Sermon for July 26th, 2015: Free Lunch, John 6:1-21- Preached by Roxanne French while Pastor Chrissy was away.
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.
Just before moving here to Winthrop, I had finished raising two daughters and a son. Now, my girls are petite and my son is tall and big-boned. It seemed as though keeping food in the house was an always, on-going challenge. I remember dragging a second grocery cart behind me through the food stores. Even at that, it was a common event that often... after checking the fridge for a snack, my daughters would ask me what had happened to the food. I am guessing that this was a rhetorical question because we had all witnessed Steve eating enormous helpings of everything. Mixing bowls full of cereal. Huge glasses of milk drunk in what seemed like only three gulps. Ice cream was eaten out of the family carton with a large spoon. My answer to my daughters was: "There is the quick and the dead...I guess you know which ones you are."
One iconic family family has Steve happily eating out of a large plastic bucket the food had been sold in. (Nothing says "gourmet" like a plastic bucket from Walmart.) Steve was singing part of an Adam Sandler song , "Slop, slop, sloppy joes." He then turned to his older sister and said in a funny voice reserved for siblings, "You can't have none of my sloppy Joes". Linnea replied in a dignified way : "Steve, I am a vegan. I don't want any of your sloppy joes." To which my son responded, "I don't care about your Pagan God Vego. You can't have none of my sloppy Joes."
The boy mentioned in John 6 had 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish. Barley loaves were typically the food of the poor, being haIf the cost of the wheat loaves to bake. The small fish were likely cheap in a fishing town. Those of us that have experienced tough times...might think of ramen noodles and Bar-S hot dogs.
If this young man had the typical appetite of any of the growing boys that I have known, he may have had just enough food to satisfy his hunger. The boy most likely had built up his hunger with hard work, helping to support his family in a struggling economy. Yet he gave all that he had when asked. One of the most humble people in the crowd....assisted Jesus in a miracle !
This Gospel of John is spare in details. Bible stories such as the Feeding of the 5,000 are wonderful this way. We are allowed to use our imagination to fill in the details. If we need help in understanding this Scripture, there are clues in the text to help us along. For example, the number 5 (as in 5,000 and 5 loaves- is the Biblical symbol for grace- unmerited favor). The truly curious modern reader also has online resources such as Greek-English lexicons, commentaries by theologians, and sermons.
If you decide to re-read the story today, approach it as one would a great mystery with every word being a clue to unlocking the answer to that mystery. Try to put aside your scientific skepticism...just for a while... in order to glean the wisdom that transcends the ordinary.
As we read the Scripture, put ourselves in the place of any of the people involved. Even if we believe that we KNOW a story or parable...we will see new things in the text. There is space for us to superimpose our own life experiences upon the Scripture. The Bible holds up a mirror to our own evolving life stories and we will see this relection with new eyes.
As an example, I have been the Woman at the Well (John 4), Ja-El (a "fun" read from the Judges 4), and both Hagar AND Sarah from Genesis. Yet, I cannot imagine being the boy (or his mother) who gave up his lunch so that a miracle might take place. Unless I felt God calling me to do so.... and I believe that the boy did feel called by the Divine that day. It would take immense faith to believe that his simple act of faith would make a difference.
How many of us would have felt the Call to surrender what little we have in an act of faith and compassion ? Or would we have been more likely to hoard what we have, taking surreptitious bites from our sack lunch ? Would you have felt as though your contribution would have been in vain ? Do you often feel as though what you give is too little to make a difference, even as you feel compassion for others in need ? Does it matter whether the needy have a shepherd...or the same shepherd that you do ?
Jesus was able to feed 5,000 people because of the faith of one little boy. A pure-hearted boy, no doubt. The fact that he was named as a boy tells us that he had not yet turned 13, the age that a Jew becomes a man in Judaism. I believe that the boy... "our boy".... was being schooled in preparation for becoming a full member in his temple. He was studying the Torah with its role models, such as Abraham, who gave up much to follow God. The boys' teachers...rabbis....surely had imparted the wisdom that he could not fill the "God-shaped hole" with material goods.
A small boy with a huge heart helped Jesus feed 5000 people. In return, he received back more than he could carry home- 12 baskets full of loaves and fishes. From His loving God to a boy that had shown himself to be a giving soul. If asked again, I believe that little boy would have given up those 12 baskets to help some more people.
John does not say whether the boy's family is Pharisees, Sadducee, Essene, or Zealot. It may be that the family were just Jews. Plain simple folk who likely lived out their lives- following the ways as they'd always done, whatever their mothers or fathers had taught them in "simple piety." Jews who observed the Sabbath, the holidays, and the festivals. Jews who went with the pilgrimage to temple, who observed the Jewish food laws, the Jewish rituals, and believe in the Jewish God. Jews who follow the ways and the dictates of the Torah...with faith.
I meet simple Christians some times. They tell me of their nightly prayers with "Him", of living their lives as best as they are able, of being kind and generous to others- even if they do not attend church. Perhaps if Jesus returned to this earthly plane, these would be the folks that He would embrace and get to work for Him. Christianity is not about performance, it is about the attitudes of our hearts. Generosity is an outworking of the love of Christ that has been placed in our hearts.
I wonder what would happen if all of us cultivated a culture of generosity in our own lives and family? I wonder if we will participate in miracles ? I wonder if we should look for miracles to be part of ? I wonder.
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.