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Matthew 14:13-21
The 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 3-year, Series A — 6 August 2017
The Rev. Dr. Jason D. Lane

GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD, OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST! The text is miraculous feeding of the 5,000 from Matthew 14.


He was with the crowds, preaching, teaching, and healing the sick. But then Jesus received word that John the Baptist was murdered, decapitated as a party favor by Herod. So Jesus went off to a deserted place to mourn, the way that real people mourn when someone they love dies. All the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke put it in this order. First John’s death, then the miraculous feeding.


When Jesus heard the report about John, He TRAVELED BY BOAT to a remote place. It wasn’t late in the day. It’s just that death interrupted life. I guess the crowds were supposed watch Him go and then go back to their own lives, the way that any of us might hear the word of Christ and, when the religious service stops, go back to the weekly grind. After all, Jesus is great, but there’s work to do. We punch in and punch out, go to school, do school at home, work to stay out of debt, pay mortgages and rent and save up for car repairs, try to make peace in the home, whatever. The crowd could’ve have gone back to their lives, because the Lord is great, but there are mouths to feed and bills to pay.

But Jesus says, “SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE ADDED TO YOU.” And this crowd believed Him. V. 13, WHEN THE CROWDS HEARD [that Jesus had gone by boat to a deserted place], THEY FOLLOWED HIM ON FOOT, running along the shore. It’s a beautiful example of faith. I imagine them carrying the sick on stretchers and crying out to Him as they ran. But He didn’t seem to hear them—maybe they were shouting into the wind or maybe He was too sad to hear them at the moment—because it wasn’t until He got out of the boat that He saw the massive crowds…AND, v. 14, WHEN HE SAW them, HIS HEART WENT OUT TO THEM AND HE BEGAN HEALING THOSE WHO WERE SICK, because with Christ joy interrupts sorrow, and life interrupts death. They came for Him, but what they got was more, because it’s always more with Him. First Christ, then all things, because FROM HIM AND THROUGH HIM AND TO HIM ARE ALL THINGS!


And when there was a HUGE CROWD with Him until EVENING, with nothing to eat, the disciples started getting realistic, as in: “The religious service is nice, but people’ve got to eat.” You hear people talk about following Christ as some sort of ascetic experience, as if He’s some sort of religious tyrant who’s demanding us to be so spiritual that we renounce anything that has to do with this body and life. But it’s Jesus who says, “YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER KNOWS THAT YOU NEED THESE THINGS”: the job, the health insurance, a working car, a good school, and food to eat. YOU NEED them. Nobody’s as realistic as Jesus Christ. You remember when He raised Jairus’ daughter and everybody was dancing for joy, it was Jesus who said, “GIVE HER SOMETHING TO EAT.” He made us. He knows how we work. He knows the needs of the body. Before He made us at creation, He planted the Garden with fruit already growing. Then, He took Adam to the Garden for a meal.


The disciples must have discussed it beforehand. If they had a watch, they’d have made a polite gesture to Him that it was time to send them away. But as it was, they got together and said, “This place is out in the middle of nowhere and everyone’s hungry; send them off and let them fend for themselves.” To them, it was only reasonable. It was realistic. And, besides, Jesus had forgotten about food before. Remember, when His mother and brothers came to take Him away from preaching because He hadn’t eaten? The disciples thought they were being kind to the crowds and kind to Jesus, who was apparently absent-minded about such things. Except that Jesus said: FIRST RIGHTEOUSNESS, then ALL THINGS.


The twelve were right of course that people have to eat. And people have to pay the rent and get the car fixed and pay for school and get the car fixed again, and all the rest. Jesus says, YOUR FATHER KNOWS YOU NEED THESE THINGS, which means YOU really do NEED them. If you need them right now, Christ’s HEART GOES OUT to you. But, as the disciples would suggest, you can’t eat sympathy. Which is why the Lord said to HIS DISCIPLES, who were trying to send the crowds away: THAT WON’T BE NECESSARY; YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT—and it was just unrealistic. THEY SAID, “BUT WE ONLY HAVE FIVE LOAVES OF BREAD AND TWO FISH!” As if to say, “Realistically, Lord, what can 5 loaves and 2 fish do for so many?” And when they said that, they were looking at God in Person, which wasn’t very realistic of them.


If we’re talking about food and rent and car repairs, Jesus said, “YOU NEED THESE THINGS.” But they are not the first things. SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS AND ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE YOURS AS WELL.” Are they yours? Has He been faithful to that promise so far? We say, “Well, I’ve been worried lots of times.” And, yes, that’s what we’ve done. But what has He done? In the real world, where Christ is, He’s never failed us. Sometimes it’s been Manna and more Manna when all we really wanted were watermelons and smores, and sometimes it’s been nothing but bread and fish, bread and fish when you wanted a steak. When the Lord provides, it’s what you need, not always what you want. But what we’ve actually needed, we’ve had. And He knows it. That’s why He says, WHY ARE YOU ANXIOUS? I’m right here. Why do you ask, “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO EAT?” AND, “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO WEAR?” As if He weren’t the One who’s always provided.


We are forgetful. And forgetting what Jesus has done before, such as feeding His people in the wilderness for 40 years, and all the ways He’s fed you in this life, leads to more and more sin as we drift in our minds farther from reality and deeper into illusions. Whatever Jesus said or did, those disciples forgot so much of it. I mean that in Gethsemane, they saw Him do two huge miracles while He was getting arrested, which should have made it easy for His disciples to remember that, whatever, He’ll take care of us. But instead, they saw those miracles and immediately forgot everything they knew of Him and ran. “Well,” they said to themselves, “what else can we do?” They could have been realistic, and followed Him right into Paradise. Remembering, that is, believing what Jesus has said and done can save us from abandoning the One who told us, SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM, and I’ll take care of the rest.”


Of course, some people are never going to find out if that’s true or not. Because they don’t SEEK THE KINGDOM FIRST. They seek it maybe 4th or 15th. Finances, entertainment, sports, even something as good as family and country can distract them from the First Thing. If they’d been out in that REMOTE PLACE with Christ, they’d never have stayed till evening. They wouldn’t have hung around till there wasn’t anything left to eat on the way home. They’d have left while there was still something in the brown bag. Before that miracle ever happened, they’d have been home, showered and tucked into bed.


But for those who stayed, was it realistic to stay with Christ while the food ran out? I don’t mean being lazy, sitting at home watching a British cooking show on Netflix while the food runs out. The Lord says, IF A MAN REFUSES TO WORK, HE SHOULDN’T EAT. But when Jesus is calling, while Jesus is teaching, and while we’re worshiping Him, is it realistic to trust Him for the necessaries? Israel said in the desert, “What’s He going to do? Rain down bread from Heaven?” The answer is: Yes.


The disciples said: “WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING EXCEPT THESE FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH.” Jesus said, v. 18, “BRING THEM TO ME.” HE PASSED ON AN ORDER TO THE CROWD TO SIT DOWN IN THE GRASS, AND TAKING THE FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH, HE LOOKED UP TO HEAVEN AND BLESSED THEM. THEN HE BROKE THE LOAVES AND GAVE THEM TO THE DISCIPLES, AND THE DISCIPLES GAVE THEM TO THE CROWDS. AND, v. 20, THEY ALL ATE UNTIL THEY WERE FULL. AND THEY COLLECTED TWELVE BASKETS FULL OF BROKEN PIECES THAT WERE LEFT OVER—I’d like to think each disciple got one as a reminder and for future use, because people will be hungry tomorrow, too.


And it all happens so smoothly you could almost miss the miracle, except that 5000 people, not including the women and children, were full and there was more left over than there was to start. If we learn nothing else, it’s that Christ always multiplies the wheat. Usually He does it in the fields. This time He did it in His hands. It’s Christ who always multiplies the fish. Usually He does it in the oceans and lakes, but this time they were swimming out of His hands: shoals of fish and barrels of bread and healing the sick and raising the dead, and how many gallons of wine at Cana? And if this kind of plenty comes out of Him, what’s in Him? The Holy Spirit says, IN HIM THE FULLNESS OF THE GODHEAD DWELLS BODILY, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. Because people need more than supper, and Jesus is realistic about that, too. Jesus is so very realistic about how much people need.


Obviously Jesus doesn’t overlook empty stomachs and neither should we. Our fellow Christians have to eat, too, and pay the rent, and Christ’s heart goes out to them. Which, after all, is why He put money for them in our checking accounts. It would be very, very foolish to look at some other Christian and say, “I don’t know why the Lord doesn’t provide for them,” while I’ve got what the Lord has provided for them. But it’s also true that the stomach is not the only thing that can be empty.


There are hungry souls and empty lives that people just can’t fill, no matter what they stuff them full of. Starving people, I’m told, will eat anything, because they think anything is better than nothing. And starving souls will eat sin and pursue misery, even when they know it’s deadly poison. Jesus cries out, WHY DO YOU LABOR FOR WHAT ISN’T BREAD? Why do you stuff yourself with nothing and sin, only to pay in the fire? How many people look fit and full of life to the world, whom Christ sees as they really are: starving souls that are filled and never full?


Christ could have stayed up in Heaven and filled the whole world’s stomachs effortlessly. And we’d have died in our sins and gone well-nourished into hell fire. People need more than food. We need forgiveness for our sins and an antidote for death. We need GRACE and TRUTH. We need the Lord. And we need the Lord who was crucified. And we need Him raised and living in our mortal bodies. Can He provide that?


It’s a bigger thing than any amount of BREAD and FISH. Filling 5000 stomachs was effortless for Christ. But filling human souls killed Him. But He’s so very realistic about what we need that He provided Himself to pay for our sins and illusions and distrust of Him. It wasn’t dinner flowing from His hands then. It was His blood; it was His life; it was His righteousness to cover us all. And now the Risen Christ says, I AM THE LIVING BREAD FROM HEAVEN THAT A MAN MAY EAT AND NEVER DIE. And people have to eat.


We can’t just nibble as if He weren’t what we really need or as if there weren’t enough, and then try to fill up on the world. We won’t make it home that way. His WORDS ARE SPIRIT AND THEY ARE LIFE for us: Every time we open His Scriptures, every time we open our hearts, every time we open our ears in this house or our mouths at this altar here’s His SPIRIT pouring into us, His LIFE to make our souls alive, as plentiful and free as the food for 5000, however expensive for Him.
He’s an acquired taste for us who are used to eating junk, for us who hardly know what we need, for us who hardly know how much His HEART GOES OUT TO us in THIS REMOTE PLACE, such a long way from Home. And He’s not ashamed to say in His own Word: TASTE AND SEE, THE LORD IS GOOD. When we get realistic—which means, when we believe—we receive Jesus Christ Almighty, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH, like that CROWD that chased Him down along the shore and found the KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS and everything else that they needed. They sat down there in that deserted place, while HE GAVE THANKS, BROKE BREAD, gave it to His disciples, and they all ate and were satisfied. Because whoever eats this Bread shall be filled. In the Name of Jesus + Amen.



 

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