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John 6:1-15

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Lent 4
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Mar 22, 2020 

First we should set the stage for the story in the Holy Gospel.

A multitude was following after Jesus.  At least some of them were running to meet Him when He got out of the boat that He had used to cross the Sea of Galilee.

Christ had been planning to have a restful time for Himself and the apostles.  But when He saw the multitude, He had compassion on them.  He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, and His heart went out to them.  So He welcomed them.  Instead of sending the people away, He received them with favor and goodwill.  Although this meant hard work for Him when He expected and needed rest, He was willing to put in more time for their sake.

Christ is dealing with two opposing forces here.  The first is a human need and a commandment from God to rest.  Only foolish people run themselves ragged by always working and never resting.  We all sometimes work too much, and our body or spirit may pay the price.  Grouchiness or outright sickness can afflict us because we have forgotten to rest.

The second opposing force is the need of people.  People sometimes sorely need our help.  Physical problems as well as spiritual lostness can both call out to us for our aid.

Sometimes we have to sort our priorities when the needs of people conflict with our need to rest.  If it is your day off but somebody needs you, you have to decide how important their need is.  If it is a small thing that can wait for another time, then it is wise to say no because you should defend your need to rest.  But if it is urgent and time-sensitive, then we should certainly help our neighbor.

The problem is, circumstances are usually in the large gray area where a neighbor’s need is kinda important, but not life or death.  It is somewhat important to do it now.  Then you have to wisely decide which one, rest or helping neighbor, takes priority. 

If we were as wise as Christ, we would always get this right.  The real problem, of course, is that we are not wise.  We may choose to work too much for paltry reasons.  We may not have a day off at all.  Or we use our day off as an excuse to avoid helping our neighbor, when really it is laziness, not wisdom, that made the decision for us.

May we be wiser, like Christ.

So Christ committed Himself to help the multitude.  He spoke many things about the kingdom of God.  Those who needed bodily healing received it.

The compassionate heart of Christ also anticipated their need for food.  The time was growing late, and it was possible they could go to nearby villages and buy food.  But Christ did not want the crowd dispersed.  So He put the task of feeding the crowds upon the disciples.  The disciples were at a loss.  They did not have nearly enough money to feed the crowd.  All they could find was a small boy who had five barley loaves and two fish.

This was a test by Christ to see whether the disciples would understand who He was.  Would they realize that He could feed thousands with very little?  The disciples failed.  Saint Andrew questioned what a few loaves and fish could do for so many people.  Saint Philip pointed out that even a large sum of money would not be enough for the giant multitude.

They should have seen that the Man before them was not limited by human numbers and limitations.  Here was the One who fed Israel in the wilderness.  There was no limitation on what He could do.  In fact, He did not need the five loaves and two fish, but could have simply produced enough food out of nothing, simply by His all-powerful Word.

But Christ decided to do it this way.  He looked up to heaven, and gave thanks, and blessed the food, and broke it into smaller pieces, as was customary at meals.  Then He gave it to the disciples to distribute. 

We know what happened next.  They kept distributing and distributing.  They kept going until everyone was satisfied.  Even what was left over was far more than what they had started with.

What a miracle!  How tremendous!  What a glorious way for Christ to show His glorious power, as well as His love for men.

But then that know-it-all, Mister Skeptic, starts talking.  “You know,” he says, “it wasn’t really a miracle.  The crowd was inspired by the example of the boy, so they also started sharing the food they had brought with them.  The charismatic leadership of Jesus also helped inspire them to share.”

Of course, we Christians believe what Scripture says because we believe that it is the Word of God.  The Word also says in Saint Mark that the people who rushed to hear Jesus and be healed did not even have time to eat.  That would also exclude them having any time to prepare and pack a meal to bring with them.

But set that aside.  Mister Skeptic will always look for ways to deny Scripture.  He will take some parts of the Bible, ignore others, and then invent his own explanation of how the miraculous was simply ordinary.

The people in the multitude were certainly convinced that something miraculous happened.  They were amazed at the sign that Christ had done, and proclaimed that He was the Prophet who was to come into the world.  Who would declare someone the Prophet just because He inspired you to pull your sack lunch out of your backpack?

Calling him “The Prophet” was a reference to what Moses said in Deuteronomy eighteen: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to Him you shall listen . . . And the Lord said to me, ‘ . . . I will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And whoever will not listen to My words that He shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of Him.”

Jesus Christ truly was the Prophet, as the people said.  But they had a deficient knowledge of what the Prophet would be.  They thought He would be an earthly king, and they were ready to force Jesus to be the king they wanted.  But they forgot what the Lord Yahweh said to Moses.  The Prophet would speak the words of the Lord, and the people were to listen.  The Word of Christ is everything, whereas an earthly kingdom of Christ is not to be looked for.

So we are here, where the Kingdom of God gathers.  We gather around His Word, read and preached and absolved over us.  We pay attention to the Prophet, and we do not twist His words to suit what we want Him to say.  Instead, we humbly submit to His prophetic and holy Word.

We might say, “This Word seems like a little and foolish thing.  What is so little among so many?” Our sinful flesh wants to look down upon preaching and the Word as a silly thing.  We are real people with real problems.  We need something better than this useless preaching!

But the Lord has commanded us to listen, and to hold it sacred.  This is not a little thing, after all, but is vital and life-giving.

For the Word of Christ points us to Christ and His suffering and death.  These things are so important that we cannot truly live without them.  But with them, we have life that does not fade away.  The Word gathers us together into the Church, which is also the Kingdom of God.  This is because the King who died is the One who speaks and gathers.

We might also look down upon the Supper He offers.  We might look at the little wafer and the sip of wine as if it is a foolish, little thing.  What is so little among so many?

We Lutherans know and confess that it is not little.  On this Altar Christ gives His true Body and Blood, given and shed in death for us.  Yet we Lutherans still find ways to devalue the Supper.  We reduce it to something that picks up our spirits.  Or we limit its effectiveness as if it only forgives some of our sins.  If we limit the Supper in our minds, then we will limit how much we want to receive it; just now and then when we feel like it.

But we should hunger for the Supper as if we had gone all day, marching or running without a meal.  Indeed, we travel hard in this difficult wilderness of a world.  Many trials sap our strength and exhaust our spirits.  Christ, looking with compassion on us, provides the Meal for us that meets our needs.  Therefore we should hunger for it as a most valuable thing, just as we should the Word, and eagerly receive it often.

This Meal, empowered and transformed by the Prophet’s Word, gives eternal gifts.  Here we receive forgiveness and life.  Here our faith is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, both to preserve our souls and to drive us to good works toward our neighbor.  And there are many other mighty gifts delivered by this Body and Blood.

May we hunger for this precious Food, and never call it little.

In His Name, who is the Food from heaven.  Amen.

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