FIRST LESSON: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (p. 979)
SECOND LESSON Matthew 14:13-21 (p. 1520)
SERMON: “You Bring the Bread. God Will Bring the Miracle”
Many years ago, there was a woman who lived in a small village in France. Trained as a nurse, she devoted her life to caring for the sick and needy. After many years of kind and selfless service to the village’s families, the woman died. She had no family of her own, so the townsfolk planned a beautiful funeral for her, a fitting tribute to the woman to whom so many owed their lives.
The parish priest, however, pointed out that, because she was a Protestant, she could not be buried in the town’s Catholic cemetery. The villagers protested, but the priest held firm. It was not easy for the priest either, because he too had been cared for by the woman during a serious illness. But the canons of the Church were very clear; she would have to buried outside the fence of the cemetery.
The day of the funeral arrived, and the whole village accompanied the woman’s casket to the cemetery, where she was buried outside the fence. But that night, a group of villagers, armed with shovels, sneaked into the cemetery. They then quietly set to work moving the fence.
More astounding than Jesus’ feeding of the crowds with a few pieces of bread and fish is Jesus’ transforming the crowd into a community, a community united in their need for one another, in the bread they share, in the love of Christ who has brought them together. Christ empowers each one of us to perform our own miracles of creating community when we “move the fences” to include outsiders, when we welcome the rejected and forgotten to our tables, when we give of what little we have, joyfully and gratefully, for the sake of others, when we welcome one another as we would welcome Jesus.
What worries you about the world in which we live? Maybe you worry about poverty and the truth of the old saw that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A little over a billion of the world’s richest people consume some 80 percent of the earth’s resources. The other six billion make do on the other 20 percent. The world has 842 million chronically malnourished people, about 60% of them are women. Every 10 seconds, a child dies from hunger-related diseases.5 The Department of Agriculture in our own country, estimates there are 3.8 million families who experience hunger and up to 12 million families concerned about having enough food to feed their families. Hunger is real.
Jesus’ disciples realized that the people who had flocked to hear him teach and preach were getting hungry. They went to Jesus and said, “Send them away, so that they can go and buy something to eat.” One of the best features of this congregation is your generosity in helping people who are hungry through organizations like North Kent Community Services and Kids Food Basket. Too many people follow the example of the disciples that day, offering similar suggestions: Let the government feed them; let social services take care of them; let the homeless shelters take them in. At the same time, the government looks to faith-based communities and asks, “When are you going to help?” And Jesus, in the only account all four gospel-writers found important enough to include in their narrative, Jesus surprises the disciples, who think they are being practical and reasonable. He says, “Do not send them away. 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.
The disciples know they can’t feed a crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children with five loaves of bread. The best thing we can ever do when facing any overwhelming trouble, whether trying to feed a humongous crowd or facing a life-threatening illness, economic disaster, relationship failure, social ruin, a natural catastrophe or any adversity, is start by taking it to the Lord. You bring the bread. God will take care of the solution.
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.
Hilary, bishop of Poitiers during the mid-fourth century, wrote that Jesus was fully aware of the significance of feeding the crowd. Number held great significance for the Hebrew people. It was no coincidence that there were five loaves: up to then the people had depended on the five books of the Law; the two fish were reminders of the preaching of the prophets and of John to restore hope to human life by virtue of water (baptism); and 5,000 heard the message of two fishermen in Acts 4. And naturally, the 12 baskets were the baskets of each of the disciples – including even Judas . Jesus knew the significance: he was to become their bread and their hope.1
I have heard many people try to explain the “ miracle “ of the loaves and the fishes. Modern people suggest that it was Jesus’ inspirational preaching that moved the crowd to reach into their pockets to share with those around them who had little or no food. Perhaps. In some circumstances that would indeed be quite miraculous.
Another theory says that the story is not really talking about physical hunger but spiritual hunger. When the small amount of food was passed around everyone tore off a minuscule symbolic fragment. In this Jesus is said to have satisfied the hunger of the soul not the stomach.
These questions probably say more about us than they do about Jesus. If Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, as we proclaim in our creeds and confessions, then why would he not be able to perform miracles, and on a regular basis.
Since the Age of Enlightenment began in the late 17th century, an educated humanity has been less inclined to acknowledge a miracle, and to rely on reason and scientific inquiry. The chief objection that modernists have with this story of the Feeding of the 5,000 was answered by St. Augustine over 1500 years ago, long before the Enlightenment era. Augustine said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” The miracle here was that a weary but compassionate Jesus understood the true power of the Creator God - the Father of the universe. And He acted in accordance with that knowledge: with miraculous results.
This is the Good News we proclaim: You and I are not responsible for the miracle – we are responsible for bringing the need . . . and the bread to Jesus. God will provide the miracle . . . God will meet the need.
1Rev. Gary D. Cecil, Grace Presbyterian Church, Panama City, Florida.