St Michael’s, 1st September 2013
Bread. It’s one of those things we take for granted, and yet it’s something we all need. In nearly every culture in nearly every country you will find a basic recipe for bread. It may a chapatti from India. It may be the dark rye bread of Northern Europe. It may be the classic stone-baked bread of the Mediterranean. It may even be a soda bread like you find in Ireland. But whatever it is, and whatever it’s called, there’s no denying – bread is important. It provides us with many of the good things we need like protein, and carbohydrates, and calcium, and fibre. And if we want to have a balanced, healthy diet, then one way or another we need to eat bread. Bread is one of the basic necessities of life, and we should be grateful that in this country we have so much of it to eat, and there are so many varieties to enjoy.
Of course across the centuries and even in many different parts of the world today, bread is difficult to obtain, and often expensive. So, for example, the crowds who flocked to hear Jesus often went hungry, and they often struggled to feed themselves and their families. We can perhaps all too easily get the impression that Jesus walked round a green and pleasant land, with happy, well-fed people eager to greet him, and that He taught against a backdrop of calm and serenity. In reality life in the first century was a lot more brutal and harsh than that. People were desperate for anybody who could come as a Saviour, someone who could offer genuine hope that would meet their very real and very basic needs.
This explains why, as Jesus once again comes back to his home territory of Galilee, great crowds immediately flock to Him. They have heard of the wonderful things He has done, they have seen the evidence of lives miraculously changed. And so from over there comes a blind man led by his friends. Here is a lame man being carried by his family. Here is a deaf and mute woman making signs to her companion who’s shared the long, dusty walk from their village. Soon there is a great heaving throng covering the slopes of the hill where Jesus is teaching.
And for three amazing, exhilarating days the most wonderful things happen. The blind man opens his eyes and begins to see. You can watch him soak up the colour and the sensations of the world around him. The lame man puts one foot uncertainly on the ground, and then another, and then a huge smile comes over his face as he realises he can stand unaided. The deaf and mute woman starts to speak, and soon you can’t stop her chattering to anyone who will listen. Jesus is changing lives for good, and His power and grace are bringing healing to so many. It seems that all the Old Testament prophecies are being fulfilled as the mute speak, the crippled are made well, the lame walk, and the blind see. No wonder, as Matthew records, they praised the God of Israel.
But there’s a problem. Because by now the food has run out. It’s not surprising, really. If you had spent your whole life crippled or blind, then there was no way you could earn a living. You’d hardly have spare food to bring along for an occasion like this. And for many people, it would be a long way home as well. No wonder Jesus says: I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.
So what does Jesus do in this situation? He takes seven loaves His disciples give Him, along with a few little fish. He holds the bread up to heaven, give thanks and He begins to hand it out. And as the food is passed among the crowds, it seems there is more and more to follow. There is none of the desperate scrummaging you might expect to find among people who are hungry, no fights, no arguments. Rather, a kind of holy awe falls among the crowd as gradually they realise they are witnessing an even greater miracle than any they have seen so far. From these seven loaves and a few little fish there is food more than enough to feed four thousand men, let alone women and children. Indeed we are told that: Afterwards the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over and who knows how many more were fed as a result?
So this is a story which tells us about someone called Jesus who healed many people and fed a large crowd of people. And, yes, it’s a great story, and one that’s well worth retelling, but how exactly does it connect to us? What difference does it make to our lives that Jesus did all those things two thousand years ago?
Well, there’s a small, but important clue hidden right in the middle of the passage, one that perhaps is easy to overlook, where Matthew tells us: They all ate and were satisfied. And I don’t think Matthew is simply telling us that at that point everyone was full. If you look really closely at this story, you will see that afterwards Jesus sent the crowds away and no-one complained. No-one stayed behind wanting another miracle, or waiting for more teaching. Why not? Because through this miracle of being fed with seven loaves and a few small fish they discovered in a new and wonderful way that God really loved and cared for them. They could leave satisfied that through Jesus they had a new relationship with God Himself who could provide their every need.
And this is where the story begins to become personal to us. Because we don’t have to travel to Galilee or go back in time to discover in Jesus the love and care of God Himself. We can experience right here, right now, the same compassion that Jesus showed to the crowds all those years ago.
How? Well, let me take you forward a year or so to another meal where Jesus was present. It was a lot smaller meal, in fact it just involved Him and his twelve closest followers. At the end of the meal, just as in the passage, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, saying: This is my body, given for you. (Luke 22:19). And within a few hours of these words Jesus’ body was indeed broken, and his life given up, for you and for me. Jesus died for us on a cross so that through Him we might experience the love of God in a real and personal way, to cleanse and renew, to forgive and to heal.
And this same Jesus is present with us now this morning in the power of the Holy Spirit, offering exactly this same gift of God’s love to you today. No matter who you are. No matter what has happened in the past. You may like one of the crowd who came flocking to Jesus that day. You may have been written off by society and feel desperate for someone who can genuinely love and care for you. You may have been searching for satisfaction in all other kinds of ways, trying to fill that inner hunger no-one else knows about. Jesus wants us to come to Him, and find in Him that peace and forgiveness no-one and nothing else can bring.
So what should our response be to this passage today?
I suggest the answer lies in the prayer which Jesus Himself taught His disciples: Give us this day our daily bread. Because that simple line of the Lord’s Prayer tells us there are three things we need to do:
First of all, we need to turn to Jesus as the only one who can meet our needs. Now I wasn’t even born when the Rolling Stones first recorded their hit: I can’t get no satisfaction. But what I find interesting is that no matter how much money they have earned since, how many relationships they have been through, how many substances they have tried, they are still singing that same old song. It reminds me there are still so many people who are searching in the all wrong places for someone who can give genuine hope and meaning to their lives. Jesus said in John 10:10, I have come that they may have life, and have it tothefull. And it is that same fullness of life He offers today, if only you turn in faith and trust to Him.
Secondly, we need to ask Jesus to give us what we need. That sounds very simple. But deep down there’s an element of pride in so many of us that stops us from asking Jesus for help. We don’t want to think of as being weak or dependent or helpless. We like to think we can manage on our own, and maybe, if we try really hard enough, somehow find God on our own. But the reality is, we can’t. We all stand in need of a Saviour, someone who will come to us and offer God’s love to us as a free, undeserved gift. So let none of us find that our pride stops us from accepting that gift, that we end up rejecting the grace of God shown to us in Jesus Christ.
And thirdly, we need to trust Jesus that He will provide. That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread. He wants us day by day, hour by hour, to place our life in His hands, to trust in His generous and abundant provision. Because at the end of the day that is what faith is all about. It’s not simply believing in the right things, or saying the right things in church. It’s about giving Jesus all that we are and all that we have, relying on His goodness and mercy alone.
Jesus teaches us to turn, to ask and to trust. And this takes us right to the heart of the baptism service this morning. In a moment I will ask parents and godparents, “Do you turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour?”. But it’s a question we all need to consider. Do we accept that Jesus is the one who will meet our deepest needs, that He is, so to speak, the living bread who can give us what we need? And if we do, will we allow Him to be Lord and Saviour of our lives as we put our faith and trust in Him?
That’s the decision which this passage asks of us. Whether, like the crowds who flocked to Jesus, all those years ago, we will look to find our deepest need in Him. So what is your response?