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  • Dr. Bruce Havens


a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

based on the theme:  “Reading the Bible Again, for the First Time”

Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.

October 6, 2019

Matthew 14:13-21 nrsv

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


Is there ever enough?  It would be easy to see the hunger and the homelessness and the poverty in the world and think not.  Then we can look at the fact that there has never been such wealth as there is in our world today.  Certainly as a nation we live in the wealthiest nation that has ever been.  So there are two narratives about life that we can choose from.  One says that there is a scarcity of everything, not enough of anything to go around.  The other says there is an abundance in creation - that God created a world of abundance and we don’t have to live in fear of scarcity.

Now this can be hard to believe when you are hungry and there is no food in the kitchen and no way to get to the food bank, and no one willing to give you a few dollars to buy something.  Can we all sympathize with that?  Or do we suggest they are just lazy, or they are at fault in some other way?  It can be hard to believe there is enough for everyone when statistics show that hunger is a problem for 40 million people in the United States, the wealthiest nation in the history of nations.[1]

God’s people have been tempted to believe narrative of scarcity.  The Psalms retell the story of the Exodus and the hunger of the people who had believed the narrative of a “land flowing with milk and honey.”  Psalm 78 says,

18They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
19They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20Even though God struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can God also give bread, or provide meat for his people… they had no faith in God, and did not trust God’s saving power.  23Yet God commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; 24 God rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven. 25Mortals ate of the bread of angels; God sent them food in abundance.

This morning is World Communion Sunday.  This was an effort from back in the early part of the 20th Century to make a statement about the unity of the “body of Christ,” the Church Universal despite its many differences and the many differences between nations and peoples of the world, most notably seen in 2 World Wars in the first half of the century.  I think those same issues of division are just as obvious today and so I think the symbolic importance of affirming we are “one body in Christ,” that as Scripture says, “4 There is one body and one Spirit, …, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God … of all, who is above all and through all and in all.  (Ephesians 4). 

In the context of our Scripture this morning, we see Jesus acting out God’s alternative to the narrative of scarcity.  He has just heard that King Herod, who lived in fear and used fear to control the Jews, and executed John the Baptist out of fear of his wife’s anger and in spite of his fear that the people would rise up against him if he did.  The chaos of his rule is captured in that episode just before our reading.

Jesus just learned that John, his cousin, has been brutally beheaded by Herod, Jesus leaves to find time to be alone, to grieve, and to find comfort in the wilderness.  Bu the people seek him out.  They are hungry – spiritually, and they become hungry physically.  The disciples ask him to send them away, but he says, “you feed them.”  There isn’t enough, the disciples say.  Jesus says, bring what you have, no matter how meager, and trust God to provide the abundance.

This scene of feeding five-thousand-plus will be followed in 15:32-39 with the feeding of four thousand people.  Warren Carter, (, Aug 3, 2014), writes that, “the first-century Roman Empire was marked by significant inequalities concerning food access. Many people knew food insecurity and struggled on a daily and seasonal basis for adequate food and nutrition. The empire was very hierarchical in its social structure with a small group of ruling elites who enjoyed abundant variety and good quality of food. But most of the population lived around, at, or below subsistence level with inadequate calorific and nutritional intake. The petition in the Lord’s prayer that God will supply daily bread reflects this situation (6:11).” 

In the face of this situation the Bible spells God’s vision out again and again:  Isaiah 55 says, “1Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.   3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.  I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” 

This is the Bible’s message to us:  “the establishment of God’s empire [what Jesus called ‘the Kingdom of God’] in all its fullness depicts this coming age in terms of abundant food and feasting for all. This age of secure and nutritional food supply comes when God’s reign is fulfilled.

The point of this story for those first to hear it was that yes, there is enough, more than enough in God’s creation for all.  It affirms that God intends for all people to experience God’s abundant blessing, not just those with the political or economic power to enjoy creation’s abundance.  “Verse 30 narrates the blessing here in these terms: ‘All ate and were filled.’”  Even more, there were 12 baskets left over – more than enough for all! Third it invites us to envision the fulfillment of God’s reign, not as something we wait for until Jesus returns or some heavenly intervention.  We have the power to make God’s abundance available to all people.  But it depends on which narrative we want to believe.  If we want to believe that God created a world where enough is never enough then we will live in fear, we will horde what we have and resent anyone having more than us or less than us because they represent a threat to our having enough.

Arlington Congregational works hard at helping as many hungry people as we can.  You bring in food for the Arlington Community Services foodbank, and we give money to support the needs of literally thousands of Arlington residents every year.  We bring in food and give money to “Micah’s Backpack,” which provides food over the weekend for almost 200 schoolchildren at risk for hunger during the school year.  Why is there an abundance, an overabundance for some and nearly nothing for others?  The answer to that is something every one of us has to wrestle with if we are people who believe in a God of abundance.  But let me reiterate the Bible’s answer to the question, “Is there ever enough?”  The Bible emphatically and repeatedly answers that there is enough, more than enough, an abundance overflowing for all.  How will we live, what do we believe?  Is there ever enough?

God’s narrative is there IS enough, in fact there is an abundance because God is a generous, blessing, abundant God.  Let us choose the Gospel narrative, the promises of Scripture, the life of faith in God.  Yes, there IS enough for all – plenty, an abundance.  Let’s get busy sharing it with everyone!  Amen.

[1] - In 2017, 40 million people struggled with hunger in the United States. The USDA defines "food insecurity" as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members.

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