Summary: A short communion sermon challenging the Church to feed the hungry in body and spirit, by looking at what we are doing for the hungry of the world.
While attending seminary, each month the student body would gather for a general meeting, much like assembly at high school. We would have guest speakers presenting different areas of ministry for us to consider. On one particular Saturday we had a representative from one of the organizations which furnish food to the starving in the heavily drought-stricken areas of Africa. First he talked to us for about ten minutes telling us of how their organization operated, what they had accomplished, and what they hoped to do in the coming months and years. Following his speech he presented a slide show of some of the people and area he had been working. All of the pictures were in black and white, which adds a stark desperateness to the overall picture. There were pictures of trees with the bottom limbs stripped of their leaves, where the few surviving animals had eaten as far as they could reach. Other pictures showed families huddled together, gaunt, hollow-eyed, with swollen bellies, the children crying in hunger. Still more pictures were of the parched cracked earth, dried up watering holes, and dust blowing in the hot winds. But the most riveting picture was the last one of the set. This person had told us before the slideshow started the pictures were from an American news photographer and were painful to watch. Most until the final picture caused each of us to whisper under our breath of the horror of the situation. None of us were prepared for the final picture; a ground-level close-up of a small, naked boy, probably five to seven years old weighing no more than twenty or twenty-five pounds, crawling across a dry, cracked, barren field. His belly was distended almost to the point of rupturing. He was up on all fours, his poor, little arms and legs could not have been much larger than my thumb, all skin and bones. He was frozen in that pose; his eyes were tightly closed, covered with flies, his lips dried and cracked, and the few teeth he had left were protruding from his swollen gums. This child looked as if death had caught him in mid-crawl and did not have the decency to allow him to fall over. This picture of this child was horribly disturbing; but what made it even more so was the vulture pacing less than five feet away, waiting for that little boy’s final breath to leave his body.
That picture has been emblazoned in my mind for these past six years since I first saw it. The first thought which crossed my mind, after I recovered from the shock of this presentation was: "What did that news photographer do for this child? Did he scoop him up into his arms and rush him to a medical facility somewhere, or did he just move on envisioning the Pulitzer Prize this photo would possibly get for him?" The presenter did not have an answer; he was only a third-party to the photographs. It is for this very reason I am moved by the rampant starvation throughout the world; not only in Africa, but in every country, every corner of the world. I was reading the other day where this year will probably be the worst year ever for hunger in North Korea; they have had massive crop losses due to flooding. And because of the arrogant, stubbornness of their leader, a significant amount of foreign aid will not be sent this year.
Today we hear Matthew’s story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with only five loaves and two fish. Let’s take a few moments to set the scene for this story. Jesus and the disciples had just left Nazareth, where He had been rejected by those of His hometown. As they were journeying on, word came to Jesus that His cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded by Herod. Scripture tells us, "When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew...to a remote place to be alone." We can only assume Jesus needed this time alone to gather His thoughts, maybe to reflect upon His relationship with John, or possibly to view John’s death as a preview of His impending death. For whatever reason Jesus wanted to be alone; but, "When the crowds heard this, they followed Him on foot." Jesus could not allow Himself to pull away from the needs of these people, "He...felt compassion for them and healed their sick."
After Jesus had been teaching for awhile the disciples came to Him and asked Him to send the crowds away to the villages so they could find food. "Jesus told them, ’You give them something to eat’." The disciple’s response is very telling of their hearts, "But we only have five loaves and two fish here." "What we have may be enough for us, and we do not really want to share it with this crowd." The disciples were still not quite ready to accept the mantle Jesus was preparing them for.