July 29, 2018: Proper 12 B (English)
Proper 12B: John 6:1-21 and 2 Kings 4:42-44
July 29th, 2018
Pastor Anke Deibler
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The story of the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle that is told by all four gospels. Each of the gospel writers, however, tells this story in his own way, highlighting different aspects of what happened that day.
John anchors the event in time: close to the Passover festival. Passover is one of the most important festivals of the Jewish people. It celebrates the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the law of God, and the covenant between God and God’s people. John connects the feeding of the 5000 with this festival.
The way John tells the story also alludes to the Passover. For example, Jesus is testing the disciples, just like God had tested Israel in the desert. Jesus commands the disciples to gather up the left-over pieces of bread, just like Moses tells his people to gather up manna in the wilderness. Twice, Jesus is said to go up to “the” mountain; not “a” mountain but “the” mountain, which brings to minds “the” mountain where Moses met God and received the covenant law.
Additionally, John combines the feeding miracle with the miracle of safe passage through the stormy sea; that connects with the miracle of Israel passing safely through the Red Sea.
In the distinctive way in which John tells the story, he wants to make a strong connection between what happened in the exodus and what is happening now through Jesus. The people sitting on the grass that day get it. They see the miracle and say to one another, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
That part they get right. Where they miss the mark is in their expectation of what this prophet is supposed to do. They want to make Jesus king. Why? Because Jesus can fill their bellies. Jesus can provide for them. They get caught up in their own needs and desire.
Being caught up like that, they miss the deeper meaning of what is happening. The feeding of the 5000 is not really about the miracle of multiplying food. Jesus walking on water in the storm is not really about the miracle of that feat. They are just signs pointing towards the real meaning of what is going on.
John never talks about ‘miracles’, but always about ‘signs’. Jesus does signs when he heals the blind man, turns water into wine, and raises Lazarus from death. These are all signs pointing at the new thing that has begun in Christ. They are pointing to a new reality, a new creation, and new life in the kingdom.
Likewise, in today’s gospel, what is happening is a sign pointing towards a new truth: In Jesus, there will be a new Passover. Once again, God will lead his people into freedom, this time into freedom from sin and death. Once again, God will make a covenant with the people, this time a covenant sealed with Christ’s death and resurrection. Once again God will feed his people with miraculous food, this time the heavenly food being the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Once again God will give the people a new law, this time the law of love: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Once again God will guide the people safely through wilderness and sea, through storm and fear, and bring them safely to the other side.
By doing all this, God is once again forging a people, a new congregation, a new covenant people. God makes a new beginning in Christ, and the wondrous things Jesus does are merely signs pointing towards this new reality.
The signs in today’s gospel point to two parts of this new reality:
The feeding of the 5000 points to God’s abundance. There is enough for everybody. Among God’s people, all will be fed, all will be provided for, all will trust the providence of God.
Jesus coming to his disciples in the midst of a storm points to God’s presence. When Jesus approaches the boat, his friends are terrified. Jesus calls to them, “It is I, do not be afraid.” What he is literally saying is, “I AM; do not be afraid.” In the midst of the storm, Jesus assures his friends by saying, “I AM, and I am right here with you; don’t be afraid.”
The new community God is calling together in Jesus is shaped by these two truths: the abundance of God’s gifts and the powerful presence of Christ. We are called to trust in these truths and live by them. As such, we are called to be different from the world we live in.
Our society is driven by the idea of scarcity. We are always afraid that there isn’t enough for everyone. Just listen to commercials: While supplies last! Limited edition! Sorry, no rainchecks! Reserve your copy now! This weekend only! All of these slogans want to convince you that there isn’t enough to go around.
This fear is deeply ingrained in people. I have seen toddlers in a playroom full of toys arguing over one teddy bear. I have seen school kids in the playground fighting over a stick. We don’t outgrow this fear as adults, either. Which is why you see people camping out in front of stores all night to be the first in line for some new gadget. Every year people get hurt or even die in stampedes on Black Friday.
This fear is not rational. If we stop and think about it, we would realize that in this country, stores are not about to run out of food or clothing or items we need for daily life. And yet, it is this fear of scarcity that makes us tick.
God is asking us to operate out of the opposite stance: assurance of abundance. Jesus is doing signs that point at the truth that with God, there is an abundance of gifts, an abundance of food, and abundance of love and mercy, and abundance of all we truly need for living. Jesus’ signs also point at the fact that the great I AM is with us; the comfort and strength and assurance and guidance of the Lord are always there for us. We will never be alone in the boat facing the storm, we will never have to cross the sea alone, we will never be abandoned or forsaken.
Let us build our lives and the lives of our congregation on assurance and abundance. It will make for a totally different way of life.
Our Old Testament lesson gives us a great example for this. We read just three verses, but they are packed with inspiration.
The story begins with a man bringing first fruits to the Prophet Elisha. We don’t know the man’s name, but we do know that he is a man of faith. He is bringing his first fruits. These are a holy offering proscribed by Leviticus at harvest time, to remind Israel that all food comes from God as a gift, that all food really is God’s. This law of first fruits was to curb selfishness and greed.
And it’s working. This man is bringing his first fruits to Elisha, the man of God, sharing his harvest with the prophet. It is an act of generosity drive by faith.
Elisha continues the generosity: He shares the food with the people. Nothing forces him to do this. This act of sharing is driven by love of God and God’s people.
Even though the amount of food presented seems small for 100 people, Elisha shares what he ahs in trust in God’s abundance. And lo and behold, there is enough for everyone.
Just like the five loaves of bread and two fish didn’t seem nearly enough for the 5000, when they were offered in faith, Jesus could feed the multitude with them.
We are called to be a community where this kind of sharing can happen. We are called to be a people of God who trust in God’s abundant gifts and Jesus’ powerful presence and are compelled to share what we have. Even if it seems small, if we offer it to Jesus with faith, we will be amazed by what he can do with it.
It sounds idealistic, utopian, unlikely. But it can happen. And sometimes it does happen. And when it does, there is a lot of joy and all people are fed.
When I was a teenager, I went to one of the big German Kirchentage, a gathering of over 100,000 Protestant Christians from the whole country in one city for five days of worship, Bible study, lectures, service experiences, and more.
That day, we had attended an open-air worship service based on the feeding of the 5000. During that service, to illustrate the loaves and fishes, packages of fish and graham crackers were passed around. That was fun.
But the real fun happened afterwards in the street car on our way to the next event. We still had crackers left form the service and started passing them around the street car. People were first surprised, then laughed and took some and passed them along.
Next thing we knew, someone passed around a bag of grapes. Then a bar of chocolate came along. Other edibles were making their rounds. People shared freely what they had because we had shared with them. And we had been inspired to share because God and God’s people shared with us in worship first. The whole street car was full of laughter and joy, and everyone had plenty to eat.
That bunch of people in the street car was a glimpse of the community Jesus came to create. Can you imagine a society where all people trust God’s abundance and God’s presence enough to share freely? Ah, that would be awesome.
It has to start somewhere. It starts, in fact, with Jesus Christ, who is freeing us from sin and death, is calling us into a new covenant in baptism, and is feeding us abundantly at this table of grace. Filled with such love and mercy and holy food, let us go and share what we have been given. Let us trust in God’s abundance and Christ’s presence. Let us rely in the power of the Holy Spirit within us and dare to share. We will be amazed by what God can do with what we have to offer. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.