Sermon for Aug. 1, 2021 By Rev. Dr. Paul A. Day

First Congregational Church of Gray, Maine

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost                                                                                

 August 1, 2021

The Good News: The Bread of Life                                                           

 Rev. Dr. Paul A. Day

John 6:1-14, 24-35

 

Introduction

This morning we are taking a break from our series of messages from Ephesians with a Communion Meditation based on the reading from the Gospel of John. The Revised Common Lectionary spends five weeks in John, chapter 6. I am actually taking parts of the readings for last Sunday and today, beginning with John’s version of the Feeding of the 5,000.

Scripture Reading                                                                                                         John 6:1-14

1 Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

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The Feeding of the 5,000 is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that is recorded in all four Gospels. It’s a big deal!                                  (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 32-44; Luke 9:10b-17; John 6:1-15)

All four Gospels place this incident on the shore of Galilee. Tradition identifies the site as Tabgha. The Church of the Multiplication is near there; two years ago archaeologists uncovered a 1600-year-old mosaic that commemorates the miracle.

All four Gospels state that there were some 5,000 men, plus women and children – perhaps 15,000 people in all – who were fed with five loaves and two fish—and the leftovers filled twelve  baskets!

Only John notes that “the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” That is the great annual festival that celebrates their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. But no one could miss the parallel between the feeding of this multitude and the provision of manna for the people of Israel during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land. The twelve baskets of leftovers correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel. John makes the connection even more explicit later in chapter 6. (below)

All four Gospels note that the question of scarcity was raised, and that Jesus told his disciples to use what they had to feed the crowd. Only John mentions that what they had was one young boy’s lunch, thoughtfully packed for him by a loving Mom. Five loaves and two small fish – think of some mini-bagels and lox; alas, no cream cheese!

Some commentators suggest that the boy’s generosity, and Jesus’ instructions to the crowd to sit down in groups of about 50 each, may have prompted others to share the food they were hiding away. When a preacher once suggested as much in a sermon, one church lady challenged him whether or not he believed in miracles. “Of course, I do!” he answered, “But what do you think is a greater miracle: that Jesus would multiply the bread and fish, or that one boy’s simple act of selfless giving would melt the hearts of a multitude who were hoarding their meager supplies?”

One lesson we can take from the Feeding of the 5,000 is Jesus’ instruction to the disciples, “You give them something to eat!” In other words, use what you have – no matter how meager you think it may be – to bless others in Jesus’ name — and expect God to do great things!

This past week we learned of the passing of the pre-eminent TV pitchman, Ron Popeil, who sold us his Pocket Fisherman, the Vege-matic, and all sorts of other handy gadgets. His famous pitch usually included the phrase, “But wait; there’s more!” So it is with the Gospel — but wait; there’s more!

John tells us that the crowd kept following Jesus “because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.” In other words, they wanted what they could get from Jesus. And after the “miracle of the loaves and fish,” John tells us when Jesus understood that the crowd was about to proclaim him as their king, Jesus withdrew up the mountainside, alone.

Meanwhile, when evening came the disciples got into their boat and made for home – Capernaum – but soon ran into a storm and could make no headway. Finally, Jesus came to them on the sea, and they found that they had arrived home. The story continues the next day —

John 6:24-29

24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

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(By the way, the traditional site of the Feeding of the 5,000 is quite likely not the actual location. The Gospel says miracle took place on the other side of the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum. Tabgha is only a couple of miles from Capernaum, along the northwest shore of Galilee.)

The crowd was still following Jesus in order to get material blessings – physical healing, free food, miracles. Jesus called them to account, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that.” (The Message) Instead, let us seek spiritual nourishment.

How often do we waste our energy on things that matter so little, while ignoring our deepest needs!

The crowd asked, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” or “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?” (The Message) Jesus answered that it’s not what you or I do but simply to believe – to trust – in what God has done, and is doing, in Jesus.

The Gospel continues with the crowd’s question and Jesus’ response—

John 6:30-35

30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

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Here we find the explicit connection between the Feeding of the 5,000 and God’s provision of manna in the wilderness. But the crowd is still fixated on actual bread, hoping for some sort of miraculous loaf that will never be used up. (Just as the “woman at the well” mistook Jesus’ offer of “living water” for H2O – see John 4:5-15)

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.” Every culture around the world uses some form of bread as the staff of life. Bread is, literally, life-giving! As Jesus had said, “The true bread of heaven . . . gives life to the world.”

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.” The “I am” is an explicit echo of the name of God revealed to Moses in the Burning Bush: “I am that I am.”

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The Feeding of the 5,000 was a precursor of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. “Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them.” In the Upper Room, Jesus took the bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body; take and eat.”

And so we come this morning to act out our faith, our trust in what God has done in Jesus Christ. The little wafer and sip of juice do little for our bodies, but this sacrament – this act of remembrance and thanksgiving in worship – provides true nourishment to our spirits. As we prepare our hearts and minds to receive the bread and the cup, let us sing—

Hymn # 254 – Break Thou the Bread of Life                                                       Pilgrim Hymnal