Toorak Uniting Church

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Miraculous Food

Psalm 105: 1 – 11   Matthew 14: 13 – 21   Romans 10: 5 – 15
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10:15am, 7 August 2005

The story from the gospel today is a well known story. So well known in fact, that some of you may have already mentally switched off when they heard it read this morning.

Yeah, great, we got a crowd, we got bread and fish, we got a miraculous feeding, we got a very capable and utterly in control Jesus, we got some of Paul’s goings on about faith and the gospel being all inclusive and on top of all that it’s hospitality Sunday, so it’s quite obvious what the sermon is going to be about isn’t it?

Food, eating, sharing, being good disciples, and there being enough for everybody if we would only have faith. That would be about the gist of it…. finishing with the wonderful effort we have had this weekend with 85 people eating at 13 different locations, experiencing Christian fellowship and finding common ground as a community of faith in the sharing of food and lovely company as Christians have done from the genesis of the Church. Thanking Jenny for the fantastic effort she put into getting all these people to be at the right place at the right time, sharing with people they could relate too.

In the life of Jesus food was always important, meals with friends but also with strangers and even enemies where the important conversations of Jesus life took place. The sharing of food and good conversation, getting to know each other, building community, one of the most important ingredients of the mix that made early Christianity such a powerful and inspiring operation. Jews and gentiles, free and slaves, men and women, all gathered around the one table, talking, eating, praying, praising, making the body of Christ come alive.
Just as we are doing this weekend, taking up an ancient custom that has been part of the Church for 2000 years.
Jesus miraculously feeding his people over the centuries, from a start that amounted to nothing much to thousands and thousands feeding on what he has to offer. Up until the present day.

Now isn’t it wonderful to be part of that? And isn’t there every reason to be full of joy and gratefulness that we, as a community are able to give shape to that same hospitality and fellowship that has made our faith grow from a mustard seed into a tree?

Yes. Definitely. But that is not what I feel called to preach on today. Because the text stopped me long before I got there with some disturbing bits and pieces that caught my attention and took me completely off the beaten track into a rather rebellious frame of mind to a message I did not really want to hear. Not today anyway. While there is such a good and upbeat feeling around the Church.

Jesus is tired. And very sad. He is on his way to a deserted place because he needs to be on his own for a bit. He is not looking for fellowship and meals at all. He is not a happy chappy and he is not upbeat either.
His friend has been killed. His friend John the Baptist’s head has been served on a platter at one of the elaborate feasts of Herod the Great. And Jesus may be next.

After preaching the gospel, healing the sick, performing miracles, telling stories, explaining his mission to his disciples there are still not many who truly understand who he is and what he has come to do. Worse than that: He has made a lot of enemies.

And we can probably all imagine just how he now feels after his friend has been killed in such a horrible manner. Full of sadness and grief. Full of the heaviness of life, longing to lay down his head somewhere and cry. His friend has died and his own mission is hard going and meeting all sorts of difficulty and misunderstanding too. He has worked hard, but this blow may be just one too many.

Jesus is tired.

Not difficult to understand at all. It will happen to most of us at some time, that life wears us down and that there are just too many difficulties to cheerfully counter. And when then a good friend dies it may feel you will never be able to get up again.

I have been taught when you feel like this as a preacher, as a minister, you should take time off. That you owe it to yourself and the people you are looking after to take time out, go somewhere and make sure you are nurtured and well rested before you return for duty. That even Jesus took time out some times and withdrew from his duties to be with God, to be nurtured, to recharge his batteries. That God created the seventh day for us to rest, as He did, after strenuous work and demanding work had been done.

This time not.

And that’s where I felt myself become rebellious.

When Jesus gets out of the boat on the other side of the lake there are thousands who have arrived there before him. They had heard. About John the Baptist dying and about Jesus going away on holiday to recover from the blow.
They should have left him some space. They should have allowed him some grieving time. Some time to lick his wounds, some time to recover and find his feet again. Couldn’t they have left him alone for just a couple of days?
Couldn’t the disciples have filled in for just a little while?

Apparently not.

"Go away, leave me alone" would have been a very understandable and appropriate reaction.

But no. Jesus is filled with compassion. The word used in the Greek here is quite strong. A gut wrenching deep moving compassion of the kind that will leave you even more exhausted after you’ve felt it. The kind of compassion that hurts inside and cannot but move one into action.

So Jesus cures their sick.

So deep goes Jesus compassion and so powerful are his feelings for the suffering that it cures those who are there.

In only a few words a whole world is opened up. A disturbing world that doesn’t quite fit the bill of our modern way of looking at things. Miracles happen. An exhausted man, looking for some peace and rest, gets of a boat and is moved by compassion so strong it changes the lives of those he feels compassion for.

There is nothing quite like a wounded healer is there? Emphatic, understanding and able to be with those in need in a way that will help and heal them because they feel understood, accepted and encouraged by someone who knows what they are going through.

From being exhausted and dispirited Jesus moves into deep sharing time here in the wilderness, bringing healing and wholeness to those who need it, even where he is in need himself.

Again: professional advice would have been to leave them be for a while and take some time off. Surely the work could have waited, even if it had been for just a day.

When evening comes the disciples find Jesus. And again I felt myself become quite rebellious. For heaven’s sake! They knew how tired he was! They’d seen him work and help all day. They have been out and about performing miracles themselves before they came to this place. Could they not have performed a small miracle here and left him alone?

"This is a deserted place, the hour is late….. It’s time to send them home." they say. Probably tired too, those disciples. They also knew John the Baptist. Their lives are at stake too, and after the boat trip they’ve probably been busy ministering to the crowd all day as well. Time to call it a day. Every sensible person would understand that.

"Don’t send them away, feed them!"

One could hear that sentence in many different ways. Loving kindness most probably what we would prefer to think of in the first place. But what about irritated, angry, fed up? Or wary and weary and tired?

It is a possibility!

But, but……

5 loaves and 2 fishes. He can’t seriously mean they have to go into a crowd of thousands and feed them with that!
They don’t even do that at Hill song!

"Come, bring it to me….." tiredness I imagine, tiredness and a tinge of irritation. Or maybe just tiredness and heaps of compassion, again.

Jesus lifts his eyes to the heavens, blesses and breaks the loaves and gives them to the disciples.

Suddenly we are celebrating communion and the wilderness has changed into a place of green pastures. There sitting on grass and twelve baskets are left over. A bit of a nightmare for those who’ve been brought up never to throw out any food I am sure. It doesn’t say what they did with them, nor by the way does it say what happened to the two fish.
That’s not the point you see. There is food, and there is abundance when Jesus blesses and breaks bread. That is what matters.

This is not a story about hospitality or even a meal at all! So I’ll have to send you on your way disappointed. It’s a story about the hard life, about exhaustion and compassion, about sickness and desperate people seeking help and healing in the wilderness of life. It’s about a tired Messiah who drags himself onto shore and performs miracles with a heart felt sigh, a wounded healer who has been hurt himself. Bringing healing, nurturing others in spite of his own troubles and exertion.

It’s about disciples who don’t know what to do or how to handle a crowd. Whose faith is so minimal they have to turn to Jesus when they think it is time for every body to go home because they lack the skills to gently encourage everybody to leave and return home before dinner. It’s about people, like you and me, desperately seeking for some sustenance, some nurture, something to satisfy their deep hunger for compassion and love.

Jesus let’s himself be moved, to the core of his being, he lifts his eyes to the heavens and blesses and breaks showing for all times that God’s power and blessing are inexhaustible.

5 loaves. Some say they point towards the Torah, the 5 books of Moses. Fish, the symbol of early Christianity, an acronym for the name and titles of Jesus. Iesus Christos theos uios soter, Jesus Christ Son of God, saviour.

Where those two elements come together, the books of Moses and the Christ, miracles start to happen, wilderness changes to green pasture and people find sustenance they did not know could be provided.

Hospitality weekend. It’s got something to do with the story after all. People coming together, in the Name of the Saviour, remembering the stories, remembering his name, nurturing each other, feeding each other, building a community that will be able to give out what he has given them. And give in abundance.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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