Sermon – July 31, 2012


Matthew 14: 13-21

I have a pretty good theory that the most perfect food, an item that provides nourishment for body, mind, and spirit is a bowl of macaroni and cheese.  I have felt this way since I was a wee whipper-snapper. When I’m feeling a little depressed or lonely or down, when I just want a yummy treat, when I’m having lunch by myself at home, nothing satisfies my hunger or lifts my spirits like a good ole’ bowl of mac n’ cheese.  It’s a complete meal.  The macaroni gives me a good serving of carbohydrates to boost my energy, the cheese along with the milk that I add, is a good source of calcium and protein, and then let’s not forget the fun shapes that they come in, which makes any meal a special event!

Now, if you were to ask my husband if he agrees with me, you would definitely see a roll of the eyes and hear a resounding “no way.” Yet, he doesn’t seem to mind when I make it for myself, as long as he doesn’t have to eat any of it. I’ve heard people use the phrase “comfort food.”  I suppose that’s what a bowl of mac n’ cheese is for me.  Don’t get me wrong—there are lots of different kinds of foods that I enjoy, but mac n’ cheese has always been one for me that soothes my soul.

Meals fill our stomach and reveal our identity.  The food we prepare can also mend or strengthen a relationship. For example, you might have a cake and some candles, but it’s not really a birthday cake unless you have somebody to share it with, is it?  You have to be pretty close to someone before you’ll share an ice cream cone with them.  It’s not a potluck unless everybody brings a dish to pass.  In the Bible, offering food is also a way to heal differences, or to honor someone.

Remember when the prodigal son returned home, how his father ordered a big feast to be served to celebrate the return of his son?  And after the resurrection, the breakfast of bread and fish that Jesus shared with his disciples by the Sea of Galilee was a meal of reconciliation with Peter and the others who had denied Jesus in other ways.  In the English language, in some contexts, the word “bread”is synonymous with food.  In other parts of the world, that is not true.  For example, in Eastern Asia, when you say “food,” people automatically think of rice.  In Malaysia, the same applies to sweet potatoes.  It’s whatever is the bottom line.  It’s the basic thing you need to stay alive.

But all these words—bread, rice, and sweet potatoes—can also refer to the emotional and spiritual basics that keep us alive.  There are few people without whose love and presence in my life, I would find it difficult if not impossible to survive. And without a faith that receives regular nourishment from the Word of God and the people of God, I could not survive.  Bread is the biblical metaphor simply because that was the staple, basic, bottom-line food source of Jesus’ day. If Jesus had been from Malaysia, it would have been sweet potatoes, and communion could get a little messy.

Throughout the gospels, food always has a double meaning. Jesus frequently spoke of eating and drinking in connection with the satisfaction of spiritual needs. When Jesus talked about fish and bread, there was always a spiritual significance to his remarks.  Having faith in God provides us with the ability to see, not only the physical things of life, but also the spiritual dimension.  The Christian understanding of life is that no one lives by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  That’s why Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life.”

So, as we look at this story of the miraculous feeding of the multitude, if we are to gain some insight into the deeper meaning of the story, we have to look beyond the physical hunger that was satisfied that day and examine the spiritual aspects of the story.

Here is the setting:  Jesus receives the news that John the Baptist has been executed by King Herod.  Saddened at the death of his cousin, Jesus sets off with his disciples to find some solitude, a place where he can be relatively alone with his grief.  But Jesus is at the height of his popularity now. A large group of people follows him everywhere he goes.  Instead of solitude, Jesus is confronted with still more people in need of healing.  Jesus cannot observe human suffering and do nothing.  He has to help, he has to heal, because he feels such great compassion for the people.  In fact, he was so determined to heal as many people as he could that day he lost track of time.  His disciples come and offer a helpful reminder. “Jesus, its way past dinner time.  You need to send these folks home now so they can get something to eat.”

Send them away so they can get what they need.  That sounds familiar.  Send them to the local health center so they can get some professional help.  Send them to the Department of Human Services. Send them to the Salvation Army.  Send them anywhere  but here—we’ve got all the problems we can handle.  We don’t need any more.  Let the others take care of them.  Isn’t that what they’re there for?  Surely there’s some program to take care of them.  Send them away, Jesus.

But Jesus says, “No. You give them something to eat.  You take care of their needs.” And despite the protests of his followers that they just don’t have enough to do that, Jesus takes what they have—a lunch basket brought by a small boy, containing only a couple of loaves of bread and some fish.  And he blesses it, breaks it, and gives it back to them and—what do you know?—it IS enough!  In fact, it’s MORE than enough.

Now, if this sequence of events—Jesus taking the bread, blessing the bread, breaking the bread, and then giving the bread –if this reminds you of a recent experience, you’re right.  Every time we come to the Lord’s Table we remember this fourfold action of Jesus.  The progression from weary disciples to recognition of human need to sharp demand and then to a gift that is more that enough is repeated every time the church gathers to break bread.  And there’s always enough to go around, isn’t there?  It’s awfully hard sometimes to detect a tone of voice in a written text, but I think I know what tone of voice Jesus used when he spoke the words, “You give them something to eat.”  I believe the emphasis was on the “you.”  “YOU give them something to eat.  Don’t send them away.  You can take care of their needs. YOU give them something to eat.”

That may sound harsh. It may seem as if Jesus has compassion for everyone except his disciples. “Don’t you know how tired we are, Jesus?  Its been a long week, and I worked hard all week.  I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, too, Jesus.  You just don’t know how hard life can be sometimes.  Work is hounding me, my doctor tells me I need to exercise and eat right, my dentist tells me I need a bunch of work done on my teeth.  I’d like to help out, but I just don’t have that much to help with.  There’s not much in the basket—a couple of fives, a twenty, some singles—a few loaves, a couple of cold fish. That’s it, Lord.  I’d like to help you, but I just can’t.”

And Jesus says, “Bring me what you have.” And he blesses what we have, then tells us to distribute it to the crowd, and it’s enough.  No; it’s more than enough.  In the story of the feeding of the multitude, we see that Jesus worked through the hands of his disciples to feed the hungry crowd.  It still works that way today.  God calls us and uses us to do God’s work in the world, to literally feed hungry people.  But we are also called to be God’s hands in spiritually feeding the lonely and depressed and the hurting, the broken people who live all around us. We are called to speak a word of hope and love to others.  God can work through us to help other human beings, to feed the hungry of heart and spirit.  They may not be spectacular miracles, but these are things we can do to bring meaning and significance to our lives. 

Often we feel overwhelmed by the needs and demands of the world around us.  War in the Middle East, earthquakes in Asia, hurricanes reaching our land, drought in our local area—we just don’t see how our meager resources could possibly help, but WE CAN. And God takes what we are willing to give, and blesses it, and uses it.  And it’s enough.  No, it’s more than enough.