August 6th Sermon: Miracles upon miracles (Rev. Zollfrank)
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Miracles upon miracles…. Our story this morning is full of them! But
before we can really appreciate all the miraculous happenings, let me
set the scene…
Our text this morning says, “when Jesus heard this, he withdrew…
But when the crowds heard it, they followed him….” What did Jesus
hear? And what did the crowd hear? What is the “it” that made Jesus
withdraw and what made the crowd in contrast, follow him?
Here it is: the night before, John the Baptist, had been killed. Herod
had initially been reluctant and afraid of the crowd of John’s acolytes.
But the night before, Herod had given into his daughter’s and his
wife’s cruel wishes. A fateful dance at a dark dinner party, a
destructive promise kept, and there “it” was: John’s head served for
desert on a silver platter.
On the next morning the disciples, who had somehow heard of John’s
beheading, retrieved John’s body from Herod’s compound and buried
him. Then they went and told Jesus. Here is where our gospel this
morning takes up the thread….
“When Jesus heard it, he withdrew.” Well, we all withdraw when we
are shocked, when we are hurt, and when we grieve. We want to curl
up in our memories of better times. We want to be alone with our
thoughts and prayers. Most humanly, we want to get away from the
crowds. Therefore, when Jesus heard it, he withdrew in a boat.
There on the water by himself, Jesus may have imagined the last
moments of John, who was his friend, extended family member, and
fellow prophet. He may have remembered how John baptized him in
the river Jordan. He may have shaken his head with a hint of a smile,
remembering John’s odd diet of locusts and honey. He may have heard John’s adamant voice “repent and return to God”. He may have
remembered John’s impatient question, “Are you the one? Or should
we wait for another?” – Now, John was gone, dead, buried. His head
separated from his body. The message separated from the prophet.
The hope for God’s kingdom separated from a cruel and powerful
Withdrawing in a boat was safe, safe from those of Herod, who might
have been roaming. Jesus knew that John’s life and death pretty
much was a blueprint of his own. He could see his own death coming
as he faced John’s.
While in a boat on the water, – I am convinced – Jesus had an
encounter with God. Maybe, as the waves carried him, he could
sense God carrying him as well. Maybe, as the waves of grief kept
coming, he also felt God’s love pouring into his broken heart. Maybe,
as he reached down into the water with his fingertips, he remembered
his baptism and felt his trust in God renewed. And maybe, as he
finally turned around to come ashore again, his determination to take
the face of life into his hands again and to overcome death and sin
with love and forgiveness were stronger than ever. Or, maybe he just
knew he could not withdraw forever.
“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd.” Now, that in my mind
is the first miracle! The crowd followed Jesus from their towns to the
deserted place where he was. Why do I think this is the first miracle?
You see, in the gospel of Matthew the crowd is quite a distinct
character. And what a character it is! Some scholars say (Cousland)
that Matthew’s crowd has a “Jekyll and Hyde character”. Why?
Because sometimes this crowd is good with Jesus and his message
and other times this same crowd turns into a mob that is all for Jesus’
crucifixion. But here, in this moment we are witnessing today, when
Jesus comes ashore, the crowd is a crowd of 5000 people turning
their grief and disappointment into solidarity. Here, there is safety in
crowds. Surely the powers to be wouldn’t arrest Jesus, while
surrounded by a supportive crowd of 5000 people.
They showed up! They, too, could have withdrawn and called it a day.
They, too, could have been so grieved that they may have lingered in
“woe-is-me-depression”. But they show up. “When the crowd heard
the news of John the Baptist, they followed him on foot from their
towns.” They remind Jesus of his purpose. We need your leadership
and your care! And we won’t let you off the hook! And Jesus allows
himself to be hooked. That kind of mutual people fishing to me is the
first miracle of our story!
The second miracle is that Jesus opens his eyes and his heart. He
sees them and looks into people’s faces. He sees their illness, their
struggle, their pain, their disappointment. And maybe for a moment
there, Jesus felt quite alone in the crowd. But then, it happens:
miraculously, Jesus’ heart is broken open and he is overcome with
compassion for the crowd. He remembers, who he was called to be –
the one to bring the kingdom of God. And so, he gets to work and
cures the sick, his heart overflowing with God’s love and care- .
In the miracle of compassionate healing there is a message for us
today: compassion, – this intense, physical sensation of suffering with
someone, motivates Jesus’ ministry and it can motivate ours as well.
And while we might often feel sympathy for another, we might ask
ourselves how often such feelings motivate us to act generously and
compassionately. – Or, we might ask ourselves, are we more often
like the disciples, who say to Jesus, “This is a deserted place, and the
hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the
villages and buy food for themselves. Send them home.”
You’ve noticed that so far the disciples have been left out of the
miraculous encounters of this day. But Jesus empowers them and
begins to transition his ministry to them, all very much in keeping with
the blueprint of God’s master plan. He knows he will die, too, and
very soon, and therefore these disciples better step up and stop
withdrawing! They can’t just busy themselves with burying the dead!
So, Jesus challenges them: if government programs fail, then it is up
to you to feed them! “You give them something to eat!”
Can you imagine living in a word in which we do not constantly think
that there is not enough? Not enough for everyone? Can you imagine
a work place in which everyone isn’t trying to get the most for
themselves and their area of influence? Can you imagine dinner
tables where people aren’t fighting over the last piece of meat? A
healthcare system, in which everyone gets what they need? A
political system in which everyone has their basic needs for housing
and food met? “We don’t have enough,” the disciples say. “All we
have is five loaves and two fish. And the crowd consists of about
5000.” Get a grip.
And then the next and maybe most profound miracle happens. In the
blessing and the breaking, in the thanking and the sharing, there is
enough. “And all ate and all were filled”.
Who can understand this miracle? Was it that people didn’t take what
they really needed? Or did Jesus help them see their own amazing
abundance such that they share what was already in their pockets?
Or did the loaves and the fish multiply miraculously and did God
create more out of little, really from nothing (which is after all God’s
favorite building material)? All ate and all were filled.
There is something about brokenness and blessing.
Something about broken soil and places for growth.
Something about broken clouds giving rain – and enough of it.
Broken hearts reaching others in compassion,
Broken grain making bread,
and broken bread offering strength.
And then yet another miracle – out of scarcity – plenty, abundance:
“and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve
baskets full.” There is something about how much there is
everywhere! Abundance, not scarcity…
The ongoing miracle of the twelve baskets is right before you in this
very moment. Filled with plenty and an abundance of blessing, right
here among us. Where does your poverty and the world’s poverty,
your plenty and the world’s plenty, your brokenness and the cross of
your neighbor, your blessing and God’s kingdom meet? And what
does the story mean to you?
And blessed are you, who you are broken. Blessed are those who
turn around. Blessed are those who become community. And blessed
are you, in your grief. Blessed the broken hearted, who still have
And blessed are you who know and don’t understand.
And blessed are you who understand and don’t know how.
And blessed are you, who give and receive the bread of the kingdom.