John 6: 1-21

The church is a funny place, isn’t it…

We are bound to our history – we are committed to a changed (and changing) future –

and we are forced to live in the present,

where the success of the past mocks us and the promise of the future seems impossibly distant. Today’s church faces challenges that could not have been imagined 40 years ago;

success is hard to measure – survival seems the issue for many –

and it is often had to tell one from the other

I want to use John’s gospel lesson this morning

to open our minds to what God considers successful.

Jesus ministry was certainly successful – he drew crowds everywhere he went.

Crowds that came to expect magnificent things –

crowds that wanted to be lifted above their ordinary problems –

and on the surface, this story of the 5000 + fed on so little, is one of those magnificent things.

But the size of the crowd is not the main issue – we should not let the numbers define success for us,

Think back over our reading of John 6; what do you remember? What stands out?

If you check all four gospel reports of this picnic, you will discover that John provides one detail that the rest leave out ;v. 9 – “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish (Andrew says).

The other writers don’t mention this boy,

the food comes from nowhere in particular (or the disciples take credit for providing the starter).

Think about this boy for a minute. Did he come forward on his own?

Was he dragged out from behind a rock (or some other place that he had hidden to eat his meal?) Or… did he respond to a request?

Did he hear the call go out through this huge crowd;

mutterings that they would have to fend for themselves for food?

Did he offer his lunch to the teacher out of admiration,

unaware that he would become an object lesson?

He must have known how inadequate his offering was.

He could see that only a few would benefit from his generosity;

it would have been so much simpler to keep the bread and the fish to himself,

to let someone else (someone older, wiser, wealthier, better equipped or prepared)

step up and offer to help.

Whatever his reason, here is his lunch, blessed and broken,

feeding a small army of people, with plenty to spare.

What an act of courage!

What a bold step, to think someone so insignificant could make a difference!

Is this the lesson Jesus has; is it about what we are capable of

when acting as God would have us act? It’s worth considering.

Fast-forward two thousand years.

The mainline church is in decline; membership is down, attendance is down,

something more significant is taking and keeping people away from church, away from God.

Replay conversations you have heard

in board meetings, session meetings, Presbytery meetings, over coffee after service.

Recall the number of times these low numbers are offered as excuses;

excuses for not acting, for not trying, not offering to help.

Have you ever caught yourself apologizing for empty pews and budgets cut?

It is a rare congregation that doesn’t suffer from this sickness.

We get caught in the making of excuses because it is easier than stepping forward,

than taking a chance that what we have to offer may not seem like enough.

Those people crowded around Jesus did not expect a free lunch.

Some wanted a sign, a miracle on a grand scale to confirm the rumors about this Jesus.

The sign they would receive was not what they were looking for…

The apostles knew that they couldn’t make a difference,

they knew that the richest among them would have trouble looking after the peoples needs.

Jesus wanted them to learn what they were capable of in God’s hands.

Jesus wanted them to see that God could do great things

with whatever they could (would?) provide.

The size of the miracle was not dependent on the availability of materials.

Jesus call to us is a call to Kingdom work; share the good news, love one another –

be the whole people of God

We are invited because of our strength and in spite of our weakness.

In Christ we have seen that God is working in the small, simple things

as well as the grand, fantastic things.

By accepting the insignificant offering of a young Jewish boy and feeding a multitude-

By using that little bit of bread and fish to shake loose more food than five thousand men

(not to mention women and children) could eat in one sitting.

God wants us to give of ourselves so fearlessly and so faithfully that we shame others into giving of themselves. How did Jesus feed the crowd? Did He wave a magic wand and pull food from thin air? I think more likely He let God’s generous Spirit work on the hearts (and picnic baskets)

of those who saw this young man fearlessly give up his lunch so a few more people could eat.

That was an act of faith, and that faith did not go unnoticed.

Are you afraid that your talents aren’t special enough?

Afraid that you haven’t enough to offer?

Will your contribution look inadequate given the scope of the project at hand?

Remember this young man and his hesitant gift,

and remember that we serve the God who creates with just a word;

God knows how to use our simple, ordinary gifts to do extraordinary things.


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