Sunday sermon on the feeding of a crowd of thousands of people from Matthew 14:14-22
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Every year we read today’s Gospel lesson about the feeding of the crowd of more than five thousand people, I am always struck by the magnitude of Christ’s request of His disciples.
Jesus had spent the whole day with the crowd, having compassion on them and healing their sick. And as the evening came, His disciples said to Jesus, “Hey, listen, we are kind of in a wilderness here, in a deserted place; let these people go into the neighboring villages to get something to eat.”
They had a very reasonable concern for the people. It was obvious to them that the people did not bring food with them, and the disciples themselves had barely anything to eat as well.
And then comes the shocking reply from the Lord, “They don’t have to go anywhere. You feed them.”
Us? We are in the wilderness. There is no time to hunt for anything, nor to run to the town and buy enough food for everyone. And, oh by the way, all we have are five loaves of bread and two fish.
Five loaves and two fish for the thirteen of them! (Twelve disciples and the Teacher). Talk about being woefully unprepared. Could the thirteen of them have at least a meager dinner? Maybe. But definitely not thousands of them.
When Christ says, “You give them something to eat,” that second person pronoun ‘you’ is plural and it applies not only to the disciples, but to every person that is faithful to Christ. Yes, even among us.
Who do we feed today? There are always a lot of hungry people. Hungry both physically, who require food; and spiritually, who require a different kind of nourishment that only God can provide … that only God can provide through His Church.
And we show up to church, from week to week, whether we know it or not, because we also hunger. We show up here because God literally feeds us. Just like Jesus fed thousands of people through the disciples, so He continues to nourish us through the Eucharist.
When the disciples asked the Lord to let the people go into the villages for food, they were also hungry, but they couldn’t just sit down and eat their food without sharing, because they had nothing to share. So they came to Him, asking Him to allow them to eat as well.
Eating together is an important ritual for us as humans. When we sit at the same table and eat, we become connected and united into something greater than just a collection of individuals.
However, this is become a lost art. Eating together as a family, for example, may feel like just a collection of individuals. Even when we might be able to get everyone at the same table, we still may be miles apart. And I am guilty of this as well. We do not spend time with other people anymore.
We may be at the same table, while one person is looking at the phone, another reading something, and yet another watching TV. That doesn’t count as family mealtime. And that’s why we are hungry. Not because we don’t eat enough, but because we have broken our connections with each other, with people who sit right next to us.
There used to be a lot of different clubs and activities where people got together to do things. Even our parish used to have a knitting club. That was a form of a ritual, maybe even a small sacrament because people connected with each other.
Doing things together, taking care of a garden, or making and creating things, or eating together creates communities. That’s why every time we have something coming up in our parish, like pierogi making or garage sale or picnic, I try to always emphasize that these are not money-making opportunities. They are community-building events.
All those clubs that used to exist are all extinct now, both church clubs and secular ones. We barely have family mealtimes anymore. Especially after covid, there is a hesitancy sometimes to spend time in public with strangers in a community. The only place that is still geared towards the community and doing things together and connecting, instead of purely fundraising, is the church.
As I said, Eucharist, Communion, is God feeding us, and it is the main way we stay connected with God and each other. But only baptized Orthodox Christians can be partakers of the chalice. That’s why time and again the fellowship with coffee hour are so strongly stressed here.
Coffee hour is essential to the life of our community, not as much as the Body and Blood of Christ, but nonetheless essential.
“You give them something to eat.” Well, when you host the coffee hour, you obey this vital command of Christ. The fellowship that begins at the chalice continues at the table of coffee hour. I recently heard someone say that the parish that does not have an active kitchen is a dead parish. A parish that neglects fellowship with coffee hour is a dead parish.
This community that we build, the connections that we make, do not of course remain just here. We bring them into the world, into the wilderness that is our world. And maybe we do not have much to offer, maybe we have even less than the five loaves and two fish that the disciples had.
Good. Do not despair. We can still give people something to eat, either food or spiritual nourishment. Bring whatever you have to Christ and He will do the rest. We cannot work miracles on our own, but He can, through us. It was Jesus Who prayed and blessed the food, but it was the disciples who fed thousands.
“You give them something to eat.”
These words sound as shocking today as they did two thousand years ago. We come to church hoping, and perhaps even expecting, some of our prayers and desires to be fulfilled.
We come to church because this is likely the last place where community is still possible, where participating together in a meal is the central part of what we do and who we are, where there is meal after the meal, where there is human fellowship that is the extension of our fellowship with God, where we can give others something to eat … even if we have nothing, even if we are stuck in the wilderness.
To our Lord Jesus Christ, Who takes what we have, and blesses it and multiples it, so that we would generously and freely share it with others, we give all glory, honor, thanksgiving, and worship, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.