John 6:1-15

Where are you in this episode?  There are many truths to be learned in this account of the feeding of the five thousand, too many to cover in the short time we have this morning.  So let’s try to focus on just one by finding ourselves in this text.  We may be used to reading and hearing these biblical accounts through the eyes of an uninvolved observer.  We watch the miracle unfold for other people.  But maybe you can see yourself in the crowd, being served by Jesus.  After all, that’s what Jesus does for us.  He provides and he cares for us.  But today put yourself closer to the action.  Let’s become a part of this miracle so that Jesus can teach us.  Where are you?

Are you Philip?  Philip must have been tired.  Jesus was too, in fact.  This episode overlaps with last week’s Gospel reading and sermon.  Jesus had been preaching to crowds, the disciples had just returned from their own preaching missions, they all had recently learned that John the Baptist had been executed, and they just wanted to get away and get some rest.  But then this crowd followed them.  Jesus, wanting to get away, turned…and had compassion on the people, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So now, because Jesus spent so much time with them, there was a problem.  The people were hungry.  They were out in a remote location and hadn’t eaten for a while.  It was a problem, and Philip couldn’t imagine how it could be solved.  “Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  “It’s impossible!  That’s not our problem!”  Is that where you are?  Are you Philip? 

Or are you Andrew?  Andrew was resourceful.  He found five loaves of bread and two fish, but he recognized the limitations of his find.  He didn’t consider how Jesus might be able to bless such a humble offering.  Resourceful, an idea guy, but not a great memory.  Hadn’t Jesus done wonderful things before, providing unexpected blessings in tough situations?  But Andrew was thinking about the obstacles.  Is that where you are in this episode?

Or are you the boy?  Behind the scenes.  Quiet.  But with a connection to the Lord’s apostles.  He couldn’t do much.  He didn’t have a whole lot.  But he offered all he had, and that made it a large gift.  And look what Jesus did with that humble offering.  Look what the boy’s gift accomplished.  Not because it was a large gift—almost the whole thing fits on the parament below me—but because Jesus blessed it.  Are you the boy, having resources to help others?

Maybe you are one of the other disciples.  At this divine restaurant on the side of the mountain, the disciples were hosts, servers, and busboys.  They directed the people to sit down, they helped distribute the food that was miraculously multiplying, and they cleaned up after the meal—they gathered more than they had started with!  Jesus had solved the problem after all.  He had performed a miracle, and he let his disciples be a part of it.

So where are you in this episode?  And what can you learn from it?  Here’s something:  Look at how Jesus serves those who have a need.  He didn’t snap his fingers and take away everyone’s hunger.  He didn’t make juicy steaks appear out of thin air.  He used what was there.  He used the bread and fish that the boy already had and he used the disciples who were already there, and he blessed those things and those people in such a way that everyone’s need was satisfied.  They “all had enough to eat.”  Jesus used what was there and performed a miracle with those things.

There’s something else to notice here:  Jesus allowed the people to get hungry in the first place!  He wasn’t caught by surprise.  He didn’t slap his forehead at the end of the day and say, “Oh no!  You guys haven’t eaten yet, have you?  I didn’t think of that!”  No, he allowed them to stay there until there was a problem that seemed unsolvable.  And then he solved the problem.  He does that same thing many times in our lives.  He creates or allows a need so that he can satisfy it for us.  And he does it in the lives of the people in your life.  And when he satisfies the need, so often Jesus gives his disciples an opportunity to help.

Andrew had the idea and found the resources.  The boy shared.  The great apostles cleaned up.  So where are you?  Jesus Has Recruited You to Serve, to be his agent in providing for the needs of others.  Do you have the fish and bread?  Can you help serve it if someone else has it to share?  What are the opportunities in your life?  What have you been doing with those opportunities?

Or maybe you’ve been too wrapped up in yourself to notice when God has allowed or created a need in someone else’s life.  That sinful nature is still alive in you, isn’t it?  This is more than just a minor vice labelled self-centeredness.  This is more serious.  This is the one great sin, the sin that has earned yourself damnation, separation from God.  It’s the failure to do the simplest-sounding thing, “Love your neighbor,” because the last two words always trip us up:  “as yourself.”  We’d rather reserve our resources and our sympathies for ourselves, without considering that others might be struggling with needs or problems too.

It would make sense for Jesus to run away from people like that, people like us.  And actually, we do see Jesus running away in the last verse of this section. “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”  It would make sense if Jesus got out of there because he was upset at how ungrateful the people were, or because he was disappointed in their sinfulness.  But why did Jesus run away?  It’s because he cared deeply for them!  And because he cares deeply for you!  If he were an earthly king he would not go to the cross and he would not die for your sins.  And that’s why he was born.  So that you don’t have to worry about being separated from God.  He removed that separation.  He paid the penalty for your self-centeredness.  He thought of you and your forgiveness and your free reward in heaven.  That’s why he withdrew from these people.  He was focused on the cross.

Jesus doesn’t run from sinners.  He doesn’t run from you.  He bought you.  He forgives you.  That’s how he made you his disciple.  And since you are his disciple, he wants you to be his agent.  In today’s reading from Ephesians, it says that Jesus “gave” some people to be pastors and teachers.  That means he gave them to us as gifts.  Pastors and teachers are gifts from Jesus because they teach us and build us up as parts of the body of Christ so that we can reach spiritual maturity.  In the same way, Jesus has given you as a gift to at least someone, and probably someones.  You are all gifts of God to others because he has put you in their lives so that he can satisfy some of their needs through you.  You are one way God can keep his promises to other people.  Each day we can pray for those in need, and then we might even get to be one of the Lord’s agents through which he answers your prayer and satisfies that need.

We started with the question, “Where are you in this episode?”  The boy who had something to share?  The disciples, who were empty handed but were able to serve?  Let’s close with this question, “Where are you right now (in your life)?”  God has a habit of using things and people that are already in place to help those in need.  Where has he put you?  What has he given you to use?  What are the needs of the people who surround you each day?  Don’t overlook those right in front of you this week.  And don’t underestimate the resources God has given you, as Philip and Andrew did.  Jesus Has Recruited You to Serve, and he can make even the most humble gifts be of great service to others.