From the Pulpit

From the Pulpit 

Sermon on John 6:1-15
10th Sunday after Pentecost  |  July 29, 2018


I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength. Amen.
Today we meditate on the Word of our Lord as it is recorded in the gospel of John 6:1-15.

1 After this, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). And a huge crowd was following Him because they saw the signs that He was performing by healing the sick. So Jesus went up a mountain and sat down there with His disciples.

Now the Passover, a Jewish festival, was near. Therefore, when Jesus looked up and noticed a huge crowd coming toward Him, He asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?” He asked this to test him, for He Himself knew what He was going to do.

Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a little.”

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish—but what are they for so many?”

10 Then Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”

There was plenty of grass in that place, so they sat down. The men numbered about 5,000. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks He distributed them to those who were seated—so also with the fish, as much as they wanted.

12 When they were full, He told His disciples, “Collect the leftovers so that nothing is wasted.” 13 So they collected them and filled 12 baskets with the pieces from the five barley loaves that were left over by those who had eaten.

14 When the people saw the sign He had done, they said, “This really is the Prophet who was to come into the world!” 15 Therefore, when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.   (HCSB)

Dear brothers and sisters of our bread-giving, faith-giving, and life-giving Lord, Jesus Christ. I find it interesting, and frankly, sad, that Christmas (or as many insist on referring to that time – "the holidays") is called the "season of giving." It's a demonstrable fact that even unbelievers are, at that time, more generous with their time, with their money, and generally more charitable in their inter-personal relationships. We Christians are, too. But why can't we be that way all year round? The Law of Love under which we live requires us to love God and neighbor, and not just at Christmas time. We make an effort to obey this law because we love our God and want to obey him. But if we obey that law better at Christmas time, does that mean we love God less in July? Well, we know the reason for that disparity – it is our sinful nature. In our gospel today, Jesus sets an example of charity and love, of giving, for us to follow all year long. Let's see how, and why, the Lord gives.
First, he gives to supply our need.
We heard last week how the situation in our lesson came about. Jesus and his closest disciples, those we call apostles, set out for an out-of-the-way place for a spiritual retreat, but the crowd followed them. Jesus took pity of these lost sheep and began teaching them.
Now they needed food, and the only one of them who brought something to eat was a little kid with some small loaves and fish. Here we might expect the typical human reply: "Well, it's your own fault you forgot to bring something along." Maybe that's true. Maybe it's true that it's the addict's fault that he lost his family, his job, and his home.

And maybe we think it's our fault that we can't give our families everything we'd like to give them. We don't just put the burden on others to supply for themselves…we think we need to do it ourselves, too. Yes, I know, this attitude is as American as apple pie, or at least it used to be… But friends, is it Christian? "God helps those who help themselves" does not mean we have to do it ourselves!

This "do it yourself" attitude is missing something important: the Lord. Philip and Andrew missed it, and frequently we do, too.

It should seem silly to you, after reading this passage of John's gospel, that you would spend any time at all worrying about your daily needs. Jesus fed 5,000 men, not including women and children, from a young boy's lunch. Do you think he can provide for you?
But that doesn't mean we sit on our hands, because he doesn't often provide for us by means of miracles. Most of us have jobs or other means to put food on the table. These, too, are gifts from the Lord. You may not like your job, but it keeps the bills paid, shoes on the kids' feet, and so forth. But if you don't like your job, why not? Do you despise this gift of the Lord? Perhaps that is how you need to think of it: it IS a gift, your job, along with the strength and the savvy or skill with which you perform that job. Put God in your work, work for him, and you will be able to do it with joy.

Now, you might think that's easier for some of us than for others. Yet even pastors are weak, sinful, and often forget to trust in the Lord to provide. That's why he tests us, as he did with Philip and Andrew. He'll use even the gifts he gives us to test us, and whether we fail or pass the test, our faith will grow stronger through that testing.
He gives to strengthen our faith.
The question he asked "how will we buy food for so many?" was probably asked before he sat down to teach the people. He gave his disciples time to think about it. Now, this particular "trust test" they failed. One suggested that they send the people to the towns, though there were none nearby, to buy their own food. Philip despaired that there was enough money, and Andrew found a boy with some bread and fish, but couldn't see how this kid's lunch could feed so many.

From a purely practical, earthly standpoint, their problem is very real. We know the solution because we have the benefit of hindsight – we know what Jesus did. But that's not always the case. When you're in the middle of a pickle, you often can't see the way out. Have you ever skipped some bills one month and others on another months, just so you'd have money to buy groceries? Could you see a way out? Did you rely on the Lord to provide it? How did you do on your "trust test?"
We fail, yes, we do. But that doesn't stop the Lord from giving. And when we experience his grace and generosity, even when we have failed to trust in him, we will be strengthened. How often have you looked back on events and only after the fact seen how the Lord was caring for you through the whole thing? Do you think Philip and Andrew went "Doh!" Homer Simpson-style when Jesus fed all those people? And do you think they would be more, or less, likely to trust in the Lord after that? More, of course… And it does the same for us. Even if it's after the fact, we can grow in trust and faith. And that leads to faithful service. He gives, so we might give, too.
The crowd, as in last week's lesson, missed the point. They wanted Jesus to just keep giving them things: bread and circuses, even power. King by force? Not THIS Messiah, folks.

How often we use God's gifts wrongly. Look at how much food is thrown away in America every day, while some starve. Foreign aid winds up feeding warlords and their soldiers instead of the people it was intended to help. We Christians even worry that our gifts to those in need will be used to buy drugs or alcohol, or that we won't have enough left for ourselves.

But we know the solution for that—be as generous with others as God has been with you. When you trust in the Lord to provide for you, and for others through you, than you can be sure that no matter what you give away, you will always have what you need.
But that only addresses the material things…what about the spiritual? The people Jesus fed wanted to parlay that into a renewed kingdom of Israel. Today evangelicals and others want to force the morality and ideology of Christendom on a population of unbelievers. They think their mission is to provide, in legal fashion, a moral compass for society. Sure, we can and ought to set an example, but it is not our job to legislate morality.

Jesus didn't come to establish an earthly government. He came to establish his rule in the hearts of mankind. He came to live and die so that we could all be his brothers and sisters, citizens of his kingdom. The spiritual gifts he gives us are to be used in that kingdom—and that is where we fail. And we do not always fail because of willful disobedience—we fail because we do not know our gifts.

I said before that God does not often use miracles to provide for us—likewise he does not usually bless the work of the Church that way, either. We are his instruments. How unfortunate it is that there are so many of us who say and think "I have nothing to offer." Friends, remember what Paul wrote to the Ephesians about God's gift of people to his Church—you all have a place and function in it.

So, how do we know our gifts? Take out a sheet of paper and write down what you're good at doing, and add to the bottom of that list what you're interested in doing. Can any of those things be used for the good of the Church? Do you like to talk? Then you would probably be a good witness. Do you like to meet new people? Then you can probably do evangelism. Are you known for the hospitality of your home? Then bring that hospitality to church. Are you a good leader, administrator, teacher, gardener, builder, writer, designer, -- all these are gifts of God that can be shared with the Church. You have gifts that can serve, and if you're having trouble figuring out what they are, ask a fellow member, an elder, or your pastor. And by all means—PRAY!
We started this sermon talking about bread and fish, and now we're on spiritual gifts—that's as it should be, my friends, because of the last line of our lesson. Christ came with a mission, and it wasn't feeding people. He came to save humanity from its sins, and he couldn't do that if he were an earthly king—or a caterer.

Christ took pity on those poor people, and so he fed them, AFTER he fed them with his Word. He made sure that his mission would not be obstructed by earthly desires and needs. His greatest concern was the spiritual need of human beings. And that must be our focus, too. We are blessed with many in our community who need our charity, and it is a joy when we can be generous and give to those in need. Give to those in spiritual need, too, dear friends. As generously as you would open your pocketbook or your larder, open your heart and your mouth for the sake of those who are dead in spirit. You have the gifts to do it: a mouth, a tongue, and the Word of truth: Jesus is the Savior of the world. You believe because someone, a parent, teacher, pastor or friend shared this gift with you. Now share it with someone else. It's the season of giving—give generously.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.