First Congregational Church
March 6, 2016
Fourth Sunday in Lent
“Amazing Grace for the Filled”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
If you’ve not been here, our Lenten theme this year is Amazing Grace, particularly as it applies to certain individuals and situations. So the themes have been “Amazing Grace for the Tempted,” for the Healed, for the Free and today it is for the Filled. As I thought about this morning’s title, it was a bit intriguing, because I think I - and maybe a good many others - may equate the idea of amazing grace and being filled - like the two mean the same thing. Or if you are “filled” with the Holy Spirit, filled with God’s love, or filled and overflowing with joy, then why would you need God’s amazing grace? So, Julie, please lead us in the idea of what Amazing Grace does for the Filled of God’s people.
John 6:1-15 Julie Hirschfeld
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then 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. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Steve Elrick: My name is Philip. I was one of the first four disciples Jesus called. I met him through my friends, Andrew and Simon Peter. We were all from the town of Bethsaida a few miles southwest of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.
We’d been with Jesus over two years when the “Big Picnic” took place out in that remote place near Bethsaida. Jesus took us there to get away from the crowds for a while. That didn’t last long! The crowds watched us get into the boat at Capernaum.
Assuming Jesus was in the boat with us, they raced along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, meeting us as we arrived. I was exasperated. Jesus wasn’t. Barely awake from a short nap in the boat, he welcomed them. He greeted and embraced everyone who managed to get near him. Then we hiked out into the grasslands, all those thousands trailing along behind. One could imagine this was Moses leading the children of Israel into the wilderness. Actually, I think that’s exactly what it was supposed to look like.
All day Jesus was preaching and teaching in his simple way, followed by healing the sick. He talked about the Kingdom of God, the need for personal repentance, for godly living, for loving one’s neighbor and for preparation for judgment. But mostly there was the good news of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus.
He seldom came right out and said that he was the Messiah, the Savior; he left people to think about it, to wonder and to make up their own minds. Given the signs and wonders that followed him everywhere, it shouldn’t have been too hard to draw the correct conclusion—the blind received their sight, the lame walked and demons fled at his word!
And then there was this great sign, this miracle, the one in which I played a small and almost embarrassing role—this amazing miracle of multiplied loaves of bread and fish.
The crowd had spent the day listening to Jesus teach, unmindful of the passing of time or even that they had not eaten since morning. Now it was late afternoon. Soon the sun would be setting. The people really needed to go to their homes to eat and Jesus really needed to rest. I was concerned. “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over,” I told Jesus. “Send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves” (Matthew 14:15).
Jesus didn’t seem to hear me, “Where are we to find bread, so that these people may eat?” he asked me (John 6:5). It was as though he expected us, his disciples, to feed them, all those hungry people, thousands upon thousands of them! I protested, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:6). That was a working man’s wages for nearly two-thirds of a year! But Jesus persisted, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)
Andrew spoke up, offering a desperate suggestion. He’d found a little boy offering to share his lunch. Might it help? Even he didn’t seem to think so: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9). I agreed. If two hundred denarii couldn’t feed all these people, how could a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish? But that was all Jesus needed. He was just as pleased as if it had been a camel caravan loaded with food. That’s what I would have needed had it been up to me. But Jesus wasn’t me; he was the Son of God, and with God, all things are possible.
Then Jesus had all the people sit down. Having blessed the loaves and the fish Jesus broke them and gave the pieces to the disciples to pass out to the crowd. He kept breaking them and the disciples kept giving the food to the people. Dozens of times they came back for more, handing out bread and fish until everyone ate all he or she wanted. And still there was bread left over, twelve baskets full!
After the people were filled with bread and fish, the murmuring grew to shouts of approval. “This is the Prophet who was to come into the world!” (John 6:14). “This is the Son of David, the Messiah! He’s come at last! We’ll never be hungry again!”
The joy and mystery of the moment now turned into something that was not pleasing to God. The people had seen the signs, they saw the miracles and they just wanted more, more healing, more bread. And Jesus was just the king to do it.
How disappointing this was to Jesus. “Perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). He was gone before the crowds realized it, staying on the mountain till it was dark and they’d finally gone home.
The next morning, Jesus was again mobbed by the crushing crowds, all with hands in the air, some shouting for bread, some wanting to make him king. Jesus had to shout to be heard, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27).
It seems that wherever there was an adoring crowd, there were also suspicious religious leaders. They were there too. The great mass made its way to the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus continued teaching, saying strange things like, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35), and “I have come down from heaven … to do the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38-40).
His enemies asked, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (John 6:42). The things this man says are preposterous! This man didn’t come from heaven; he came from Nazareth, just a few miles from here. Ridiculous!
To those who heard with faith, it was not ridiculous at all. Clearly Jesus was speaking of bread in a very different way. “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54)
Now the mood of the crowd started changing. The talk of taking Jesus and making him king started to die down. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they were asking (John 6:52). It was sounding almost cannibalistic. How indeed could Jesus be the bread of God who gives his life for the world? How could one eat his flesh and drink his blood? So offensive did these words sound that the once adoring crowd began to thin.
“This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” they asked one another (John 6:60). “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus” (John 6:66). But we twelve didn’t leave; we stayed. So Jesus asked us, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68).
Giving himself for the life of the world? His flesh being real food and his blood real drink that if one eats and drinks of it he has eternal life? I can assure you, at that moment what Jesus said made no sense at all. Now, long after the institution of the Holy Supper, now, long after his suffering and death on the cross, I have an idea of what Jesus is talking about, but not then. Then I just knew that Jesus was from God and that he loved me, and that his heart was filled with compassion for the hurting and hungry.
That was enough for me to love him and believe whatever he told me, even though I didn’t understand it.
And to be honest, I’m not sure I understand it yet. Somehow Jesus is the bread of God, bread that fills a need in my heart that all the barley loaves in the world could never fill.
Somehow I feast on Jesus when the bread and wine at his table are blessed and his promises spoken. Somehow in that mystery my sins are forgiven and I have eternal life. Somehow.
Thank you, Phillip. It’s interesting that sometimes those who are “filled,” or have something precious, like say, a full belly, sometimes forget the miracle of food being there when and where we’d like it.
It’s easy, on days when the sky is blue and the breeze is warm, that all we really want are more days like our version of a perfect day. It’s really easy, to glance at the newspapers and tv, observing all that is going on in this world, even within the realm of our own country, and to be scared out of our minds, especially when it comes to government and power. When those things come on us, we tend to forget that we are a filled people - filled with God’s love and joy and mercy and most especially God’s amazing grace.
Phillip said it so well, “long after the institution of the Holy Supper, now, long after his suffering and death on the cross, I have an idea of what Jesus is talking about, but not then.”
It was true of the crowds at that time, too. They sat right there for that mammoth miracle, and forgot about crossing that “provision” over to their political world - realizing that if Jesus could literally feed so many from such a small amount, how much more would Jesus provide when it came to the political side of life, or the farming side of life?
It’s easy for us to get caught up in the fear of our modern political world. But God’s amazing grace for the filled is about reminding ourselves that whatever happens, not matter what, no matter how it may look to us, even if we don’t understand it at that moment, God will be with us. Despite our objections, God will continue to feed us from God’s abundance until we want no more. And by that time, we won’t need or want ever again. Let us pray.
God, from your fullness, you fill us and sometimes we forget the magnitude of your extravagance. So fill us, God, that we will want no more and that our eyes will see you, rather than that which fills the world. Forgive us when we think all is up to us, when it really isn’t. Help us to trust what you see in the future. For leading and guiding us all these years, all your grateful and humble people say, Amen.
By Don Neidigk. © 2015 Creative Communications for the Parish, 1564 Fencorp Dr., Fenton, MO 63026. 800-325-9414. www.creativecommunications.com. All rights reserved.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.