GOSPEL READING John 6:1-21
1Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When 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?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One 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?” 10Jesus 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. 11Then 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. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When 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.”
15When 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.
16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
There’s something to be said for the power of large gatherings. The energy of the crowd at a sporting event or a concert – and the movement of the spirit energizing a congregation gathered for worship. When we were prohibited from and fearful of gathering – we lost some of that feeling. We’ve spent the past year avoiding large crowds. Avoiding eating with people not in our pod. Sharing food or dishes. A couple weeks ago Brian and I had the opportunity to go out, just the two of us, to Hartwood Acres, where the Indigo Girls were playing a free concert in the amphitheater. We set our chairs up, got some food, and sat down to eat as the grassy hillside filled up. It had been so long since we had been with so many other people, all together, in one place. It felt very good but very strange.
Getting it back, allowing Jesus to gather us, make us sit down, and feed us, will require a bit of work on our part. We’re out of the habit of gathering. Out of practice. Church is convenient and easy to watch online. Thankfully so, as we needed at least that connection. But Jesus knows we are hungry, and wants to feed us.
This miracle clearly shows us that Jesus is not just concerned with our spiritual needs and connections, but our physical and tangible ones too. He knew they were hungry – couldn’t he have just made them not hungry? Could he have rained manna? Could he have just prayed the hunger away and continued teaching and healing?
This picnic miracle begins 5 weeks in John chapter 6. Five weeks about Bread, and Jesus describing himself as the bread of life. There are so many meals in the gospels, every time you turn around Jesus is sitting down to a meal, or getting ready for a meal, or answering questions during a meal. Its no wonder that Jesus describes himself as a common source of nourishment.
Karoline Lewis, preaching professor and Gospel of John expert says, “I think it means that being fed, literally, is a hallmark of the presence of God. That where people are fed, literally, is where you can expect to experience grace — see it, taste it, smell it, feel it.”
Our food pantry has expanded over the last several years. Many churches have emergency pantries. A shelf of non-perishable items that could get someone through in a crisis, provide basic nourishment for a few days, but nothing more than that. With our community partners, and providers, we receive donations of fresh produce, dairy products, freshly prepared meals from restaurants, and bread! I once saw them receive a trunkful of the most beautiful bread from a local bakery, rolls and loaves of all sizes and shapes.
This is truly Jesus present and active, working in our neighborhood though those who “gather the fragments.” With so many places having food leftover, having over-prepared, or an abundance of something that didn’t sell that day – volunteers from 412 food rescue literally gather the fragments left over, bringing the baskets to us, to share in that abundance.
With this ministry, we are not just helping people in a crisis, but providing healthy foods and meals to those who might otherwise not have them. It is a real tangible sign of hospitality and generosity, and compassion. A beautiful and colorful menu of nourishing sustenance for families, singles, and the elderly in our community who might otherwise be eating something out of a can or a box more often than not.
This grace we offer, is not just mere kindness, but an answer to the question Jesus asks his disciples. “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip answers quickly and honestly, with the truth, we couldn’t afford to feed all these people. Jesus has something else in mind entirely – feeding people with abundance and plenty that cannot be purchased or afforded. We not only feed people out of our abundance of groceries here, we live out our baptismal calling when we do so, and through Jesus presence among us, we have more to offer than meals and calories. We offer friendship, support, understanding, forgiveness, and mercy.
Even as COVID prevented us from gathering, we continued to share and feed as many people as we could. And now as more and more are vaccinated and restrictions are being relaxed, we are able to gather for the work of the church in more “normal” ways. And Christ is present with us as we gather, providing for us, and giving us life. Many things are back to normal here, we are regularly meeting for worship, twice a week. All the regular groups that serve the community are meeting here again so that we can share that resource of space and place. And this weekend our community celebrates a baptism, a commissioning, and a funeral for a beloved member.
Today we welcome William Todd Davis to this community, through the sacrament of baptism, an abundance of grace poured out on him, through water and the word, welcoming him to the feast, to the banquet of abundant life God sets out for us. Today we have a foretaste of that feast in the eucharist, the small tangible way we are promised that Christ would be present with us and in us. Today we send out a member for mission, to serve a congregation as a pastoral intern, to learn and practice what it takes to care for a flock and feed a flock. Tomorrow we bury a beloved member, who has done her share of feeding the hungry, whom God provided for in her earthly and who now sits at the banquet table in heaven, a feast of rich foods, and where there is no more tears, or pain or death.
Jesus makes the people sit down in a bunch of grass. That sounds a lot like He makes me lie down in green pastures. and He prepares a table before me… And he made somethings out of virtually nothing. He fed people who didn’t even realize that they were hungry. God is the good shepherd — but an “abundance Gospel” doesn’t mean a “prosperity Gospel,” much less a Gospel of complacency or recklessness. Barley loaves were the food of the poor, and like the manna in the wilderness, this astonishing meal provides for the crowd’s needs that day (their “daily bread”), but isn’t meant for being heaped up in storehouses. It’s meant for being shared, with wisdom and care for ourselves and others. We do this in the congregation, as we are gathered for worship and for the eucharist, Jesus makes us sit and rest and eat – and we are sent to serve and proclaim the Good News In Jesus Christ, we are the disciples who Jesus will ask to feed his sheep.
“Take and eat,” Jesus says — and in the same breath, “Go and share.” (https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/progressive-christian-lectionary-resource)
20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.