St Michael’s, 26th July 2015
Reading – Mark 6:30-44
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
Many years ago, before we were married, Lynda and I took advantage of an incredibly cheap offer at a posh country house hotel. We drove up in Lynda’s rather old hatchback down a narrow tree-lined drive, and if my memory serves me right, there were one or two men in suits, wearing ear pieces, hiding in the bushes. We pulled up among all these smart vehicles outside a grand establishment. In the lobby there was a log fire burning and it was all rather an elegant place to drink tea. We then went into the restaurant, eagerly anticipating what was about to served. But when the first course arrived, we looked at the plate and then at each other and asked, “Is this it?” What we hadn’t realised was that this hotel specialised in nouvelle cuisine and the portions were frankly tiny. We came out as hungry as we went in, and we stopped off on the way back to get something to eat.
Well, today I want to talk about a memorable meal that genuinely satisfied everyone who was there.
Let’s set the scene briefly. Jesus’ friends have been away, going from town to town, spreading the good news. They have come back to Him tired and exhausted. They need a break from all the crowds and a chance to rest. So Jesus takes them across the Sea of Galilee to a remote place where they can get away from it all.
But there is just one problem. The crowds are watching to see where Jesus is going. Perhaps they already know where He is heading. Either way, by the time Jesus and His friends land, the crowds are already there. There is no break at all from men and women clamouring for attention, children crying, people asking questions.
So Jesus takes the matter in hand and He begins to teach. Now when you hear someone standing up to talk, you may well wonder, “How long is this person going to go on for?” (Bear with me for a few minutes yet!). But there’s something about Jesus that is utterly spell-binding. There is such love, such compassion in His words that nobody moves, nobody stirs. Everyone wants to hear every single word He is saying.
Until, that is, the sun begins to disappear behind the hills and everyone realises it’s getting late. Worse than that, they also realise they’re getting hungry, and they hadn’t really brought enough food. So what’s to be done? It’s a remote area. There aren’t any shops or restaurants nearby. The crowds are facing a long walk back home, and maybe some need to eat before they can do this. It’s not surprising then that the only solution Jesus’ friends can come up with is to send the crowds into the surrounding villages and try and get food from the residents there.
But then Jesus says the most surprising and most outrageous thing possible to them. You give them something to eat. They must have thought “Who? Me?” One thing they did not sign up for when they started following Jesus was a crash course in feeding the masses. And even if by any chance they knew where to start, there was, as they pointed out to Jesus, still the small matter of money. You can’t feed 5000 people with a few bits of loose change.
By now all eyes must have been on Jesus and His friends. Many had already seen or heard of the wonderful things Jesus had already done. But what could He do now? Still, Jesus seems not to be worried. He asks another question, How many loaves do you have? Go and see. At this point someone in the crowd hands Jesus’ friends five bread rolls and a couple of fish. That’s all that seems to be left over. But what difference can that make? Even nouvelle cuisine would require a few more ingredients than that.
Yet Jesus calmly orders everyone to sit down. He takes the bread, lifts it to heaven, gives thanks and breaks it. He then passes the bread to His friends so they can hand it round. They keep thinking it must run out, but somehow it doesn’t. There also seems to be more than enough fish to go round. Soon everyone is eating and no-one is left hungry. Somehow or another, five thousand men, let alone women and children, have been fed.
Well, it’s a cracking story and it’s one that many people know well, but how does it speak to us today?
Let me suggest there are three questions we need to ask:
First of all, did it really happen?
That’s a very a basic and very important question. Often people challenge me and say how we can know anything really at all about the Christian faith, let alone trust what we read in the Bible. Well, there’s plenty of independent proof that Jesus existed, from accounts written by people who didn’t exactly welcome these newcomers called Christians. Then there’s the evidence of archaeology itself, which more and more is backing up the events recorded in the gospels. But what about the miracles themselves? Can we say for certainty that they ever took place?
Maybe the way to answer that is to consider if there is one miracle for which there is good evidence, something that over the centuries no-one has ever been able to deny, and which made a real and lasting impact on those who experienced it. Does such a miracle exist? Yes, it does. I’m talking here about the resurrection of Jesus, an event so remarkable and so improbable that you’d have thought by now everyone would have written it off as a work of fantasy or a piece of wishful thinking. But remarkably, despite so many attempts to disprove it, the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming, even today. The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Denning, once said, “In its favour as living truth, there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true”.
And if this man Jesus was able to rise from the dead, then actually the feeding of the 5000 suddenly doesn’t seem that far-fetched at all. A man who can defeat the power of death can just as easily take five small loaves and a couple of fish and use them to feed an entire crowd. This is no magic trick, no optical illusion. This is someone who really is the Son of God showing to anyone who has eyes to see He is able to do far more than we can ever imagine.
This leads on to the second question we have to ask this morning: what, then, is this story really all about?
Well, let’s go back to the crowds and ask why they flocked in such number to Jesus. The simple answer is, they were fed up. They were fed up of being mistreated or ignored by their political leaders. They were fed up of being told they were not good enough by their religious leaders. They were fed up of rituals and ceremonies which did not connect with their real human needs. And Jesus was offering them something different, something fresh. He was telling them there was a God who did care for them, a God who understood their deepest needs, a God who welcomed everyone, no matter how poor or sinful they thought themselves to be.
So in feeding the 5000, Jesus wasn’t just meeting the physical hunger of the crowds. He was also meeting their spiritual hunger. By showing Himself as the Son of God who loved them and was able to work such a wonderful miracle, He was demonstrating that He could satisfy the longings of the human heart and provide an answer to life’s deepest questions.
Time and time again I find there are many today who are just like the people who flocked to Jesus all those hundreds of years ago. People who perhaps have been told they’re not good enough by their teachers or their parents, people who have been shunned or rejected by organised religion, people who want know there is a meaning and a purpose to life. There may even be such people here this morning. The good news is that, because Jesus has risen from the dead, He is able still to answer life’s deepest questions even today. We can’t of course meet Him physically. But He is always only ever a prayer away, ready to welcome, ready to bless, ready to show us the way back to God our Heavenly Father.
So onto the third question this morning: how does all this connect to our baptism service today?
Let me suggest briefly three answers to that question.
First of all, as parents and godparents stand up and declare their Christian faith, they are accepting that Jesus is who He says He is. They are – to use the language of the service – saying that they are turning to Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. And what does that mean? Quite simply, that Jesus really did go the cross and die again, and He is the one who is able to bring us to a new relationship with God our Heavenly Father that will meet our deepest needs.
Secondly, in baptism there’s something about offering to God all that we are, however little or however inadequate we feel that may be. We may think it impossible that God will ever use us. We may say we don’t have the right qualifications, or we don’t understand enough, or we’re not brave enough. Actually, a God who in Jesus can use five loaves and two small fish to feed five thousand can take and use anyone who comes even with the smallest amount of faith and trust. A baptism service isn’t a religious exam in how much you know. It’s an opportunity to place ourselves in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as we say sorry for the times we have gone our own way and as we commit ourselves to following Jesus for the rest of our lives.
And thirdly, of course, in baptism we are also very much placing this child into Jesus’ hands. Because if it is true that God is a loving Heavenly Father and if it is true that we can know Him through Jesus Christ, then we can be sure He has a plan for each and every one of us. Our prayer today, then, must be that she will grow up to know God’s plan for her life and realise that the risen Lord Jesus is with her always.
But please don’t think that all I am saying today is addressed just to the parents and godparents. Because I believe that Jesus is inviting all of us to come to Him, just as we are. Maybe for some people today it is a chance to make a fresh commitment to Him. Maybe for others it is a chance to come to Him for the very first time. You don’t have to be a baby or a young person to be baptised, and if there are any grown-ups here today that haven’t been baptised, why not have a word with me afterwards?
So as we reflect on the feeding of the 5000, let me leave with some words of Jesus you can find printed on the front of your notice sheet this morning:
I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
Will, then, you come to Jesus today?
images (c) Friends and Heroes