For this Sunday’s bulletin, click here: 11th Sunday after Penecost 2011bulletin
For this month’s church calendar, click here: Sept 2011 – Calendar
This was the first time I’ve preached on this particular text, but I have preached on the parallel account from John. It’s the only miracle of Christ that occurs in all four Gospels, if memory serves. That’s for a good reason. We can tend to forget just who it is that gives us our daily bread, and either despair that we’re on our own, or become proud, forgetful of God, satiated, and spiritually dull by thinking that we provided for ourselves. Neither is true.
This whole text, and the whole sermon, are a commentary or an explanation or a picture of the Fourth Petition — “Give us this day our daily bread.” Meditating on that petition of the Lord’s Prayer in connection with this text is extremely fruitful. Just think about all the different things God does for us without our realizing it. Even the proper mix of gases in our atmosphere, the regular cycles of temperatures, our planet’s proper distance from the sun…those things are not the product of blind chance. They’re the deliberate, loving choices handcrafted by an all-powerful God for our good. One of my goals for this sermon was to get people to see that.
Living in a community and an area of the world that depends on farming for its livelihood, I gained a new appreciation for this text. Just the right mix of rain and sun, the right number of warm days and cool days, the length of the seasons; the growing activity of seeds and plants; holding off bad or violent weather and sending good weather — God provides for us in so many ways that we don’t even see or think about. Luther brought that point out quite well in his sermons on this account that I read. I tried to bring that out as well because my hearers are in a position to see that every day in their own lives. Everybody here either farms or their livelihood depends on those who do farm.
I think our society has a harder and harder time understanding the world of the Bible as we become increasingly more urban and detached from the land and the daily and yearly cycle of nature. That’s a plus that I have as a preacher; my hearers understand Jesus’ word pictures and His teachings, or those of the prophets and apostles when they use agrarian metaphors, far more immediately and far better than somebody who can’t conceive of their food not coming wrapped in plastic, for example. That understanding is built right in from people’s everyday lives, but that’s becoming common for fewer and fewer people. Just a few years ago the number of people living in cities outnumbered those living in rural settings for the first time, and that trend is only growing stronger.
I didn’t go into it in the sermon, but the parallels between the feeding of the 5000 and the Lord’s Supper are striking. The language is very similar, and Jesus’ actions are very similar (although of course not identical.) I think that one of the purposes of our Lord’s doing this miracle and causing it to be recorded by all four Evangelists was to teach us by an example about the Supper, how the bread can always be Christ’s body in the Sacrament and yet His body is never used up. The feeding of the 5000 doesn’t explain anything about the Lord’s Supper, per se; and we never are told the mechanism by which Jesus fed the crowds, just that He did — but the action that’s presented before our eyes shows us that God’s power can do things in miraculous ways that we can’t envision, anticipate, or explain. To a heart of faith, the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Supper, “This is My body…this is My blood,” make sense for the same reason: Jesus’ Word makes it so. Jesus’ Word makes both of them true and both of them happen, and that’s enough for the child of God. To the unbeliever and the ungodly, both the feeding of the 5000 and the Lord’s Supper are arrant nonsense, but that’s because they do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God.
Jesus’ words, “You give them something to eat,” kept ringing in my head as I was studying these verses. They kept drawing my attention back to them, and as I meditated on them the sermon more or less fell into place. That utterance of Our Lord is the turning point of the text, and as He shows, there’s a wrong way and a right way to approach it. The wrong way is without God or His help. The right way is understanding that what He asks is impossible, but also seeing that He will increase and add to your store of seed so that you are able to be made generous to everyone you meet who is in need. For anybody who thinks that they need to be materially richer themselves before they can undertake works of mercy or compassion, Jesus pretty much destroys that line of thinking here, as I say in the sermon. Money is not a means of grace. It is not the be-all and end-all of helping others. You can always help, no matter what you have or don’t have. Nobody is so poor that they don’t have anything to share. I think that’s a common misconception among us affluent Americans (affluent by worldwide standards), and really it’s nothing but greed masquerading as something virtuous and upstanding, which makes it all the more reprehensible. Craving piles of cash — “so I can give more to my church” — is hogwash, frankly. It’s hypocrisy passing as virtue. Why not just get your greed out in the open and be straightforward about it, like the world? There are people who are starving and cold at night, and you want to set a condition of enriching yourself before you’ll help them? Please. That’s nothing but a line that the devil sells. Christian, beware! And be generous to those around you, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
May He bless you richly, both physically, and even more, spiritually, through His holy Word, the Bread of life. Amen.
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 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.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he 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. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (matt 14.13-21 niv84)
Have you ever wished for a miracle? Maybe you’ve been in a situation, due to illness or a layoff or the economy or whatever, where you wondered how you were going to make it, and you prayed, “Lord, now would be a great time for a miracle…Lord? Lord?” If you’ve ever prayed like that, did you get your miracle? Maybe you an honest-to-goodness, genuine, Hallmark movie miracle. They still happen at times. Or maybe you got a miracle and you didn’t realize it. In our gospel for today, Jesus does a miracle that hardly anybody realized was a miracle at first – but it was a miracle nonetheless. As we think about what Jesus did that day in Galilee, we’ll also think about how God provides for us in our own lives. Let’s listen as Jesus tells us, You Give Them Something to Eat.
Jesus is trying to get away from the crowds for a while. He crosses the Sea of Galilee and goes off by Himself into the wilderness. But the crowds follow Him because they want so badly to be near Him. Jesus doesn’t get upset or discouraged at the sight of so many people coming to Him; instead, He starts teaching them and healing their sick. So now it’s starting to get late. The apostles glance at the sky and they come to Jesus with a request: “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and find themselves some food.” It makes sense. They would have listened to Jesus, and they needed to eat.
That’s when Jesus throws them a curveball: “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” What? Why would you say that, Jesus? Of course these people need to go away. There’s nothing out here. No stores, no vendors; not even fruit or berries to eat out here. It’s empty. It sounds like a riddle, and not a particularly funny one either. Jesus had taken away their one plan that they had. They’d assumed that the crowds needed to leave; that seemed like the only reasonable thing to do. Now Jesus told them they weren’t doing that, and on top of that He’d just made them responsible for this huge crowd of people – 5000 men, plus their wives and families, so it was probably more like 15,000 or 20,000, or more.
Why does Jesus tell them this? There’s no way they can feed all these people. Even after the apostles put their heads together and confer some more, all they come up with are five little loaves of bread the size of dinner rolls, and two sardine-sized fish. They’re not even bigger fish, like trout or walleye. These are little fish, the size that steal your bait and when you do catch one, you throw it back because it’s not worth keeping. People ate a lot of those little fish around the Sea of Galilee. There were a lot of them in the lake, and they were cheap and tasted pretty good when they were smoked. But this little bit of lunch wouldn’t be enough even to make a full dinner for a grown man – let alone 5000 of them. I’ve seen how much work it takes to feel 150 or 200 people – and even after you make all the food, you’re still nervous that you might run out. There’s no way the apostles could do what Jesus tells them to do here.
Put yourself in the apostles’ position for a moment. We’d have been just as baffled as they were. More than that, we’d probably be more than a little angry. If you’re like me, it makes you angry to be asked to do something and then you’re not given what you need to do the job. We resent being held accountable for accomplishing things that seem impossible. “You give them something to eat”? Why would You ask me to do this, Jesus? You know I can’t do this! Maybe you’ve felt that resentment, that frustration, when you get the mail and you open it and there’s a bill that’s twice what you thought it would be. Maybe you’ve felt like that when you look at how much money you don’t have and how many days are left in the month, and you’re wondering how you’re supposed to make the money stretch. Or everything seems to be going fine, but then your child gets sick or breaks her arm, then it’s a trip to the ER, and while you’re sitting there waiting for the doctor to come in you wonder, “Lord, why did you let this happen? You know we can’t afford this.” You look at your kids and you wonder, “Give them something to eat? How am I going to do that – and new shoes, and braces, and college, and everything else?” Or you watch prices continue to inch upward and whittle away at the little bit of money you get every month. You run the numbers for your retirement savings, and they don’t add up nearly to what you thought they’d be.
We think like the disciples did, many times. It’s almost like we forget that there’s a real God in heaven who’s made real promises to take care of us. We act like God is a moon painted on a stage backdrop for a high school play – you know He’s there but He’s not really real, or if He is real He’s a million miles away and He doesn’t care about you. It’s easy to think we’re all on our own to take care of ourselves. That’s all our flesh sees. It’s easy but it’s wrong. Jesus shows how wrong it is in a decisive and startling way.
He takes the bread and the fish, and then He looks up to heaven and gives thanks and breaks the bread and begins handing it out…and handing it out…and handing it out. Jesus keeps breaking off pieces and handing them to the disciples, and they take them to the people, and they never run out. They just never run out, until every last person in the crowd gets to eat, and not only that, but gets to eat until they can’t possibly eat anymore, until they’re groaning and feel so full they feel like they’re going to pop.
It’s a very ordinary looking sort of miracle. The apostles knew what was going on, but did anyone else? For the vast majority of the crowd, all they saw was food coming around, just when they were looking at the sun and thinking, “Hm, it’s just about supper time” – and then they got to eat as much as they wanted. It’s only later that they found out what had happened. Then when everybody has eaten as much as they could possibly want, Jesus tells the disciples to go around and pick up the leftovers, and another miracle happens along with the first: each apostle is left holding a basket full of pieces of bread and fish. Not eleven or thirteen baskets, but exactly twelve – and they are all full to the brim. Not one of them was partially full. There were exactly twelve entirely full baskets left over. There’s no doubt about it: this was a genuine miracle. There’s no other explanation for it.
But why should we be so amazed at this one miracle? Jesus does the same thing every day for the entire world. He can make an entire field of grain grow from just a handful of seeds – and He does, every summer. The crops ripen at just the right time, the trees bloom and bear fruit, and the livestock give birth and grow just when they’re supposed to. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Even with all the variables of weather and timing and everything else, the earth still produces its harvest and we still have enough to eat. Sure, some years are better than others, but God always makes sure we have something. It’s God who blesses our work and makes it profitable, through the power of His Word.
Here we see the power of God’s Word in action. Without God’s Word even things that should be fruitful or work all on their own don’t. Scripture tells us that for unbelievers, most of their labor ends up being wasted because they don’t have God’s Word that makes things fruitful. It’s like they’re putting all their money in pockets full of holes. But if you do have God’s Word, things are fruitful even when you wouldn’t expect them to – like five loaves and two fish feeding twenty thousand people. God uses His Word that gives life to the dead also to provide for us. He makes our labors fruitful. He establishes the work of our hands so that it isn’t torn down or swept away by fire or floods or bad weather or wicked people. He makes sure you have a return on the work you do so you can eat and maybe have a little fun, too. God’s Word is what feeds us. If God didn’t command the earth to provide for us, nothing we do would make it happen. If God does command it, then nothing will stop it – even if it looks impossible.
Now apply that to yourself. Is God going to let you starve? Will He somehow forget to feed you, or is He unaware of what you need? No! He’s the one who’s let those circumstances into your life. He knows exactly what you need and He is ready to give it to you at all times, whether all at once or little by little, so you learn to trust in Him more. He promises that you will never be forsaken or forgotten. Trust that God will always take care of you.
Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear, but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Concern yourself first of all and most of all with His Word, because that’s what really feeds you in body and soul. That’s what saves you, and it’s far harder to come by than food or shelter. God promises daily bread even for the ungodly, but His Word is a rarer treasure and not so easily obtained – so look to that first.
The apostles were thrown for a loop by Jesus’ telling them, “You give them something to eat.” Still, they looked down at the five loaves and two fish in their hands, and they gave them to Jesus. They looked at the little bit they have, and they offered it to God. They said, “This is all we have, Jesus; here you go.” They had next to nothing, and it’s only when they offered what little they had to God’s service did Jesus use it to feed the crowds. This is really important to remember, because we often feel like we have too little to help. Sometimes we think, “I could give to the poor, if only I had a little more myself; I don’t have enough for myself to go around giving it away. If I had more, I could afford to give more, but if I give away what God has given me, I won’t have enough. I can’t give to the poor!” Jesus pretty much destroys that line of thinking with this miracle. Do not limit what God can do through even you, with the little bit that God has given you. Jesus can take the little bit that you have, and He can bless it beyond all measure. If He does this great miracle with a few handfuls of food, what can He do with a little bit of your paycheck – a little bit of your time – a little bit of your caring and compassion? The Lord promises that you will have enough to be generous to others and help them in their need.
The Lord gave the apostles the command to feed the people, and after they realized their inability to do so He gave them the means to carry out His command. Jesus does the same thing with us. He makes us able to give to the poor and those who are in need. Someone might protest, “But the poor are undeserving! Look at all their moral failings — look at what they do when you give them something for free!” So what? What makes you think that you deserve anything good from God on your own? Your pride or your arrogance or your uncaring attitude is just as bad before God as what they’ve done…yet God still feeds you, cares for you, and pours out all His blessings on you. That’s what grace is: God giving to those who don’t deserve it. And look at all the things God has given you as a gift: daily bread, family and friends, laughter, love, and joy, not to mention all His spiritual blessings like forgiveness of sins, a home in heaven, and answers to prayers. God gives you all these things, even though you have not earned or deserved them; and He makes you rich so you can make others rich.
Note, too, that the apostles gave the people bread and fish, not steak and Twinkies. We shouldn’t feel compelled to pay for other people’s luxuries, or their extra things, but if we see someone in genuine need, someone who really does lack the basic necessities of life, we should want to help them. We should want to do for them everything we can.
Jesus puts needy people in your path every day. Do you notice who they are and what they need? Are you ready to do what Jesus says and “give them something to eat”? Tomorrow, and the rest of the week, and the month, and the year, open your eyes and look around you at all the people who need help. Don’t wait for God to drop food on them out of the sky; you give them something to eat. Amen.