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Jesus is Here

Sermon: Lectionary 18 Year A

Matthew 14.13-21

We know this story, don’t we? Jesus feeding the five thousand is a story so familiar to us. We have heard it from childhood. It is a story that we remember hearing and learning from almost the very beginning of Sunday school. It is one of a very few stories that is in all four gospels. It is a story of great drama; Jesus feeding a crowd of thousands of people with just a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread, now that is some drama, that is some miracle!

And Jesus doesn’t just provide just enough to get the people by, just barely curbing their hunger until they could have a real meal; Jesus feeds them a veritable feast! They have their fill and then some; the leftovers being enough to fill baskets!

We know this story so well. And yet, do we think we know it well enough that we stop listening to it,

letting our minds and our hearts settle on the act of the feeding itself without looking and listening to other things at work? Do we pay more attention to the miracle and less to the worker of the miracle?

“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. . .” What was it Jesus heard? Well, Jesus had just been informed that John the Baptist had been killed, beheaded by Herod. John’s disciples had buried him and had come to Jesus to let him know about the death of his cousin, John, the one who had come and prepared Jesus’ way.

Was Jesus running away to some deserted place, or, more likely, was Jesus grieving at the death of this prophet, the one who had baptized him, marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as God’s Son? If Jesus was hoping for a little quiet, reflective time, it was short-lived. The crowds, who had been growing as word got out about Jesus, followed him into the wilderness. Jesus did not retreat farther into the wilderness away from the crowds.

No, in the midst of whatever he was feeling, in the very midst of his own grief and sorrow, Jesus turns back to all those who had followed him. His own emotions and feelings of loss did not overwhelm the compassion Jesus had for those longing, searching, hurting people who risked their very lives, coming out into the wilderness just to be in his presence, to be healed, to be taught, to be loved.

Jesus love and compassion for those in his presence came pouring out of him, overriding every other emotion, overwhelming every possible action, controlling everything Jesus did and he healed those who were sick, and he fed those who were hungry! What is more amazing and more real: the fact that Jesus whipped up an incredible meal with just a few scraps of food, or, that Jesus had a deep, overpowering love and compassion for all those gathered?

It is the presence of Jesus, the Son of God, God incarnate, the savior who heals, who feeds, who loves, that is the miracle.

“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 village and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away.’ Then Jesus ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.”

Where did this grass come from? This might seem like a silly question, but the deserted place where Jesus went and where the crowds followed wasn’t a nice, peaceful meadow, with beautiful, soft, fragrant grass to sit in. No, this deserted place was a barren, rocky, rough, inhospitable place; dangerous to travel in, full of tough paths, hard enough to walk in full daylight but even more perilous at night; full of robbers and drop-offs, arid, hardly able to sustain life. And Jesus commands the people to sit in the grass. Where did this grass come from?

Or, maybe this question could be asked: would there be grass to sit upon in that place without the presence of Jesus?

Can it be that the compassion and love of Jesus for the crowds manifested itself not only in the loaves and fish, but in the very grass the crowds rested on?

It is the very presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Love incarnate that brings rest and comfort and safety made real in the fragrant, soft grass in the midst of barrenness and danger. It is the presence of Jesus Christ that is the miracle!

After this scene, Jesus continues on his journey, doing some amazing things: he walks on water; he calms the storm; he heals the sick; he casts out demons. All of these are truly amazing miracles, amazing feats of awesome power and authority. But once again, what is the true miracle, the event itself, or the fact that it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God made flesh and blood who is present, who is the doer; not merely to show his power over all things, but whose very being explodes with compassion for those who hunger, those who thirst, those who are sick, those who are cast out, those who long and crave the touch of God in their lives?

Man, we could stand for a few miracles, couldn’t we?

We yearn and hunger for God’s presence in our lives.

There is sickness and hunger and poverty and fear.

And what an awesome thing it would be if we could be like that crowd, being fed, sitting on the grass in the midst of our deserted places. But maybe, we are looking for the miracle and not seeing the presence of the One who is the true miracle, the One who is with us now and will be forever.

We Lutherans understand that Jesus Christ is truly present with us, always; and this day, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We believe that Christ is truly present with, in, and under the bread and wine. When we receive communion,

we just don’t take this tiny wafer of bread that we dip in just a drop of wine as some symbolic gesture, but we know that Christ is with us!

Thank God that the love of God in Christ, that brings forgiveness, that feeds our souls, that protects us from the power of death and darkness, is not limited to a tiny drop of wine and a tiny slice of bread.

Jesus doesn’t just provide just enough for us to get by,

just barely curbing our hunger until we can eat at the feast that has no end, the real meal we all will share some time when God’s kingdom comes fully; Jesus feeds us a veritable feast! We have our fill and then some; the leftovers being enough to fill baskets!

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