Updated: Jul 26
Due to ongoing technical difficulties, no video is available of today's service. Sorry.
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.
In the Large Catechism (sort of the parents and teachers guide for the Small Catechism), Martin Luther asks the question: What does it mean to have a god? Or, What is God? His answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress.
God has given us the First Commandment about not having other gods, because we tend to make for ourselves gods other than the one true God. From these other gods, we expect all good. In them, we take refuge in all distress (even if the other gods are our own intellect, our own creativity, our own hard work, there’s a lot of talk about science today - all of these things can become to us gods in whom we take refuge in our distress).
None of them would have sufficed to meet the challenge presented to the disciples in our text. Their own words say this: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” They don’t have enough bread. They certainly can’t make enough. There isn’t anywhere to buy it. Well, then, what are they to do?
And it’s kind of important that they come up with this bread to feed these people. It’s a great crowd of people having been with Jesus three days without eating. Unusual people who, for some reason don’t need to eat? No. Jesus indicates that they are in a weakened state because they haven’t had any food. They might faint if they should try to go back home without eating. This is potentially a very dangerous situation. These 4,000 or more people need to be fed, and soon.
“How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Have you ever asked a question like that? Have you thought to yourself, for instance, What if this pandemic goes on and on and on? What if my job goes away? What if the kids can’t go back to school, and I can’t work? What if my savings dry up?
Above all, what has God wanted you to do with that kind of wondering? We get a hint in our Old Testament lesson. The Lord says through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” St. James writes that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17). Certainly, God has wanted you to expect everything good to come from Him. That’s part of what the First Commandment is about. In Luther’s words, the Lord would say to you: “Think of Me as the one who will help you and pour out upon you richly all good things” (Large Cat.).
But how difficult it has been to do that, right? - to think of God as the One Who will do all that? How difficult it has been to simply trust in the Lord. We want to think there’s something else, something other than just that that can be done. We feel so helpless. And we don’t want to be helpless. We want to be on top of things. We want to think it through. We want to come up with an ingenious solution. We want to do whatever would be necessary. Trusting; that makes us uncomfortable. It means we’re not in control. We want this control. And, here’s the kicker: according to our sinful nature, we want it more than we want to honor God above all things.
Sometimes the Lord gives us a situation in which there is absolutely nothing we can do, and we’re forced to recognize that we don’t have the control we want to have. In a lot of ways a pandemic fits that bill. We take precautions to avoid getting sick. We cooperate with community efforts to stop the spread. We try to bury our financial concerns for the moment in hopes that there will be a solution. But we are frustrated that we don’t have the control we want to have.
The disciples were learning two lessons on the occasion of our text. The first of the lessons is the First Commandment. What does it mean to have only the true God as your God? It means that in times of trouble, in times when there seems to be an impossible problem, your heart doesn’t, as Luther says, stand gaping at something [other than God], but you look to the true God, trusting that He is faithful, and will provide.
For our comfort in this, the Scripture is filled with examples of God’s faithfulness. The Psalmist refers to God’s deliverance of His people (Psalm 66). He was the one who turned the sea into dry land as the Egyptian army pursued them after leaving Egypt. God’s people walked through the sea on that dry land to safety against all natural possibility. The Psalmist adds that by God’s power, His people passed through the [Jordan] river on foot in order to enter into the Promised Land of Canaan. God shows His power to do the impossible to help His people in mighty acts like that.
Also, He says that He is the One Who never slumbers or sleeps on His watch over His people. He keeps them from all evil (Psalm 121). A study of the Scriptures provides much assurance that our trust is well-placed in the hands of the Almighty, the one true God.
There was another lesson the disciples were learning on the occasion of our text. In speaking of this other lesson, we could use Jesus’ words from the time just before He was to lay down His life for them: Believe in God; believe also in me (John 14:1). Believe in this One Who knows the peoples’ needs, and Who provides for them. Believe in this One Who indicates that He intends to do something impossible to meet peoples’ needs. By believe also in Me, He meant to say, believe that I am God. “How many loaves do you have?” Seven? It’s enough. Jesus is the true God - the Son, one with the Father and the Spirit. He handles what to you and me is an impossible problem. There isn’t anything He can’t do.
On the basis of a text like this, in which Jesus feeds the four thousand with an amount of food fit, maybe, for a couple of families, you are meant to think of Him in the way that Luther describes faith in the true God. He writes: If you have a heart that can expect of Him nothing but what is good - especially in need and distress - and a heart that also renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the only true God.
But, as we said earlier: How difficult it has been to do this. How difficult not to stand gaping at something [other than God] when we have an impossible problem. How difficult to simply take refuge in Him. All of us have failed at it.
YOU have failed at it. You have encountered an impossible problem, and have asked your own version of, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And you have sought gods, rather than God. You have stood gaping at your own intellect, and your own creativity, and your own hard work, and at science, and at any number of other things - expecting to find the good things you are seeking. It was as sure to fail as if the disciples had tried to solve things on the occasion of our text. Four thousand plus still-hungry people would have been their result had they tried to do that. Your own prospects haven’t been any better.
God be praised that Jesus is the solution for you, and for every sinner who ever sought refuge in gods other than the true God. He is the righteous One Who honored God above all things, but Who was considered an idolater for you. He was punished as if He had stood gaping at what can’t help so that you are innocent of having done so. In Him, you are forgiven of having done so.
He distributes His forgiveness to you this morning in the bread that is joined with His true body, and in the wine that is joined with His true blood - for the remission of sins - as He says. He invites you to eat with Him as His true friend for whom He has laid down His life in mercy and in love.
We’ve talked about Scriptural assurances of God’s powerful deliverance of His people in their great need. As you come forward to receive Him in the Supper, think of your Baptism as another example of this (you’ll walk right past the Baptismal font on your way up here). In that water connected with His powerful Word, He made the impossible possible for you. We confess in the Meaning of the Third Article of the Creed: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But in Baptism, God the Holy Spirit opened your heart so that you could know the true God, and could believe the Good News about Jesus.
Before this, the question in our text could have been modified to speak of your own situation. How can life-giving sustenance be brought to this desolate heart? How can there be life here instead of death?
The answer will never be found in your own intellect, or in your creativity, or in your hard work, or in science, or in anything else that comes from this world. The one true God is the One from Whom you can expect all good, and in Whom you can take refuge in all distress. Put your faith in Him, and in the forgiveness that He has provided for you in the humble sacrifice of the eternal Son - Jesus, Who has met your greatest need. He has done for you what you could never have done for yourself. Cast your gaze upon Him for help in any trouble. Amen.
Other Texts for this Sunday:
23 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I restore their fortunes:
“‘The Lord bless you, O habitation of righteousness, O holy hill!’
24 And Judah and all its cities shall dwell there together, and the farmers and those who wander with their flocks. 25 For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”
19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.