The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Matthew 14:13-21

It was obvious the old pastor was having trouble keeping everything in order, mentally. One Sunday, he told the story of Jesus feeding 5 people with 2 loaves and 5000 fish. The next Sunday, forgetting what he had preached on the week before, he told the story – correctly this time – of Jesus feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and two fish. Suddenly, from the back of the church, the voice of an attentive but somewhat critical child was heard to say, “That shouldn’t be much of a problem, since he had plenty left over from last week.”

There are always people offering practical and rational explanations for the miracles of Jesus. But since this is one, in fact, the only one, mentioned in all four of the gospels, it should be considered with serious significance and awe. There is something here that demands our attention and our reverence for the intervention of God in our lives.

The crowd that gathered that day by the Sea of Galilee was hungry. They were hungry for food. The day had been long as they followed Jesus to listen to his teachings. / They were hungry for leadership. The wait for a king, a messiah, had been long overdue as the word of the prophets were passed on from one generation to another.

And so when Jesus fed them, 5000 of them, plus women and children, from so little, five barley loaves and two fish, they thought they had found their king. They thought they had found the ruler who would take care of all their physical wants and needs. They thought they had found the long-promised one who would make everything all right again: no more hunger, no more sickness, no more oppression. Perhaps the story of the prophet Elisha, who fed a hundred from a few barley loaves, was in their minds and on their lips as they ate the miraculous meal which Jesus hosted for them.

In the gospel of John, as he relates this same story, we are told that, in their excitement, the people were about to come and take Jesus by force to make him king. The experience of sharing that blessed and bountiful meal was quickly put behind them as they rushed to take care of their own desires and agendas. The crowd didn’t see that they were hungry for more than food and political leadership. They didn’t see that they had been fed and filled with more than bread and fish.

Not long ago, I watched (or “rewatched” I should say, since I’ve seen it before) an old movie on TV – a wonderful Danish film, complete with subtitles, called Babette’s Feast. It is, as the name implies, about a shared
meal and the people that gather at Babette’s table. They are also hungry. They are all aged disciples of a sectarian religious leader long since deceased, and with their community dwindled, their inspiration diminished, and their unity disrupted by grudges and quarrels of long ago, they are called together to a meal, prepared as a gift by the French housekeeper Babette.

The simple and frugal Scandinavians are completely at a loss by the likes of a ten course French extravaganza. They don’t know which fork to use or glass to sip from as one sumptuous course follows another. Yet, in spite of their stated intentions not to let the meal affect them, a miracle begins to unfold.

Old grudges and grievances are put to rest and even laughed about. Relationships between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friend and friend are restored and renewed. Joy is rediscovered and replaces bitterness.

Decisions of the past, for better or for worse are accepted with a sense of peace. “All is mercy–All is mercy,” one of them says. And as the group disperses to return to their homes, the phrase repeated on everyone’s lips is “tak,” “thank you.” And finally, joining together under the stars in the town square, they form a circle with united hands and uplifted voices in a song of praise. Hungry in ways they had never imagined, they had now experienced a feast. “And,” to use Matthew’s words, “[they] all ate and were filled.”

We are hungry people, too, those of us who gather in this place. We wouldn’t be here otherwise. In all likelihood, our stomachs are full, too full! We remember, pray for and even act to alleviate the physical hunger of others. Our own hunger, though, goes beyond food, just like those who gathered by the Sea of Galilee, and just like those who gathered round Babette’s table.

We hunger for forgiveness. We hunger for reconciliation and restoration in our relationships. We hunger for joy in place of bitterness and cynicism. We hunger for peace over choices we have made. We hunger for a sense that “all is mercy.” And we hunger for unity – to be “conquerors” over all those things that would “separate us from the love of God in Christ” – to be members of the one body and the one Spirit. We hunger for God.

For what is hunger, but an emptiness, a yearning that longs to be filled? What is hunger but a reminder of our dependency upon the gifts of the Creator and the gifts of others?

And like those gathered at the Sea of Galilee, like those gathered at Babette’s table, we, too, are fed. We share a feast called Holy Communion, the Eucharist. And from so little, a sip of wine and a tiny piece of bread, God provides so much: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, a physical and spiritual union with the one who died and rose again, and who feeds us and strengthens us and blesses us with his own body and blood.

But often, we, too, get caught up in our own desires and agendas. We, too, rush from this meal much too quickly to take care of our own business: the noon meal to get on the table, the plans for the rest of the day, the errands to be run. We don’t stop to acknowledge our hunger or the importance of what happens at this table. We forget that we have been fed! That a miracle has taken place. That we have shared a meal together. We have been made bread-sharers, literally “companions” by our host Jesus Christ who has fed us with the feast that he has prepared.

So this morning, as we leave this gathering, and after coming to Jesus’ table as guests to celebrate the gift of his feast, remember. Take note of what God has done for us in this place, though this place, in this community, in this meal. And may the phrase repeated on all of our lips be “tak” – “thank you.”

For like the Israelites who followed Moses into the wilderness, and like the crowd who followed Jesus to that “deserted place,” we have beheld God, and ate and drank, and been filled.

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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