In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Looking at the five loaves and two small fish, Andrew shook his head and despairingly he said to Jesus “What are they for so many?” Modern Americans like us would ask the same question. The people of the land of opportunity would see no possibility in this young boy’s grocery bag. The economists would come wringing their hands like Philip and say, “Not even 2/3rd of a living wage could buy enough for everyone to have a little.” 5,000 men and their families, about 15,000 people had followed Jesus without any provisions. All we hear from the apostles is despair and lack of faith. Can we blame them? How often do we say there isn’t enough when we look at our budget?
The crowds were no better off. They had followed Jesus, but later on they’ll desert him. They’ll find out this Christ is not the kind of king they desire. They would abandon his presence and the Word of God preached from his mouth and chase old and new idols. You’d think multiplying bread and fish would be enough to convince them to listen, but fallen as we are humanity is a fickle bunch. If our wants and desires are not met we will look elsewhere without even considering if our wants are really needed and our desires are really godly.
Yes, I am describing you and me too. Our insatiable self-centered search for our desires has left us starving in numerous barren lands. Credit card and other debts that accrued not because we didn’t have other options, but because we were certain some things are absolute needs when they really are not. The desert of debt can be a lonely and overwhelming place that leaves one with an insatiable hole that no amount of money can seem to fill. Then there’s the emptiness one loathes right after giving into their lusts by dehumanizing themselves and others by making their fellow creature just an object to fulfill their lustful desire. It’s exciting for the moment, but leaves them emptier than before. Likewise there’s the bitterness and prideful snobbery that come from passing judgment on others, refusing to forgive them or to overlook their minor faults or previous sins. Such self-righteousness makes one feel superior and sadly fools one into thinking they’re spiritually full when they’re really emaciated. Jesus called such people whitewashed tombs. They looked clean on the outside, but inside were only dry bones with no life in them. All these and many more things have left us in the bitter barren recesses of our souls—looking anywhere to satiate our hunger. So much so our entertainment becomes not so entertaining anymore, our food is not as tasty as it had been, even our relationships are not as deep as they once were or should have been. Indeed we are in America are entertaining ourselves to death; replacing God with celebrity gossip, food and drink, worry and debt, self-righteousness and pride, or whatever else we can find to distract ourselves.
When we look at what little of ourselves that we have left in these barren places we are forced to ask, “What are these among so many?” Andrew’s despair becomes our own and we must look to the hand of the Lord who first asked, “Where are we to buy bread so these people can eat?” His point is that there isn’t enough bread. It’s not like you can walk to your local baker and say, “I’d like bread for 15,000 in the next hour.” No, Jesus wanted the disciples and us to know there is definitely not enough bread.
Yet there’s this little boy, a child, who remembered to bring provision. He makes an offering to God and lays his humble means at the Lord’s feet. This miracle is an allegory for the church to learn from. Jesus was using this opportunity to prepare the disciples for the ministry after his resurrection and ascension. This boy is an example of the Christian. The disciples are pastors. The crowds are the entire church. This boy brings his small offering and the Lord multiplies it to feed tens of thousands. The point isn’t that if you give an offering you’ll receive it back ten-fold like the prosperity ministers say. We aren’t even sure if they boy got any of the leftovers. The point is that Christ, the Lord of creation, can take our meager offerings and bless them to the point of an overabundance. Twelve baskets full were leftover. There was more than enough bread and fish to share.
So, also us. We bring our offerings to God and he uses them for his purposes to feed and nourish all people. Certainly that includes very pragmatic and perceptible ways like when we care for someone in need out of our benevolence fund as a congregation or individually out in the world. Also, though, our offerings gathered, even when meager, are multiplied in spiritual blessings for all those who encounter the Word and receive the Sacraments here. Your offerings no matter how large or small ensure that others can hear the Word of Christ’s forgiveness, be baptized, and receive His body and blood at the Eucharist.
Indeed this gospel lesson is Eucharistic. Who can’t hear of Jesus giving thanks, breaking it, and feeing thousands without thinking, “Hey, He did this again?” The next time He’ll say, “This is my body given for you.” He shares His body with the twelve and from thence to the thousands upon thousands. Christ’s Word and blessing His body and His blood are given in abundance for all to be fed and nourished from the first generation to the last.
More important than teaching about our offerings this story illustrates the grace of God. We cannot overemphasize the significance of the twelve baskets of bread leftover after everyone had their fill. St. Paul wrote in Romans that were “sin increased grace abounded all the more.” In Isaiah God said that Israel would receive a double portion of his mercy for their sin. Christ is not a stingy giver. I always thought the lyric from the hymn Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer that reads, “Feed me until I want no more.” strange. Can we ever get enough of God’s grace? In one sense, no, but in another yes. In one sense we can’t get enough because we daily sin much. In another sense yes God can fill us until we need more. The loaves and fish teach us that. God pours on so much of His forgiveness in Jesus Christ that there is more than enough to cover all your sins. You don’t have to worry about whether or not God can forgive you for your sin. No matter how recent or how ungodly your sin Christ has provided abundantly for your forgiveness. God is not a miser with any of His gifts and especially this is true for the forgiveness won for you on Calvary’s cross.
Let us not take for granted how the Lord has given abundantly all we need for this body and life, but also what we need for our souls. As it stands we have the right to free assembly to hear the Word of Christ, to receive absolution, and eat his supper. You can get his Word in the book store right next to us or the Walmart down the street much less almost any hotel room on the continent. We are blessed to have many Christ centered churches that proclaim that we are saved by God’s grace alone, not by works, but by Christ’s death for our sin. Let us not neglect the spiritual food that he has given us to eat. Read, mark, inwardly digest it, for there might be a day when it is not so readily available and what will you do then when it is scarce?
Yes, beloved, the Lord has provided us with an overabundance of his holy food so that we might be filled. As we receive His forgiveness won for us on the cross we know that what he said to the Evil One is true, “Man does not live by bread alone, but from every Word from the living God.” When we know as Peter would confess in this same chapter of John, that Christ has the Word that leads to eternal life all those other wastelands we have run to are overcome. We know that the things that prick us and the pangs of hunger that trouble us because of our sin or the brokenness of this world are only temporary. Christ has overcome them all and even now he feeds us to strengthen us in the midst of them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.