Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Melvin Dick

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

I once heard Lutheran historian Martin E. Marty say that if American civilization ever collapsed he would blame its fall on McDonald's for destroying the ancient tradition of the shared family meal.

We human beings eat in order to live; our bodies require the nourishment provided by food to stay alive.  But maintaining individual life is not the only purpose of eating.  We eat to create community life.  We eat together in order to bring us together.  When food is shared, life is shared.  Dating couples dine together in nice restaurants as part of their courtship.  Wedding anniversaries, class reunions, and athletic award ceremonies are celebrated with a banquet.  Friends, who have lost touch with one another, renew their acquaintance over lunch or dinner.  Munching a bag of Tostitos while standing over the kitchen sink will keep you alive; but it will not bind you and friends or family together as a community.

Dr. Marty's tongue-in-cheek comment was pointing to the same truth as this morning's gospel.

In this story, a crowd became a congregation by sharing a meal hosted by Jesus.

When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been executed, he and his disciples retreated to some isolated place.  But crowds of people, who had heard about his preaching, teaching, and healing, followed him.  Out of compassion, Jesus spent the day curing those who were broken by sickness.  When evening fell, the disciples realized that the crowd had not eaten.  They urged Jesus to dismiss the people so that they could scatter throughout neighboring villages and buy food for the evening meal.  In response Jesus, said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."  But the disciples did not have the provisions to do this:  they came up with only five loaves of bread and two fish.

 

"Taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children."

 

A crowd of people--presumably mostly strangers to one another--came together for one purpose:  to see and hear Jesus.  When it came time to feed them, the disciples would have broken up the assembly, scattered the community, sent the people away as individuals.  The disciples would have broken up the people in order to feed them.  But Jesus fed them in order to keep them together.

When everyone was filled and satisfied, the left-overs were gathered, the broken pieces of bread collected into twelve baskets.  The broken fragments of bread are like the broken people gathered together by Jesus.

Did you note the number of baskets?  Twelve.  That number twelve ties this story to the story of Israel and the story of the Church.

God's beloved people Israel were divided into twelve tribes.  And they truly were divided.  Because of their own willful disobedience and persecution by enemies, the twelve tribes of Israel were hardly ever a united and unified community of the faithful.  They were a deeply divided people, literally scattered to the four points of the compass.  Similarly, God's beloved people the Church were founded on the witness of the twelve apostles.  And the Church was and is as divided as Israel.  Because of our own willful disobedience and persecution by our enemies, we descendants of the twelve apostles are hardly ever a united and unified community of the faithful.  We were and are a deeply divided people, literally scattered to the four points of the compass.  This is true for the world-wide church, and for every congregation in it.

This is not how the Lord wishes us to live--not as families, not as congregations, not as a universal Church.  We are not a crowd, not a divided and dispersed mob.  We are instead a local and world-wide congregation, a community of believers, a congregation of former strangers assembled to hear and see Jesus, and to share a meal with him and one another.  And having shared his meal, we will share his life.

The crowd which had come together to hear and see Jesus were filled and satisfied by him when they shared the meal which he had blessed and distributed.  Like the broken fragments of bread which afterwards were gathered into twelve baskets, the broken fragments of these people's lives were gathered together into Christ.  When this happened, the crowd was no longer a crowd, no longer an accidental aggregation of strangers.  It was a congregation; a community of faithful worshipers who had seen and heard Jesus in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of a common meal.

And so are you.

Did you notice the verbs in the story of Jesus’ feeding?  He took, blessed, broke, and gave.  This is Eucharistic language, the words repeated over the bread and wine in the Prayer of Thanksgiving.  This story of the Feeding of the More-than-Five Thousand is clearly a Biblical interpretation of the meal which we the Church share with Jesus.  It is an explanation about what happens to you in the Holy Communion.  When you share the meal which Jesus has blessed and distributed to you, you become a united and unified community.  When you eat together, you are brought together.  When you share Jesus' food, you share his life, and you share each other's lives.  By sharing a meal hosted by Jesus, you are not a fragmented crowd; you are the Church.  And I mean “the Church” in the most breathtaking sense possible.

At the funeral of a friend’s mother, the preacher said in the sermon that when we came to the Eucharistic table that day, our sister—dead to us, but alive in Christ—would be sharing that meal with us, except that she would be on the other side of the table, as it were.  He could say that because in the New Testament the coming Kingdom of God is often portrayed as a splendid meal, as a banquet.  When you eat this morning, you are not eating alone; you are eating with the Risen Jesus and therefore with all the believers who are in him, all who have come before you, all those now scattered around the world, and all those not yet born.  This is a meal which knows no boundaries of time and space. As we sing in the Offertory, “Grace our table with your presence, and give us a foretaste of the feast to come”.  The feast to come is the feast of the Kingdom, at which you and all the saints have a reserved place.

How can a simple meal consisting of a morsel of bread and a sip of wine have such transcendent power?  The story of the Feeding of the More-than-Five Thousand is, after all, the story of a miracle performed by Jesus—a miracle so all-encompassing that it includes you.

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