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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 14:13-21

Miracles for the Onlys of Life


The Famine Crisis

For hunger is a curious thing; at first it is with you all the time, waking and sleeping and in your dreams, and your belly cries out insistently, and there is a gnawing and a pain as if your very vitals were being devoured, and you must stop it at any cost and you buy a moment’s respite even while you know and fear the sequel. Then the pain is no longer sharp but dull, and this too is with you always, so that you think of food many times a day and each time a terrible sickness assails you, and because you know this you try to avoid the thought, but you cannot, it is with you. Then that too is gone, all pain, all desire, only a great emptiness is left , like the sky like a well in drought, and it is now that the strength drains from your limbs and you try to rise and find you cannot, or to swallow water and your throat is powerless, and both the swallow and the effort of retaining the liquid tax you to the uttermost.1

These are the words of an Indian writer known for her writing about the culture clash that take place between rural and urban societies. It speaks of the slow, painful process of an experience that few of us have shared but that over a billion people in the world are now experiencing. Most of them are forced to walk this slow torturous road through no fault of their own. They have little if any hope that tomorrow will be better. They have little hope that conditions will improve for their children.

Have you ever thought about how you would tell them the story of the feeding of the 5000?

Have you ever through about how you would tell them that Jesus took 5 loaves of bread and two fish and feed so many people?

Have you ever thought about how you would answer their question, “Why doesn't Jesus do that today?”

Why doesn't God end world famine?

Have you ever thought about how you would respond to a mother who asks, “Couldn't he just do it for my starving child?”

These are difficult questions that many in the church can only answer with a “I don't know?

The sad reality is that after all the publicity, after all the CROP walks, after all the 30 hr fasts, hunger is still a global epidemic. Earthquakes, droughts, typhoons and hurricanes have produced catastrophic devastation. They have all contributed to the problem but the major cause of hunger today is the lack of political will. Governments refuse to aid areas controlled by rebel groups. The wealthy turn their backs on the plight of the rural poor. Politicians cater to their campaign contributors producing an inefficient and costly distribution of food relief. Corrupt officials block relief efforts unless a bribe is paid.

These problems can be overwhelming leaving a person feeling hopeless and wondering where is God. I do not doubt that the disciples felt hopeless when Jesus told them to feed the people as evening was drawing nigh. The disciples were probably stunned by his suggestion. The disciples reaction strongly parallels a story from the Old Testament and the life of the prophet Elisha.

There was a famine in the region when a company of prophets gathered together with Elisha. A man from another town brought 20 loaves of bread to the prophet. Elisha told the man to give to the loaves to the company of men. The man asked how could he alone give over a hundred men his small supply of rations.

What a typical response. We encounter a problem and all that we can think about is how little we have. We only have a few people, how could we possibly host a really dynamic event. We only have a small budget, we cannot give much to missions. We only have a few hours a month of free time, how could we possible volunteer to serve in an inner city tutoring program. We only have a congregation of older members, how are we going to attract younger families. It is easier to focus on the limitations than to imagine the miracles that could be done with the only things we do have.

The Saturn boosters roared at ignition lifting the Apollo spacecraft off the launch pad and into orbit. Less than a year had passed since Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins had first stepped foot on the moon. The three major TV stations did not even broadcast the launch. Lunar space flights had become routine until the evening of the April 13th, two days after lift off. At 9:08 CST an explosion rocked Apollo 13's command module prompting John “Jack” Swigert to transmit his famous broadcast, “Houston, we had a problem.”

Unbeknown to the flight crew and ground control, one of two oxygen tanks had exploded in the Service module drastically reducing the available power to the spacecraft. Within minutes the lunar landing was scraped. All available personnel had to work on bringing the crippled spaceship and it three passengers safely back to Earth. Both flight crew and ground personnel had to exercise considerable ingenuity. They did not have unlimited resources. They did not have a complete write up on the damage to the space craft. They had to work with a few onlys and a lot of unknowns.

A major challenge in keeping the Apollo 13 alive was to figure out how to adapt cannisters from the Command Module to the Lunar Module so that the CO2 scrubbers would remove the dangerous gas. Using duct tape and spare parts Mission Control built a device nicknamed the “mailbox.”2

The secret to the success of the safe return of Apollo 13 was the ability of the NASA scientist to use what they had. They did not spend time dwelling on what they did not have and give up. They did not have that option. They had to succeed or three men would have died.

Too often we give up too easily with our projects and plans because we only have a few people, a few dollars or a few hours. We justify our defeat by wring our hands and saying that we just did not have enough resources to be successful. We can close our eyes to the tragedies and suffering throughout the world with the click of a remote or the recycling of a magazine cover. However the story of the feeding of the 5000 is not only a story of a miracle but it is also the story of what Jesus expects of his disciples.

Darkness was settling over the country land. The people had followed Jesus into a remote section of the countryside. They had spent all day in the open land far from the city. The disciples had a limited supply of food. They wanted to eat but knew that if they showed their cache of food, others would want some and they did not have enough for everyone. Fearing a riot they asked Jesus to dismiss the people so that they could walk to the nearest villages and receive food. Jesus says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

In the training manual for Ritz Carlton Hotel employees, there’s a maxim that says, “If you see a problem, you own it.” To say, “It’s not my problem” or “It’s not my job” is not acceptable. If you see a problem, you own it — you take responsibility. Jesus doesn’t do the reasonable thing here, the rational thing, but turns the problem into an opportunity — a teachable moment. You give them something to eat.

After waiting for his disciples to squirm for several minutes Jesus tells them to bring to him what they have. He takes what they offered to him—five loaves of bread and two fish—looks up into heaven, gives thanks and bless it. Then he gives it to the disciples to distribute it. The Eucharistic imagery is obvious. Matthew wants us to see this as a prelude to the meal that we are about to share. But he also wants us to see it as model for discipleship today.

God does not rain down corn meal from heaven to feed the hungry. He does not enrich the rivers with protein. God can only use what we offer to him to work his miracles. He chooses to wait until we are willing to offer some of our onlys before he manifests his miracle. We need to ask ourselves what do we have available to us.

In Pleasant Grove, TX a tiny Episcopal church decided not to wallow in their onlys. They created a program originally designed to ensure their survival. However, God performed a miracle and they have been able to donate over 18,000 lbs of fresh produce to area food banks since 2003. Under the program, area residents work garden plots on the 4-acre church property for $30 per month. In return they agree to donate 10% of their produce to charity and help tend 6 other plots whose yield goes entirely to the food pantries. The garden coordinator told the Dallas Morning News, “We're a little-bity church but doing a pretty good ministry.”3

There are many other things we should consider doing.. They include giving to hunger relief agencies , writing letters to Congress and the President calling upon them to take action to end hunger, learning more about the issues connected to world hunger, volunteering our time at a local food bank or creating a project such as the small church in Pleasant Grove, TX did. Rather than complain about the limitations of our onlys we need to be creative and passion to allow God to work his miracle through us.




1Kamala Markandaya

2Wikpedia, “Apollo 13,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_13

3SAM HODGES, “Church's garden produces a bountiful harvest for Dallas' hungry ,“
The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/062508dnmetgarden.281dd2d.html

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