closer and closer each day and before you know it we are going to see Him face to face.  The invitation is open to literally everyone.  The promise is open to literally everyone. 

A net never pretends to be what it is not.  It’s a simple, humble thing.  It is just tossed into the water, spreads open wide, and is pulled back to shore.  

So, an evangelist is like a net?  No.  So the Gospel is like a net?  No.  The kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  Yes! And what is the kingdom of Heaven?  Look around you.  It’s us.  We, together, are the net.  For us to be functioning well, we have to be spread open wide to receive whomever we come into contact with.   

And if there are tears or holes in the net, we’re going to lose some good fish through them. Every one of us is a necessary part of the net and we have to hold together.  Broken relationships, people drifting away or walking away, hurting or hardened hearts – these all have to be mended. 

A net that doesn’t hold together isn’t going to catch much of anything.  You ever notice that when you read about fishermen in the Bible, if they aren’t casting their nets, they’re mending them? Jesus has grace enough to mend all of the tears and holes in the net.   

You may think that there is no way you are ever going to forgive him or that she will forgive you.  But Jesus has grace enough to do it.  And He intends to do it… not just for your sake, but for the folks who will slip through the holes in the net. 

God isn’t looking to make us slick marketers of the Gospel.  He doesn’t want to make you into a Jesus-salesman.  And spreading the gospel is by no means a competition.  You aren’t angling for people.  You are part of a net that He has cast into the water.  His invitation to us is simple: hold on to one another, and embrace everyone we can as he pulls us toward the shore. 

By Pastor Michael Cofer Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 13:44-52 Ever seen River Monsters?  It is a great show that follows the adventures of Jeremy Wade in all sorts of remote and exotic corners of the globe.  He’s smart, he’s got a cool accent, and he’s a man with a plan.  See, Jeremy Wade is an angler.  And the stuff ...

July 2, 2017

July 3, 2017

Guest message from Chaplain Ryan Rupe:

 

Guest message from Chaplain Ryan Rupe:  

You can find a full listing of our sermons on the sermon archive.