I was watching the TV show – America’s Got Talent a couple of weeks ago and they had a magician as one of their acts.
They chained him up and put handcuffs on him and then placed him inside a wooden box in a hole that had been previous dug. The men outside the hole began to shovel the dirt on top of the box. He had 90 seconds of air to get out. As the clock nervously ticked down there was panic. After a couple of minutes his wife hysterically yelled “get him out”. Everyone panicked – until one of the men shovelling the dirt pulled off his hat and revealed himself as the one they had buried in the box. I said – How did he do that!
As we hear today’s bible reading – the feeding of the 5000 – which was probably more than 10000 as women and children weren’t counted many people have asked how did Jesus do that? How did Jesus feed all those people with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish? The first thing we need to understand – it wasn’t magic. It wasn’t a trick. Magic works on sleight of hand.
Jesus’ action today was nothing but a miracle. At the start of the miracle we hear why Jesus does this great miracle rather than let the people go hungry or send them away: When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Compassion is what drives all of Jesus actions. Compassion is what drives all of God’s actions especially the life and death of Jesus; for God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. (Psalm 103:8) God’s compassion does not want us to perish so he does something about it.
Without God’s compassion we would have perished because of our broken relationship with God through our sin. But God, through Baptism has washed away our sin and renewed our relationship with him.
How extraordinary. In fact, so extraordinary that it made Martin Luther ask – How did he do that? How can water so such amazing things? Luther explains that it is not the water that does these things – but water used together with God’s word.
And that word, as Jesus says – whoever believes and is baptised will be saved! God says it and God does it. In today’s feeding of the 5000 we see the difference between words spoken by the disciples and the words spoken by Jesus. When the disciples saw the crowd – their words were: Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food. Jesus words in response were: “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” This dumbfounded the disciples because they didn’t have faith in Jesus words. They responded “how”? And so again Jesus responds with the words ““Bring them here to me,”
As we look around the world and all the problems facing us; as we look at our own lives and all the challenges that we face we took may ask – how can water make any difference to all the struggles that I’m going through. How can water fix the problems in society? Why does the church place baptism in such a central place to deal with all the questions and struggles in the world. Shouldn’t we be more about physical responses to the problems in the world? No – because that would leave us in the same place that the disciples were in; they saw the large crowds and their only solution with their resources was to send them away. There’s enough food for us – 5 loaves and 2 fish is ample for 13 – but not for thousands.
We must keep God in the centre of our lives because otherwise we would tire and lose our compassion for the needy.
We are already seeing that. We see the thousands arriving as refugees and many responses are – send them away – we don’t have enough for ourselves why should our limited resources be used on others. We see the drug affected – alcohol affected – and we respond – why should our taxes pay for their drugs and alcohol. We see the homeless sleeping on the streets in Melbourne and our response, like the disciples is “send them away”. By our baptism we are reminded that we are children of God. We are reminded that we were once lost and separated from God but God did not send us away. Rather, in our Baptism God promised “I am with you always till the end of the age”.
The feeding of the 5000 reminds us that we cannot do things alone. Whether it’s in our own lives or the world around us God invites us to bring it first to him. We tend to look at what we have and wonder how we are going to deal with what’s in front of us – like the disciples who looked at their food – 5 loaves and 2 fish – they looked at the crowd – but they didn’t look to Jesus. Notice something in the reading though. Jesus said – bring the food to me – he blessed it – and then he gave it back to the disciples. He gave them back 5 loaves and 2 fish. It doesn’t say he multiplied the loaves and fish. He didn’t hand them 5000 loaves and 2000 fish. Likewise God doesn’t give us what we might think to be enough to deal with our situation but he gives us faith to trust that we can do with what he gives us. And not only that, but the disciples gathered leftovers. And how many times don’t we get through those confronting situations and ask ourselves – why didn’t we trust God.
I know it only seems like water but it is more than that. It is water, together with God’s word. And God’s word is powerful.
God’s word created the world. God’s word became flesh and lived with us in Jesus. God’s word stilled the storm when Jesus told the wind and waves to be quiet. God’s word raised Lazarus from the dead when he told him to come out of the grave. God’s word changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. And God’s word brings you life as he says – I am with you always – as he says – whoever believes and is baptised will be saved – as he says, take and eat, this is my body – take and drink, this is my blood given for the forgiveness of our sins and it will be the final word you hear when Jesus says: ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.(Matthew 25:34). God’s word is powerful – it is life changing – it is life giving. And God’s word is given to you in your baptism.