Sunday, March 10, 2024

More Than You will Ever Need

 John 6:1-15

After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias).  And a great multitude was following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.  And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.  Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.  Jesus therefore lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?"  And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.  Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little."

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?"  Jesus said, "Have the people sit down."  Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.  And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost."  And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.  When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world."  Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Sermon for Laetare Sunday                                    03/10/24

More Than You Will Ever Need

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of the challenges for Christians at this time in history is understanding what we can trust in God for, and how much we dare to trust in Him.  That has always been a challenge, I suppose, but, in our day and age, we are farther removed from the magical and mystical and miraculous.  We have centuries of "modern" men telling us that the miraculous is not possible and cannot touch our lives.  Even when people talk earnestly about trusting God they usually are speaking about something seemingly ephemeral and distant, like salvation.  Many times, we tend to make that shift in meaning in our own minds too.  If it isn't immediately tangible, we tend to place it in the category of "not quite real".

Our Gospel lesson stands as a testimony against such thinking.  The Apostle John means to tell us what we can trust God for, and how much we can trust God.  He shows us that even the disciples originally had trouble imagining just how far we can trust God.  The lesson here is that we can trust God for everything He has promised – which is everything we need.  Add to that thought that we can trust Him absolutely – as long as we are trusting in Him and not merely treating Him as our concierge.   When you trust in God, our text illustrates for us that you will have more than you will ever need.  And that is our theme this morning.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was healing the sick - and we might presume teaching, as well.  A great crowd was following Him, thousands of people.  Some probably wanted to be healed, or have a family member healed.  Some probably came to see Jesus do miracles.  Others followed Him to hear Him teach, and believed that He was someone worth listening to.  

John mentions that it was the season of the Passover, not so much to tell us what time of year it was, but to connect the events of this account to the Passover theologically.  Passover was, as you know, the great rescue by God from slavery in Egypt.  He rescued His people with signs and miracles and great power.  God brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness and provided for them - for forty years.  God fed His people with Manna - and He demonstrated Himself to the nation, Israel, as their God, the One in whom they could trust.  He made a covenant with them in the wilderness, and it all began with the Passover.  And it is this connection with caring for the people, and feeding them miraculously, and showing Himself to be their God and giving evidence that they could trust Him and depend on Him, that probably warranted mentioning that "the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand."

So, Jesus feeds the entire crowd, much to everyone's amazement, starting out with just five loaves and two fish.  The loaves were probably about the size of an eight inch tortilla, and about an inch or so thick.  John gives us no information on the size of the fish, but I am guessing that the young boy was not carrying a pair of twenty-pound carp or eighty-pound catfish with him.  Even if he had been, they would have been woefully insufficient to feed the roughly five thousand people who were fed that day.

Jesus began with less food than it probably would have taken to satisfy the Twelve disciples.  And when they were all done and everyone in the crowd was satisfied, the disciple gathered up the leftover pieces - the ones big enough to bother saving, and they ended up with twelve full baskets of bread pieces.  The baskets were likely somewhere between the size of a five quart ice-cream pail and a five gallon bucket, according to the Greek word used to name them, but the point is that when everyone had eaten all that they wanted, and were satisfied, they had several times more in left-overs than what they had when they started in the first place.

The people there were so impressed by what Jesus did, which makes sense, that they decided to seize Jesus and force Him to be their king.   They knew a good thing when they saw it, and they reacted to free food the same way we do - get it while the getting's good.  Jesus perceived that they were planning this action, and He slipped away without them noticing, and went up on the mountain alone to pray.

Now that we have rehearsed the details, we have to ask ourselves, what does this tell us?  I imagine the answer depends on how much you want to see.  Jesus was facing an insurmountable task.  He was going to feed five thousand people with little or no food.  The situation was huge and the resources for it were extremely limited, and yet Jesus accomplished it.  He fed those five thousand people and He had more left over - many times more - than He had when He started.

In the light of this lesson, What needs or troubles can we imagine that Jesus cannot handle for us?  

What tasks are we facing that we feel we lack the resources to accomplish?  

How much of our doing what Jesus gives us to do actually depends on us?

These are the sorts of questions you should ask yourself.  It would probably be helpful if you were honest with yourselves when you answered, too.  The trouble we often have is that we don't really expect Jesus to really help.  Not in things like real food or immediate, physical needs.  We don't want to start things until we have a sense that we can succeed.  We don't really expect divine intervention at any point.  And so, when we finish, and have succeeded, we feel like we accomplished it.  We church-types often piously say that this is the thing that the Lord has made, all the while still thinking that we actually did it.

One truth is that we tend not to start anything - even as a congregation - we don't think we can finish.  It isn't that we don't think we should do it, it is just that we want to be confident we have the resources to do it before we begin.  Well, according to this Gospel from John, with Jesus, we have the resources.  We have more than you will ever need.  If Jesus give us the task, He will see it through to completion.

Does that mean that we don't count the cost, or plan, or try to be wise about what we do and how we do it?  No.  We have to think, and Jesus calls on us to act - you know, do the things that need to be done.  We are to do what we believe we have been given to do, and approach it with confidence that Jesus will bring us through to success, if what we are doing is what He wants done.  In our Gospel, the disciples were asked to prepare the people for food.  Jesus said, "Have the people sit down."   They did not have food, nor did they know how they would feed all those people - but they did what Jesus gave them to do, and Jesus accomplished what appeared impossible just before He did it.

This miracle is not the only time Jesus did the impossible.  It is not even the most impressive time.  The most impressive example of doing the impossible is when He rescued us from our own sins.  The verdict of God from the very beginning was that when one sinned, that individual would die.  "The soul that sins, it shall die."  That was the judgment of God.  Sin, to put it simply, earned death - and that death was more than just physical.  It included eternal torment and suffering.  That was what God wanted to rescue us from.  His nature, however, would not allow Him to just ignore our sins and pretend that they had not happened, however.  That would have made God unjust and an accessory to our sins.  He had to punish them, and punish them with death, as He stipulated originally.  But His goal was to preserve us alive and rescue us from our condemnation.

He did that by sending Jesus.  He sent the Second Person of the Trinity, true God and yet, not the Father.  He was made incarnate - that is He took on flesh and blood, and became a true man as Mary heard the Word of God with faith and bowed her head and said, "Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord, Let it happen to me just as you have said it would."  With that, Mary became pregnant, conceiving in her womb the child who would be born nine months later and be named "Savior", or literally "God is Salvation" - Jesus.

Jesus kept the Law which man refused to keep.  He lived without sin, just as He required of Adam and Eve and all of their children.  They did not obey, but Jesus did.  He obeyed God, as Scripture puts it, even to the point of death on a cross.  Having fulfilled all righteousness, He deliberately gave up what He had earned and now deserved - life without end in the favor of God the Father - and took in exchange our guilt, our shame, and our condemnation, and our death.  

Every step of the way He endured the taunting and tempting of the devil, and resisted.  During the hours just before His execution, when a word would have set Him free He kept silent.  When silence would have served Him, He spoke.  Everything He said was true, but it was also spoken with the full consciousness that it would ignite their anger and cause them to continue to march Him to the cross.

He died deliberately for us.  Because He is God He is of greater value than all of us combined, so His one death redeemed us all.  Because He has taken our death, He now has the right to give to us the life eternal which He has earned.  And He pours that treasure out upon all people everywhere, without consideration of their worthiness or holiness.  He has appointed faith as the means by which we receive and hang onto this treasure of grace.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Further, He knows that we are, by nature, not able to trust Him or love Him by virtue of our own corruption in sin, so He sends His Holy Spirit out through the preaching of His Word to work faith in the hearts of those that hear the good news of this Gospel.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.  Now, all who hear have the Holy Spirit at work in them.  Many reject that work, and deny God's goodness, grace, and mercy.  They are those represented in the parable of the sower by soil of the hard-trodden path upon which the seed falls, and the birds of the air eat the seed up.  They had the treasure delivered to them, but they rejected it for something or someone else.  But anyone that believes, which is accomplished only by the very work of the Holy Spirit within them, has life everlasting, and resurrection from their graves to come, and God is with them even now, day by day.

The feeding of the five thousand reminds us that we can trust God in Jesus Christ in all things, and that He will provide abundantly.  That provision isn't just for in the sky, bye and bye.  He provides for us now, each according to His good plan for our service for Him.  He provides food and clothing and the needs of this life, and lots of our wants as well.  He feeds us with His holy body and precious blood in this Sacrament, to strengthen us, and to cleanse us, and to teach us to trust in Him and in His love for us individually, personally.

He also cares for us in our day to day pressures, desires, passions, and temptations.  He does not always give us what we desire, and surely not always what we expect, any more than those five thousand who were fed followed Jesus expecting a meal out there in the wilderness.  He provides what we need, and then some, so that we may accomplish what He has planned for us.

So, let us look to the future and work while it is still day, as we say in that old prayer, before that night comes when no man can work.  Let us do what we believe the Lord would have us do with faith and confidence, trusting that we will have more than you will ever need.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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