Sermon for Sunday 31st July 2011

Revd Tessa StephensGiven by the Revd Tessa Stephens

At the beginning of the passage from Matthew’s gospel that we’ve heard today, Jesus has just had some very bad news.  He has just heard that his cousin John has been killed by Herod. This tragic event is not just about the loss of a relative but also points forward to Jesus’ own ultimate fate. Just as John came ahead of him to proclaim the good news in the desert, so he has now gone ahead of him by dying for the message that he proclaimed.

And so Jesus seeks out a deserted place where he can be alone, but instead of leaving him in peace, the crowds follow him. Jesus responds with compassion.  In Mark’s version of the story he sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd. He sees their great need and heals those who are sick.

Then evening comes and the disciples suggest that perhaps it is time for the crowd to go home. After all, there’s nothing to eat in the desert. The disciples mean well, but Jesus turns their helpful suggestion on its head.  “Why don’t you feed them?” he says. The disciples protest – after all they’ve very little food with them and 5 loaves and 2 fishes aren’t going to go very far. But Jesus takes what little they have; he blesses the food, breaks it and then invites the disciples to share it with the crowd.

We don’t know how the disciples felt – did they see the food magically increase or was it simply that the more they gave away, the more there seemed to be? The story ends with the disciples gathering up the leftovers in a scene that reminds me of some of the bring and share meals that we’ve had here in the parish, where there seems to be far more food left than people to eat it.

The feeding of the 5000

What we do know is that this story, or a version of it is one of the few miracles to be found in all four of the gospels so it must have been very important to the early church. There was a tradition of stories about miraculous feedings that this story links to. For example, when the Israelites were lead out of Egypt by Moses and were wandering in the wilderness they were fed by manna from heaven. Later on Elijah was fed by ravens and Elisha was able to feed 100 men from only 20 loaves. The twelve baskets of leftovers, remind us of the twelve tribes of Israel and offer hope that in God’s kingdom all will be satisfied. The roots of Jesus actions lie in compassion – he healed the sick because of the love that he felt for them and he did the same by providing for their physical needs. But perhaps this story isn’t primarily about food. It may be far more about the way in which Jesus provides for our spiritual needs.

Let’s look again at the actions that Jesus takes when the disciples bring him the bread. He takes, blesses, breaks and shares. This fourfold action looks back to the Passover jmeal and forward to the Last Supper which Jesus shares with his friends shortly before he is killed. It is the basic shape of the Eucharist that we still share today. In John’s gospel, Jesus makes this even clearer when he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Here it is apparent that Jesus is not talking about physical hunger or thirst. He doesn’t want the people to become physically dependent on him for their food but he does want them to understand the spiritual significance of the miracle that he has just performed. As the shadow of the cross comes more clearly into view and Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem so the time is approaching when Jesus himself will be taken from the garden where he is praying and his body broken on the cross. So what Jesus is doing here is demonstrating the way in which he will shortly not simply be giving bread to the people but offering his very self for them,  so that their sins may be forgiven and they might be reconciled with God.

That reconciliation is something that we remember and rejoice in, every time that we celebrate the Eucharist. As we look forward to receiving the bread and wine this morning, let us remember that Jesus is the bread of life and that he longs for us to turn to him in faith and trust so that he might be able to ease our fears and satisfy our needs. Amen.

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Past Sermons
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 22nd April 2012
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 29th January 2012
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 15th January 2012
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 18th December 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 20th November 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 6th November 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 23rd Oct 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for 11th September 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for 14th August 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon for 7th August 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 24th July 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 17th July 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 10th July 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for The Priesting of Tessa Stephens
Webpage icon Sermon - Sunday 19th June 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 22nd May 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 8th May 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon -17th April 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 23rd March 2011
Webpage icon Sermon for Sunday 3rd April 2011
Webpage icon Sunday sermon - 20th March 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 13th March 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 13th February 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 20th February 2011
Webpage icon Sunday Sermon - 6th February 2011
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