Matthew 14:13-21 Jesus feeds the five thousand 13 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. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill. 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 that 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 told 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.
As human beings we were made to be in a relationship with God. We knew him and he knew us.
But right back at the start we managed to mess that up through sin. When Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, we were turned away from God. Our sin kept us from wanting to know him. That meant that we could not know God as who he really was unless he came to us. We were cut off.
But there is something inside of us that remembers that there should be something more. Because we were created for that relationship we still have the hunger for it.
All those ancient civilizations knew that there had to be something. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Aztecs all based their gods on nature, on themselves, on the seasons, because they did not have the truth.
As human beings we know that there is something out there, some truth, something greater than ourselves.
If you try to find this greater power in nature, you see a cruel and arbitrary God that you would have to fear or even hate. If you try to find it in people, as the humanists do, then you see more cruelty and destruction than you do in nature.
Well the people in the Gospel lesson today had this same need, this hunger for God. They were searching so hard for the truth that they forgot about food. What a great spiritual hunger. I don’t think I have ever forgotten about food.
The Passover feast was near. These people should have been at home preparing for their celebration. Instead they found themselves in the middle of nowhere on the side of a hill, listening to Jesus.
For a Jewish person to miss the Passover feast would have been a big deal. There were rituals to go through and cleansing to be done.
Jesus knew that these people were hungry to hear what he had to say. He also knew, before any of the people themselves did, that they were going to be hungry in another way too.
Jesus knew what it was like to feel hungry. He was a human being just like us, and his stomach must have rumbled sometimes.
He was a wandering teacher. He and his disciples walked around the countryside. I imagine that they would have missed a few meals on their travels, and slept a few nights with empty stomachs.
Now we have a situation where the people are hungry and Jesus felt sorry for them. One small boy out of all of those five thousand thought to bring some food.
And so, the famous miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. And that was just t he men that they used to count back then, so the real number would have been much higher.
One of the most important aspects of this story is that Jesus gave thanks to the Father before he gave out the bread and fish. Where we have this miracle recorded in Luke, we are told that Jesus looked up to heaven and gave thanks.
He was pointing the people to the one who could satisfy their hunger. The one who wants to be back in that original relationship with all of us.
Of course the people thought Jesus was great and they tried to take him and make him king. They had their own plans and they didn’t listen. They couldn’t see who he really was.
They were hungry enough, but they hungered for the wrong things.
People today still feel that need for God. They know that there is something missing from their lives and they try to fill it.
Some try to fill it with the god of money. They work and slave away and cover up their empty lives with the thought that at least they are financially secure. They’re not happy, but at least they are doing well as the world sees them. But they are still hungry.
Others in our world know that there is something more spiritual out there, something to believe in, and they look around them for a spiritual answer.
I once drove past a psychic festival in Adelaide. It was absolutely packed. All those people hungry for answers and trying to find them from tarot readers or by the stars.
Again, they are hungry enough, but they are going after the wrong things. Worshipping things God created like the stars, instead of the one who created them.
The reason they can’t see that their hunger is driving them in the wrong direction is because of sin. Our sinfulness, our humanness separates us from God.
On our own, we can’t come to God. We need God to come to us.
God knew this, and he commissioned and inspired those men and women long ago to write his word down so that he could reveal to us who he is. Not the god of nature, or some sort of life force, but the Father of the living word; Jesus Christ.
Today we give thanks to him because he has made the miracle of his Son known in his word. We have at our disposal, thanks to people like Luther and Tyndale, the Holy word of God, the word that changes lives, in our own languages.
The followers of Islam go to great pains to show respect to their holy book, the Koran. It is an insult to them and to their religion to hold a Koran below waist height, to shelve it with any other books, and to let it touch the ground.
We see our bibles differently. We still try to show them a little respect, but the book is not the most important thing. We do not worship the bible.
A closed bible is useless. God’s word works through the reading, through the listening. If we use the analogy of hunger when talking about words, as we often do, the word of God works when we ingest it, when we devour it, when we drink it in, when we chew it over.
Then the bread of life satisfies our hunger. Then the water of life flows to us through the word. The bread of life that we receive is Christ. He is the one to whom the scriptures point. He was the messiah to whom the old testament pointed, and he is the one who we are told about in the New Testament.
The Spirit of God works through the word to bring Christ to us, and Christ stands beside us in worship to point us to his Father.
It is only through the word of God that the broken relationship is rejoined, that the empty place in us is filled, because it is through his word that God comes to us.
God’s word is different to anyone else’s word. I used to teach R.E, and I could over and over tell my R.E. class to be quiet and listen, and they would mostly ignore me. It took a while, but finally things would start to happen.
But if the principal ever walked past, stuck her head around the door and told the kids to be quiet, boy was the effect different! Her words were more powerful than mine because the carried the weight of her authority.
God speaks a word, and he creates a universe. God’s son, the living word, with all his father’s authority, speaks a word and bread multiplies, waves are stilled, and dead men walk again.
We have that power there at our fingertips to borrow. When we speak God’s word, things happen. They might not be as obviously effective as when Christ spoke them, but they are still his words, and it is by faith that we know things happen.
When we speak his words of blessing to each other, when we speak the triune name in baptism, when we say “your sins are forgiven”, we are not just wishing a nice thought on people, and hoping that it happens.
Those people receive God’s own blessing, they receive God’s name and are adopted as his children, and their sins are forgiven.
By hearing a sermon here today, based on the word of God, God has come to you. In hearing the bible readings from his word, God comes to you. When you speak God’s word to each other, he comes to them.
I will finish with some more of God’s words. I will pass on to you a gift from God: From Philippians four, verse seven: The peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.