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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

July 29, 2018

 More Than Enough

2 Samuel 11:1-15; John 6:1-21

            There are certain events that are so important, so essential, to a person’s life, that you simply cannot tell their story adequately without including key facts.  They are simply part of who they are.  For instance, no one can really tell the story of George Washington without telling about the brutal winter that he survived with his troops at Valley Forge.  No one can tell the story of George Washington without telling, as well, that after two terms, he voluntarily decided not to run for a third term, an act that astounded King George in England.  It would cause John Adams later to say, “George Washington could have run for President from the grave, and would have been elected.”  (Adams was never accused of being popular, like George Washington was popular!)

            No one can tell the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt without telling about the polio he contracted as an adult, that rendered him a paraplegic for the rest of his life.  It was a crisis in his life that literally shaped Roosevelt, and without which one could never imagine him becoming the man that he ultimately became.

            No one can tell the story of John Kennedy, without telling about his father Joseph, a mixed bag of a character if ever one was, who had an oldest son named Joe, who died in the war, shot down over Europe.  Because of that event, his second son, John, would become what Joe Kennedy hoped his first son would be, which is President of the United States.  No one can tell Kennedy’s story without telling the story of his own heroism during World War II on PT-109 in the Pacific.

            No one can tell the story of Ronald Reagan without mentioning the fact that he was a sportscaster, who became an actor, who became a popular television host of a weekly show, who became, against all odds, a President we would forever know as the Great Communicator.

            No one can tell the story of Queen Elizabeth I, maybe England’s most effective monarch, without telling of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the British Navy in 1588, maybe the most important reason why we speak English today in this place, and not Spanish!  No one can tell Elizabeth’s story without telling of the fact that she never married, and never gave birth to an heir to Great Britain’s throne.  It is why we call the state “Virginia,” because Elizabeth was known as the Virgin Queen.

            I mention all of these events in other historical figures’ lives, because I think the feeding of the five thousand is such an event in Jesus’ life.  It is the only miracle that Jesus ever performed that is included in all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  As important as the second miracle in John is this morning, as to who Jesus is, Luke tells of the feeding of the five thousand, and excludes the story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee.  Apparently, it is possible to tell the story of Jesus without including that particular miracle.  But it is not possible to tell who Jesus is without telling of this event included in all four Gospels, when Jesus somehow, someway, fed a crowd that numbered five thousand.

            John’s account is a gem that sparkles for all kinds of reasons.  First of all, only John tells us, that besides it being called the Sea of Galilee, the sea on which Jesus walked, and alongside which He fed the five thousand, was also known as the Sea of Tiberius.  The Romans named it that to honor their Emperor Tiberius.  I think John wants us to be reminded by this detail of the specter of Roman power and oppression, which cast its shadow over everything that happened among the Jews in Jesus’ day.  John wants us to know that there have always been, as there were in Jesus’ time, oppressive forces in the world, forces that create want and injustice among the poor and the overlooked.  John wants us to be aware of this fact of history. 

            Secondly, only John poses Jesus’ question to Philip.  Remember the question Jesus asks?  “How are we to buy bread so that these many people may eat?”  Jesus poses it as a personal question to Philip, but in a larger sense, I want to suggest that this is a universal question, and it is posed by Jesus, only in John, in order “to test Philip,” because “Jesus already knew what He was going to do.”  Only John adds this detail!  It makes me wonder: “How many times have things happened to me, and perhaps in the midst of those events, Jesus was testing me?”  It makes me ask, “I wonder where Jesus might be testing me today in my life.”

            Philip’s answer to Jesus is very human; it borders on despair, for he knows how beyond his own resources and capacity what Jesus is asking is, in fact.  So he says to Jesus’ question: “Two hundred denarii would not be enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  In the other Gospel accounts, they tell us that they said to Jesus, “Send the people away,” because we do not possibly have enough to feed a crowd like this.  The question is what I like to call, “The Scarcity Question.”  It is focused on how little we have, and our fear that we may not have enough.

            I sometimes have seriously wondered whether or not we are all of us born with what I like to call “a scarcity gene.”  That is, a genetic tendency to fear that we do not have enough, or to fear that what we have will run out, and it will not last, and we might end up with nothing.  This is a profound human fear, and all of us at some point are touched by it.  Some people I know wrestle with it all of their lives; it colors everything they do, and everything they think and say.

            Only John among the four Gospel writers mentions another detail – that five barley loaves and two fish are provided by a little boy.  In the other Gospel accounts the loaves and the fish simply appear.  But in John’s Gospel we are told that a boy comes forward and offers to Jesus what little he does have.  Only John mentions that they are barley loaves, which, if you study at all, you learn was the food of the poor.  The mention of the Passover in John also ties this story to the manna that God provided in the wilderness for Moses and for the children of Israel.  This little boy, maybe a poor little boy, becomes a model for discipleship, for what it means to live your life the way Jesus wants you to live it.  He shows us what it means to be faithful to Jesus.  He takes what little he has, and he offers it; he gives it to Jesus.

            We will never know the “how” of Jesus pulling off this feeding of the five thousand – How they went from scarcity to abundance – How they ended up after everyone had been fed their fill, with twelve baskets filled with the broken pieces that were leftover.  We all of us ask questions aimed at explaining the miracle: “Did the others see this little boy’s example, and either shamed or inspired, or maybe both, by it, offered what they had, so that from the community came an abundance?”  I think it is really important to protect the text at this point.  John never tells us the “how” of this event, probably because he himself did not know the “how” of this miracle.  What he does tell us is the “who” of it.  John is clear on “who” accomplished this miraculous feeding of hungry people.

            Jesus initiates the miracle, and Jesus is clearly the one who is behind the feeding of the five thousand.  All four Gospels are crystal-clear and in agreement on this count.  In the hands of Jesus, somehow, someway, little became much.  In the hands of Jesus, somehow, someway, the few became the many.  In the hands of Jesus, someway, somehow, the masses were fed, the hungry were satisfied, and scarcity and fear turned into abundance and generosity.  It leaves me thinking: “Maybe I ought to offer what little I have to Jesus, to take it out of my own hands, and to see what would happen if I place it in His.”

            This week we hosted a lunch for pastors in the Middle Tennessee Presbytery to talk about Rise Against Hunger.  It is an event that we participate in as a congregation two or three times a year, where we make meals to be sent around the world to places like Haiti and Sub-Saharan Africa, where people starve for want of food.  I was interested to learn that since we have gotten involved with Rise Against Hunger, this congregation, with its hands, has prepared one hundred ninety-six thousand meals to be sent around the world.  That is a powerful enactment of this very miracle, of what happens when we give a little bit of what we have to Jesus, and let Him do with it what He will.

            Then Jesus walks upon the sea.  It is dark after this miracle occurs, it must have been a long drawn out time, probably an energy-zapping time for Jesus, and so He climbs a hill and goes off “to a lonely place by Himself.”  The disciples do what they finally decided they had to do – they get into their boats to return across the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum.  Jesus sees them, three or four miles away.  They have gone against a wind that is whipping against them.  Then suddenly, we are told in the passage, they see Jesus walking upon the water.  I like that John tells us how they felt: “They were terrified.”  Terrified, maybe, of the storm-tossed seas, probably more terrified at the sight of Jesus walking on the water.  Another of the Gospels tells us, they thought it was a ghost, rather than Jesus.  Again, we are not told the “how” of Jesus walking on the water.  Apparently, New Testament writers are not interested in that question.  Suffice it to say that the very thing that terrifies the disciples, Jesus walks upon, Jesus masters, Jesus tames and calms.

            I love Jesus’ own moment of revelation of who He is to the disciples.  “It is I,” is how the New Revised Standard version translates it, but in the Greek, the two words, “ego” and “eimi” can also be translated, “I am.”  Remember the name that God Himself spoke to Moses from the burning bush, when Moses said, “Who shall I say sent me?”  The name is “Yahweh,” which in Hebrew means “I am,” or “I will be who I will be.”  Just as God, Yahweh, is the great “I Am” of the Old Testament, for John among all the Gospel writers, Jesus is the great “I Am” of the New Testament.  Seven different “I Am” sayings can be found in the Gospel of John.  (Stuart is preaching next week on “I Am the Bread of Life.”)  Then Jesus says after it, what He says so often, what the Bible says so often to those of us who read it: “Do not be afraid.”  I have said it before (this is Bible trivia at its best): three hundred sixty-five times in the Bible it says, “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not.”  Maybe because every day of the year we need to hear this word spoken to us by God!

            Then we are told “they wanted Jesus to get into the boat.”  I like better what the Revised Standard Version says here: “Then they were glad to take Jesus into the boat.”  I will bet that they were!

            In his memoir, Testament of Faith, William Barclay tells his life story, looking back over it, and he writes towards the end of his life.  In the 1950’s, the 1960’s, and the 1970’s, William Barclay taught New Testament at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.  He was a vibrant little Scot who was very capable of asking critical modern questions of the text of the New Testament.  He was asked once, “Do you really believe that Jesus walked on the water, and that Jesus really calmed the storm?”  I love his response: “Mrs. Barclay and I had a daughter, the only child God gave to us.  She fell in love with a wonderful young man.  They were engaged to be married.  One day when they were sailing off the coast of Scotland, they got caught in a storm, their boat was overturned, and both of them perished in that storm.  What I can tell you is this: Jesus somehow calmed the storm that raged in my heart, and if He could calm a storm like that, yes, I believe that Jesus could calm ant storm.”

            Is Jesus in your boat? 

                                                                                    Amen.

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