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Sermon For Ordinary 17 - Proper 12 - Year B
II Kings 4:42-44; John 6:1-21
"The Miracle of Caring"

READING:  II Kings 4:42-44; John 6:1-21
SERMON :  "The Miracle of Caring"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild

Where oh where to begin.

Elisha feeds a hundred men with 20 loaves of barley bread - and
there is some left over.

Elisha's servant doe not think it is possible and complains,
         saying "How can I set this before a hundred men?"

Yet it goes around - and there is some left over.

And then there is Jesus - and he feeds 5000 men
         and it seems that he does even better than Elisha,
          because has only five loaves and two fish to start with,
             and 4900 more people to contend with.

Except for the numbers, however, the two accounts are similar,
With Jesus - as with Elisha,
         there is a servant, a disciple, who does not think it is
         possible to feed the people,
          and when all is said and done in both stories, there are
          leftovers, in the case of Jesus - enough we are told, to
          fill twelve baskets.

A notable miracle this;
         so notable in fact that it is the only miracle that Jesus did
         that is described in all four gospels --
          if you take out your pew bibles you can find the story in
          Luke 9:10-18, or Mark 6:40-44 or Matthew 14:13-21,
         there each story is much like the other.

It has been talked about a lot, 
this miracle of feeding 5000 people,
an awful lot,
and perhaps more than any other miracle,
people have tried to figure out how Jesus did it.

Most people more readily accept the healing stories,
         they understand that the mind has a strong effect on health,
          that faith can in fact bring about healing.

But multiplying loaves and fish?
         this seems more incredible, more difficult,
         and so theories have arisen to explain how it was done.

The most notable theory is that when the boy who had the loaves and
fish shared them with others his example inspired others to bring
out what they had brought with them and share as well.

I can't say how it the loaves and the fish multiplied
nor do I want to try.

What I do want to say has to do with another miracle in the story
of Jesus feeding the 5000, and indeed a miracle that is found as
well in the story of Elisha feeding the 100.

It is a most ordinary miracle,
         one that both you and I can perform,
          yet it has extraordinary results,
             and leads to all other manner of miracles.

I call it the miracle of caring.

Think of the story about Elisha for a minute.

A man comes to bring the prophet an offering during a famine in
Gilgal - some bread made from the 1st ripe grain of the season.
It was a faith offering, 
the type recommended by Moses in the Torah.

And Elisha, after receiving the offering, says to his servant
"give it to the people to eat".
give it to the hungry ones here with me, 
feed them, for they need it.

And what does he get in return - what is said to him?

He is told that it is not possible,
that there will not be enough to go around,
In the four gospel stories about the feeding of the 5000 we hear
something similar.

Jesus is teaching on a hillside - there are over 5000 people there,
         and when evening approaches the disciples become concerned,
          they fear that the crowd will go hungry,
and their solution is to ask Jesus to send the crowd away so that
they will not have to worry about them.

But Jesus says to them - you feed them,
and he asks Philip, knowing what will occur,
"where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?"

Philip replies   "eight months wages would not buy enough bread to
                 for each one to have a single bite"

Immediately afterwards Andrew, who has found a boy with 5 loaves
and two fish among the crowd, pipes up about his discovery - and
then adds - "BUT how far will they go among so many."

It all sounds so familiar doesn't it?
You can hear words like this just about anytime, especially when
there are social or political problems that require an infusion of
economic resources.

How can we help with what little we have?
         We don't even know how we will we make do ourselves.
          How can we feed so many?  How can we fund so many.
          We have so little and the need is so great.
             What we can do is only a drop in a bucket.
                        We don't have enough money to help out.
                               We don't have what it takes.

But Jesus didn't listen to this from his disciples,
         he didn't accept it,
         and neither did Elisha.

Jesus believed that what was needed would appear, and he cared - 
         he had compassion for those who around him,
          compassion for those who were hungry,
just as Elisha believed and cared, 
and sought to feed the hungry around him.

And just as Elisha commanded his servant to give the twenty loaves
         of bread that he had received to the people anyway,
          saying - despite the sounds of doubt around him,
             "They will eat and have some left over",
so Jesus, after giving thanks to God,
         divided the 5 loaves and 2 fish,
         and, with the disciples, begins to feed the crowd.

And there was enough to go around.
And there were leftovers - 
so many that there was more than there was to start with.


Mark, Matthew, and Luke all begin their account of this story
         by saying when Jesus saw the crowd he had compassion for them,
          that he cared for them.

And what he did, from the time he first saw them,
         the teaching,
          the healing,
             and the feeding, 
showed that compassion, and showed that care.

Jesus commands us to do the same -
         he asks us to care,
          to have compassion,
             and to go out into the world,
                 and teach, and heal, and feed the people.

The first miracle in the stories of Elisha and of Jesus
is the caring miracle.

It is the fact that they were concerned for others,
         and wanted to reach out to them and help them.
The rest of the miracles follow from that first one -
         whether it be the food that multiplied somehow under both
         Elisha's and Jesus' hands
          or the healing touch, and the words that bestowed hope that
          Jesus uttered.

If we care,
         if we care not just for God,
          but for those around us as well,
             if we care enough to try to help,
                 the other miracles follow in our trail as well,
          and there is enough bread,
          enough fish,
          enough money,
          enough energy, 
          and enough hope to go around and still have more than enough
left to spare.

What Elijah asked of his servant,
and Jesus asked of his disciples,
when they protested that the job of caring was impossible,
         was for them to start doing it,
         to prepare the people by getting them to sit down,
         and then to begin distributing the food that they already had
their hands on.

God, they said, would look after the rest.
And God did.

In the last chapter of the gospel of John 
just before Jesus ascends into heaven
Jesus asks Peter three times "do you love me?"

Peter replies "Yes Lord, you know I love you"
And Jesus then says to him - each time - "Feed my sheep".

Love, my friends, is like the proverbial Jewish mother,
it wants all the children, young or old, to eat.

Love, if it is love, wants to provide,
         and it attempts to provide,
Love wants to give,
         and it attempts to give,
Love wants to help the other person be whole,
         and it attempts to show the way to wholeness.

The story of the feeding of the 5000 shows that Jesus cares,
         that Jesus loves,
         and that he provides.

And this story shows too, that when we care and when out of that
care, we obey Jesus in faith and get on with the deeds of caring we
are called to do, that we can indeed feed the hungry with the
little we have,
         we can do what seems impossible with what appears to be nothing
         - and amazingly, we may even end up with more left over than we
         started with.

The miracle of caring,
the miracle of love in action.

We all have a ministry of caring,
a ministry of love that we can perform.

It might be feeding crowds of thousands -    (I remember so well the
Oxfam commercials years ago that said how a whole village could
have milk for a day,    with a donation of only a couple of dollars.)

Or it might be a more spiritual feeding -
         like that which is found in the ministry of correspondence,
           in sending a letter of thanks or appreciation to someone
             or a sympathy card to someone who is ill.

Such letters are tremendously meaningful to those who receive them.

Just a few words on a piece paper
         lets them know that someone cares, someone notices,
          and brings hope and joy to their hearts,
             a hope and joy that they then are able to give to others.

Like the loaves and fishes, the little things done in sharing and
caring tend to multiply and produce a rich harvest of thanksgiving
to our God.

The little things, the small offerings, work - despite their
apparent insignificance.

So many people say, when they go to see someone who has lost a
loved one -  "I don't know what to say"

They believe that they have nothing to offer,
nothing to really help their friend with,
but they are wrong.

Their presence - despite that so-called nothing they have to offer,
does more than a thousand wise words.

It shows those that mourn that they are cared for,
that they have some place to turn,
that there are others who understand and sympathize with them.

That simple ministry of presence,
         a ministry that arises out of caring,
          is fruitful - and creates in those who see it,
             and those who experience it,
                 a new sense of hope, a new sense of faith.

Do you love me?  Feed my sheep.

Write to them
Show up and keep them company,
Help them carry their burdens.
Share the crusts of bread that you have,
         the fish,
         the kind deed,
and God will take care of the rest,
and do so abundantly,
so that even more is left than when you started -
         more love,
         more joy
         more care,
         more hope,
         more food,
         more of everything that is good - because God too cares - 
and because that is how he made the world to work.

The word of God - the seed - the love - it falls upon the ground,
         and despite all that is snatched up,
         all that is choked off, all that withers and dies,
it produces a harvest that is 30, 60, even a hundred times that
which was sown.

The miracle of caring is this
         you always have enough to care with.
          and when you start to care with what you have,
         you, and those you care for
          end up with more than you began with.

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1997, 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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