Feeding the People

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John 6:1-16

I have titled this morning’s sermon feeding the people. The obvious reason for that is that in the scripture we just read, Jesus was able to provide enough sustenance for 5000 people. But as I prepared for this morning’s service, there was a question that kept coming into my mind over and over again. Are we, as God’s church, feeding his people? Am I, as the leader of this congregation… as someone who has been called into ministry… am I providing this congregation with the spiritual sustenance that you guys need, in order TO BE ABLE to feed God’s people? And if the answer to either of those questions is no, then what is it that WE need to do in order to follow the example of Christ, and feed his people?

The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is one of the most well known in the new testament. In fact, it is one of the few miracles that is included in all four gospels. But I think that just goes to show the importance of the message behind the feeding of the five thousand. Let’s think about the context of when and where this miracle takes place. According to John’s account, it takes place right on the heels of Jesus healing a lame man on the Sabbath. 6:1 tells us that Jesus went from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other, and that the large crowd of people who had gathered around Jesus continued to follow him, even as he crossed the sea. But more importantly than that, John tells us that this group of people was following Jesus because of what they had seen him doing for the sick. They had seen him heal the lame. They had witnessed him return sight to the blind. They had experienced him, with just the touch of his hand, cleanse leapers from their skin diseases. So because this crowd had experienced such powerful and miraculous works from Jesus, they continued to follow him. By this time, they had been following him for a number of days. They had so much faith and so much devotion for following Jesus, that they followed him AROUND the sea of Galilee, and out into a rugged and remote area. Now before I go on, I want to bring your attention to verse 3. It says “Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.” Now I know you may be thinking to yourself, so what? Why does that matter? What is important about that? Well here’s the point. Even in the midst of a large crowd eager to hear him speak, Jesus excused himself for a minute… He withdrew from the group… And taking his disciples with him, he took the time to sit with those who were closest to him. That act of Jesus speaks powerfully to me. Especially in the context of our fast paced society. In a world that expects so much from us… Where we devote our time and effort and energy to so many different things, and so many different people… Jesus is showing us the importance of taking time for ourselves. Time to step away from those deadlines that are pressing in on us… Time to step back from the chaos of raising a family or running a business… And to take the time to surround ourselves with those closest to us. To think about it another way, you could make the argument that Jesus was setting the example for future Christians as to the importance of taking time to gather as a family of believers. Because we have to remember, Jesus didn’t withdraw alone. He gathered with his disciples… Those people who were sharing in the journey with him. And together, they took the time to just be in each other’s presence. To sit with one another, and to be filled once again.
It was at that point that Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. By this time, it would have been late in the day. And Jesus realized that this group of people, who had followed him out into this remote area, were going to be in need of food, and of a place to rest for the night, because many of them had traveled a great distance from their homes. Now I think this is something that we here in Fort Davis can probably relate to more than people in other areas, because we, too, are located in a somewhat remote area. I haven’t made the trip yet, but from my understanding, if you want to go to Walmart to stock up on supplies, you had better allocate the better part of an afternoon to making the journey to Fort Stockton and back. And so it was for Jesus, as he realized that these people needed food, that he posed the question to Philip: Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat? And I love Philip’s response to Jesus… 6 months wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. It’s almost as if Philip is saying, are you kidding me? Even if there WAS a store or a market close by to buy bread for them, who could afford it?

Too often in our churches, we find ourselves in this exact same situation. We want to provide for our communities. We want to feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless. But when we start to look at the logistics of making those things happen, so often we are discouraged, as we think, we can’t possibly buy enough to provide. With our resources, there’s no way we could attack such a huge undertaking. And far too often, because of that, we miss opportunities to serve our communities, and to provide for the needs of our people. But Jesus provides us with a great lesson here. One of the disciples approaches Jesus and says to him “There is a boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish.” He recognizes the potential for providence! But then quickly, his hope is lost when he follows that up with “But what are they among so many people?” Another missed opportunity…

But this is where things start to get good. Jesus never panics. He never shows doubt, or even frustration at the unbelief of his disciples. He simply directs them to bring him the food, and to have the people sit down. And then, taking the 5 loaves of bread, and the 2 small fish, Jesus gave thanks… He broke the bread… He separated the fish. And he and the disciples began to distribute them among the people. With just 5 loaves and 2 fish, all 5000 people were fed. And not only were they fed just a little… The scripture tells us that they ate AS MUCH AS THEY WANTED. And if that wasn’t enough, once everyone had eaten their fill, the leftovers were gathered up by the disciples. And there was still enough left to fill 12 FULL BASKETS! Can you imagine being a part of that miracle? Just think about it. There were 5000 people there. 5000! And there were only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish available to feed that entire multitude. And yet, as the food was passed out, people kept grabbing more, and more, and more. Until each had eaten their fill and none had any need remaining. And then, they came to find out that there was still an additional 12 baskets of food remaining. It’s no wonder that the people who saw could only be led to one conclusion. “This is indeed the prophet who is come into the world.”

Jesus provided for the people in a big way that day. By taking what was available to him, and by putting his faith in his heavenly father, he was able to multiply a seemingly minute amount of food into an overwhelming meal that even 5000 people couldn’t finish. And I can’t help but be amazed as I think about the example, the precedence that was set for us that day. I can’t help but see so many parallels between Jesus and us as the church. Between the people in the crowd, and our communities today. Jesus saw the needs of the people. He anticipated what necessities they were lacking, and he used the resources he had at hand to satisfy those needs. And isn’t that what we as the church are called to do? We have people in our community… in our families… in our schools… in our nation, and in our world… who are hungry, just as the people in the crowd were hungry. And as the church, we believe that God has called us to use whatever resources we have available to reach out to those people, and to satisfy those needs.

That leads me to a set of questions, a revelation, if you will. I’ve drawn the parallel here between Jesus, and us as the church… between the people of the crowd, and the needy among us. So as we look at this scripture, we must ask ourselves a few questions. Back in verse 2, the scripture says that the crowd kept following Jesus because they saw the things he was doing. Are people in our communities, seeing the things we as the church are doing? Are they being drawn to us because they have recognized our actions, and have decided that not only do they want us to help them, but that they too, want to realize and understand what we have that they don’t? Are we projecting the image, and the love, and the providence of Jesus Christ, out into our communities, in such a powerful way that the people who see us are recognizing we are different? And because they are recognizing that we are different, are those people being filled with a burning desire to see WHY we are different, and what WE know that they don’t, and making the choice to come and follow along and get some of what we have for themselves? If the answer to those questions is no, then we are failing in our Christian duties. If we aren’t living our lives in such a way that it is easily recognizable that we are different, and we are set apart, and we are not a part of the world, then we are falling short of the task that God himself has assigned to us. But we don’t have to feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish in order to make these things happen. We can provide for people in so many ways. We can simply treat them with respect, when maybe they have been burned by society and beaten down by life. We can listen to them, and share with them the difference that our love for Jesus Christ has made in our lives. We can show them the ways that Jesus has delivered us from our own distress. A kind gesture, or a heart felt hello can go much further in showing the face of Jesus Christ to people than what any of us can imagine.

But there are other questions that we have to ask ourselves after seeing this example from Jesus. Is it up to us to qualify who needs our help and who doesn’t? Are we to categorize people into groups that determine that this group is worthy of our help and support, but that group is not? Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t ask the crowd who was hungry, or who had already eaten that day, or who was able to provide food for themselves. He simply gave to each of them, and gave to them in abundance. Now this is hard for any church, and I’m not saying it isn’t. With such limited resources, often times we find in necessary to prioritize needs in order to ensure that those resources are being allocated to the most needy among us. But that leads me to my next point. Jesus didn’t look at the resources available to him, decide that they were insufficient, and because of that, simply decline to feed the people. He knew exactly what he had to work with… And yet he put his faith in God that God would take those resources, and would multiply and expand them in such a way that they would be able to meet the needs of all the people. That is maybe the hardest thing for us to do. It’s hard on a personal level. When we get our paychecks, and we know how much our bills are going to be, and how much food is going to cost us, and how much we have to pay for gas and utilities and all of the things we need to stay alive… one of the hardest things to do is to have the faith to take money right off of the top of that, and give it JOYFULLY to the church. I can attest to that first hand. But I can also tell you this. While tithing doesn’t make sense on paper… while taking 10% of your earnings and giving them away knowing full well that you could use that money in so many ways doesn’t make sense financially… When you take that leap of faith… and you give that money to God… it is amazing how often you find that all of your necessities are still taken care of. But it is just as hard to do as a church… To look at our budget, and to look at the bills that are going out and comparing it to the money coming in, and yet still having the faith to give to people in need… That takes fortitude… It takes trust in God… It takes a kind of strong faith that requires putting everything we have behind God and KNOWING that he will provide… But that’s the example that Jesus showed us. He took those 5 loaves…. And he took those 2 fish… and he thanked God for them… And then he gave everything he had to provide for the people. And even though it didn’t make sense on paper, not only did he have enough to feed the entire crowd… He ended up with 12 full baskets left over.

Are we feeding the people? Are we trusting that God will provide? Are we using what we have been blessed with to fulfill the needs of God’s people? And are those people seeing God’s hand at work in our lives because of it? That is what we need to take away from Jesus feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. We do need to understand and acknowledge that it was a miracle from God. But we also need to understand and acknowledge that it is a miracle that we can replicate, and that we are called to replicate. Just as he provided Jesus everything he needed to feed the crowd, God has provided us the resources we need to provide for our community and for the people in our care. Now it is up to us to have the faith, and the courage, and the boldness, to look to God. And to not only trust… But to EXPECT that if we will be faithful to God, he will provide us with an abundance.

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