We here at Hope Lutheran like to feed people. I’m continually amazed at how quickly we can throw a meal together at short notice, and not just something that’s edible, but something that tastes good and that has more than enough for everyone. We’re good at feeding people, so good that we picked this story of the feeding of the 5000 as one of the Biblical stories that we as a congregation feel describes us and gives us our identity, what we feel that God is calling us as a congregation to do. The interesting thing about the story of the feeding of the 5000 is that it is the only miracle story that is recorded in all four Gospels, which means that this was something that was extremely important in Jesus’ ministry and important for all who follow Jesus to remember. This does not mean, however, that each Gospel records the feeding story in exactly the same way. Each of these Gospels is unique, and each has a slightly different aspect of Jesus that they wish to show us. What John shows us in his version of the feeding story is this: out of what we human beings consider scarcity, God provides us with an abundance, an overflowing abundance. God, who is revealed in Jesus, takes what is little and gives us a feast, with leftovers; he does this with something that we human beings consider of bad quality, and he does this without any assistance on our part. Each of these details has relevance for our lives as we follow Jesus.
God, who is revealed in Jesus, takes what is little and gives us a feast. One of the things that I worry about when I’m presiding at worship is whether or not we have enough bread to feed everyone at Holy Communion. This usually happens when I see that we have more people worshiping with us than I have expected for that day, and then the loaf of bread that has been placed on the plate looks smaller than usual. You know what, though? No matter how much I worry about it, there is always enough for everyone, and there is almost always some bread left over. I don’t know why I worry about it still after being with you all for almost 3 years, except that I am human. In this story from the Gospel of John, I am Philip, the one who answers Jesus’ test question with, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” And every time, I fail Jesus’ test, and I am humbled by how he provides enough for each one of us to be filled at his table.
We have this fear that what little we have will not be enough not only with bread, but also with the other material things we have in our life. It’s called a “mentality of scarcity”. We are afraid that we won’t have enough for ourselves, and so we hold on tightly to what we have. This applies to our money, our belongings, our talents, and our time. We are afraid that if we give away more of our money, we won’t have enough to buy all of the things that we need or, more likely, that we want in life. We do not trust that the God who provided an abundant feast out of five loaves and two fish is also able to provide abundantly for us as well. We are afraid that if we don’t hoard something “just in case we might need it someday,” then that rainy day will come and we will be up the creek without a paddle. We don’t trust that God can provide for us abundantly when we are in need. We think that if we are not busy every single second of every single day, using all of the talents and the time that we have, we will not have time to do the things that need to be done. We don’t trust that God has given each one of us all of the talents and the time that we need to live our lives fully for God and in service to one another, and we believe that we simply don’t have time to give to be present with one another, to care for one another, and to help one another. Each one of us behaves like Philip: we see the enormous need of the people out there, we look at what we have, and we say, “We simply don’t have enough to do what you’re asking us to do, Jesus.”
And yet, Jesus surprises us with his ability to provide abundantly. He takes the little bit that we have and feeds not only us with his own hands, but also all of those around us. And here John focuses not only on the number of loaves and fishes that Andrew rounded up, but on the type of bread that is used: barley. Now, around here, we have lots of barley fields, and it is my understanding that most of that barley goes to beer companies in order to make beer. Also nowadays, some kinds of whole-grain breads use barley as one of their ingredients: it’s supposed to be healthier for you than the regular types of bread that are out there. But in Jesus’ day, barley bread was considered “poor” food, because it made for a coarser loaf. So consider this: Jesus took what the people considered bad-quality bread and made it into a feast so that everyone was satisfied, and there was much left over.
When we think of this in terms of stewardship, we need to think of this in terms of the quality of whatever it is we are offering to God. So, for example, this September we are going to be moving our Blessing of the Animals service to Washington Park, in an attempt to reach more people with the message of God’s love for all of creation. This is the first time that we will be doing this outside of the context of our church property. I’m sure that we will make some goof-ups, and we will learn some lessons about what we should continue to do in the future or what we should not continue to do. In the end, we may think that what we have offered of ourselves to Jesus and to those people around us is of very poor quality. We can trust, however, that Jesus will turn what we consider to be poor quality into a feast of abundance, and he will use what we consider to be our “poor” offering to feed all of those with whom we come into contact on that day. We need to not be afraid that the quality of what we have will not measure up, because God has given these gifts to us, and God will use these gifts to provide abundantly to all of those around us.
Because in the end, John tells us, it really isn’t up to us. In the other three Gospels, after Jesus blesses the bread and breaks it, he gives it to the disciples to give to the crowds. In John’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowds with his own hands. Remember this, because in the next few weeks, the appointed Gospel lessons will continue to be from John 6, when Jesus explains the meaning of this sign that he has performed and claims that he is the bread of life. Jesus not only feeds the crowds with bread by his own hands, he feeds all of those who follow him with his very own self. And Jesus doesn’t lose anything of himself by giving himself away. Instead, in some mystical sense, he becomes even more than he already is, able to feed ever more people with himself.
And that is important for us to remember, too. Jesus not only uses what we have to feed other people, he uses what we have to feed us as well. He offers us himself not only in worship, not only in communion, but he comes to us as well as we care for one another, encourage one another, comfort one another in sorrow, rejoice with one another in the happy times, feast upon his Word in Bible studies, and even much more than that. Jesus is with us in everything that we do in our lives, feeding us with the little bit that we have and turning it into an abundance. So let us not be afraid of giving more generously of everything that we have, for God is able to provide for us, and provide for us abundantly. Let us let go of this mentality of scarcity that we have, and see the generous provision of our Lord and Savior in everything that we do. And let us not be afraid that what we have to offer is not good enough, for God takes what we consider to be of poor quality and uses even that to provide an abundant feast. Further on in the Gospel of John, in chapter 10, Jesus says that he came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly. We have that abundant life now—let us live our lives generously, trusting that Jesus will do what he says and provide for us abundantly. Amen.