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Worship Theme: Christians live by faith, trusting God to provide

Sermon Theme: Look Beyond the Fish Fry

It’s a beautiful evening for dining outside. You take a seat on the lush green grass. It’s crowded, but everyone is seated like you in smaller, socially-distant, groups. Once you are seated, the waiters come by with your dinner. It’s a good-ol’ fish fry! The menu is simple…locally sourced fish with a heaping basket of artisan bread. You’re famished and you eat till your heart and stomach are content. There’s so much food that you find yourself pushing aside the leftovers and the waiters come back to clear the food, saving it in baskets. You ask the waiter, “Remind me again of your name.” He replies, “I’m Peter and this over here is my brother, Andrew.”

I’m guessing that you’ve realized that what I described is no normal Friday night Wisconsin fish fry. This is the miracle described in today’s gospel from Matthew chapter 14…the feeding of the 5,000. Maybe like me, you’ve imagined what it would have been like to be at this famous miracle of Jesus. A couple of fish and a few loaves of bread miraculously became enough to feed 5,000 men, not counting the women and children seated alongside them on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The twelve disciples of Jesus were the waiters, serving the food to this large crowd and gathering the abundant leftovers into twelve baskets. The chef who made this miraculous meal happen, of course, was Jesus Christ.

This is more than just an amazing miracle that makes for a good story. Today I want you to look beyond the fish fry, look beyond the simple telling of the story and see the beautiful truths that God wants you to take to heart. See the Lord’s compassion. See the Lord who wants to be the solution to problems. See the Lord who blesses you abundantly.

The account starts with Jesus setting out across the Sea of Galilee to the opposite side to a solitary place. He wanted to be alone and have some time to himself. We often hear of Jesus doing this and spending this time in prayer. But when the crowd heard where Jesus was going, they chased after him and greeted him when he landed. I picture this like that moment when you’ve wrestled kids all day long and finally set them down to bed and set yourself down on the couch for a much-needed moment of quiet, only to look up to a child in your face needing something. Or running around all day and finally getting a moment to sit down and then the doorbell rings. Man, who is it?! What do you want?! Leave me alone! That’s how we would react in this situation. But listen again to what Jesus did. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Jesus didn’t turn them away. He put their needs first. Even when they probably didn’t chase him down for the right reasons, more likely seeing him as a miracle healer, rather than the eternal healer, Jesus still had compassion on them. Later as evening approached, Jesus again had compassion on them as he didn’t send the crowd away, but fed them.

Look beyond the miracle itself and see how it starts with Jesus’ compassion. Jesus sees needs and he addresses them because he cares for you. The Lord sees how helpless you can be and feel in life. He sees the moments where you fail, or others fail you. He sees your moments of weakness and the times you give into temptation. He sees your lack of love and trust; your hurt and disappointment. He has compassion on you.

Look beyond the fish fry and see the God who is filled with compassion for you. Listen to how this compassion is played out as described in the book of Titus chapter 3. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3–7). What a reminder of the powerful truth that the Lord God sees your sinful state and yet in his great mercy and by his mercy alone, God saves you by washing away your sins through the saving work of his Son, your Savior, Jesus. He saw your eternal need to be saved from sin and hell and in compassion sent his Son to rescue you. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

Every miracle that Jesus performed had a purpose. Primarily, they often proved that he was truly the Lord God as he did things that no one else but God could do. But his miracles often had other purposes. When you look in a simple way at the feeding of the 5,000, the purpose seems to feed a bunch of hungry people. But look beyond the fish fry and see something else. See how Jesus challenged the disciples. The gospel of John’s account of this miracle reports how earlier in the day when Jesus first saw the crowds, Jesus asked the disciple, Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” It seems this was the problem they were to figure out and they had all day to do so. When evening came, the disciples came to Jesus with their answer. “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.” They had all day long to come up with a plan, and instead they punted. They saw the problem – a huge crowd, late in the day, and no McDonalds or Burger King for miles – but they didn’t see a solution. They didn’t see THE SOLUTION.

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. Let me tell you what they really meant, “We are only able to do so much and it’s not enough.” It’s hopeless!

Now I don’t know about you, but I feel like I get where the disciples were at. How often do you get overwhelmed as you look at the problems in your life? Those problems can sure look big and you can feel like you are all alone in a remote place and you’ve been thinking this problem through or working through it for a long time and you come to the conclusion that this is just too big. I can only do so much and it won’t fix it. When you get the cancer diagnosis and you can’t beat it. When no one will listen to you and you can’t take it. When you’ve tried to kick that pet temptation that you keep giving into and keep failing. When you strive to change your attitude but the old one keeps creeping in.

The disciples didn’t look to Jesus as the solution. The one who created all things and had done miracles in front of their eyes before stood right next to them, but they didn’t see him. They didn’t trust him. So often we are like them. We see all the problems, but not the solution. We can know that Jesus is right there next to us, as the Lord of all creation, and still not come to him in faithful trust.

Jesus said to them, “Bring them (the fish and bread) here to me.” He sat the crowd down and took care of the problem. He fed the people with just the little that there seemed to be. Jesus was the answer. Look beyond the fish fry and see the Savior who wants you to come to him in all your troubles and bring to him all your fears so that he can be the answer. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). God invites you to bring all of your challenges and sins and guilts and uncertainties to him and to let him be your everlasting help. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Look at this godly reasoning. If God loves you so much that he would send his son to die for you to rescue you from the pits of hell, won’t God graciously provide all that you need to remain in and with him forever? See that the Lord is your answer and come to him.

5,000-plus people ate till they had to loosen their belts and put on their stretchy tunics and there was still bushels full of leftovers. Look beyond the fish fry and see the Savior who blesses abundantly, more than we could ask for or expect. God provides for your physical needs both in normal ways like through hard work, going to the store and so on, and sometimes through miraculous ways like unexpected gifts, or unexplained healings. But even more than that, God wants to satisfy your spiritual hunger. Look beyond the earthly blessings and see the even greater spiritual blessings.

See how richly God blesses you with his love and forgiveness. See how richly he offers to you opportunities to hear his promises proclaimed in his Word and Sacraments. See how the spiritual blessings – hope, comfort, calm, strength, peace, just to name a few– spill into your life so much that you could store it up in baskets. God’s grace covers every one of your sins forever. God’s grace assures you a place in God’s kingdom and a home in heaven. God’s grace assures you that he is with you today and always. How is this possible? Look beyond the fish fry and see that the one who did this miracle, who went to the cross to offer his perfect life as the sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world, this Jesus is just who he claimed to be, the Lord God in flesh, your Savior.

My friends as you go out into the world today, look beyond the troubles, the frustrations, the failures, and the battles, you know what, look beyond the successes, the joys, and the blessings and see the Savior. See the compassionate Savior who wants you to look to him in faith and fill you with his abundant blessings. Amen.

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