SERMON from 7-31-11: “Feed Me ‘Til I Want No More”

Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV)

Feeding the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves. 16 Jesus said to them, They need not go away; you give them something to eat. 17 They replied, We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish. 18 And he said, Bring them here to me. 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Feed Me ‘Til I Want No More

I am going to make you pretty hungry today–in more ways than one! Luckily, dinner will be not too far behind for most of us.

Two of the best dinners I have had over the past year happened this past week, and it all began with a wrap on my office door earlier in the day. A man by the name of E.B.–some of you may know him from here in Forest–came bearing about 16 ears of freshly shucked sweet corn (For those of you reading this right now, imagine me wiping the edge of my lips). He and his wife had shucked too much and needed a place to take it, and they thought of the new minister in town as someone who may enjoy them. They truly had no idea.

One thing you need to know about me is that I enjoy food almost as much as I enjoyed watching the opening kickoff to Super Bowl 41. Devin Hester returned it for a touchdown, but the Chicago Bears lost the game to…ah…well, it’s not important. I lost my mind during that play, just as I lose it over the thought of freshly boiled corn-on-the-cob, drenched in melted butter. Along with Chicken Alfredo, our Monday night dinner consisted of just that. Other than the ACTUAL heaven, I don’t think one can come much closer to heaven.

On Tuesday night, we had steak tips over rice accompanied by another round of sweet corn. In this two night period, I devoured (and Emily will attest to my use of the word “devoured”) 9 ears of corn and increased my cholesterol by 30 points. It was so worth it–more than worth it. Corn-on-the-cob (when it’s in season) is something I can never really get enough of. I was basking in the pure delight of it so much that I was able to conjure up an idea on how to more quickly slather your ear of corn with butter, faster. Essentially, it is a tall, cylindrical butter warmer–which would allow numerous people to dip their ear and have it come out fully buttered in no time flat. No more fumbling with corn-shaped buttering bins or awkwardly sliding a knife or a fork over an ear of corn with a slice of butter that doesn’t want to cooperate. Do I have any investors?

So, what are you hungry for? Not necessarily right now–though I am sure the food talk has ensured I have lost some of you for the remainder of the time–but what is it in life that you are truly hungry for? What is it that you seek out? What is it that you desire? Maybe you thrive within the confines of your everyday job. The satisfaction you feel at the end of a day’s labor is feeling you seek out often.

Maybe your desires lie outside your everyday responsibilities. Do you like to fish or golf? The ticking of the reel slowly drawing back the line–hopefully with the big catch attached to it. The sound a driver makes when it hits the ball just right, and it gives you those tingles that make you want to go back for more. Perhaps travel is more your forte. You love to see new and different places, and meet new and interesting people. You like to escape the doldrums of your everyday and bask in the sun of some far-off land.

Maybe you like to bury your face into a good book. The horror or Stephan King’s thrillers or the enlightenment of a good non-fiction book really pique’s your interest. Some of you may like to play video games (I said some). You like to delve into the alternate reality of a world that you increasingly have more and more control over. If you have seen some of these games–no doubt the ones your grandchildren are playing–they have succeeded in making a two-dimensional surface come alive with three-dimensional graphics and story lines. It’s pretty amazing.

I have mentioned a lot of different things which people identify as their hobbies or passions. They are things that different individuals will identify as things that they have a desire or passion for. How many of us–if we are truly honest with ourselves–would ever identify one of these things as a pursuit of the divine? How many of us would include in our list of hobbies that we spend time engaging in the things of God?

Therein lies the problem. For Christians to have a meaningful faith–one that is much more than something we wear on our sleeve to help us feel superior to those around us–we need to engage in it. Dare I say, Christians need to hunger for the things of God. I don’t know who said it, but someone once said “to love God is to love that which God loves.” If our relationship with God means anything, we will learn what those things are.

Some of it comes naturally, of course. Whether by accident, nature or osmosis, we know that the Ten Commandments tell us that God desires an exclusive relationship with humanity. We also know–by the Ten Commandments or just by our conscience–that God expects humanity to treat itself with a certain degree of respect and dignity. All of this, however, is day one stuff. These are things that most of humankind–and especially Christians–should know without being taught. They are that much a part of being human.

Christians get a little different education with these sorts of things. It’s part of their orientation into the faith–or should be. In fact, these things and more are what go into helping the Christian gain a sense of community within the church. While these things are not exclusive to the Christian faith, knowing and understanding these things certainly help us to feel more like Christians.

We are gathered here, today, for that very same reason. We do it because it is what Christians have been doing for centuries–gathering together as a community. It is in the DNA of a Christian. To some of us, we feel more like ourselves when we are gathered together on Sundays. We hit our comfort zone when we sit in about the same place we always sit, see the same people we always see and do the same things we have always done. This is not uncommon. Also, this is not something which I am calling out to you as being something we need to change. In fact, there needs to be more gathering of this kind happening in churches all across the world.

However, there is much more to it than that. If living the life of a Christian was nothing more than going to the same place and doing the same things and seeing the same people, the faith which goes along with it means nothing. It is a transformative thing to be a disciple of Christ. It is quite something to be in relationship with the Almighty. That is what we need to be hungry for. This thing which God so freely gives us–the opportunity to encounter the divine. Are you hungry?

I encourage you to go to my blog when you have time (notesfromthepastorsoffice.com). If you would have done that this week, you would have no doubt seen a quote I found in reference to this scripture. A person by the name of Gillick said, “we can come quite full to God’s table, well-satisfied and be too full of what we call life and so do not feel drawn to this kind of refreshment.” What I am not doing this morning is telling you that all your earthly pursuits stand in the face God being our source and sustenance. What I am saying is that maybe your mother was right about that snack spoiling your appetite. The snack being the thing which takes the place of spiritual pursuits in you life and your appetite being your appetite for the things of God.

Have you ever come away from an encounter with God (i.e. Sunday morning worship, bible study, etc.) feeling no more different than you did when you arrived? I am certainly not saying that the point of spiritual exercise and discipline is to come away feeling different–having achieved a sort of “spiritual high.” I am saying that we should pay attention to what we are doing to fulfill our appetites, so we may be hungry for that which is truly worth craving. When we let our earthly desires become too large a portion of what it is we do, we can destroy our desire for the things of God. This leads to a feeling of “blah” or emptiness when it comes to our attempts to encounter God.

Couldn’t that just sum up the church as a whole? If you were to walk into any given sanctuary on any given sunday, what do you think would be the overall feeling? Sure, you would walk into some places where you could feel the spirit move, so to speak. Of course, given the current state of the church, you might just be expecting something much less spirit-filled. I bet if you look at the true appetites of the people gathered in any given church, you would find where the hunger lies.

Why is this important? Renita J. Weems sums it up this way, “Faith is what you do between the last time you experienced God and the next time you experience God.” So, then, what it is we hunger for is important because it dictates how it is we live the rest of our lives. Remember how I said that the Christian life is transformative? If its reach into our lives remains solely relegated to Sunday, how transformative can it truly be.

This is the same reason that pastors engaged in a full practice of Matthew 28 (“go, therefore, and make disciples”) are looking into the very Methodist practice of Small Group Ministry. I have hinted at this in previous weeks. It is a ministry where congregations meet in smaller groups–at times other than regular corporate worship settings–for learning, fellowship and accountability. It creates connection beyond Sunday morning and builds up the body of Christ. In short, it fills in the gap between the last time and the next time you experience God.

Faith is not all about the extraordinary times, but often it is about what you do in the ordinary times. This brings us back to the scripture, wherein Jesus feeds the multitude with a pittance. When you see the miracles of Jesus mentioned in literature, often there is a picture depicting this story. It is a milestone in the ministry of Jesus. Considering all of that, and not downplaying it in that least, we need to look at the context of this scripture for some deeper importance.

Theologian Walter Bruggemann notes a similarity between this and another biblical story. In the preceding passage, Herod has a birthday meal where he has John the Baptist put to death. There is also the mention of how Jesus is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. In short, Jesus is experiencing some relative hardship. In that time, Matthew’s gospel then turns to what Jesus does in the interim. Jesus gathers people in an orderly fashion and blesses a meal.

So, there is a gathering of followers of Jesus, a meal with a blessing, Herod’s meal and a death. Can anyone think of any parallels to this scripture? It is a kind of foreshadowing to the Last Supper. There is a meal, a gathering, a blessing and a death. A study of the scripture from an historical and contextual aspect would suggest this was an editorial flourish–or accident–by the authors of Matthew’s gospel. Whether it was purposeful of accidental, this is a pretty significant lesson. In the middle of these significant events, Jesus takes the time to feed himself and the disciples.

There are any number of ways you can spin any number of different scripture passages. There is the miracle, the abundance, the power and providence apparent in this story. There is no doubt that the authors of this gospel had a very easy time deciding that this story needed to be part of the gospel. It’s a great story! I like it for its more practical application to living the Christian life. In the midst of a life full of turmoil, Jesus is faithfully feeding his flock. The craziness of the world is not detracting Jesus from the very important task of building up and fortifying his followers–new and old, alike.

Faith is about life between the extremes. For sure, it exists and is important during those times–both good and bad. However, much more importantly–because more of our lives happens in these times–faith is about life between the mountaintop and deep valley experiences. In the times in our lives when it seems we are doing okay, where is it that our hearts lie? Most of the time, that’s when we feel comfortable exploring what it is in our lives that we hunger for.

This story also indicates to us that when we do hunger for Him, God will feed us beyond what we thought was our ability to eat. The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is not just significant because of its application to our everyday life. It is indicative of the vast blessing God is prepared to bestow upon His people. He can take a little and turn it into enough–and then some. Not only does He create–through Jesus–enough to feed the multitude, but there is some left over. To be sure, this story is not about the enormous blessing we receive from God–as if he is our own slot machine from which we can extract a jackpot. This story is about the love that God has for us, that he would see us full. Not just during our mountaintop experiences, but every day of our lives. Whether we realize it or want it, God is there and he loves each and every one of us. The key is for our faith to get to the point where we hunger for that which God so lovingly offers us. So, join me today in asking God to–as the song says–“feed me ’til I want no more.” AMEN.

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