Sermon Pentecost 9 year B
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
They came looking for a miracle. They received the presence of God.
We have two stories in our gospel lesson today. They are both familiar to us. The first is the story of the feeding of the 5000. This story is found in all four gospels so it was also very well known to the early church.
I first heard that story when I was in Sunday School. We had little Arch Books, a sort of Christian version of Little Golden books. The title of that story was, “The
Boy Who Shared His Lunch.” The point of the story according to that book was: no matter how little you think you have, you always have enough to share.
The second story we hear today is the one about Jesus walking on the water. That one is also very familiar. It is found in both Matthew and Mark as well as in John.
It is interesting that these two stories are paired in today’s lesson. John seems to be trying to help his readers answer the question, “Just who is Jesus, anyway?” John’s readers want to know who Jesus. The crowds who followed Jesus wanted to know. We want to know.
John answers the question by telling us that Jesus is the One who cares about us – both our physical and spiritual needs.
Jesus shows he cares about the disciples’ physical and spiritual needs. As the story opens, Jesus is taking the disciples to a deserted place so they can get away. They take a boat across the Sea of Galilee to get away from the crowds so that they can rest for awhile.
However, the crowd went with them. So by the time their boat got across, a large group of people had already gathered.
Since they are in a deserted place, not near any town, there was nowhere to go to get any food. Five thousand people is a lot of people. Actually, back then they only counted the men, so there were probably more than twice that many people when you add in the women and children. Not as many as the olympic opening ceremony or even the Nebraska State Fair, but still way more than twice the number of people here in St. Paul.
The crowd was following Jesus because Jesus had been healing the sick. They came looking for a miracle. They also wanted a good show. We understand that. We like a good show, too.
Jesus knows what they came for. He knows they impulsively followed him. He knows they are unprepared for the fact that there isn’t a town on the other side of the lake. It is a deserted place, the middle of nowhere. It is a place covered with grassy hills. It sounds almost like a nice park for a picnic, but it was more like one those rest stops where the sign says “no facilities” – so no water fountains or even vending machines for food.
Even though the people in the crowd are impulsive and unprepared, Jesus has compassion for them. He knows what they need and takes care of them. Andrew comes forward with a little boy who has a small lunch – five loaves and two dried fish. They want to help. They understand that no gift is too small for Jesus to use.
The next thing Jesus does is tell the crowd to sit down. I think this is useful advice for us, too. Many of us don’t sit down together at a table for family dinners much anymore. It is good for our bodies when we sit down for a meal and eat more slowly. It is also good for our relationships. Eating together builds community. It feeds us spiritually as well as physically.
Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread and everyone has enough to eat. There are twelve baskets of leftovers. The crowd got the miracle they were looking for. They are so excited, they want to make Jesus their king.
Before we condemn the crowd for not understanding just who Jesus is – before we accuse them of placing their stomachs ahead of everything else – we should ask ourselves if we are looking for political leaders who can fix the economy so that everyone who is able can earn enough to buy food? I know I would like to hear from some politicians who demonstrate the willingness and ability to fix our broken system so that people’s basic needs are met and the hungry are fed. I guess I can’t blame the crowd for wanting to make Jesus into a political ruler.
Jesus knows what the people need better than they do themselves. He cares about their spiritual as well as their physical needs. So he goes away by himself so they can’t make him into a political leader.
Interestingly, that evening, the disciples get into the boat and start across the lake without Jesus. They row out three or four miles. It is dark. The sea is rough and it is very windy. Then they see Jesus walking toward them. They don’t recognize him and they are terrified.
We have never seen someone walk across a stormy sea at night, but we can imagine what it’s like to wake up and hear someone walking around in our dark house at night. We can imagine what a relief it is when the person speaks and we recognize the voice of someone we love.
Jesus speaks and reassures the disciples in the boat. He identifies himself. Our lectionary Bible translates what Jesus says into English as, “It is I”. In the language Jesus spoke, what he says is, “I am,” or “Yahweh” which is the name of God. He tells them not to be afraid.
Sometimes we come to Jesus looking for a miracle. When we are afraid, we frequently pray for a miracle. We ask God to send a cure for our diseases. We ask for money when the house is close to foreclosure. We ask for help when someone we love is overtaken by addiction. Like the hungry people in the crowd, sometimes a miracle is what we get.
But more often, we get reassurance from Jesus. He reminds us that he is with us. He identifies himself. He reminds us of who he really is. He says to us, “I am here. God is with you. Do not be afraid.”
Jesus knows our spiritual needs as well as our physical needs. When we come to him with our physical needs, we might get a miracle, but more often, we will get a reminder to share what we have. He will tell us that he can use anything we have, even a small lunch. He will tell us that no gift is too small to share; we all just need to remember that God provides abundantly.
When we come to Jesus with our spiritual needs, he reminds us that he is always with us and that he is all we need.
When we come looking for a miracle, we receive the presence of God.
He is present when he gives us the bread. Amen.