Feeding the Five Thousand

Feeding the Five Thousand

Do the small things.

In the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Please sit. I think this reading, as it’s told here in Matthew and also in John, is probably one that most people know, probably people who never come to church know this story, and it contains two of Jesus miracles. The feeding of the 5000 and another one and the other one we often miss. Now, we often dismiss this whole reading as something to tell children it’s trying to tell us something, but we’re not quite sure what.

It certainly wasn’t that suddenly there was enough food to feed 5000 people when moments before there were only five loaves and two fish. And we think like this, we approach this story like this because this is what our lives have taught us. Now, I often think and I can’t help it because this is what my life has told me, I think about Jesus and the disciples as some kind of committee, and we’ve all been on enough committees to know what they can be like.

I can see them sat around a rock in the middle of the field with a with 5000 people just outside with an impending crisis. And I can see Jesus saying to them, OK, onto the next agenda item. Where did we get to? We’ve done building. We’ve done matters arising. Did I sign the last set of minutes? Yes, yes. Here we go. Item five, where do we buy bread for these people to eat?

Now, in John, we get this wonderful exchange between Philip and the rest of the disciples, Philip, the keeper of the purse, and so all eyes turn to Philip, the Treasurer, they all know the difficult truth. The account books are not good, Umm replies Philip. Umm it would take about six months wages and we still wouldn’t actually feed everybody properly. Jesus looks on knowingly well, says another disciple, if we can’t do it properly, is it worth doing at all?

Another disciple cuts across him. Hang on, hang on, hang on. We can’t seriously consider doing this can we. What about our donation to the Orphan Fund of Galilee? We didn’t have enough money to do that. So how can we do this? No, no, no anther voice drives in this is mission. If we can do this, if we can be seen to be helping people, then that will bring more people to meet with Jesus.

Philip, what do we have in the mission account? Well, replies, Philip, you could just about manage it, but I’m not sure what the point is, we’re not going to get very good PR out of this. As I said, they wouldn’t be enough to give everybody more than a small amount. And I can see Jesus listening to all of this. As ever, the disciples disagreeing with one another, everyone trying to get their point across, all very good points, of course.

All worth listening to, but they all missed the point. They’ve already missed the first miracle. And so have we. What is the first miracle in this reading in Matthew? Is it the multiplication of the loaves and fishes? The first miracle. Where is it? He withdrew, lonely place, they could be by themselves? Evening came the disciples, and he stepped ashore and saw a large crowd. There’s the first miracle, the first miracle is one that we can understand as humans without any supernatural faith at all.

It requires no belief, in fact, in attempting to engage with the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. We miss the easiest for us to understand, and we understand it because we do it each day, each Sunday. We follow Jesus because he speaks to us. What is truly wonderful is not that a seemingly human being could multiply loaves and fishes, but this man could inspire thousands of people to follow him physically across the sea that this man could represent such hope, such healing, such love that people would follow him about to such an extent that in another part of the Bible we learn that Jesus had to go out to sea in order not to be crushed so that he could be heard by such a large crowd.

The fact that people followed Jesus then and are still following him today is the first miracle. If we understand that, then we can engage with the rest of the reading when we understand that miracle, then our conversations and our problems that seem so huge that they can’t be fixed become different. We have recast our understanding of what is possible. And we all understand Tthose problems, those things that are seemingly too big to fix. How do you feed 5000 people?

Well, we understand we understand that now. What is the point of engaging with homeless and hungry people in our parish? Do we ignore it because we can’t fix it because it’s too big a problem? Do we attempt to do something that we can label as mission and can attach a press release to because we are being seen to be doing something good and through that attract people to the church? Do we immediately turn to our accounts to figure out what we might be able to do?

We can be so overwhelmed with the size of our problems that our response to engage with the detail in front of us, that we forget that we are all in a boat together. Rowing towards the other side of the sea, apparently without Jesus. Only to find that he’s ahead of us, but not in the way that we were expecting. We get stuck in thinking that we’re in the boat and the boat is rowing and we need to just concentrate on that one thing in front of us that completely overwhelms us.

But there is another way of looking at overwhelming problems, and that’s the central message of today’s gospel. How do we feed the five thousand? I’ll tell you. We do the small things that are in front of us. At this time of year, I would normally be at St. David’s in West Wales. We go every year and it’s a beautiful, beautiful part of the world. And I have a as a Welshman, of course, I have a very deep affinity with Saint David.

And as I was writing the sermon, I was reminded of his last words, which were be joyful. Keep the faith. Do those little things you have seen and heard from me. And it struck me once again how important that line is, do the little things. Jesus tells his disciples to ask everybody to sit down. He takes the loaves and fishes and he starts to hand them out from that small step, from that tiny start. He then feeds the five thousand and he didn’t just feed them.

First of all, he gave thanks. He prayed and then he fed them in abundance. He fed them until they were beyond satisfied. In fact, there was so much left over. And in this second miracle, Jesus offered us a pattern of how we can approach those things that are too much, too difficult to big. We start with the most important we give thanks and we pray we do that each and every day that we meet, we pray for the world, for its needs, for the church.

We pray for each other and those in need. We give thanks. That is where everything that we do starts. The next step is to feed people. Feed people with the love and knowledge of Jesus, feed people until they are satisfied, until there is too much to go around w ith enough knowledge and with enough love of Christ, then those enormous issues will start to be tackled. We don’t always know how this isn’t a project plan with a deadline date and milestones that need to be met along the way, we can’t measure the performance of the sharing of the knowledge and love of Christ.

But we know because Jesus tells us and because we have faith that in the end all things will be well. This is all very well, of course, this is all intellectually stimulating, but what does it practically look like in the world today? Let’s take an example from my first curacy in Hereford. And several years ago, we all saw the horrendous, heartbreaking pictures and video of Calais of refugees gathered on the coast of France attempting to get to the U.K. and indeed, it continues to this day.

The big international aid agencies were essentially banned from helping and the French and the British governments were trying to do everything that they could to break up the large camp that had been established and they succeeded. They dispersed 10000 desperate people along the coast of Calais. So what could we do? A tiny church in Hereford, what could we hope to do for 10000 people in another country? We followed the model that this gospel gave us. We started with prayer.

Thanks for Jesus in our lives, and then we started to do the small things in front of us, we collected sleeping bags, we collected food, we drove to Calais, we gave it out. The tiny scratch in the problem in front of us. But we continued to do the small things in front of us, many the people were doing the small things over and over, and all of those small things started to add up. Many charities drew together lots of people who were doing small things.

And those small charities are just one part of lots of other small charities doing small things. So now in Calais there is a distribution point where and people on the ground collecting all of these small things, trying to make best an impossible situation. They do it, there in Calais through prayer, through love and through all of the small gifts that are brought to them. And because of those small gifts, because of those small things, each and every person has done, 5000 people get a meal every single day.

Five thousand people get prayed for every single day. And that everybody that is a miracle. From the marrows and the pumpkin’s of Hereford, five thousand people get a hot meal. From the 20 sleeping bags that we collected, five thousand people get a warm night’s sleep from the 50 bags of donated clothing, five thousand people get clean clothes. Because of our prayers. Because of the small things in front of us, 5000 people know that they are left.

And that, my friends, is what we are going to do here in Saint Anselm, we are going to start with prayer, we are going to start by giving thanks, and then we are going to do the small things in front of us until every single person in this parish knows, without a shadow of a doubt that they are loved by Christ. And that they have a home here in Saint Anselm’s.


[This transcript is produced automatically and may contain errors]