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LSB Proper 13A Sermon – Matthew 14:13-21

August 13, 2014

August 3, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Then [Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.”

Hunger will be satisfied in any way possible. When the stomach is growling, most anything will suffice to fill it. Doesn’t really matter what it is, even if you’re trying to limit your caloric intake. Whatever is on hand will be consumed. That situation is even worse when food is scarce. A person with a ravenous hunger, real hunger, will eat things that would normally repulse them. There is the basic drive for survival that overcomes sentiment or rational thought. You can read the journals of people in besieged cities describing what they dared to ingest. But you need not go back in time to ancient or medieval days; our social agencies are dealing with this. It’s one of the reasons for the wicker basket in the narthex collecting food for New Hope Ministries.

That type of hunger is physical. But there also is spiritual hunger. The LORD addresses such hunger in His address to the people of Israel. You heard Him invite the ancient believers to receive from Him: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” The LORD notes how His people had a spiritual hunger. They were looking for something that would fill the stomachs of their souls. But what were they choosing?

You might recall what the ancient Israelites had done. They looked for religious fulfillment and security of body and soul in all the wrong places. The forbidden worship practices of the pagans had become their personal piety. They had sought out other gods, ignoring the One who had brought them out of Egypt with an outstretched arm and mighty deed. Their holy status was being abandoned. Of course, there was still the faithful remnant. But as they saw their family members and national leaders flocking to Baal or the myriad of other deities, their steadfast faith was challenged. Then there was the great exile of the people to Babylon that broke the people down to nothing. In that moment, the hunger for what had been lost began to be roused greatly.

So the LORD sends out the summons to the people. He calls them to Himself. And He promises that there is something good for them in His presence: “Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.” Come and receive what you need! I will provide it! Those who hearken to Me shall have it! That is the LORD’s invitation to His people. 

Centuries later, the same dynamic was at work in Galilee. The Israelites had returned to the Promised Land, but they were not the rulers of their domain. They had come back to Canaan, but they were still plagued and troubled people. The spiritual hunger and the problems that arise from the manifestation of sinfulness were still present. But the Promised One had come, the One whom the LORD had mentioned: “Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for He has glorified you.” The Messiah had arrived. He was present among the LORD’s people, bringing the restoration that had been promised, satisfying the spiritual hunger.

You heard about this Messiah, though the incident recorded about Him in the Gospel Reading did not begin with an expected display of power and glory: “Now when Jesus heard [about the death of John the Baptist], He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself.” Jesus withdrew from the people. He went away, seeking solace after the kingdom of heaven had faced a great assault through the martyrdom of John the Baptist. But the Gospel Writer provides a very interesting detail: “But when the crowds heard it, they followed Him on foot from the towns.” 

The crowds followed Jesus. They went to where He was. That journey took them by foot around the Sea of Galilee, along the coast roads, until they met up with Jesus. But why would they follow? What drove them to drop what they were doing and hustle down the highways to a desolate place? Jesus was there: that is what drove them. They went to where Jesus was located. They did so because of what they believed about Jesus and what He was providing them. 

The crowds had found Jesus to be the source of what they needed. They saw Him as the fulfillment of what the LORD had promised through the prophet Isaiah. This Jesus had the spiritual wine, milk, and bread that satisfied. No longer were they going to spend their resources on what did not satisfy. They were not going to fork out their money for what the scribes and Pharisees were peddling. No, they went to where this Heavenly Vendor was freely distributing what they needed: healing, forgiveness, restoration, salvation. 

As the crowds were where Jesus was, they received what they needed from Him: “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Even when night fell on that desolate place, Jesus did not send the crowds away. Instead, He provided even for their physical needs: “Then [Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.”

In the desolate place where nothing that satisfies could be found, Jesus provides it. This is a good summary of the Gospel Reading. But that summary is applicable even now. Even today, the LORD summons people to Himself. The LORD sends out His invitation, urging people to be where He is present. He calls people to receive the benefits that He possesses. The vendor hollers for people to buy from Him. The world is a desolate place. Nothing in it will truly satisfy the soul or completely fulfill the desires of the body. You know this. Or at least you have experienced it. Some of you are quite familiar with the failed attempts that were made to do so. And if it hasn’t been in your personal lives, it isn’t far from home. 

What do I mean by this? Think on how people, even you, have tried to satisfy yourselves, your bodies and souls. Has the perfect life been found? Are the job and house and family everything you have hoped for? How complete is your expertise in self-help and self-improvement? Does the bottle or the refrigerator or the computer screen provide quench the craving? Are there any more altars left to try out? Has the grave become anything less than fearful for you?

You may ask yourselves: “What is Pastor getting at? Why so many cryptic questions?” The questions demonstrate in part the ways that people have attempted to find what they needed—religious fulfillment and security of body and soul. That hunger is going to be dealt with any way possible. But these attempts do not pay off because they ultimately cannot provide what is needed. In this world which is a lonely and desolate place despite the billions of humans who live here, that reality is what the LORD is addressing with His question: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” 

The LORD’s question is intended to drive you away from these things that do not provide the true remedy. Trying to find perfection in this life: that will end in disillusionment. All the self-help and self-improvement will not end in total satisfaction with oneself. The highs of the bottle or food or lust are fleeting, only to be followed by the downward spiral or crushing fall. Other gods may promise salvation of a sort, but they are not the God of gods, the Lord of lords, who alone does great wonders, the God of heaven, whose steadfast love endures forever. All the bravery in the face of death does not provide the victory over it.

So the LORD asks you: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” But He doesn’t stop there. No, He gives the invitation: “Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.” In this desolate place, the LORD calls you to share in what He gives. He calls you to follow Jesus on foot, to walk in His ways of life, to eat and drink what He supplies, to be healed and restored in part now and in totality in the world to come.

And so what have you done this day? In this desolate place, you have followed to where the LORD can be found. You have come to listen diligently to Him. You have come to incline your ear to Him. You have come so that your souls may live. You have come to have your place in His everlasting covenant confirmed. You have done so because He has called you. Who has called you? The LORD who remembered us in our low estate and rescued us from our foes, He who gives food to all flesh, for His steadfast love endures forever. 

In your need in this desolate place, you are not sent away. Instead, the Holy One sent by the LORD provides for you through His disciples. This Jesus sees crowds and has compassion. He speaks His word of forgiveness to heal your souls. He directs you to sit down and take what He has blessed: the bread of life for you to eat. And the supply of what Jesus has to provide is not exhausted. Enough always remains so that you can come again and again when the LORD’s summons is heard.

This is what the LORD has done for you. Listen diligently to Him. Eat what is good. Delight in the rich food that He provides. Hear so that your souls may live. Be part of the everlasting covenant that He makes with you, sealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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From → Sunday Sermon

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