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Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
McDonald’s used to keep track of how many burgers it served. You might remember how they used to have a sign under those golden arches with the number which would be updated every so often: 40 billion served, 50 billion served, 60 billion served. I remember as a kid looking up at that sign and being excited that my Happy Meal would be part of that number the next time it was updated. McDonalds stopped updating the signs in 1994. Now they either say “over 99 billion served” or “billions and billions served.”
This gave my friend and colleague Pastor David Lura an idea. He thought about how many people throughout history have been served not by Ronald McDonald but by the Lord Jesus. He designed a bumpersticker with a cross and a loaf of bread and a chalice. It reads: “Billions served.” He even had a bunch of these printed up and gave me one. I think he still has one on his car. It is a fun way to witness to how many people Jesus has served.
It may not have been in the billions, but we have an impressive number in our gospel reading for today. Today we hear the well-known story of the feeding of the five thousand. It is a story that is recorded in all four gospels, so we know it was a particularly important event in the life of Jesus. One detail that is easy to miss, however, is that there were actually more than five thousand people fed. Matthew tells us there were five thousand men, plus women and children. So if half of those men brought their wives with them, now we’re up to seven thousand five hundred. And if most of those people couldn’t find babysitters and had to bring the kids, we could easily be over ten thousand people!
I have to admit that my first thought when I read this text this past week was, Wow, all those people together in one place. They’re so lucky – their county must have been in phase four.
We have another number in this story which isn’t so impressive. Between them, the disciples had five loaves of bread and two fish – and now it was dinner time. There was hardly enough there for each disciple to have a Filet-O-Fish sandwich! The disciples thought it prudent to send the crowds back to the villages where they could get themselves dinner.
But Jesus said to the disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The disciples pointed out how little they had, “Look, Lord, we only have five loaves of bread and two fish!” And Jesus said, “Bring them to me.”
And with these meager provisions, Jesus fed probably more than ten thousand people. He didn’t ration the food. He didn’t limit their portion size. He miraculously multiplied those loaves and fishes into an abundance of food. All ate until they were satisfied. There were even leftovers – twelve baskets full!
This story is often interpreted as a story about sharing. It is thought that the point of the story is that Jesus taught the disciples to share, and that if we would just share what we have, everyone would have enough. Now this is a nice thought, and we absolutely should share. I have been so pleased to see the generosity we’ve maintained in our donations for Help House. We are indeed called to share what we have with others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves.
But this is not the point of the story! The disciples really didn’t have enough to feed everyone! They had five loaves and two fish and there were five thousand men there, plus women and children! Moreover, these crowds weren’t necessarily desperate or destitute. The disciples were being entirely reasonable when they suggested they stop for the night so the people would have time to get back to the villages to buy their own dinner.
This story is about Jesus and who he is. The prophets had long declared that when the Messiah came, everyone would eat without cost. Everyone would feast and be filled – not only with literal food, but with the Bread of Life that is God’s Word of mercy and grace.
This story is about how Jesus takes our nothing and makes it something. He takes the “not enough” in our lives and makes it enough by his power, by his miraculous work.
This story is about the abundant life Jesus brings, filling the empty stomach with good things, filling the empty heart with his love, until all are satisfied. His abundance is so great that there are leftovers, so you can have some more the next morning!
Many more than five thousand, plus women and children, have been served by our Lord Jesus. This feast beside the Sea of Galilee was just the beginning. Christ Jesus has fed billions upon billions with his abundant love and grace.
He is still doing so today. In fact, he is feeding you even now. What Jesus is doing for you this very day helps tick those numbers up even higher. As you admit to him that you don’t have enough, he says, “Bring what you have to me.” He accepts us – not because we are enough, but because his grace is sufficient. It more than sufficient, it is abundant! And so you are among those “billions served” by the Lord Jesus.
As Jesus satisfies our hungry hearts, he then turns our attention to the crowds, to the great multitudes, to the billions upon billions who are still hungry. “You go feed them,” Jesus tells us.
We do this when we bring our offerings for Help House, to be sure. But there is more to it than that. We are called to feed people with what Jesus has given us. We are to feed those hungry hearts with the Good News of his love and mercy and grace, so that billions upon billions will continue to be served, until all are indeed satisfied.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church