Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 12)

Text: John 6:10b-11
All the people sat down; there were about five thousand men. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks to God, and distributed it to the people who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, and they all had as much as they wanted.

Miracle of caring

I came across an article entitled "The Beer and Ice Cream Diet". I read on with interest but wondered about its scientific validity (maybe the scientifically minded can advise me). The basic theory the writer put forward is this: it takes one calorie to heat up one gram of water one degree Celsius. That means that if you eat very cold food the body has to warm this up to body temperature when it hits your stomach and to do this it sucks the calories out of the only available source – your body fat.

An example of how this works is provided. I read that each ounce of beer contains 16 latent calories, but extracts 1,036 calories as the body raises the icy cold beer to body temperature. The conclusion is that if you drink a 6 ounce glass of beer you burn up 6,216 calories. Of course if you eat frozen food like ice cream you will burn even more calories as the body raises the temperature of the frozen food.

I got to thinking. We all know that pizza is served hot, is loaded with calories, and is guaranteed to add to your size. However, if the above is true when you eat pizza, drink plenty of icy cold beer and follow that up with several big servings of ice cream or frozen yoghurt, you will lose weight.

Nowadays we hear so much about diets and what foods are good for you and which ones are not. A well meaning person told me that the calories in snacks consumed watching a movie or sport do not count as they are part of the rest and relaxation so important for good health.

Today we hear about food in our Gospel reading - some very ordinary food - nothing like pizza, beer and ice cream. Jesus fed over 5,000 people with bread and fish. John’s Gospel relates very few miracle stories and when he does include one it is for a very specific reason. Through the miracle story he wants to tell us something important about Jesus.

The first things the readers of John’s Gospel would have noticed is the similarity between this miracle and similar events in the Old Testament.

Recall how God fed his people on their journey from Egypt to the Land of Canaan. Every morning without fail, the people were able to go around the camp and collect manna, a flaky substance which was able to be made into bread. We also know that God supplied fresh meat – quails - to supplement their diet.

Remember the story of Hagar (the servant girl who bears Abraham a son, Ishmael). She is sent out into the desert with little Ishmael and when the water and food ran out she put Ishmael under a bush and went on further because she couldn’t bear to watch her son die. We are told God heard the boy and her mother crying and provided a well for them to drink from (Genesis 20:8-21).

What about the story of the poor widow who gave to Elijah the last of her food and afterwards found that her pantry was miraculously well stocked for the duration of the drought (1 Kings 17:8-24).

In 2 Kings we read how Elisha fed 100 men with a few ears of corn and 20 barley loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44).

The Old Testament reminds us again and again that it is God who ‘gives food to the hungry’ (Psalm 146:9).

And now we see Jesus feed more than 5000 hungry people. This miracle links Jesus to the God who provided food for the people in the Old Testament. Jesus is the Messiah; he is the one and same God who gave food to the hungry in the Old Testament. He is the same God who has always been concerned about the everyday welfare of his people. He is always near those who call out to him for help and uses his power to provide for our needs, to protect us and to care for us when things aren’t going so well. The Gospel writer John wants to make it quite clear that this miracle is a ‘sign’ pointing out that Jesus who says ‘I am the Bread of Life’ is the same God who tells Moses his name – ‘I am who I am’

Let’s try to imagine the scene? A crowd of 10,000 people and that’s not including the children all in one place at the one time and every one of them hungry. Catering for such a crowd would even be impossible using the mod cons that we have today. "Send them home", we would say.

But we see that Jesus doesn’t even consider such a question. His first thought is for those who are hungry. The disciples saw how impossible the task would be to try and feed such a crowd. Where on earth would they get so much food? Where would they get the money? Philip said, "For everyone to have even a little, it would take more than two hundred silver coins to buy enough bread." (More than 7 months wages would be needed to provide just a simple snack for such a crowd).
The Gospel writer uses Philip’s words to show us that feeding this many people would be a nightmare.
All Philip could see was how impossible the task would be.
All Jesus could see were people who needed food. He only saw their need.

As we read the Gospels we find that people could only see the difficulty of the situation but Jesus could only see human need.
When people tried to shoosh those who called out for help, those hopelessly afflicted with leprosy, blindness, and demon possession, Jesus could only see their need and laid his hands on them, encouraged them, and healed them.
When people shook their heads in disgust at those sinners who fell at Jesus feet or invited Jesus to dinner, those hopelessly trapped in sin and evil, all Jesus could see was their need and he forgave them and encouraged them not to sin any longer.
When his enemies stood around the cross and laughed at him and made fun of him, all Jesus could see was their hopelessness and need, and he prayed,
"Father, forgive them".

Jesus sees the hopelessness of our situations.
While others shake their heads and wonder at what ‘bad luck’ had come our way,
or throw up their hands in despair because they don’t know how to help us;
while others can’t understand what is happening and are unable to sympathise with us;
or simply ignore our need and pretend that everything is okay,
Jesus sees our need, recognises how helpless we are to do anything about it, he feels for us in our need (has compassion for us) and then does something about it.

Think of some of the times when you have been caught up in a seemingly hopeless situation. You ask questions like -
‘How am I going to cope?’
‘What can I possibly do now?’
‘Where on earth am I going to get help?’
‘It doesn’t matter which way I turn, it looks hopeless’.
‘How will I ever get over this?’

We draw on all the strength we can muster.
We try and make wise decisions.
We see what help we can get!
We battle along! But everything seems so insignificant compared to the mountainous thing in front of us!

It’s a funny thing that we struggle so much sometimes when we have a God who we believe in, to whom we attribute a whole lot of stuff, whom we confess to be the Maker of everything, King of the Universe, the Saviour, the ever-present, empowering, enabling Spirit – funny that we struggle over so many things when we say, in fact, believe that we have God on our side!

Funny that we should believe in a Creator God for whom nothing is impossible -
a God who showed himself in Jesus who even the laws of nature couldn’t limit,
walking on water,
calming storms, touching people at their high point of vulnerability and urging them to not be afraid,
the God who cares for birds and the hairs that fall from our heads;
the God who has the power to actually break the dominion of death itself by raising Jesus from the dead.
We believe in such a God and then ask, "How am I going to get out of this mess?"

We all have our own stories to tell of some kind of helplessness in our lives but whatever it might be Jesus sees it. He is ready to be there for us and to help us get through it. When it seems that all the human effort in the world will not be able to help us, Jesus is there for us. Just as Jesus came to the rescue of so many people during his time on this earth, including feeding more than 10,000 hungry people until they were satisfied, so also he comes to us in our time of need. He invites us to call on him with any need that we might have and he promises to be there to help us. He is ready to help us in whatever difficult circumstance in which we find ourselves.

This story tells us something else about Jesus.

Jesus helps that crowd of 10,000 people with their immediate need of food but the Gospel writer also gives us a hint that there is something more he wants to tell us about Jesus.

John describes what happened when Jesus performed this miracle in this way, "Jesus took the bread, gave thanks to God, and distributed it to the people." That sounds a lot like the words Jesus used at the Last Supper. We hear the words at the Communion service – "On the night Jesus was betrayed he took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to his disciples…"

I’m sure that it isn’t just a coincidence that John chose to record this miracle using words that Jesus later spoke when he indicated that the bread they were receiving was his body given on the cross for our salvation. In fact, later in this same chapter John records Jesus as saying, "I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).

Bread is basic to our diet. Bread saved the people in the wilderness.
Bread prevented the widow and her son dying of starvation.
Bread satisfied the hunger of the crowd that followed Jesus.
Jesus calls himself bread – the Bread of Life - to get across the idea that we can’t do without him, just as we can’t do without food. Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life to remind us that all we need is his grace, his saving death and resurrection to give us life that lasts forever.

He has died on the cross for us so that we can enjoy forgiveness for all of our sin and look forward to eternal life. He forgives us for our lack of faith. He died for those sins that we think are unforgivable. He forgives us the smallness of our service in his church and toward our fellow human beings. He forgives us for our laziness and our lame excuses and our selfishness when we hang back instead of sharing Jesus love with others. Without his forgiveness, we would face God’s judgement and death. Without this Bread of Life, our sin would condemn us. This life-giving Bread is so good we can’t keep it to ourselves, it must be shared.

Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever" (John 6:51).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
30th July, 2006

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