Perhaps some of you may remember a story I told a year or so ago about the time I was sitting at Taco Bell in Katy after doing some hospital visitation. I was reading the Bible as I ate, and I had just finished reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5. I kid you not, I had just finished reading Jesus say, “Give to everyone who begs,” when a guy laid a pen with a piece of paper attached to it. The paper read, “I am deaf. Can you give $3 for this pen to help me and my family?”
At that moment, there was one emotion that ran through my head. Can you guess which one? It wasn’t love or charity or joy. It was quite the opposite. It was anger. Yes, it was anger. I got angry at quite a few things. I was angry at this guy for doing what he was doing. There was S-C-A-M written all over him. I was then angry at Jesus for saying, “Give to everyone who begs.” I thought to myself, “Why in the world would you say such a thing? Don’t you know there are tons of people out there who game the system? Who seek to make a fast buck? Who get cash and don’t even report it to the IRS?” Oh, yes, I was mad at Jesus. Then, I was mad at me for getting mad at Jesus. I mean, that’s not exactly how a Christian acts toward the person who died for him, you know? It was an amazing set of happenings that all lined up. And yes, I reached into my wallet and gave the guy $5–not because I joyfully wanted to give, but out of begrudging obedience to what Jesus said. I will let you know right now, my actions were sinful because of this. My heart wasn’t aligned correctly when I gave. It was out of whack. If the same scenario happened again, it might be out of whack again. I’m not sure. Maybe I’ve grown.
For, in a very real way, I now know why Jesus gave that command. I know why he looked at that crowd 2000 years ago and said, “Give to everyone who begs.” Why? Because of what Martin Luther said on his deathbed. Reportedly, his last words were, “We are all beggars.” What did Luther mean by that?
I want you to think about yourself right now. I want you to think about many of the things that bring you satisfaction and joy. Think about some of the things that bring you happiness and a sense of purpose. What are those things? Perhaps I can list a few, because I think many are shared by humanity. We like getting money. We like buying things. We like working and our jobs. We love our children. We love traveling and vacations. We like doing things which are a little out of the ordinary. We love reading. We like getting information. We like to eat and drink. We like to escape from the ordinary trials and tribulations of life. We like sex. We like exercising and staying in shape. We like hunting and fishing. We like sports, boy do we like sports. We like helping others. We like doing things which give us a sense that we are making a difference in the world. That’s a long list–we could add more, but I want to stop for a minute and ask you: do these things ever fully satisfy us?
Think about that for just a minute or two. Do these things satisfy us to the point where we feel at peace about our lives? Do these things satisfy us to the point where we look at others who have such things or who do such things and have only joy for them without having any pangs of jealousy? Do these things satisfy us to the point where we walk through life with a sense of joy and wholeness, or do we always crave more? I think you know the answer to that last question.
And let me take a little tangent for a minute and say, there is nothing necessarily wrong with doing any of the above things. Nothing at all. In fact, many of the things I listed are necessary for our very being. If we don’t eat and drink. We die. If we don’t take care of our children, they die or turn into little hellions. If we don’t exercise, our bodies break down faster and fall ill quicker. If we don’t earn money, we cannot fulfill our financial obligations and put food on the table. Keeping kids active in sports gives them a sense of teamwork and teaches them how to handle losing. You get the point. Many of these things are necessary for life, and they are good. So what is the problem? Too often, we take these things, which are good things, and turn them into ultimate things. Let me say that again, we take these good things and turn them into ultimate things. And then problems begin.
For when we take something good like eating and make it an ultimate thing, that leads to gluttony; over eating; obesity; and failing health. When we make sports an ultimate thing, we obsess over every detail of what is going on in the life of a team; if our children are involved, we micromanage their careers oftentimes yelling and screaming at them if they do not meet our expectations; we criticize unmercifully the coaches and umpires or referees. We spend copious amounts of money without even realizing it, and when the season is over, we can only think about the next season. And when our kids eventually stop or say they no longer want to participate, a huge gaping void is left that leads us to become depressed, anxious, or angry until it is filled. If sex becomes ultimate, we spend tons of time trying to look better and make our bodies better looking. We spend hours in the gym and watching our diets to look good. We adore pictures on magazines and camera angles in the movies, and we compare ourselves to those others and desire to be like them–this same sort of thing also happens to those who become obsessed with making their own bodies look good. If helping others becomes ultimate, we are constantly seeking to help someone, and we feel down in the dumps if we can’t help or if there is no one to help. And if we get to the point where we can no longer help, we then feel worthless ourselves.
And this is not the least of what happens to us. Not at all. Because when these things take hold, self-righteousness begins to settle in. If someone doesn’t share our craving for food, we look at them as if they are strange. If someone doesn’t share our desire to look good, we call them obese, fat, and all sorts of other names. If someone doesn’t share our love of sports, we figure something must be wrong with them. Our gods demand total allegiance from us–including forsaking others who do not feel the exact same way that we do. Oh, and by the way, if we get caught up in religion–the idea that we have to work our way to God, the same exact things happen. And we are never, ever satisfied. We are never, ever filled with joy. We are never, ever full of peace. There is only the next game; the next person to help; the next sexual encounter; the next cause to get behind; the next worship service. We are constantly begging for more. We are all beggars.
And Jesus says, “Give to everyone who begs.” But it is so hard to give. It is so hard to joyfully help out someone when we are inconvenienced or we feel like they are gaming us. Why should we help when folks don’t seem to change at all? Why? It’s because this is exactly what Jesus did for us.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.” Jesus poured Himself out for the world. Jesus pours Himself out for you and me–even when we don’t change; even when we continue to sin; Jesus loves us and forgives us and empties Himself out for us giving us gift after gift after gift. Why?
Think about this for a moment. What kind of people do you think were following Jesus around in Galilee all those many years ago? Do you think those folks were the wealthy? The healthy? Those who had it all together? Our Gospel lesson this morning says, “14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” The folks had plenty of sick with them, and we know that in ancient Israel, the vast, vast majority of the population were poor and lived day by day. It is these folks who followed Jesus and who ran ahead to be with Him.
The disciples didn’t want to have anything to do with them. The disciples wanted to sent them away to get food for themselves. “There’s too many of them, Jesus. They might take advantage of us, Jesus. Send them away, Jesus. Let them fend for themselves and take responsibility for themselves, Jesus. We only have enough for ourselves, Jesus.”
But that’s not the way things work in the Kingdom of God, and Jesus knew this. Jesus knew the disciples weren’t focused on Him. He knew they were focused on “the problem” instead of the solution. Physical and spiritual hunger would both be met this day. We know what happened next. Five loaves and two fish fed the multitude with a little bit of help from Jesus. This event would cause massive amounts of hope to break into these people’s lives.
And this feeding foreshadows another outpouring of satisfaction which would happen later when Jesus would hang on a cross. Jesus would intercede on our behalf and face God’s wrath for sin. On the cross, Jesus would reconcile us unto God, and the resurrection would instill within us hope.
For we were sinners, and Jesus poured Himself out for us.
We still sin, and Jesus pours Himself out for us. Why?
So that we may see what He has done. We may understand that we were saved by His love. So that we may know that as we beg, Jesus continually gives over and over and over again. So that we may see His love for us; see His mercy for us; be humbled by that mercy; and be inspired to live and move differently because of that love. How so?
Let me share a final story. Last week, I took a little bit of money and some food to someone we have helped repeatedly through our Community Care Fund. We’ve literally given over a thousand dollars in assistance to this woman, and she has come back repeatedly for more. Many times, I have wished to cut her off. Many times, I’ve wanted to say, “This is it. We will not give you anymore.” And Jesus’ words haunt me, “Give to everyone who begs.”
This last time I took assistance to her, she met me. And she went on and on and on. “Thank you, Pastor Haug for helping me. I can’t miss my dialysis–I was giving her money for transit. I haven’t missed in a long time, and I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. I haven’t been sick in a long time. I’m getting better. I’m keeping this place up until my fiancee gets out of jail. I’m working really hard on that. I didn’t want to bother you, Pastor Haug, but I didn’t know who else to turn to. Things are getting better.”
As she talked, I noticed something different about this woman. There was something there that hadn’t been there before. There was hope. There was a glint in her eye that thought the future could be better. That things could change. That she could change. It was not brought on by something she did, but by the love of others. The love that we poured out was changing her. Just as the love Jesus pours out changes us. May our hearts be tuned to Jesus so that we can be changed and experience the fulfillment only He can provide. Amen.