Read John 6 here.
To tell you the truth, it’s been hard to write a sermon this week, because I wanted to be hopeful and encouraging, but it’s been hard not to be sad. People are sick and dying. People are arguing and angry. People are scared and worried. It’s a crazy, surreal time.
It occurred to me earlier this week that in various ways we are all experiencing the stages of grief over all the ways that life is changing right now (denial, anger, sadness, bargaining and acceptance), and so I wrote on my blog about that.
It also occurred to me that we grieve because we are made in the image of God and God grieves. We see it in the shortest verse of the Bible in the story of Lazarus in John 11. Jesus wept. Whether it was because Lazarus was dead, or because Jesus was sad for Lazarus’ friends and family, or sad about the spiritual condition of the people, we don’t know for sure, but he wept.
We don’t see Jesus weeping in this story (John 6) about feeding the people gathered on the hillside, but the conversation that happens the next day must have grieved him. (That conversation begins at verse 22.) The people come looking for Jesus to do the same miracle again, like Moses who gave the people manna from heaven every day when they were wandering in the desert. Jesus tries to explain to them that they have missed the point about the manna, which came from God, not from Moses, and that they have also missed the point about what happened the day before on the hillside. He wasn’t doing a miracle to impress them or even to feed them, although he had met their physical need in that moment.
The miracle pointed to a bigger reality, a deeper truth, that Jesus is God. He tells them, “I am the bread from heaven” (v41). Jesus fed them with bread as a metaphor for the truth that he feeds our souls. This blessing comes through faith, and we demonstrate our faith and multiply this blessing through sharing.
We see this in the story. Jesus could have done this miracle without the loaves and fishes from the boy. John tells us in chapter 1 of this gospel that Jesus “…was in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” (John 1:2b-3) Jesus could have done this without using the boy’s lunch, but in using the gift from the boy, he blessed the boy’s trust and multiplied the boy’s efforts, and gave everyone a tangible experience of God’s abundant love.
I have a personal connection to this story. Some of you have heard me tell about my journey to becoming a pastor, and like most stories, there are many different parts and you can’t tell them all at once, so I may not have mentioned before that this story played a role in that journey. Rob and I were beginning to feel called to make a change. We were living in California in the town in which we’d both grown up, and as we were asking God what was next for us, we kept running into Genesis 12, the story of God’s call to Abraham to leave his home and go to a new place. As the call to leave became more and more clear, we were also asking God how we could afford this , and we found the answer in this story of the loaves and fish. Commit to God whatever we have, and God will provide. We put out a basket, like the baskets in the story, we put in it whatever cash we had in our pockets at the time, and asked God to multiply our efforts, as we started making plans to go. At first we didn’t know where or how, but little by little things fell into place. As we told our family and friends and our church about this, people helped us out in various ways, including some very generous financial gifts that covered our moving expenses and helped us through our first year in our new home in South Carolina. We had put out the basket as a sign of our trust and God filled it.
We didn’t know exactly what God had planned for us in South Carolina, but we went, and we kept trusting and praying and doing our best to follow God’s leading. We probably got some things wrong, but we also got some things right, and that became the place where I was able to finish college and go to seminary. Looking back I can see now that it was our small steps of faith that got us to where we are now, here in Sterling, Kansas.
God blesses our trust and works through the actions we take that are based on that trust.
Our meeting together here on Facebook Live is another example of our trust in God. It is also a sign to us that our faith is real. If it were only about meeting in the building on 307 N. Broadway, then we would not be drawn to go to the trouble of finding other ways to gather. Our gathering is visible and tangible, but the experience of gathering together to celebrate God’s love is full of intangibles. We have thoughts and feelings that aren’t always easy to name or describe. These are the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus talks about this in the conversation in verses 41 and following. The people who still don’t understand that there’s something bigger happening are arguing, so Jesus tells them, “No one comes to me unless the Father draws them to me” (v44). None of us would be here it if weren’t for the work of the Holy Spirit drawing us to Jesus. Our gathering is tangible evidence of the work of the Spirit and of the existence of God’s abundant love.
There have been lots of conversations over recent weeks about what’s real and true about this pandemic. It’s nothing new that we would argue over what is true. We read in John 18 that when Jesus was arrested and put on trial, he was brought to Pilate, the governor, who asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Pilate presses Jesus for a more definitive answer. “So you are a king?”
Jesus replies, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
Pilate replies, maybe with a sigh, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)
The question is rhetorical and unanswered, and the writer Frederick Buechner says that it’s in that silence that we find truth, because it’s in the silence that we are able to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). But also in that silence is our own individual reality of what we are feeling and experiencing.
This past week, many people’s truth was death, unemployment, hunger, loneliness and isolation. But in the midst of the pervasiveness of those, there was also goodness giving testament to the love of God.
The ultimate truth is that God loves the world so much that he gave his son Jesus so that no one might perish and so that everyone who believes could have eternal life with him. (John 3:16 Krabbe paraphrase)
That day on the hillside people saw that truth demonstrated through a boy who gave his lunch so that everyone could be fed. Jesus blessed that gift, gave thanks to God for it, and multiplied it.
God does the same for us whenever we share what we have. God blesses our trust and multiplies our gift, as our actions make God’s love more tangible for both the giver and the receiver. And any who see it are also encouraged by the action and as a result often drawn to trust and give as well.
I could tell you about so many beautiful acts I’ve seen and heard about this week on the news, on Facebook, in conversations. Sometimes the gifts are money or food or flowers. Sometimes simply phone calls or letters or prayers. There was even the literal sharing of bread.
What have you seen? How have you participated?
- The Brownlees and friends shared their musical talent and Christmas spirit on the Corner of Main and Broadway yesterday. (See video here.)
How will we continue to be living testaments to the truth of God’s amazing and abundant love and of our faith in Jesus?
- Opportunities to share – some ideas
- Call somebody you normally talk to at church on Sunday, especially those we don’t see interacting on social media
- Write a letter
- Tell somebody what you like or admire about them
- Share your dough (punny for money)
- Keep supporting the church
- Help out the food bank
- Help someone less techy to use new tech to communicate
There’s been a meme going around about how Fred Roger’s mother would tell him in the midst of tragedies and crisis to look for the helpers. It’s true, there are always helpers and it’s a blessing and a comfort to see them helping. When we see them, let’s also give thanks to God who gives them the ability and the desire to help.
Jesus demonstrated God’s love by feeding the people on that hillside that day, and told us to remember him with bread and wine at the Last Supper. When we eat the bread and drink the cup in that sacrament, we say a prayer that those elements may be more than just signs of God’s love and grace, but that they may be for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ. As we see people sharing, as we ourselves find opportunities to share, may we give thanks and know that we are making real for the world the truth of God’s amazing love.
 Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (Harper One Publishing, 1977),