Sermon: Proper 13, Year A
August 3, 2008
The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 16; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
A few years ago Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke at a luncheon for Lawrence Hall Youth
Services, one of the Diocese of Chicago‟s Episcopal Charities. He began by speaking
about Almighty God, the One who created everything that is. But then he reminded
everyone that this same omnipotent God became the impotent God who set aside
omnipotence to become one of us.
“Why,” the Archbishop asked, “doesn‟t God come down and intervene when the most
appalling atrocities are happening? When brutality is all around? Why didn‟t God send
lightning from heaven against the apartheid government in South Africa?”
“Because,” he said, answering his own question, “God was waiting for a human partner!
God was waiting for a human partner to transform South Africa. And God found such
human partners in many people, and especially in Nelson Mandela.”
William D. Roberts, who was present, points out: “Of course, Archbishop Tutu could have
mentioned himself, or he could have mentioned Trevor Huddleston, a white priest who met
the 12-year-old Desmond Tutu in the 1950‟s when he ministered in Soweto. Later, as the
Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean, Trevor Huddleston partnered with God in
the Anti-Apartheid Movement.”
But, Roberts continues, “Summing up his message the Archbishop said, „God is even
willing to put at risk the God Project while God waits for a human partner, while God waits
for you and you and you and you and you‟—he said, pointing to us.”
In today‟s gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus, when confronted by the disciples with the
hunger of the people who had gathered to hear him teach, says to the disciples, “YOU give
them something to eat.” “What are YOU going to do about it? The question still stands for
us today, as we look at the problem of world hunger and poverty. God is waiting for you
and you and you and you and you.
The disciples themselves could have recounted the marvels worked in Egypt, the divided
sea, the cloud by day and the fiery light at night; rocks split open to stream with sweet
water; quail blown by the south wind into their midst; and as a the crowning touch, manna,
the “bread of angels,” descending. They knew that God could deliver them from hunger
and want and could provide for these many people‟s needs under the bleakest conditions.
But what would be THEIR part—besides the faith required to keep them on board?
Would trust in some amazing provision from the skies work under these mundane
conditions—simply too far from the source of supply, and too many people? These folks
clearly stayed out longer than they expected and hadn‟t brought something to eat for
dinner, and it was getting late. This situation was not about starvation.
The disciples, being practical and expressing concern, suggest cutting the teaching and
fellowship short, and sending them home, so that they could grab a late dinner, put the
kids to bed, relax and read the paper, watch the news, feed the cat, and turn in at a
But Jesus has a greater lesson in mind, a different solution. YOU feed them. No Chinese
take out nearby, no pizza delivery in this deserted place. YOU feed them. And do it with
the most meager of the food you can find. YOU feed them by taking what you have,
bringing it to me for blessing and offering up to God. Then, doing what you can with
everything you are—my disciples in case you have forgotten—you feed them.
Can you imagine what was going on in their minds? Can you imagine what would be
going on in your mind? What does go on in your mind when you hear stories and see
images of starving people in the world? Probably the same thing that the disciples
thought: the improbability of making a difference is so great. What can I do—one person
with limited resources—in the face of such a formidable task?
On this occasion Jesus plans to work this miracle through the agency of his disciples,
rather than through direct agency, as he had demonstrated at other times, or rather than
having them simply pray and wait for manna from heaven, as their forebears did. He is
teaching them to become the Body of Christ, to be the physical embodiment of God‟s
grace, mercy and provision, trusting in the One who makes all things possible.
Ronald S. Wallace writes, “He used them in spite of their unbelief. They had little to offer.
The most they could collect was five loaves and two fish, but what were those among so
many? Yet he took what they brought and used it and used them…The glorious
adequacy of our inadequate resources only appears if we surrender them into his
So, what can we learn from this puny picnic turned glorious feast? Jesus is calling the
disciples to stretch their understanding of what actually WAS possible through them—to
bring sustenance to an impossible crowd, and to find their own deepest needs met as well.
They are learning how to trust and have faith in God‟s use of them, and they are learning
what God expects of them if they are truly disciples of the Christ.
They first have to bring to Jesus, not only the meager representative pieces of food, but
also THEMSELVES, standing ready to take part in the multiplication process. When Jesus
receives the loaves and fish from them, he did not moan and complain about their
paltriness. He immediately looked heavenward and offered thanks for even so little.
Why thanks and not a complaint? Because to yield anything to the Father means returning
it to the Source of all blessing—to the power of life itself. In this act of oblation, the
ordinary is suffused with the Extraordinary. A gift is handed over, and in the act of blessing
the Holy Spirit takes it on. The fish and loaves “return” to Jesus as a new creation, just as
we, when we offer our lives to Christ, become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). Then anything
This action of Jesus is actually a foretaste of the divine banquet. We bring to the altar our
small gifts of bread and wine, and in the offering up for blessing and consecration, and the
breaking, life and power are infused, and all are fed. And all are satisfied. The common
bread and wine become the Holy Food and Drink of new and unending life in Christ.
It‟s about the offering up, and the breaking. Christ was known in the breaking of the bread
on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:35) after his resurrection, just as he was known here on
the grass in the breaking of the bread. The sanctifying power of the blessing is made
known through brokenness. Blessedness can be received and ingested only after being
broken. Yet it is in such breaking that, ironically, our unity and wholeness in Christ is
found. Common faith comes through common “Fraction,” as we call it in our Prayer Book
In the Didache, the early church‟s instruction text, the prayer that was used over the
broken bread sums up this belief: “As this broken bread was scattered upon the
mountains, and being gathered together was made one, so may thy church be gathered
together into thy Kingdom from the ends of the earth.”
What comes next? Bestowing—giving it away. The life of faith is designed to be
Eucharistic, which means sharing ourselves unselfishly in an un-sharing (and often
uncaring) world. Yet it all begins to happen when we take the first step—faith. Faith in the
midst of scarcity, faith in the midst of self doubt, faith when it seems you are alone in your
caring, faith when no one else seems to be having faith. YOU have faith, YOU offer up
yourself, YOU allow God to break you and use you.
Jesus‟ sacrificial death was the ultimate brokenness, giving himself, an offering to God.
Today we are Jesus‟ Body. We are Jesus‟ modern-day disciples. Numerous needs
surround us. We are bombard with pleas in the mail, on television, and in emails to feed
the hungry. People in this community come to us with needs of all kinds, not just hunger,
for what we have to offer.
Friends, Jesus tells us not only to feed the hungry, but he also tells us to clothe the naked,
visit those in prison, and heal the sick. The task seems so daunting! So, often we do
nothing because we are so overwhelmed by all of the need. Why don‟t we act by offering
ourselves to do that which is set before us? God knows we can‟t do it all, but does that
mean we don‟t bother to do anything?
Perhaps we don‟t act because we aren‟t broken. Perhaps we are too well blessed, too
self-sufficient, or maybe even too arrogant to allow our hearts to be broken in the face of
great need in the world or in our own backyard. Perhaps we are too busy worshiping our
personal or communal golden calves to see the opportunities God places in our paths
every day. Perhaps we are too busy with striving for success in our careers, or in our
clubs and social organizations, running ragged with the busyness of it all, so that it is easy
to ignore one of God‟s most basic calls on our lives.
Which brings us to the question: What can we do to minister to those in need in our
community, in the world?
What do we at St. Mark‟s Church in Mount Kisco have to offer? What is our “little?” What
do we have in great abundance to offer our community?
“Our task, wrote Jean Pierre de Caussade, “is to offer ourselves up to God like a clean,
smooth canvas and not bother ourselves about what God may choose to paint on it, but, at
every moment, feel only the stroke of God‟s brush.”
Today, as we break bread together, Jesus is asking You, and You, and You, and You, and
You and me to offer ourselves up, both personally and corporately, a holy sacrifice to God,
allowing ourselves to be broken, and then given, allowing our deepest needs to be
Ask God to show you how and where and when you can be used. Allow God to take
whatever you have (we have), be it little or much, and multiply it, and then use you (us) to
take it to or offer it to those in need.
“How,” the young disciple asked his master, “can one perform even the minimum service
toward the poor, feeding the hungry, bringing the lost to shelter?”
“You have already begun to do it,” the wise master answered, “for to ask how to serve is
already itself a significant contribution toward service.”
Today, Jesus asks us: What will YOU do? What will we do?
*Adapted from “Proper 13—Postscript,” by HKO, in Synthesis, Proper 13, Year A, July 31, 2005.