My sermon this week on the feeding of the 5,000 with the Old Testament reading referred to as well, as part of the introduction to the service. I wanted to keep the sermon short.
However it grew longer than initially planned because I put out an advert on Facebook askking if anyone had any questions, so answering them added to the length.
Isaiah 55:1-5 Matthew 14:13-21.
Introduction to service:
In the current Covid situation many people are re-evaluating what’s important in life. There’s been an awakening, in many, of a realisation that there’s more to life than the material things. That people matter more than stuff. And amid all this there’s been an interest in faith and religion.
The church being forced out onto the internet has had a surprising effect. People are joining in the worship on-line. How much they join in is debatable and unknown. But there is a hunger and a thirst…. are you hungry? Are you thirsty for something and you aren’t really sure what?
A spiritual need is often difficult to describe. But whatever YOUR spiritual needs and hungers are, God knows – even if you don’t really know.
So for the next hour or so, I invite you to focus on God – bring yourself to him – wherever you are at home, or in church. Offer this time to God and ask him to fill it, to fill you.
When we come to distributing the bread at communion I will be praying for healing. I can’t pray aloud for each individual as you receive, like we have in the past. but I will be silently. I will also include it in the invitation. And whether you are at home or receiving the bread here, do so with an openness to receive God’s healing and wholeness, his peace of mind.
Have you ever been enticed by an advert, sent off for something and then realised you’d been had? The thing you thought was going to be a bargain – or just right for you – turns out to be a total waste of money. I had such an experience this week. A pair of shoes – didn’t realise they were coming from China so waited several weeks and then….. I ordered a size 4 – they’re a size 3 – and a small size 3 at that…. Like one of Cinderella’s sisters, my foot was much bigger than the shoe.
Whether it’s TV, magazines, or Facebook – we are bombarded with enticing adverts for things that are actually not as good as they are portrayed to be.
I think we are all prone, at one time or another, to want more than we have. To yearn for the elusive perfect thing that will satisfy our needs…. and our wants….
. The prophet Isaiah invites us to come and buy bread without cost. This is a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus.
And speaking of Adverts….some of you may have noticed that I did something new this week. I posted a video on Facebook with a sneak preview of today’s sermon and asking if anyone had any questions. I got 2 questions, which I will be addressing during the sermon.
Q1) I am interested in the differences between Matthew’s and John’s versions, such as the discussion about cost of the food and the inclusion of the boy that are in John but not Matthew.
Q2) In the Matthew version in verse 20 it says ‘and all ate and were filled;’ is this spiritually filled or filled physically with food?
Just goes to show, you need to be careful what you ask for… watch this space….. on with the sermon.
God was doing something new. John the Baptist had been calling people back to God – to re-evaluate their priorities, and to put God first.
Then Jesus came along – with new teaching, healing people and performing miracles.
Now, you’d think that Jesus would be up on a high…. great ministry… but it wasn’t all plain sailing for him. He couldn’t do any miracles in his home town – the people just didn’t believe. And then to top it all, his cousin is executed at the whim of a woman.
Head chopped off and handed to her on a plate.
So when news of that got to Jesus he took himself off to be alone.
Jesus is grieving. He needed time to get his head round it, to handle his emotions and to pray. It could be that as well as grieving for John he may also have been pondering the fact that he will be soon face a similar fate.
Think of last time you experienced a major loss or disappointment. You probably wanted to be on your own. How would you feel if people followed you and expected you to meet their needs, when you were so low yourself? Irritated at the least, if not angry and frustrated. What does Jesus do when people follow him?
He turns his grief and sorrow for John and concerns for himself into compassion and empathy. Jesus transforms his own feelings into love for those in need.
Jesus knows your grief – Jesus knows your deepest needs – and he has compassion for you.
So instead of sending the people away, Jesus heals the sick. The day draws on and it gets late. Imagine you are there and starting to feel hungry. You also have compassion, you want the people to be fed and so you suggest to Jesus they go down to the town to buy food. But Jesus has a better idea.
Jesus could have fed the people himself.
It’s interesting that in John’s version it is Jesus who saw the needs of the people to be fed and asked Philip about it. Philip then says 6 months wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each to have just a little. And then Andrew spots a boy with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish…… ah now we’re on the familiar story. But only John mentions the boy.
Why? He is small, and John is showing how great Jesus is, perhaps. John gives more detailed conversation between Jesus and the disciples (who are named in his account). Possibly embellishment to make the point about Jesus’ power and divinity. The other gospel writers perhaps didn’t include it to keep their stories short. We don’t know.
In fact – one of the big differences with John’s account of this miracle is that it is Jesus who does the feeding, not the disciples. This miracle is in all 4 gospels. It was an important story for the early church. John’s readers would be familiar with it.
When John wrote his gospel he did it to underline, and emphasis WHO Jesus is…. God himself become one of us. He emphasises Jesus’ divinity…. He has ‘signs’ to show who Jesus is, including this miracle being a sign pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. And it is in his gospel that we have Jesus’ “I am” sayings including I am the Bread of Life.
Jesus is the one who will provide himself and feed us with the Bread of Life. I believe the people on the mountainside were physically filled with bread. They had enough to fill their stomachs. I don’t think we should look back and say they only had spiritual filling with a tiny crumb of physical bread. That isn’t what the gospels say. They were filled. It is later, looking back at the incident with their experiences of spiritual fulfilment being met by Jesus that the church could say – he fed them physically then … he isn’t with us physically now… but he can feed us spiritually now.
By the time John wrote his account the church had come to see the story of the feeding of the 5,000 as an illustration of how Jesus’ will feed in the future.
Matthew’s gospel, however, has a different focus and motivation.
At this point in Matthew’s gospel Jesus is training up the disciples. Chapters 14 to 17 are a Boot Camp for Ministry. They are learning on the job.
And I believe that is the focus we need to have. I don’t think I need to persuade you of the reality of Jesus’ identity. That is well established. But perhaps I need to persuade you that YOU and I are his disciples and join in with his mission to the world.
When we turn to God in prayer Jesus invites us to be the answer to our prayers. “Give us today our daily bread”, the bare necessities of life. Here on the mountainside, the disciples suggest how the people should get their daily bread and Jesus says YOU feed them! Me? How? We barely have enough for ourselves.
Every time we pray for those who are hungry, the challenge is there for us to participate in the answer by offering what we do have, even though it might not be much. Every small donation to the food bank helps.
Jesus takes what we offer and, by his miraculous power, transforms it in abundance. There were 12 baskets left over. They may represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Another difference with John’s account is that Jesus says to gather up the fragments left over so that none may be lost. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to be lost – he seeks out those who are spiritually lost (remember the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep?). He wants us to sow seeds of the gospel generously.
As followers of Jesus we must learn to identify good soil when we see it, and then be ready to speak about God’s love to hungry souls. That’s harking back, obviously, to the parable of the sower that we had a few weeks ago.
This story of feeding 5,000 is part of the disciples learning that the work of bringing in God’s kingdom is not something Jesus does alone, but is something he wants to do with them.
We see the enormous need around us, a world of hunger, craving, loneliness and other poverty. We may have ideas but not the resources, but we offer to him what we do have.
Jesus takes our ideas, loaves and fishes, money, time, energy, talents, love, whatever we have to offer. He holds them before his father with prayer and blessing. Then, he gives them back to us to give to those who need them.
So when you come to Jesus in prayer asking him to do something and you sense him say, You do it….. take him at his word, despite your awareness of lack of resources …. obey him and be amazed at the results.