July 29, 2018
Growing up there were a lot of things that I wanted!
I had one of the very first pair of Nike Air Jordan’s. Oh, I wish I still had them, because they would probably be worth well more than what my parents paid for them. I also had to have the newest pair of shoes that Andre Agassi wore when I was playing tennis. I liked material things. It is nice to be able to have something that you can hold in your hands, as opposed to an idea or concept.
This morning we begin a five-week journey in the sixth chapter of the gospel of John. We have heard the stories of the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on water, and in the weeks ahead, we will encounter Jesus as the bread of life. I would like to take a different look at this chapter over the next several weeks and examine our own understandings of it as well as where we find ourselves in God’s creation. In Jesus, we are blessed in ways that we have not fully come to comprehend.
From the outset, it appears that the concern is the material well being of the five thousand that have gathered to listen to the teaching of Jesus. Where ever Jesus and his disciples traveled, they were being followed, and as we heard last week from the gospel of Mark, it was hard for them to get even just a minute of leisure time.
The first story we heard this morning, the feeding of the five thousand, is the only story to appear in all four of the gospels. Unlike the synoptic gospels (which is Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus in the Gospel of John is more assertive and proactive. He does not wait for the disciples to come to him and tell him that he should send the crowd away to find something to eat and place to stay for the night. In John, his first comments after seeing the crowd arrive and continue to grow, was where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat.
The crowd gathered does not appear to be concerned about what they are going to eat. They are there for Jesus and to hear what he has to say. They want to be able to catch a glimpse of him and go back to their villages and tell their neighbors about what they have seen and heard.
The disciples expose their doubt about being able to provide enough food to feed everyone that has made the trip to see Jesus. There is simply no way that they have enough money to buy bread to feed everyone. The disciples focus on simply the material needs of the crowd is reflected in our own living today.
As I shared with you at the beginning, I am not immune to the material things of the world. I will admit that every time I am eligible for a new cell phone on our plan I want to go out and see what the latest and greatest one is like and most likely purchase it. Sometimes the material goes much deeper than shiny new electronics!
Like the physical bread that Jesus wants everyone to have, we too have needs to ensure that we take care of our bodies that are created in the image of God. We must eat to be able to survive and have strength to go out and work in creation. We must have water to survive. There are the material things that simply make our lives better and allow us to do more things to help others.
However, we must be careful where we focus those desires, or we can easily get caught off guard and lose track of God. How many of you are on Facebook? Did you know that the church has a Facebook page? I would hope by now that you did. I posted a question out there for you earlier this week. The question was, “If you were to pay attention to your prayers, for which kind of blessings do you most often pray, material or spiritual?” There is no judgement in your answers from me. However, some would argue I was shallow if I said material while others would say I was pious if I said spiritual. I believe there is common ground to be found.
While Jesus may have started the conversation about how they were going to feed the five thousand with physical bread, he is truly going much deeper than that. He knows that the people have a hunger that food cannot fulfill. Their hunger resides in their desire to see and hear from Jesus. Others may just be gathered out of curiosity, but they are soon to get their fill on substance that they never even expected.
The disciples focus may have been on the material, but Jesus’ focus was on the spiritual needs of the people. And of course, it is much better to pay attention when your stomach is not grumbling. This feeding of the five thousand is also one of the signs that Jesus uses to reveal who he is and ultimately who God is.
In the middle of the story, it could be easy to overlook the boy that is willing to share the bread and fish that he has. We don’t know anything about this boy. The food that he offers up could be what is to feed his family over the next week. He unselfishly gives up the material, placing faith in Jesus that all will be well. It is in this faith that he not only leaves with a full stomach, but a spiritual wellness that he can now share with his family. Perhaps he even took part of the twelve baskets of leftovers home to feed his family for several weeks. We are not told what happens to these baskets.
Jesus does not hold back. He provides abundantly for those that are gathered at the table. He nourishes both physically and spiritually in the bread and the wine. Through Jesus we receive the grace and the love of God is revealed for us.
Jesus can provide our material needs, and we can pray for those things that sustain our well-being and our families. Praying for a Ferrari maybe a stretch! What Jesus reveals for the disciples is what is revealed for us today. Jesus reveals that God’s essential character is loving and God’s desire is to be accessible and available to the people of God. It is hard to quantify this and thus hard to comprehend.
In all honesty, it may not be what we want in this moment – so convinced are we that material possessions will make us happy – but it is what we need. In our brokenness and faults, Jesus provides regardless, and his love is revealed in the bread of life that we encounter in the eucharist.
Let us pray. God, you know what we need before we even ask for it. May we place our trust in your saving grace as we repent of our sins and reveal our brokenness. For it is through your grace that we are welcomed at your table. Amen.
 David Lose from workingpreaching.org