Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from July 25, 2021
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
The gospels are full of miracle stories, but there is only one miracle story told in all four gospels, and two of those gospels actually tell it twice – which means this miracle has real significance. That miracle is the feeding of the 5000. It is also interesting to compare this story as told in each of the gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, when faced with the perplexing problem of feeding so many people and not having nearly enough food to do so, the disciples are the ones to ask Jesus the question, “What will we do?” But in John’s telling of the story, there is a major twist as we hear Jesus asking Philip, “What will we do?”
Jesus has been continually moving through Galilee doing the work of ministry – teaching, speaking words of hope, and healing people. The crowds begin to follow him around because of the miraculous healings they have seen. And, in today’s story, 5,000 men plus women and children follow him up a mountain wanting to see more of his astonishing healing power. In John’s gospel, Jesus surveys the crowd and, already knowing what he is going to do, he asks Philip this test question, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat? They are hungry. So, what are we going to do?” In John’s gospel, Jesus is the one who asks the disciples and, by extension, asks the likes of each one of us, “What are we going to do? How are we going to deal with this problem of hunger?”
Hunger is a universal experience. From the moment we enter this world we are faced with hunger. Hunger is something we all know and understand. We all feel it when our bellies are empty. We all know what that incessant feeling is like when hunger always returns, when our bodies scream out for nourishment. And, hunger propels us to that which gives us life, that which we quite literally cannot live without.
When Jesus asks Phillip this question, Philip responds logically. He calculates how much money needed to buy supper for all five thousand plus people. He replies, “Half a year’s paychecks won’t do the trick. Our budget just isn’t big enough. Our resources are just too few.” Quite honestly, that sounds like the responses we tend to frequently hear from churches. But, the amazing thing is God looks at scant resources and situations of nothingness and says, “Now there is something I can work with.” Jesus knows this, and he knows that conventional, logical answers are not what is needed and called for in this situation.
Then, Andrew looks around, he does a practical survey of the situation to figure out what is available. He comes to Jesus saying, “Well, there is someone here, a kid with five barley loaves and a couple of fish.” Andrew tells Jesus that what is available is the lunch of a boy, someone who is not a power broker, someone who has no social rank or standing, someone who is poor. We know this because barley flour is the flour that poor folks used to make their loaves of bread. The rich did not use barley. In Andrew’s words we get the sense that real needs are not necessarily filled by the folks to whom we often look for help, those who have much. And, as John continues to tell this story, it becomes very clear that Jesus himself is the only One who can end real hunger – hunger of every kind, not just the sort of hunger that makes for growling stomachs at lunchtime. John makes this very clear because in his telling of this story, this miracle takes place near the time of Passover and Jesus becomes the host of the meal. Jesus is the one who distributes the food. In the other gospels, it is the disciples who take up the work of distributing the food, but in John, something else is going on. Jesus, himself, is the one who feeds the 5,000+ crowd. And, in John’s telling of this story, after Jesus feeds this crowd he tells the disciples, “Gather up the fragments so that nothing is lost.” These are important words. The Greek word used for lost really means perishing. Jesus’ real purpose is to keep people from getting lost, from perishing, and to provide nourishment that lasts and keeps us truly alive. So, they gather up the fragments and then have twelve baskets full of leftovers. Now, in scripture, the number twelve is important. It has to do with fullness and completeness. So, as twelve baskets of food are leftover, we get the message that in this person, Jesus, there is true abundance, and none are going to perish.
John’s placement of this story near the time of Passover where Jesus serves as host is very intentional because it is Jesus himself who will become the real food. In fact, next week we will hear the verses that follow today’s reading in which Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never hunger.” Jesus is saying, “I am the real food, the most important food. Don’t spend your lives on food that spoils. Don’t stock the shelves of your life with perishables. Put me there instead. Make me your staple, the food that is going to last. When you are hungry, reach first for me.”
So, I ask each of you, what are you really hungry for? How are you hungry? And, how are you trying to fill the empty void within? God really cares about your answers to these questions. God cares about your hunger and God is calling you to Jesus’ table of life where you can feast on this bread called Jesus, a food that is very strange indeed. It is strange because we consume this Jesus food and take it into ourselves as ordinary bread. We digest this Jesus food and it becomes part of us. But this bread, this life of Jesus, does something that ordinary bread does not do. You see, when we consume this bread, Jesus begins to consume us. When we consume the bread at this table, the broken body of Jesus makes us a part of himself. And, when we consume this bread, we become food for a broken world – we become broken, living loaves of bread as we live, loving and serving all others in this world.
Undoubtably you will experience some form of hunger today. Many of us have a gnawing hunger, an emptiness within that food alone will not fill. We try to fill that void through buying more stuff, through travel, through striving for success, through doing everything possible to see our kids strive for success, through a whole variety of addictions that we think will fill the void within but end up fooling us because they leave us empty and starving again.
God is always looking at our emptiness and saying, “Now that is something I can work with.” Jesus, the one who became broken and went to the cross out of love for this world, is saying to us, “What are you gonna do? Feed on me, feed on my very life. I am the real food that truly matters, and I am the one who will truly satisfy your hungry heart. I am the one who will give you life that truly matters. I am more than enough and there is abundance as I give you my very life. Come and feast on my banquet of life!”
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.