Today’s sermon focuses on the readings about how Jesus fed the 5,000. As always Rev. Kathryn has some amusing but pertinent stories to explain the concepts of giving to others.
“English is a strange language and contains some strange words and phrases which must be very difficult for people learning our language. A pineapple isn’t either a pine nor an apple. Quicksand works slowly and boxing rings are square. People recite in plays and play at recitals. We ship cargo not by cars but by lorries and send cargo by ship. We have noses that run and feet that smell. How can a fat chance and a slim chance be the same? You fill in a form by filling it out; and alarms go off by going on. When the stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And when a car slows up, it slows down?
I love words, and there’s one word in the reading from John that we heard this morning that I want us to think about because I think that it’s a word that Jesus just didn’t understand.
It’s the very familiar story of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. It’s the only miracle recorded by all four Gospel writers. Sometimes people wonder why we have four gospel accounts, but each one is a record of Jesus’ life and work from 4 different points of view.
If someone told you, “An elephant escaped from Bristol Zoo and has found its way to Woodseaves and is roaming around the village” You would probably think they were having hallucinations. However, if four different people came up and warned you about a runaway elephant in the village you might be inclined to stay inside and lock your door!
When we examine all the details of this miracle provided by all four writers, we have a better understanding of what happened. The account we have heard is the one from John, and Ive chose this account because of the words used by the disciples to Jesus
“We have here ONLY five loaves and two fishes.”
The important word for me there is the word ‘only’.
Jesus didn’t even consider the word “only,” He said, “It’s enough!”
The disciples were thinking in human terms of a logical way to meet the crowds hunger, not thinking in supernatural terms, of a MIRACLE of GOD to meet the needs of them all!”
To put the story into context – Jesus had just come across the Sea of Galilee and saw a large crowd of people waiting for him. He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Jesus had just learned John the Baptist had been executed by Herod Antipas, and He wanted to get away to grieve over the loss of his cousin and friend. But when he got to the northeastern shore of the lake, thousands of people were there. He could have launched back out into the water, or told them He wanted to be alone. But instead, He looked at the people and was filled with compassion.
He fed the people spiritual truth by telling seven parables about the Kingdom of God.
Jesus cared for the whole person. Its the same today – You and I have many different kinds of needs and Jesus wants to meet those needs. We all have physical needs as well as emotional and spiritual ones. Jesus healed the sick and fed a hungry crowd. He doesn’t just care about our spiritual needs, but He is interested in every area of our life. In the whole person.
The disciples came to Jesus and said, “Let’s send the people away to the villages so they can buy food. Jesus said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Jesus told His disciples to do something impossible. In John, we read that Jesus told the disciples this to TEST their faith. The disciples thought their problem was a lack of food, but Jesus saw that the bigger problem was a lack of faith.
I remember a teacher at school who would occasionally come into the clasroom and say ‘put away all your books and take out a blank piece of paper. My heart always sank because I knew we were about to have a test. It was his way of finding out how much we understood before he went on to teach us something new.
Sometimes Jesus asks us to do things we think are beyond us or too much for us. He wants us to do things not in our own strength but with his help.
When we face the very hardest times of your lives, it’s like God is saying, “Take out a blank sheet of paper.” The only question on God’s test is: Do you trust me? Our answer isn’t for His information; it is to show us how much faith we really have. Our faith will be tested continually throughout our lives.
People face problems in different ways. Some people tackle problems with their emotions: Their feelings are the things that guide them and help them to make decisions. If it doesn’t feel right they don’t do it.” The disciples looked around and saw the mob and they felt panic because the day was getting late and there was no food. The danger in approaching a problem with feelings is that our feelings arent always right. Their “feelings” said, “Send these folks away.” Sometimes people say that they made major decisions because, “I felt it was the right thing to do.” But our feelings might not always be the best guide.
Other people prefer logic. They address problems with their minds. ” These are the calculators, the analyzers. They try and work it all out – look at the pros and cons then make a decision.
In our gospel reading we are told Phillip made this statement about feeding the crowd: “Lord, a year’s wages would not be enough to buy everyone a single bite.”
Phillip had worked it all out. Can you see him taking out his calculator, “Let’s see, 5,000 people at £3 a meal, divided by a month’s wages… ” He had it all worked out, but God’s maths are different to ours. When we hand out food we divide it, but when Jesus hands out food He multiplies it! Human maths says, “Five loaves and two fish divided by 5,000 = IMPOSSIBLE. God’s maths says, “Five loaves plus two fish times the power of God = 5,000 full stomachs. To all the logical thinkers, God says, “Your calculation is correct, but there’s another way to approach a problem.
The disciples said, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” They used the “only” word, but Jesus acted as though He didn’t understand it. He said, “Your only is enough for me to make plenty.”
Some people rely on their feelings, others rely on facts but the third way to face a shortage is with faith.
“I believe that God is able…”
There was at least one person who relied on faith in the crowd that day. John tells us Andrew brought a little boy to Jesus who had five loaves and two fish. I like Andrew because he was always bringing people to Jesus. This little unnamed lad “only” had five little bread buns and two small fish like sardines. You could call it a Macdonalds Happy Meal. But he had faith in Jesus because he surrendered all he had. He didn’t know what would happen; he just decided to trust Jesus with his food. That’s what faith is. Its when we don’t know exactly what will happen, but we are still willing to trust God. I would have loved to have seen the look in the little boy’s eyes as he watched Jesus multiply that happy meal!
Jesus multiplied “only” that tiny meal until everyone was fed. Not only was there enough for five thousand men, plus all the women and children, there were leftovers! It’s God’s nature to always give more than enough.
There’s a lovely verse in the Bible which we heard in our first reding from Ephesians, “Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us …”
Jesus did four simple things when He received the five loaves and two fish. He looked to heaven, He gave thanks, He broke the bread, and then He distributed it.
When Jesus took the food, the first thing He did was look up to heaven. When we face a problem its tempting to focus on the problem and on our lack of ability to deal with it. Bu instead we need to lift up our eyes and look to heaven. “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by our problems, whether theyre financial ones, family problems, a marriage problem or our physical problems – our own health or those we love and it can be because we’re looking in the wrong direction.
The next thing Jesus did was to thank God for the food. It was only a tiny amount, but Jesus said, “Thank you, Father for this food.” We spend much of our time asking God for more rather than thanking Him for what we already have. The Bible says we “enter His gates with thanksgiving.” But thanksgiving is also the best way to approach a problem as well.
In the 17th century, Dutch artist, Nicolaes Maes painted a picture entitled “Old Woman at Prayer.”
It depicts a simple woman sitting alone at her table praying over half a loaf of bread and a small bowl of soup. You can tell from the surroundings she is a poor, humble woman. Her rough hands reveal the evidence of many years of hard, manual labor. Maes was inspired to paint this after visiting this woman. She invited him to join her for the meagre meal. After the prayer, she looked up and with a smile said, “All this and Jesus, too!” Her comment inspired that beautiful painting. So, instead of complaining about what we don’t have, let’s start thanking God for what we do have.
After Jesus looked to heaven and thanked God for the food, He broke it. It was in this act of breaking the bread that He began to multiply it. God truly values broken things. In our materialistic culture, a broken object becomes less valuable, but in God’s economy, brokenness only increases the value. The bread had to be broken before it could be multiplied; The alabaster box Mary brought had to be broken before the perfume could be poured out; the roof above Jesus had to be broken up before the friends could lower the paralyzed man to Jesus; and the body of Jesus had to be broken before our sins could be forgiven. David, a broken man, prayed this prayer in Psalm 51 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
I can just imagine when the little boy presented his meal to Jesus, Peter probably thought, “Well, at least the STAFF will be fed!” But Jesus instructed them to serve all the people first. I’m sure every time Peter returned for more he just knew they would have run out by the time he could eat. But when they gathered the leftovers, how many baskets were there? Twelve. Exactly the number of disciples! Instead of getting a crumb of bread or a sliver of fish first, the disciples served everyone else and they each got a basketful for their work.
If we are most concerned about meeting our own needs first, we will have a miserable existence. If we are willing to help other people first and we’ll find our needs and problems don’t seem quite as severe after serving others.
Can you remember when garages used to serve the petrol themselves. Whenever we went into our local garage a man would appear and say ‘How can I help you?’ They really were service stations. Today almost every garage is self service and the title service station is only a sad reminder of how society is today. Most of us are more interested in self-service rather than offering full service to others.
God wants us to give him “only” what we have?
In the book of Exodus we find the story of Moses standing before a burning bush. He is 80 years old and for the past 40 years he’s been living in obscurity looking after his father-in-law’s sheep. God tells him to go to Pharaoh and say, “God says, ‘Let me people go!’” Moses offered all kinds of excuses. He said, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong man. Who am I? I’m only an old man. I’m only a shepherd. And besides, I stutter badly, I can’t even talk. I don’t have anything to offer you.” God said, “I know all that about your “onlys”, but you’re the one I want.”
To demonstrate this, God gave Moses a test. He said, “What’s that in your hand, Moses?” Moses said, “It’s just a shepherd’s staff, a stick.” God said, “Throw it down on the ground.” I can imagine Moses said, “What do you want with my stick? It’s only a piece of wood. And besides, it’s mine. God said, “Throw it down.” Moses complained, “But Lord, it’s MINE. I cut it down myself and over the years it has been worn smooth where I hold it. It feels good. Why do you want my staff? It’s only a stick.” God said, “Throw it down.”
Finally Moses threw it down and it became a snake! And God said, “Moses! Go and pick it up!” I imagine Moses wasn’t too keen on the idea of picking up a live snake. He finally plucked up enough courage to pick it up. And it became a stick again. But something had happened between the time he surrendered it to God and when he picked it up again. The snake had gone out of it and the power of God had gone into it. God said to Moses “Take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it.” The Bible no longer called it the “rod of Moses.” It was called “the rod of God.”
A few months later Moses was faced with an impossible situation: The Red Sea was in front and a pursuing army was behind him. He didn’t know what to do. He cried out to God for help, and God said, “What’s that in your hand, Moses?” This time Moses knew that it was more than only a staff—it was a staff with God’s power in it. He touched the Red Sea with the staff, and the waters split to either side.
God is asking you the same thing today. What’s that in your hand?
Our response may be ‘It’s only….’
You may be thinking, “I only have this much to give. Jesus says, “It’s enough, bring it to me!” God has been performing miracles with “onlys” for centuries. Goliath looked at David and said, “He’s only a boy with only a slingshot.” They said Mary was “only” an unmarried teenage mother. They said that Jesus was “only” a carpenter. Just think about what God can do with our “only” if we offer it to Him.
POEM: I considered my little and God said to me, “Child, what do you mean by saying, ‘only?’” It was only a word that created all that you see; It was only some clay that brought you to be. Only a staff that parted the sea; Only one man who set them all free. Only a young shepherd who took down a foe; And there’s a lesson to learn that I want you to know: It was only a stable, and only a girl; And only a Carpenter who changed the whole world. So it’s not what YOU have, but MY strength, you see; And I can do miracles with your little ‘only!’”
Only God knows what can happen when we trust him with all we have