Sunday, August 3, 2008

Food for the Multitudes

TEXT: When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.

When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food."

But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish."

He said, "Bring them here to Me."

Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
( Mathew 14:13-21, NKJ)

Dear people of Trinity, do you see what has happened here? We have here gathered a multitude of people around the Word of God, though of course there were many more who did not come, and God fed them through the Word.

What does this tell you? When you are gathered around the Word, which is what the Holy Spirit does in the holy Christian church, God provides. He takes your meek and meager supplies and multiplies them so that no one will go without what they need to sustain them in body and soul unto life everlasting.

It is rather amazing, one might say miraculous, how our Lord has chosen to place this text before us here at Trinity through the readings selected and appointed by the church for this 12th Sunday after Pentecost
given the financial update presented to you in the bulletin today and all the talk and meetings we have been having over what we can and should do to solve our financial woes.

Do you think that you have given all that you can possibly give and the only way to save our church is by cutting corners, scrimping and saving on the church budget, or by getting more people in to help us pay the bills?

Think again.

Are you worried about what you will have to eat, or what you will have to drink, or how you will pay your bills, or be able to take that vacation, buy that new car or pay for that gas to go in the old one if you have to put more money in the collection plate to pay the pastor so he can pay his bills and do some of those same things that you have to work so hard to be able to do?

Our Lord is speaking to you today. In feeding well over five thousand people with a couple of little fish and pieces of bread, the Lord was giving a real life illustration to this crowd who had followed Him across the lake from where He had been teaching and preaching to them about the kingdom of heaven as well as performing many miracles. Surely many of the 5000 had been following Jesus since He spoke the sermon from the mount which included these words Matthew records for us:
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matt 6:24-34 NKJ)

Well its one thing to read or hear this story about a people long ago that lived much differently than we do today during a time when the Lord Jesus Christ was actually walking and talking with them in the flesh. It’s a far different thing to hear these words from a pastor who not only cannot work the miracle of putting food on your plate, but expects you to pay to put food on his plate.

And yet the point of this miraculous event is that God our Father provides every want of body and soul, and this always in and through the Word – for the 5000 it was through the Word made flesh to dwell among us, for us it is through the Word as breathed by the Holy Spirit through the holy Christian church and the pastors called and appointed by God to serve her.

Oh yes, God provides even for the unbeliever and this through the work of men and women and the sweat of their brows. But even this provision is by the grace of God through the Word who created every blessing of this earth in the beginning, as we confess when we say “I believe in god the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” – which means that “God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that i need to support this body and life. . . . All this He does only out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”

Is it really? Is it true for you. Are you living your life as if it is true for you?

Well, the truth is, no one can of their own volition. And that is part of the point of our text. The people were mainly attracted to Jesus for what kind of earthly blessings and miracles He could provide. They were following Him because they wanted and expected Him to work miracles. And here Jesus obliges them by providing food for them out of a pitiful little offering presented to Him.

I don’t know, but do you think that out of 5000 men -- many of whom brought their wife and children with them – there were only 5 loaves of bread and two fish among them?

Well, maybe. But what we know for sure is that Jesus took those 5 loaves and two fish from the disciples and fed all those souls with enough left over to feed many more. Can you imagine? The disciples are standing there with Jesus at the end of the day expecting to eat their supper with Him surrounded my a hungry mob of people. They want to eat their fish and bread in peace. And what does their leader do? He takes their food and makes them give it away! In this account of the 5000 it is the disciples meal Jesus takes and has them distribute to the people. Can you imagine the looks on their faces and what they must have been thinking at the end of a long day of work and travel to not only have to give away their own food, but to have to do the work of distributing it as well? Jesus made 12 tired, hungry men do the work of feeding well over 5000 men, women and children.

Now imagine how these perplexed and grumbling men must have changed their tune as they did the work and gave away their treasured food. No matter how much they gave away, there was always more to give. Talk about encouragement! What could be a greater boost to the weary soul as such an unexpected and miraculous occurrence?

And lo and behold, when they were all through, there was not only enough for them to have their meal, but enough for many meals to come.

In doing the work the Lord set before them, giving away even the last of what they possessed, not only were they able to bless the multitudes but they too were blessed to receive more than what their meager and reluctant contribution was in the first place.

Dearly beloved of God, there is a saying attributed to Martin Luther that captures the difficulty we face when addressing the finances of the congregation: “the last part of a man to be converted is his pocketbook.”

In other words, it is comparatively easy and painless for one to believe – or at least say one believes -- Jesus loves them , forgives their sins, and will take them to heaven one day. It is a far greater and more difficult thing for one to believe that Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven with Him now and will provide even their earthly needs (though not necessarily desires) when one turns everything over to Him for the sake of the salvation of souls.

It was true of the disciples that day our Lord had them feed the 5000. It was true for the rich young ruler when jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor. And it is true for you and I today as well.

But since we have learned and believe that conversion is a work of the Spirit that lifts the sinner convicted by the Law to repentance and the forgiveness of sins of the Gospel, we must understand that right giving of offerings comes only as a result and fruit of hearing the Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Luther helps us further understand this firstfruits giving as he addresses good works in general: “Good works are works that flow from faith and from the joy of heart that has come to us because we have forgiveness of sins through Christ.” (“What Luther Says, #4847); and again, “Whoever does not do (good works) voluntarily, merely through the influence of friendly exhortation, is no Christian; and whoever forces the unwilling by the restraints of the Law is simply no Christian preacher but a worldly jailer.” (“What Luther Says, #4893) This last quote comes from his sermon on Romans 12:1-6, in which Luther makes the point that Paul here says, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren,” as opposed to commanding them. Elsewhere, Luther asks, ”What is it to serve God and to do His will? Nothing else than to show mercy to our neighbor. For it is our neighbor who needs our service; God in heaven needs it not.”

I would submit that firstfruits giving is really no different than any other good work of the baptized. It is not that God needs and demands them for himself, but that he works through us to do them for the sake of our neighbors who need them. We give to others because God has first given to us. Thus firstfruits giving as a fruit of the Spirit springs forth out of faith in the Gospel and thankfulness for God’s gift of forgiveness that frees us from worrying about what we will eat, or drink, or wear, or do for fun tomorrow. This worry is the reason we so often give from what we might have left after we have taken care of everything else we want and think we need, rather than from the top of our paycheck – which is itself a gift from God.

Your paycheck, and all these things [over which you worry and trouble are] the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Jesus fed the 5000 – and the disciples too. Will He do any less for you as you give of yourselves that your neighbors might be saved and fed by the Bread of Life whom you bring?

As baptized children of God, He does not only forgive you all of your sins but He also gives you everything else that you need when you need it – for your sake, and for the sake of the neighbor you serve. For this is the kingdom of heaven, and it has been given to you -- in the in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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