Readings: Isaiah 55: 1-5 Matthew 14: 13-21
We pray: Abundant God, open our ears to hear all that you would have us hear, our hearts to be touched by all you would have us care for, our minds to be convinced of all that you teach us, that we might be the best we can for you and in you. In Jesus name. Amen.
‘Where is the bread?’ the great crowd murmured. It is a question we have to address today with the same hunger for the answer.
We have heard the story from the Gospel of Matthew of the miracle of the loaves and fishes – of the plenty being discovered out of the meagre. It’s an important narrative to the early church – the only miracle story, in fact, included in all four gospels. It’s a straight forward telling – no sermon nor allegory – just action needed to meet the hunger of the crowd. And for a crowd that was not looked for, that invaded Jesus alone time as he came to terms with the news of his cousin John’s beheading. I remember as a child at Sunday School hearing about the loaves and fishes and being fascinated about how it actually happened – but trusting that it did. Today I am a lot more interested in where the bread is for today?
A story of feeding from today – a minister recounted the day that they prepared for communion – there were regularly around 30 – 35 so they had the quantity down to a fine art. And then, just after the service had started, outside the church a bus pulled up – and in trooped a further 50 people. What to do – the elder whispered to the minister ‘should I go and get some more’ and the minister said – ‘no it will be fine, there will be enough’. And there was – later it was discovered that everyone, without prompting broke each piece of bread into half so there was plenty for everyone.
This story is not about explaining the miracle away but rather suggesting that when we are all aware of those who might go hungry, we look to our surplus, which we invariably have, and share. We still will have enough and others will do too.
For it is a sad thing that this world has enough food to feed the hungry, this country has enough money for basic health care, this community of Dunedin has enough nounce to live sustainably. So why don’t we? Maybe we can find some answers, some hope in this reading for today.
Those three today issues that bolted out of my mouth just then– the hungry of the world, the health services of this country and the sustainability of our earth are just a few examples among many that plague our world today and highlight the paucity of our generosity as economic and national powers, as community, and often as individuals. In other words reflecting the disciples initial viewpoint that people find their own way rather than, as Jesus would have us do, explore the abundant possibilities of the loaves and fishes being shared.
I will be nailing some of my political colours to the mast no doubt – but actually I prefer to call them my Christian colours!
The distribution of food to the world’s starving is complex and many layered. It involves politics, environmental catastrophes, racism, war, rotting piles of surplus and amazing acts of generosity and commitment from agencies and individuals. It is about our attitude to food – waste, care of purchase, sustainability, packaging, content. It is about the attitude of those who have bread noticing that there is a need surrounding them and they respond by sharing. Afifi a couple of weeks ago giving away her unsold market food, giving to the food bank with generosity and commitment, popping the spare carrots from your garden into the neighbour, helping with the redistribution of food within the city. We can do much locally. But we also need to voice loudly our concern that the predominant factor guiding the distribution (or not) of food to the world’s starving seems to be economic and political and often racially based rather than compassionate, loving and caring for all of humanity. And so we pray for and work towards all people of the world knowing the sufficiency of Christ through our caring for each other and the sharing of our bread.
The health services of our country are a big issue at the moment – actually they have been for some time. We can almost pinpoint the moment when in New Zealand we went from finding money to meet the need of basic health care to making health care fit the size of the financial pot allocated. 1980’s – am I right? There have been two notable interviews in the past few days to illustrate the way in which money again is the defining factor rather than care for a basic standard of care for all. One was the interview of John Campbell with Minister of Health, Jonathan Coleman on Dunedin DHB. The Minister said that the Commissioner had worked to half the deficit in two years, – not in any way, when asked, at the cost of patient care. Quoting Coleman – “without that clear picture of financial stability, we cannot improve patient care.” Again a complex issue I know and many opinions but doesn’t it seem that money is in charge here rather than humanity and at the cost of people’s lives.
The other discussion was between an American Senator and a Canadian medical doctor who, in attempting to describe the diminishing access to health care of those who couldn’t afford private health insurance, likened it to her access to the Senate – over half an hour waiting to go through security whilst there was a second entry point with no line up whatsoever. The doctor said: Sometimes it’s not actually about the amount of resources you have but about how you organise people, that when you address wait times it should be for everyone, not just people who can afford to pay.’ I don’t know how it works here but I would have to guess that there would be times when those with health insurance would have a disproportionate access to basic health services at the cost of those without? You can tell me later if I am wrong.
And so we pray for and work towards all people being equally valued not just in our health system but in every thing that is core to human dignity and care.
And the third on my list – caring for the world, living sustainably, even if we think just in this city. What loaves and fishes are we able to bring out of our baskets to contribute to the hunger of the world for sustainable living? What could we do better, where could we speak into situations to improve awareness, practice environmentally friendly actions? What decisions do we make, even the littlest ones, that add to the burden of this world’s choking demise rather than lifting it. This community of faith is very aware – but there is always more we can do ourselves and by speaking into situations.
And so we pray for and work towards creating a world that is cherished and nurtured for our children’s children and beyond.
Where is the bread? the great crowd murmured.
The answer is surprising – or is it? “We the church give them bread, bread for the soul, bread for the stomach, bread for sharing – just as we are fed, so too we feed others. Just as we know the bread that sustains and the labour that satisfies and the love that delights, so too we share that generously and with faith into a world that is desperately hungry.
As we gather around the table today, remembering Jesus, the living bread broken for the love of the world, Jesus the living wine poured out for the love of the world may we be disciples with eyes open to the possibilities of sharing what we have in the name of Jesus. For miracles can and do happen when we follow in his way. Amen.