Proper 12B, Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 28, 2015

The Feeding of the One
John 6:1-21
6:1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 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. 11 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. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 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.” 15 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. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
It’s not often that I find myself in actual need of food. I frequently get hungry, but when I get hungry I start thinking about what kind of food I want and where I’m going to go to get it. Getting hungry is actually sort of recreational for me. I like to get a little hungry so I can fully enjoy the dining experience. Getting hungry isn’t normally a crisis for me – it’s an opportunity for a sensational experience.

But I actually found myself in need of food last Monday night, and that’s a different experience from feeling a little hungry before I grab a handful of potato chips. It was my own fault, but I got stranded last Monday evening without any food at our family lake-house on Greers Ferry Lake. This is a lake-house that my grandparents built when I was about 7 years old and it’s a place my immediate family shares with my sister and a handful of cousins. We divide the summer weeks among us sort of like a time-share thing, but we all know each other so if you leave it in a mess people will talk about you, so we all try to leave it clean for the next family.

Part of leaving it clean is not leaving a bunch of old food in the refrigerator. That had sort of become a problem, so we started cleaning out the refrigerator at the end of each week, and the refrigerator looks a lot better than it used to. There are a few condiments in there, and an occasional bottle of olives, but there’s really nothing to eat in there. And it’s the same way with the cabinets. You can find a variety of seasonings in there, but we just make it a practice not to leave any food up there.
Sharla and I had entertained a good chunk of our extended family last weekend, but everyone left pretty quickly on Sunday, and I was to go up on Monday to do some final cleaning, to put gas in the boat, and to haul the trash away. I drove my 1979 Chevy pickup up there, because I needed to get a few boards for a future dock project and for trash hauling, but on the way up there it engaged in some unsettling engine sputtering a couple of times.

I didn’t want it to die on me in the middle of nowhere as I returned to Newport after dark, so after I took care of some boat issues that needed to be addressed, I engaged in what I thought would be a simple replacement of a fuel filter on my truck. And this is one of those cases where a little knowledge can get you in a lot of trouble.

I’ll spare you the details of my mechanical blundering, but about the time it got perfectly dark I had managed to render my truck immobilized. There wasn’t anything I could do until the auto-parts store opened the next morning at 7:30, and even then it was going to take some luck to get it going.

I felt fortunate to have comfortable accommodations, but I was not where I intended to be, and I was hungry. I had eaten all of the olives I thought I could eat without getting sick, but I wanted something else, and I couldn’t find anything. It was 10pm and the nearest convenience store was 1.3 miles away (I had googled it), and I didn’t want to walk that far, so I decided I would just make some really sweet tea for supper. And it was when I opened the cabinet for about the fourth time to get a tea bag and some sugar that I discovered that there actually was a can of Hormel’s chili without beans hidden amongst the spices.
I don’t know how old that can was. I didn’t check it. And I can tell you that under normal circumstances I would never eat a bowl of canned Hormel’s chili without beans, but I was so happy to find that can of chili, and I wasn’t hungry when I went to bed.

It was a terrible feeling to be hungry and to not have access to food. That just doesn’t happen to me very often. I wasn’t in a real crisis. I know people I could have called if I was in a terrible bind. Sharla offered to drive up from Little Rock and bring me some food, but I didn’t want her to do that. Our elderly neighbor up there would have fed me, but she goes to bed at dark. I could have called Rev. Tommy Toombs, the United Methodist minister in Heber, and asked him to bring me some food, but I never would have heard the end of that. I just didn’t have any good options.

That experience sensitized me to this issue of being in a place without food, and the joy of being surprised by the appearance of sustenance. Whenever I’ve thought about this story of Jesus feeding five thousand people in that miraculous manner, I’m always inclined to think of the largeness of the event. It strikes me as being sort of like a music festival atmosphere – where you have a bunch of people showing up in one spot without adequate provisions. I think the story is designed to impress us hearers with the amazing capacity of Jesus to provide for so many people, but today I’m conscious of what it would have felt like to have been an individual in the midst of that crowd.

I’m not thinking about what it would have felt like to have been on hand for such an amazing spectacle – today I’m thinking about what it feels like to be hungry, and to receive food.

The story is impressive, and it’s intended to be impressive, but I’m not as impressed by the number of people who were fed in a miraculous fashion as I am mindful of how powerful it is for us as individuals to experience saving grace. And when I say saving grace I mean everything from the grand experience of feeling miraculously reconciled with God in an ultimate way – to receiving something to eat when we are hungry. Saving grace takes form in many different ways. But it’s always a powerful thing to go from feeling remarkably vulnerable and in need – to having our needs met in a remarkable way.

And this is what Jesus was able to do. As the story goes, Jesus was able to do this on a grand scale, but the number of people Jesus was able to feed is pretty meaningless if you haven’t somehow found yourself nourished by Jesus in an opportune moment. It doesn’t matter how many thousands or even millions of people Jesus was reportedly able to feed with a few loaves and fish if you haven’t felt touched by him on a personal level.

But please don’t hear me saying that in a manipulative way. I’m really not trying to draw a dividing line between those who have had powerful personal experiences with Jesus and those of us who haven’t. I’m not saying it’s your own fault if you’ve never felt like you’ve sat down on a grassy hill and been fed by the hand of Jesus. Honestly, this day in the life of Jesus and his followers that John describes is pretty far beyond a day in the life of your average United Methodist, but I think this story is designed to whet our appetite for an encounter with Christ. John is telling us more about what we can expect from Jesus than what we may have experienced.

Early on in this passage we are told that the Jews were nearing the time of the Passover festival. The significant thing about that detail is that many of the people who were following Jesus weren’t welcome at the Passover festival. The people who were following Jesus out into the wilderness didn’t meet the qualifications that were required in order to celebrate this highest of Jewish festivals. Most of these people weren’t welcome in the Temple or even in the synagogues.

They weren’t able to meet God in the official place of worship, but by following Jesus out in to the mountainous wilderness they were in fact encountering the living God. I think John wanted us to understand that Jesus had replaced the Temple as the place to go to find God. You don’t have to follow strict religious codes to encounter God – you only have to follow Jesus.
So where do we go to find Jesus? This is a question I often find myself asking, and it’s a question that’s a lot easier to ask than to answer. Jesus was never easy to find. As the story goes, the people who found him had followed him out to a desolate location, but Jesus didn’t try to be elusive – not until they tried to turn him in to a king. But Jesus has never been easy to find and to follow because what he did was challenging to everyone. Jesus defied many of the deeply held convictions of some of the most righteous people of his day, and that undoubtedly remains true for us. Jesus didn’t do what anyone expected the son of God to do.

But one of the things he did do was to show up for people who were facing the most desperate circumstances. He fed the people who were hungry and then he appeared to the disciples as they were battling the storm on the sea. Jesus isn’t easy to follow, but he can show up for us regardless of where we are when we really need him, and it changes everything for us when he does.

There isn’t an easy answer to the question of where we should go to find Jesus, but I think Jesus was giving us a pretty good hint when he fed hungry people. Jesus was sensitive to the needs of the individuals who were near to him, and I think he expects the same from us. Sometimes I forget how devastating it is to be without the essential elements of life, but I had a quick tutorial the other night on the value of food, and it reminded me how powerful it can be to get food when you are hungry and helpless.

Jesus doesn’t necessarily show up when we want him to and feed us upon demand, but I believe he comes to us in ways that we could never foresee or imagine. John didn’t tell these stories so we would be impressed with his supernatural abilities – John told these stories to remind us what we should be doing for one another and to provide us with reassurance during the trials of our lives. And if you’ve ever received a morsel of his grace – you know how powerful his presence can be.

Thanks be to God. Amen


2 Responses to “Proper 12B, Sunday, July 26, 2015”

  1. Earl Jones Says:

    We sure do miss you and your sermons !!

    Earl Jones 501-944-1860 PO Box 2547 Little Rock, Ar. 72203 “The years teach much which days never know”. Ralph Waldo Emerson


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