Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13). Based on Matthew 14:13-21.
Crown of Life Lutheran Church; Hubertus, WI. Preached on July 30 & August 2, 2020.
No Need Too Great or Small
Is it worth your time to pray to God about COVID-19, and all the politics surrounding it? Or is that issue too small for God? Doesn’t God have bigger fish to fry? Doesn’t he have greater issues concerning him? Does God have the time to consider my prayer about a virus that, for most people, statistically speaking, isn’t likely to take their life? God has an entire universe to manage, so does he really have time to listen to one person talk about their fears and frustrations about a microscopic virus? Is this issue just too small for God?
On the other hand, is this an issue that’s too big for God? In half a year our world has drastically changed. In half a year a robust economy came to a screeching halt. In half a year “normal” has ceased to be normal. And much of that is due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Then add civil unrest and violence in many major cities. You watch the news, but one medical expert says this, the other says that. Politicians seem more inclined to argue and sling mud around than they are to solve this problem. The world seems out of control! Can God put an end to the chaos? Is this issue too big for God?
The Gospel for today’s service records Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the five thousand—and remember that the five thousand statistic only included the men in the crowd, not the women and children. Certainly, this is one of the more noteworthy and impressive miracles of Jesus! But this miracle of our Savior does even more than prove his power or demonstrate his divinity. This miracle gives us a glimpse into our Savior’s heart, a glimpse that reveals the depths of Jesus’ love and concern for us even in our day-to-day routine. When Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand, the crowd that gathered to see Jesus then—as well as the crowd gathered to worship him today—could plainly see that with Jesus, no need is too great or too small.
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
At the beginning of our reading, Matthew mentions that “when Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” So what had happened? In the opening verses of this chapter, Matthew mentions that King Herod thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Matthew then backtracks in time to explain how John had been beheaded at Herod’s direction. Herod’s fear that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist meant that Jesus’ life was now at stake. That’s a major reason why Jesus went to a quiet, remote location with his disciples. He needed rest from his work and a place where to be free from Herod’s threats.
Jesus wasn’t popular with Herod, but at this point in his ministry, he was a very well-known public figure. In fact, when the people of the area heard where Jesus and his disciples sought refuge, they followed him. Perhaps some of them wanted to hear this man who preached with such conviction and authority. Others hoped that Jesus would heal the diseases and sicknesses that affected their loved ones, which, in fact, Jesus did.
If you watch any of the national television networks’ evening “news magazine” shows, from time to time you’ll watch a story that tugs at your heartstrings. Maybe it was the story of a woman who did everything in her power to overcome a deadly disease or trauma, but in the end she lost the battle. Maybe it was a story of brave soldiers who lost their lives defending others, and the families those men left behind. Sometimes it’s hard to hold back the tears when you watch those stories, even though you have no personal connection to the people on the screen.
That’s how Jesus felt about this crowd as it approached him. He didn’t see a mob of nameless people. He saw their sad stories, their struggles, their sicknesses, and their helplessness. His heart went out to them.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Jesus’ disciples. Once again, as was often the case, the disciples viewed the people who followed Jesus as a pathetic nuisance rather than people in need. Matthew notes, “As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’” Sad to say, this was often the attitude of the disciples. “We’re followers of a great miracle worker sent from God. Do you think that we—let alone our Master—can afford to waste time on such nonsense?” As far as the Twelve were concerned, the hunger of the crowd was too small, too insignificant of an issue for Jesus.
Sometimes we think that our problems are too small for God. After all, do you really think that the God who spends his days and nights operating the universe has time to worry about our concerns, which seem relatively unimportant to anyone else? Does he have time to hear my worries about my financial future, my health concerns, or my family’s struggles? When he is taking care of so many other, more lofty, more global matters, does God have time to listen to me pray about my concerns about a virus, or my fears from the headlines?
Christian friend, take heart, because the same God who reached out to you in love by the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus still reaches out to you today when life’s worries overwhelm you. He wasn’t too busy for the crowd that came to him, and he isn’t too busy for anyone in the congregation who has come to him today. Even as God watches over the world, he is never too busy to hear you, never too tied up with global matters that your needs are too small of a thing for him. With Jesus, nothing is too insignificant; nothing is too small of a matter.
The disciples may have acted like this ordeal with the hungry crowd was too small of a matter for Jesus to handle, but in reality it was too large of a matter for them to handle. When they suggested that Jesus send the starving mob away, Jesus threw the issue back at them: “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” But what could the disciples do about it? The problem was too big for them! They concluded, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.”
The reality was that they couldn’t handle it. So Jesus overcomes reality with his miracle and his miraculous generosity. Jesus told the crowd to sit down in groups. Jesus offered a prayer of thanks to God, divided the food among the disciples, and instructed them to feed the people. Five dinner rolls; a couple of small fish—that might give a one bite each to two dozen people. But with Jesus’ divine power at work, it became a feast that filled every belly in a crowd of thousands and thousands of people. This was not just a case of people seeing the little boy’s example and pulling out their sack lunches to share with everyone else. Nothing in any four of the Gospels suggests that, even though that is popular modern consensus. This was the case of the Son of God putting his divine power to work to reveal his mercy and kindness for the people before him.
You know that feeling you have after thanksgiving dinner? You’ve filled yourself with turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes and corn and cranberry sauce and then pumpkin pie topped off with whipped cream. You’re completely satisfied. There’s not a hungry person left in the room after a meal like that. Jesus’ miracle resulted in a crowd that was completely satisfied. There wasn’t a hungry person left after a miraculous feast like the one Jesus provided. The only thing that was left was 12 large baskets filled with leftover food. Another miracle of Jesus attests to his divine power as the Son of God!
Do you think that your problems are too big for God? Do you think that the Lord can’t offer any help in your health struggles, your family crisis, or your nagging fears? If you do, the real problem is not that our problems are too big, but that our egos are too big. The real problem is that we are guilty of the idolatry of self-pity or self-reliance when we assume that God cannot offer us his aid. In sinful despair, we can drag ourselves away from the One who can help us, and in the process, we drag ourselves closer to the hell we deserve.
But your earthly problems are never too big for God. Your earthly problems are not too big for God because your greater spiritual problems were not too big for God to overcome. Jesus, the Son of God, who did the impossible by becoming true man, stands by you when you face the burdensome problems of your life. Jesus, who lived a life of perfection for you, erases the guilt of your doubts and imperfections because his life now counts as your life before God. Jesus, who faced a hellish death on the cross for your sins, comforts you as he shows you how his death has redeemed us from all sin—sins of doubt and worry and all the rest! Jesus, who declared his victory over your grave at his resurrection, now shows you that just as his sufferings and death brought about your greatest spiritual blessings, so he will use your crosses and challenges to bring about blessings in our lives and for our faith.
But what about the times when your prayers seem unanswered? What about the times when it feels like God hasn’t heard you? Was God unable to help?
Dear Christian friend, remember that Jesus fed the 5,000 men plus woman and children this one meal, but he didn’t feed them their next meal. In fact, only one other time in his entire ministry did Jesus provide a miraculous meal for a large crowd as he did here. Jesus’ normal way of providing for people and responding to their needs is through natural means. That means that God is there to provide for you and guide you even when his providence doesn’t seem all that “miraculous.”
It doesn’t matter if God uses a miracle, or if he uses the people and situations around us to respond to our requests. What matters is that with Jesus, there is no need too great or small. His miracles and compassion prove it. You can count on it. Amen.