Scripture readings: Gen. 32:22-31 and Ps. 17:1-7, 15 (or Isa. 55:1-5 and Ps. 145:8-9, 14-21) Rom. 9:1-5; Matt. 14:13-21 Sermon by Dustin Lampe from Matthew 14:13-21
A Call to Contentment
(feeding of the 5,000)
Recently, I spent the evening at the home of a neighbor who had recently returned from a trip to Nigeria, his home country. He told me that Nigeria is one of the most corrupt places on earth. He told me how the government manipulates the people and the general hopelessness that has swept the nation. He told me about the struggles of his family in Nigeria and how he was blessed to be able to help them. Interestingly, his main complaint about Nigeria was the noise that comes from mosques, churches and businesses. It seems they want to make the loudest sounds possible! They do so for one reason: advertising—trying to get people to be discontented with the calm of their ordinary lives in order to lure them in their direction.
Though advertising here in America is generally not as noisy, it has essentially the same goal—making us feel discontented with our lives so we will buy whatever goods or services they are selling. If we’re not careful, we can become so consumed by this “noise” that we lose the quiet—the contentment—so important to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Today I want us to think about living a life of contentment in the midst of the noise that tells us we need more. Contentment is about accepting that what we have is enough. To help us learn that lesson, let’s return to a well-known event in the ministry of Jesus—the feeding of the 5,000.
Contentment involves solitude
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matt. 14:13a)
Here is a call to solitude. All humans need it. Rather than an end in itself, solitude is an aid to healthy living. It’s the time and space we need to celebrate our relationship with God, one-on-one. Solitude is thus a great gift. Sometimes it feels good, though sometimes it feels like a waste of time. Regardless, it’s a calling for us all. Why? Because solitude is the place where God helps us release attachments that wrongfully are part of our core identity. It helps us build fortitude to do so, because God’s voice (or his silence), heard in solitude, is a refining fire.
As we know, Jesus was a “people person”—he gave himself in service to others. However, here in Matthew 14, he steps away from people for some time alone with God—a time of solitude. Doing so was an important part of his life’s rhythm. He knew that to bless people, he needed time away.
If you want to find contentment in life, you will, like Jesus, need to get alone with God—away from the “noise” of busy tasks, social media, TV, life’s preoccupations and distractions. Just you and God, at ease, together.
Contentment involves saying “yes” to Jesus
Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. (Matt. 14:13b-18)
Note Jesus’ command: “Get them something to eat.” We are called to obey the voice of Jesus—to do what he tells us to do. We can do so confidently, knowing he provides all we need to obey. That’s true for us individually and as a congregation.
Church—to what is God calling us? Will we do it? This passage is a reminder not to look to ourselves, but to God—not to our own resources, but to his, for he has all the needed resources.
Sometimes God calls us to do things that make no sense (to us). Five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 men plus women and children (Matt. 14:21)—what’s that, 10,000 people? But Jesus’ command to his disciples here was not about understanding—it was about obedience borne of trust. Well, they did obey, though at first they doubted. Notice, though, that they didn’t say, “Let’s test God and see if he can turn these meager provisions into enough food to feed these people.”
Sometimes we just need to do what God says. Listening to God and then obeying, with faith, is key. We won’t always understand the whys and hows and the details of God’s plan for us. God often bids us act with very little information. It’s about depending on and trusting in him, and in that dependence and trust (faith) doing what he says.
Contentment, you see, involves listening and obedience. Hearing and obeying what God says is fulfilling, regardless of the outcome. As we obey, God provides abundantly—a provision that sometimes is seen outwardly, but sometimes only inwardly. In the West we like to think of abundance in terms of how “successful” we are. In the East it’s about how “renounced” we are. But God defines abundance not as what we accomplish—it’s about our consent to the will of God.
Churches are pursuing a fool’s game when they define success in terms of “nickels and noses” (donations and attendance). To do so is to fall into the trap of our materialistic culture and its vice-like grip. Doing so means trying to live up to unhelpful (often impossible) standards. Our concern as a church should not be success on worldly terms, but as God defines it—hearing and obeying his voice.
Here in Matthew 14, the disciples were thinking too small: “We have only enough food for ourselves, so let’s get rid of this crowd.” We should think big, but let’s not fall into a materialistic trap in that thinking. The “big deal” is happening wherever God is moving and that’s what we need to be attentive to. And hear this: God has a much bigger perspective than we do!
Conclusion: lessons learned
[Jesus] directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to 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. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matt. 14:19-21)
Here Jesus disciplined his disciples. In essence, he was telling them to “be quiet and do what I say.” Discipline is God walking with us and telling us to say “no” to some things and “yes” to others so that we stay on the good path he has laid out for us. Discipline by God is always good, though it may include leading us through seasons of desolation or hard times.
At times, God may rebuke our misguided ways by saying “no” to our ideas of how we should use our “loaves and fishes.” But these hard times in our spiritual journeys are opportunities to grow deeper, to dream bigger. We won’t always see material results soon, if ever. But God will always be at work, inviting us to let go of what we’re holding onto so tightly, so that we can then grab hold of him—forsaking our mis-guided trust in things that don’t matter to trust in him alone.
Jesus calls us to consent to who we truly are in him—our fully sanctified humanity in him—our sharing in his perfected, glorified humanity. Jesus, in his humanity (which continues) is the definition of what it means to be fully human. And that’s what God wants for us—that is where he, by the Spirit, is leading us, disciplining us, directing us.
So let’s listen for he voice, and as we hear it, let’s do what he tells us to do—always with trust, dependence and faith in the one who alone is worthy. In that way of life—that mindset—there is contentment.
May the grace of God be with you as you journey on with contentment.