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Sermons

The Short-Sighted Belief

7/29/2018 Tenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is John 6:1-21.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today’s gospel should be familiar to us all.  It contains two miracles – the feeding of 5,000 and Jesus walking on water.  Years ago, these miracles were treated separately and not as a unit, and today, I’m going to take a step back in history and focus on only one of those miracles…the feeding of the 5,000. 

As children, this story would make us ooh and ahhh as we thought about how many were fed with so little food.  Yet, as adults, we often lose the awe in the familiarity of the story.  The punch line is known.  The mystery is lost.  We know what Jesus is going to do ahead of time, even if we don’t know how he does it.  And yet, this familiar story of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of so many hungry people is so profound, so important, that it is one of the few stories which appears in all four gospels. 

This year, we have John’s version of the miracle.  John sets the feeding of the 5,000 within the final weeks of Jesus’ ministry, just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time.  To John, the miracle is a sign of who Jesus is.  For, it would take a miracle of divine portion to make so little satisfy so many.

The action in the story is fairly straight forward.  Jesus tests the disciples as he asks Philip how bread could be bought to feed so many.  Philip gives what he believes to be a realistic answer – that there are insufficient funds in the treasury to feed them.  Andrew pipes in and adds that there simply is not enough foodstuff on hand.  But Jesus takes the insufficient amount which is there, gives thanks, and distributes it.  And lo and behold, everyone eats their fill.  Once the feast is over, Jesus tells the disciples to gather the leftover fragments.  They do so and gather up twelve baskets of leftovers.

Jesus seems to foreknow the outcome of the events that transpire while the disciples are clueless.  For the disciples do not see things the same way as Jesus.  They operate out of the assumption that there is a scarcity, and given the scarcity it will not be possible to feed the crowd.  On the other hand, Jesus operates out of the assumption that there is an abundance, an abundance of all that is needed.  And lo and behold, there is indeed a sufficient amount of fish and an abundance of bread.  What Jesus sees and believes is that which the disciples do not yet understand – that is…with God, there is no scarcity, but an abundance of what it takes to live, live in the here and now and in eternity.

This story stands as a challenge to our fundamental belief about scarcity and the assumptions which grow out of that belief.  Now, we all know the contrast between pessimists and optimists, and how their beliefs affect the way they see things.  A pessimist is the one who sees the glass as half empty while the optimist sees the same glass as half full.  At Emanuel, the pessimist sees the future as bleak while the optimist sees the challenges ahead as opportunities for grow.  In my own life, when I hit a wall, I go nowhere when I view it as limitation, a barrier which cannot be overcome, while I thrive when I see the same wall as nothing more than a speed bump along life’s highway.  The contrast between those who operate out of a basic belief of scarcity and those who operate out of a basic belief of abundance is just as striking.  The person who believes in scarcity never seems to have or to see enough – enough time, enough energy, enough money, enough power, enough possessions – while the person who believes in abundance has or sees more than enough to share.  For what we see determines how we live.  Do we believe in a short supply or do we believe that with God there is an abundance of what it takes to live and to grow and to thrive?

The belief in short supply and in a scarcity of time, money and energy is the basic principle around which our society is organized.  This belief is what keeps people working and consuming enough to drive the economy.  But, by the same token, it makes us driven and consuming creatures, trying to grab all we can while there is something to be grabbed.  It makes us a people who pride ourselves on our independence and self-sufficiency instead of our ultimate connectedness to our God and our neighbor.  And, if we should fail to succeed in getting what we believe to be our fair share of the short supply, then we feel that we, ourselves, are not as good as others, as if our ultimate goodness is tied to the things that we have and don’t have, rather than to the God who created all things good.  People go in want not because of a short supply, but because of a short-sighted belief in scarcity rather than a faith-filled belief in the abundance of God which leads to sharing.  This church struggles with finances and with getting things done to sustain the ministry and facility, not because of a lack of what is needed, but because of a short-sighted belief in scarcity.

If we continue to believe that there is a scarcity we can be infected by the panicky drive to acquire and consume, and in that drive, lose out on the joy and freedom we have through the abundance of a gracious God.  But, if we see the abundance made known in this sign of Jesus, then, just maybe, then, we may be freed from the shackles of scarcity, free to enjoy what we have and to share with it other, and free to use our God-given gifts without fear.

Perhaps we can take our cue from the other person, besides Jesus, in today’s gospel – the one who seems to see something beyond the obvious shortage.  That person is a child, a young boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish in his possession, more than enough to feed him, but hardly enough to feed thousands of others.  It takes a child to share, a child to bring forth and offer what he has in faith, believing that in sharing, that he, himself, will not be left hungry.

Jesus takes what this lad has to offer and blesses it and distributes it.  Jesus chooses none of the historical approaches to feed so many.  He does the one thing that the disciples cannot fathom and that all governments agree cannot be done – he gets the people to share.  For the chances are that none of them went out into the desert without provisions, but all of them hide their precious cargo in fear that they didn’t have enough and that others would want what they have.  The old answer to the problem of scarcity is found in sharing.  Jesus multiplies the food until there is enough to go around by having the people put aside their belief in scarcity and share in the abundance of God.

The miracle in the feeding of the 5,000 may be found in the miracle of a change in belief and underlying assumptions which brings forth the freedom to live with God’s abundance.  May our lives be so blessed that we can see the fullness of what has provided rather than a short supply.  And may we learn to share – share with others who are in need, share with church so that the work of God’s kingdom may be broadened beyond what we as individuals can do, and share with each other so that we may mature as a community of faith, in our one hope, one Lord, one God and Savior of us all.  For through Christ there is not only enough to satisfy and sustain life, but there is more than we can possibly imagine.

May we see life through the eyes of Jesus and live it through faith.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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