Preached Aug 8, 2008
Augustana Lutheran Church
Text: Matthew 14: 13-21
Feeding the Five Thousand
13 Now 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. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When 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.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then 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. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.1415161718192021
Miracles in the Bible can be difficult to know what to do with. Even though we now think nothing about those little personal devices we carry which communicate with people and data all over the planet…to our modern minds it’s still hard to believe that seas can part, food can appear from nowhere and the dead can be raised. So it’s tempting in our modern way to domesticate miracles – like reducing this feeding of the 5000 text to an idyllic picnic or desert potluck where everybody felt like such good people after hearing Jesus speak that they all opened up their picnic baskets giving parts of their fried chicken and potato salad to their neighbors. Not that thousands of human beings sharing isn’t a little miraculous, it is, it’s just that there are 6 accounts of this miracle in the gospels. 6. And since there are only 4 gospels that means that in 2 of them a version of this story was told twice. It’s just too important a story for it to be about people sharing their lunches. Miracles are tricky that way.
They were trickier though for Jesus’ sad little band of disciples. I often find myself having such compassion for these guys because honestly they seem to get things wrong at least as much as I do. Crowd control had to of gotten the best of them occasionally, especially since Jesus wasn’t exactly making things easier by having compassion on and healing the crowds who filled to the brim this so-called deserted place. Based on the logistics of their situation can we really blame them for thinking maybe a strategic plan for getting these thousands of people fed was in order?
Matthew even cleans up Mark’s account of this miracle. In Mark the disciples actually put a dollar amount on what it would cost to feed so many. I like to think of these disciples saying “man, we don’t have enough money to feed all these people” and Jesus saying “exactly. Isn’t that great?”
It would cost a lot of money to feed so many. The great unwashed masses. The hungry sinners who apparently didn’t plan ahead enough to bring provisions into the deserted area. But sometimes it’s only as ill prepared sinners that we become feedable. Like the exiles to whom Isaiah prophesies in the first reading. It is those who have no money for the feast to whom God spreads a banquet of rich food and aged wine. It is to those who have no ability to pull themselves up by their spiritual bootstraps to whom God provides quail and manna, bread and wine. Always it is to us the now-feedable beggars to whom God says “bring me your nothing, come all who thirst and hunger for you will be fed”
The disciples main mistake is that they have no idea what they have. Namely that they have a God who can feed many on nothing. A God who created the universe out of nothing, that can put flesh on the nothing of dry bones, that can put life in the nothingness of a dry womb, NOTHING is God’s favorite material to work with. Perhaps God looks upon that which we dismiss as “nothing” “Insignificant” “worthless” and says “Ha! Now that I can do something with”. In Isaiah it is not “you who have enough money, who have sufficient money, have the right denomination of money come and eat.” No. it is “You who have No money come and eat” God says “Bring me your nothing”
It is our poverty which God asks to be brought to God, not our treasure, because whether we think we have it all or we think we have nothing, we are all beggars fed at the table of God’s mercy.
Because what do we have? 5 loaves, a couple fish. Not much really. Maybe we too have been told to go away and buy our own. Work hard. Push thorough the loneliness of individualism to the reward of being spiritual satiated. Put the time into yoga and organic foods, put the hours into volunteer work, go hunt and gather our own spiritual provision… but here in this tricky miracle told 6 times over this is not what we see. Instead we glimpse God’s inverted economy of free wine and milk paid for by our nothing.
We Lutherans have our own nothing don’t we? Word and sacrament ministry can seem so like 5 loaves and a couple fish, especially in the face of mega churches who offer a dizzying array of services and products. I have a friend who calls these “6 flags over Jesus” churches. And it’s easy to see the appeal – who wouldn’t want drop off dry cleaning at church. But Word and Sacrament, our 5 loaves and a couple fish, is what we have been given as provision for being the body of Christ.
At House for All Sinners and Saints, the new community I serve, all but just a handful of us are not and have never been Lutheran so I have the honor of bringing our Lutheran theological and liturgical tradition to a group of folks for whom it is brand new. A few weeks ago a woman attended our Eucharist liturgy for the first time – she’d been raised in and continues to occasionally attend an evangelical church. She sent me an email the Monday after the service she participated in saying “I can’t believe how profound it is to hear scripture read out loud.” And then said to me “I’ve been in a dry place spiritually and I haven’t been into worship. But something shifted inside of my soul when you looked me in the eyes and said ‘child of God, the Body of Christ given for you’”. Word and sacrament ministry brothers and sisters. It is our 5 loaves and a couple fish with which we are fed for the sake of the world. It’s a tricky little miracle too.
A wise rabbi was once asked by a student
“Rabbi, did God really part the Red Sea?”
“Yes” the rabbi answered “Just again this morning he parted the sea of doubt and despair so that I could face this day”
Did Jesus really turn 5 loaves and a couple fish into a feast for over 5,000 people?
Yes, I answer. Just again this morning here, now. A feast for the cost of our nothing which we bring to God.
Christ here today is still blessing and breaking for the blessed and broken Christ’s own self given and poured out in quantity overly sufficient to the number of hungry who come. Broken and blessed we come to the banquet with our poverty of spirit. We come with the tender nothing of the forgiven sinner, and again God is true to God’s merciful nature and fills the hungry with wondrous things. Thanks be to God.