Andrew’s Note: To get the full experience for this week’s sermon, follow this link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrPD55FVd4o), keep the video up as you read, and follow the time cues when they come up. First, watch until 3 minute and 3 seconds before you continue into the sermon.
Yes, I did know I’d be using that clip last week when I referenced people having an “Andy Griffith Show” moment to connect to everything. I’m a bit of hypocrite, I didn’t think anyone would mind.
The day had seemingly been like most days for the disciples. There are four people or groups of people who contribute to the story, and hopefully we’ll be able to take something away from each of them. The disciples will be the first. The day started like most days, people found out that Jesus was nearby and a crowd stated to gather. Jesus was drawing pretty big crowds at this point in his ministry so as more and more people show up it probably didn’t faze any of the disciples. But then Jesus started to speak. And he spoke. And spoke. And spoke. And spoke some more. And suddenly the day started to get away from them. And then the panic would have stated to sink in. The panic would have come because the tradition of this time was that if a speaker kept a crowd all day (thus keeping them from getting to work) then that speaker had an obligation to feed them. In another of the Gospel accounts we’re told that the disciples went to Jesus and told him to wrap it up and send the crowd home so they can eat. And Jesus’ response there is similar to what we see here, he says “no, we’ll feed them. Now where are we going to get the bread?” Two disciples come forward. Phillip, in the spirit of realism, in an attempt to maybe pull Jesus back from this idea says “look at the crowd, we’ll never feed this many people, it would take (half a year’s, six month’s, a year’s) wages to do that.” Bear in mind, none of them have any wages, they all quit their jobs to come follow Jesus. Andrew, while Phillip has been attempting to sway Jesus, has been assessing the situation. He comes back with a report: we’ve got five barley loaves (Andrew’s note: keep in mind that the loaves are barley, that’s going to be important in a minute) and two fish. I don’t what we’re going to do with it, but that’s what we’ve got.”
Its seems too simple but it is a reality in life: there’s two ways we can look at the situations that come up, the challenges we face. We can be negative or positive. We can be focused on what we don’t have or focused on what we do. We can be realistic, maybe to the point of despair, or we can look through the lens of faith. Andrew doesn’t know what’s going to happen with such a small amount of food, but he’s been around Jesus enough to know something might happen. Faith calls us to approach situations a different way, to avoid the temptation to be bogged down in the negative and to focus on what we don’t have, and instead to recognize what’s there and imagine what God might be able to do with our offerings, small though they may be.
Head back to the video, and watch from where you left off until 5:30 (when Aunt Mae starts to respond to Andy)
Jesus does something in this story that is incredibly simple but incredibly powerful. After he takes the food and blesses it he tells the disciples to have the crowd sit down. There’s a story of an American missionary in China at the turn of the 20th century. Famine hit the land, so he wrote back to the United States asking for food. The response overwhelmed him, he received crate after crate of food, and so he was excited about what he would be able to do for the community he served. When he got the food he let people know that the next day it would be available. The next day his home turned into a mob scene. People were shoving and walking over each other, grabbing what they could, and within minutes all the food the missionary put out that day was gone and only a few people seemed to have gotten any. He was disappointed, almost to the point of despair, so that night he looked to scripture for guidance and something led him to John 6. And there he saw his answer. The next morning when the crowd gathered he had them all sit down. Then he handed out the food, and no one went home without anything.
Sometimes miracles require a practical step. Sometimes solving big issues require us to take small steps toward a solution. Jesus does two important things that can be a lesson for us even though we don’t have the ability to multiply food: he gives thanks for what he has and he starts to do something with it. Complaining about what we don’t have is a waste of time, and nothing is ever going to come from it. Don’t define your life, and especially your usefulness to the kingdom, by what you don’t have. Take what you have and take a first step, and I think we’ll be amazed by what can come.
Finish the video
There’s a little boy in this story. He’s probably Opie’s age. He got up that morning and decided he wanted to go see this man that all the people had been talking about. His mom didn’t want him to go empty handed so she gave him a few loaves and a couple of small fish. Barley loaves. I told you that would become important and here’s why: bread made from barley isn’t the good stuff. It doesn’t taste very good, it isn’t great for you. Wheat bread is the bread you would want. Barley bread is what the poor ate. Barley bread is what the people who didn’t have any other options ate. That he was carrying barley bread tells us that this little boy didn’t come from much. He didn’t have much. But what he had he gave away so other people could eat. That’s a piece of this story that gets lost when you know the ending already, we’re told that the men sat down and food was distributed to them. The boy didn’t have a man with him. There wasn’t anyone there to go and receive food on his behalf. There’s a pretty good chance when the boy gave his bread and fish over to Andrew that he did it assuming that he wouldn’t get any of it back. But he was willing to give it up so that someone else could eat. He was willing to give up what he had for people who had nothing.
This fall (just to give you a teaser), we’re going to spend some time in the book of Acts. One of the things we’ll see is that that same mindset existed in the early church. When folks joined the Christian community they would give things up, not because they had to, it wasn’t a requirement, but there was a feeling in the early church that it was a sin to have more than you need when some people had less. They did this in response to Christ giving all for humanity, this boy didn’t know that part of the story yet, and that should make him even more of a challenge to us. He gave up his meal so someone else could eat.
There’s a fourth group here, the rest of the crowd. There’s a non-miraculous explanation that some folks give for this event, and that is that Jesus knew something about the crowd. Jesus knew that if this boy had food then other folks did too. And the idea goes that when folks saw the boy giving up what he had they were so moved or shamed potentially that they got out what they had been hiding, and that when the crowd stopped hoarding for fear that they might not have enough they found out that there was actually more than any of them could ever eat.
I don’t know about that. I certainly don’t want to take away from the miraculous element at play here. But I do believe sometimes little boys can teach us a lesson. I do believe that sometime our fear that there won’t be enough keeps us from knowing the true abundance of the Kingdom of God. And I do believe we’ll all find ourselves in moments like this little boy, where Jesus asks us to give something up without the knowledge that we’ll get anything in return. My prayer for all of us, who claim to know the end of the story, who claim to know that in Christ there is enough, is that we’ll be as faithful in that moment as this boy was even when he didn’t.