Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
August 1-2, 2020
“Much With Little”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I have various “shrines” in my office. I have my corner in honor of the three-time Super Bowl Champions Denver Broncos (One more than the Kansas City Chiefs, by the way). I have my infamous bowling trophy that has caused a great deal of envy from a number of our own members who have never even won one. I have the remembrance of little Elias Briscoe, the memorial that was handed out at his funeral with his hand-print and foot-print pressed on the card.
And I have this nickel. But it isn’t just any nickel. It reminds me of the smallest gifts that that are given that come from a humble heart and are remembered for a lifetime. Let me tell you the story behind this nickel. In May of 2019 the last Wednesday Evening Bible Class for that spring was held. It was the week after Wednesday Night Live had concluded, which means that there would no food for the class. But Don Loptien, who has a great love for food, said that he would make sure that food was available. Pizza, salad, cookies – the three basic food groups – were provided.
The class was appreciative for Don and his wife, Marilyn, for purchasing the food, so a basket was placed at the beginning of the serving line and people chipped in a few bucks to defray the cost. So when it was done Don was counting the money – the dollar bills, a number of fives, and then this nickel. Who would put a nickel in there? Someone who didn’t like Little Caesar’s Pizza, right? No, it was Julie. Julie was a homeless young lady who would show up to the class every so often. She carried her belongings in her backpack and would sit in the last row of chairs. That meal was her nourishment for the day.
That was her nickel. I guess she didn’t have a dollar or a five like the rest of us, but she gave a memorable gift, this nickel. This nickel will always remind me of a young lady who had very little, but who did much with what she had.
I bet you know the account of the feeding of the 5,000, right? Other than the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ it is the only other miracle that is mentioned in all four of the Gospels. The account of this miracle begins this way, “When Jesus had heard what had happened, he withdrew by a boat privately to a solitary place.” Matthew 14:13a) Two events just before this were greatly painful to the heart of Jesus. Jesus was in Nazareth and He was met with unbelief and rejection by the folks in the town He had grown up in. The people in Nazareth took offense at Him. Then the brutal and awful death of his cousin, John the Baptizer, had just happened. The provocative Salome, danced for King Herod and as payment for her dance she asked for the head of John the Baptist to be brought to her on a platter. It was. That news came to Jesus and He went away to be alone and grieve.
But the crowds came. Big crowds. About 5,000 men and some women and children. And Jesus, in grief, didn’t run from them, nor did He tell them just to leave Him alone. Jesus “saw a large crowd, had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14) And the crowd stayed. The disciples, ever practical, asked Jesus to “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” (Matthew 14:15b) Makes sense to me. One historian said that in Palestine there were 204 towns with populations of at least 15,000 people. Somewhere close a town could meet the needs of the 5,000.
But that is not how Jesus was going to work that day. He wasn’t going to be practical. He was going to do much, with little. So He told His disciples that He wasn’t going to send them away and they weren’t going to start disbanding this hungry crowd. His words were pointed, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16) Can you see those apostles? I picture them shaking their heads, wondering what was going to happen with 5,000 folks who had stayed too long. In the next chapter they had a similar word to a lady whose daughter was in a hopeless situation. This mother wouldn’t leave Jesus alone. Their words to Jesus were, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” (Matthew 15:23b)
Their solution was to get rid of hurting and hungry people. Send them away. Send her away. But Jesus’ solution was to do much with little. “You give them something to eat.” What? 5,000 hungry folks? How could they feed that many people? We read they had 5 loaves of bread (one commentary said that it was small, flat bread – like pancakes) and two fish. In John’s account of this event he tells us where this came from, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish.” (John 6:9) He was sharing his lunch.
But did I tell you that Jesus can do much with little? God always does. In the Happenings, our weekly newsletter, Kathie Harvey, our Administrative Assistant, has been authoring devotions since the Pandemic began. A few weeks ago she wrote an article about the “Still, Small Voice” that Elijah heard in I Kings 19. Elijah was to go and stand by a mountain because the Lord was going to appear to him. Remember? There was a powerful wind that tore the mountains apart, then an earthquake quaked and then a fire was ablaze. But in each of these great and powerful events Elijah did not see the presence of God. But then God appeared in the gentle whisper. God is always doing much with little.
But the key to this miracle is not that they had so little or that they were so inadequate to meet the challenge. We could look at ourselves and see that truth every day. We don’t have enough in ourselves to handle our problems and stresses and difficulties. We don’t have the answer for sins power and sins curse. In all of these we are the David who is going to get destroyed by Goliath.
Our solution is not that there is so little; our solution is that Jesus can do so much with so very little. When He was told that there were five loaves of bread and two little fish, He said, “Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:18) That is how much is done with little. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking into heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” (Matthew 14:19-20) William Barclay says of this, “Little is always much in the hands of Christ.” (The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, Page 102)
Do you know what the problem with preaching can be? Preaching can turn into a lecture. It can be just a historical account of what happened way back when. No application. No connection to our life. I’ve done my share of those types of sermons in my life. So how does this miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 connect with you? Jesus does much with little. It is only with Jesus and His directive, “Bring them here to me”, that we find God’s great miracle in our life.
In my office, with my shrines of memorable people or memorable events, I also have this – a whole pile of broken pottery. This became mine in one of the lowest moments in my ministry. My congregation was falling apart. We had deep divisions and pure pain. Just before the sermon each person was given a broken piece of pottery and the message I preached was based on the passage, “But we have this treasure of jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (II Corinthians 4:7)
See. We are little. There isn’t much to us. We are just a broken piece of pottery. Common. Lowly. We use the word “Sinner” to sum up how little we are. God uses that word about us, too. But remember – God does much with little. Like Barclay said, “Little is always much in the hands of Christ.” But we are more than just broken pottery – we have a treasure. The treasure – Christ, our greatest treasure. Jesus is our Savior. He died for our sins. He rose for our victory and for our eternity. Jesus changed everything for 5,000 hungry men and some women and children, with the words, “Bring those 5 loaves and two fish to me” – “Bring them here to me.” He is not done doing miracles when we, and others, are brought to Him.
Go to Jesus – He will do much with little, with the broken, with the struggling. He will do much with you. Amen!!