Sermon for the Ninth 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.

Life-giving Bread!

Nowadays we hear so much about diets and what foods are good for you and which ones are not.  Food specialists are recruited from far and wide to give their opinions about what is a healthy diet.  Magazines regularly feature articles on sure-fire methods on how to lose weight or how to stay slim, and what to eat to make sure that you have the figure that everyone admires.  In fact, there are so many TV and magazine articles that the whole subject is just becoming a bit wearisome.  All claim to be based on the latest research but how can they when so much contradictory advice is given.  Looking at the lighter side of this whole thing about what we should and shouldn’t eat are these tips.

·      If no one sees you eat it, the calories don’t count.

·      Snacks consumed watching a movie or sport do not count as they are part of the relaxation so important for your good health.

·      Late-night snacks have no calories.

·      Food and drink taken for medicinal purposes are not fattening – eg red wine, hot chocolate, Bundy & coke.

·      Neatness cancels calories. If you take an extra bit of cake because it’s the last slice or to even things up or clean up the broken bits those calories don’t count.

·      If it tastes good, it can’t possibly be bad for you.

Today we hear about food in our Gospel reading.  Some very ordinary food.  Jesus satisfied the hunger of over 5,000 people with bread and fish.  Like so many of the other Gospel incidents, the feeding of this large crowd of people recalls several great Old Testament events. 

We are reminded of the way God fed his people on their journey from Egypt to the Land of Canaan.  Every morning without fail, they 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

And the miraculous feeding by Jesus reminds us of a 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).

Then there is the story we heard earlier about Elisha who fed a hundred men with a few ears of corn and 20 barley loaves (2 King 4:42-44). 

And then there are the many stories of God providing food and water for people at various times like ravens bringing bread and meat to Elijah or the water that gushed out of a rock to quench dry throats.    

In Ezekiel God promises that the descendant of David will be like a shepherd who provides abundantly for his people.  God is the provider of his people when they are in need.

And now we see Jesus become the provider as he feeds more than 5000 hungry people.  God has always been concerned about the everyday welfare of his people.  God has never been very far away from those who need him.  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.

In John’s gospel the miracle stories are signs that tell us something about Jesus.  They make a connection between the God of Old Testament, the great “I AM” and the one who now says, “I am the Bread of Life”.  We witness the same loving hand that fed the people manna in the wilderness now feeding bread and fish to another lot of people in another wilderness.  Jesus is concerned about the everyday needs of everyday people.

A crowd of 10,000 people and that’s not including the children.  Can you imagine what it would mean trying to cater for such a crowd?  Even with today’s modern means of catering, our cold rooms, cooking facilities, transportation, would we contemplate feeding so many people without months of preparation beforehand?  We would join with the disciples and say, “Send them home”. 

But we see that Jesus doesn’t even consider such a question.  His first thought is for those who are hungry.  The disciples saw otherwise.  This was a caterers’ nightmare.  How could they feed so many and where on earth would they get so much food and the money to buy it at such short notice?  Philip said, For everyone to have even a little, it would take more than two hundred silver coins to buy enough bread.”  (That was about 7 months wages in those days).  The gospel writer includes this detail because he wants to highlight the hopelessness of the situation.   
All Philip could see was how impossible the task would be. 
Jesus could see were people who needed food.  He only saw their need. 

We see that again and again during Jesus’ ministry.  When others can only see the difficulty of the situation; Jesus can only see human need. 
When people tried to stop those hopelessly afflicted with leprosy, blindness, and demon possession calling out for help, 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 some sympathise with us and try to help us with kind deeds and words;
others despair because they don’t know how to help us;
others can’t understand what is happening and are unable to sympathise with us;
others simply ignore our need and pretend that everything is okay,
Jesus sees our need, recognises how helpless we are to do anything about it, has compassion on us and does something about our situation.

Think of some of the times when you have been caught up in a seemingly hopeless situation and you wonder how you will ever cope. 
Perhaps you have been in a hospital bed waiting for a diagnosis of your illness and all kinds of scary thoughts run through your mind. 
Perhaps you have been caught up in some kind of relationship breakdown with a member of your family and nothing you do seems to make it any better.
Perhaps things have been getting the better of you and you feel so overwhelmed, so depressed, so lost and so helpless. 
Perhaps you are plagued with guilt because there is a sin, a hurt, a bad choice in your past that you can’t forgive and let go.    

We all have our own story 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. 

This miracle story is a sign for us and points us to the kind of God we have, the kind of saviour and helper Jesus is.  He is ready to help us in whatever difficult circumstance in which we find ourselves.  But this story tells us something else 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…”  

It isn’t 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 as they wandered in the wilderness. 
Bread prevented the widow and her son dying of starvation in the Old Testament story. 
Bread satisfied the hunger of the crowd that followed Jesus.  Jesus calls himself bread – the Bread of Life – to get across the idea that he is an essential part of our lives; 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 we need his grace, his saving death and resurrection to give us life that lasts forever. Jesus is the bread that sustains our life here and now; he is also the bread that gives life 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 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 Bread of Life is essential and it is offered to each of us freely.  We reach out with empty hands, nothing to offer in return, and receive with repentant and open hearts what we are offered – the living bread Jesus Christ himself.  What a gift – what a prize this is!  Bread that gives eternal life!

As Jesus himself 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
29th July 2012

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