Aug. 3, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 14: 13-21
“Let Us Eat”
I love the story of how Jesus fed the large crowds on the side of the mountain near the Sea of Galilee, over five thousand people they say. I love it because the message of this story is quite profound and at the same time very simplistic. Profound in that it speaks deeply and loudly of the impact and power of Jesus’ ministry and the effect he was having upon the people. Simplistic simply because, on the surface, it was just about feeding a hungry crowd till they were satisfied, with a limited supply of the basics and having leftovers.
Within the context of this lesson we see that the small supply of food they started with, that is: the food which was donated as the disciples went to gather some from the crowd was given by a young lad. We know this because this detail of the happening was shared in the telling of this event in the Gospel according to John, chapter 6, verse 8 & 9: “One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” It was this young lad’s five small loaves of bread and two small dried fish that Jesus blessed, as he said unto the gathered crowd: “let us eat.” Then breaking the bread and also the fish, Jesus began passing this small quantity of food out to the people to eat. Nothing short of a miracle occurred on that mountainside on that day. For in the end, we are told, that everyone present had their fill of food to eat, and that when the disciples collected the leftovers there were twelve baskets full.
There are many ways to view what happened that day. I’ll let you choose which you prefer to hear. But, as you do, bear in mind that either way, whatever view you choose, it was a miracle and it was caused by Jesus, and it occurred as he blessed that small donation of food and distributed it.
One view: Jesus caused the food to mystically multiply as the disciples broke the bread and fish into pieces and this miraculous process continued as the disciples passed the food amongst the gathered crowd. A miracle to be sure, there are many such unexplainable miracles that occurred during the three years that Jesus walked amongst the people preaching and teaching. Surely, this could easily have been one of those and needs no further explanation.
Yet, another view held by a number of theologians encompasses the domino theory. That is to say… it is reasonable to assume that many people carried some small quantity of food with them as they followed Jesus and sat listening to his teachings that day. For just as the lad carried food with him that day, surely there were others, within the gathered crowd, that probable did exactly the same thing. When they heard how the young lad donated his… they felt compelled to place some of their own provisions into the baskets ‘as the disciples passed them around in the crowd’ thus the simple act of sharing from the young lad was passed ‘from person to person’ until all were touched with his generosity.
Many a preacher has wrestled with this passage. My grandfather, the Rev. Herbert Dixon, most certainly had as well. A pastor that knew me as a child and counseled with me in my later years, upon learning that I did not have any of my grandfather’s sermons, shared with me about what my grandfather preached in regard to this passage: “it matters not on how much you have; it is what you do with what you have that counts.” His theme draws on the aspect of sharing with the purest concepts of generosity in mind. As we all know… there are so – so many ways we can use what we have. We can horde it, save it, or store it – that is- we can choose to simply not use it. What a shame, what a waste.
That’s not what the young lad chose to do that day. You see, it was his to do with as he wished. He or perhaps his mother or father had prepared this food for him as he set off to follow Jesus. We don’t know the details of this, yet we know he and the crowd were a long way off from their homes and that there were no food venders nearby to buy food from that day. Of this we are certain.
There are those that use their gifts, yet not with a generous heart and not with the needs of others in mind. They use their gifts for their own needs first; they do not put the needs of others ahead of their own, not even when they have more than they need for themselves. These are the folks that often complain of having a void in their lives; they seem too often to have that: ‘empty feeling’ at the end of the day. They don’t know why and they don’t know what to do about it. You see, living one’s life simply for oneself ‘will not’ fill that spot that gives a person that needed and desired sense of wellbeing at the end of the day. That can only come when we have expressed and shared the love that has been freely given to us. When we hold it back, there is often – frequently even – emptiness. I feel certain that the young lad slept well that night – after he shared his two fish and five loaves of bread.
Of course, this miracle story of Jesus feeding the five thousand far surpasses the simple need of hunger to feed the body.
Jesus most certainly used their need for food that day to express a deeper and more profound message. We all hunger and thirst for the love of God. Perhaps we don’t know this is what we yearn for, perhaps we think we need more money or more cloths, more power and more influence and more control over our lives and the lives of others. These things may feel good and make some aspects of life easier, but it will not fill that need in one’s heart that aches every day for attention. If we accept the fullness of God into our lives through Christ, then we will come to understand how to sooth that ache we carry in our hearts.
As each of us gathered here in church this morning, we can assume certain things. We, each one of us, came here out of love, need or necessity. Even if we think we came out of ‘curiosity’ or we came ‘for a friend‘, we also came out of love or need. Those who get truly ‘active’ in this church, or any church, of their choice also come for various reasons. Again, it can be either love or necessity that motivates a person. Sometimes we get these two mixed up, we believe we are doing something out of love when really we are doing it out of necessity. Most of us never sort this out completely, nor do we need to. Just be aware that the two can both be present at the same time.
Sometimes, when we start out doing something out of love for God or our church, we trip over our need to fill a void we have in our lives. Consequently, that ache in our heart is still there and we find ourselves ‘holding back’ and ‘over protecting ‘our own stuff; instead of ‘opening up’ and ‘helping’ the people all-around us more openly. Inadvertently, this can cause harm to those ‘surrounding us’ and to the ‘ideals’ to which we ascribe. In order to avoid this trap we need to come back to that ‘deeper message’ Jesus was offering to the gathered and hungry crowd that day, as he took the young lad’s gift of bread and fish, this boy’s ‘personal gift’ that left him – without the food – he personally needed that day. Jesus took the fish and the bread and he blessed it and ‘shared’ it with the gathered crowd. No one, not even the young lad was left out. Everyone was fed, everyone including the lad they were all fed, till they were full. All the young lad really did, was put the greater needs of others ahead of his own, Jesus did the rest. Jesus simply says to us ‘let us eat’ and thus we are fed.
If we can just learn to trust in God to take care of our needs then we will learn to be more open, more giving of what we have to offer for the greater good. Sometimes it is as simple as sharing the responsibilities that we have been given. Sometimes it is as simple as realizing the other person, the person we accidentally step on as we plow forward to offer up our publicly generous gift, that person has a need to give just as we, you and I, do. Jesus wants us, just as he wanted the crowd that day, he wants everyone to understand that the needs of others must come before our own needs. Jesus used the lad’s gift as an example for others to follow. “Look,” said Jesus, “look at what I am able to accomplish with this small, small gift!”
“Just imagine what can be done when everyone begins to offer even the smallest of unselfish gifts!”
So what is it you have to share? Do you trust that your God will take care of your needs if you share what you have with others? Will you make an effort to share the abundance of love that God has bestowed upon you? Will you follow the example of the young lad and share the little bit you do have with a generous heart, thus making the most of what you have? Will you make what you have count, in the eyes of God?
Jesus used the feeding of the five thousand that day, to express upon us, that if we follow Christ, our Lord will provide; we shall not go away hungry. That ache inside our heart, that empty feeling in our gut, shall be fed, it shall be filled! No one will go unfed. All who follow the teachings of Christ, all who trust God, shall be filled with the abundance that is offered. It is that simple! God will and does fill that need for love that we all have. It is that profound! God shall and does satisfy all our needs.
Matthew 14: 13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.