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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

October 6, 2013

 The Miracle of Gratitude

Lamentations 1:1-6; John 6:1-14

             An accomplished theologian from a great German university came to London to serve for a year as a visiting scholar.  Whenever someone did something gracious for him, he would say, “Thank you very much!”  He did it with German precision and rigor.  Apparently, the way he added those last two words for emphasis made it sometimes sound strange.  One day one of his students said, “For a minor kindness it is not necessary to say more than a simple ‘thank-you.’”  He explained that in England you tended to reserve the extra words, “very much,” for more extraordinary acts of kindness or graciousness.  “To say ‘very much’ every time you say ‘thank you’ is a little over-the-top,” his student explained.  He thanked his student for the helpful word.

             Two weeks later he preached in a local church.  On the way out of church that day, an elderly woman said, “My home is just opposite the train station.  Would you like to come have a cup of tea before your train comes?”  He said, “Yes, that would be a pleasure.”  As they visited she brought him the tea and they had a pleasant chat.  When the time came for him to leave, he wanted to express appreciation, but he was anxious for it not to be too exaggerated.  He hesitated, then remembered what his student had explained.  “Thank you,” he said smiling, and then he added, “But not very much.”

             I love the man’s story because if we are at all wise, we spend our lives learning to say thank-you, and learning to express genuine gratitude for all the blessings of this life.

             Today, on World Communion Sunday, we turn to John’s telling of the feeding of the five thousand.  It comes at an all-time-high in Jesus’ public popularity in Galilee that creates a crisis.  John tells us that a large crowd had gathered to follow Jesus because they saw the miraculous signs that Jesus was doing for the sick.  In John’s telling of the feeding, Jesus starts with five barley loaves and two fish, and ends with five thousand people being fed “as much as they wanted,” and when they had finished, they gathered up twelve baskets filled with leftover pieces of the barley loaves!  All four Gospels offer an account of this event, but John tells in some ways a story on a more human scale.

             Jesus sees the large crowd coming and He turns to Philip and asks, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  Philip answered, “Six month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  And then Andrew notices something.  “Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many people?”

             I think we all understand the thoughts and feelings expressed by Philip and Andrew.  We all know what it is to stand before life and feel overwhelmed, outnumbered.  Today our congregation is dedicating the twelfth Habitat for Humanity home we have built.  But what is one single house going to do against the huge homelessness problems faced by our city?  What is a soup kitchen that serves lunch once a week to two hundred homeless people doing to halt hunger across the globe?  What we hold in our hands can feel so small in the face of the crowds of seemingly endless human needs.

             But please notice what Jesus does.  Jesus took what little was offered.  Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks for them.  And having given thanks, He distributed them.  Jesus gave what little He was given away.  He shared.  And in this act of thanksgiving and generosity, five thousand are fed “as much as they wanted,” and twelve baskets full are gathered up, so abundant is the miracle of the feeding.

             I wonder…  Would the miraculous feeding have happened if there had been no boy who came forward offering all that he had to Jesus?  (I have also wondered over what a huge lunch this was for a small boy to be carrying!)  But the boy for me is the decisive figure in the way John tells it.  He takes what he has been given, he takes all that he has been given, and he offers it to Jesus.  He placed what he had in Jesus’ hands.

             Isn’t this a model of discipleship?  Isn’t this what we are called to as well?  Take what little you have in your hands.  Take the offering which is your life, and place it in Jesus’ hands, who works miracles with what we entrust to Him.  Jesus gives thanks for what little He is given by us, and Jesus works miracles with it.

             We, of course, are the ones who are grateful for all that Jesus has done in our lives, for all that God has given us.  And we are also thankful for all that Jesus will do.  We have been fed over and over again by Jesus, and there has almost always been more than enough provided.  So we take our lives, all that we are, and all that we have been given, and we place it in Jesus’ hands.  Jesus takes all that we give to Him, and He gives thanks for all that we place in His hands.  We give what we have to the only one who can do something miraculous with it.

             We twenty-first century moderns always approach this story and want to know, “What really happened?”  Did Jesus really multiply the loaves and the fishes miraculously?  Or did something else no less miraculous happen that caused everyone to follow that small boy’s lead and offer what they have to Jesus as well?  Behind these questions that we will never answer is a more basic question.  For some, it is the cynical question, “Did it really happen?”  I might add, it is the wrong question entirely!

             The question is not, “Did it happen?” but rather, “Does it happen?”  Does it happen still, over and over again, that people take whatever they have been given, and place what they have in Jesus’ hands?  I wonder what it would mean for you to take your life and place it in Jesus’ hands.

             I know this for certain: Jesus takes whatever we place in His hands and gives thanks for our gifts.  And in giving thanks for what we give to Jesus, miracles happen.

             When I look at all that challenges our world this day, when I look at all the problems we face as a nation, I can be overwhelmed.  It would take a miracle to heal this troubled planet, I know.  But that is the Savior’s job, not ours.  Our job is to follow that little boy, to take what we have been given, and to place it in Jesus’ hands, so He can give thanks for it.  To give Jesus cause to give thanks is our highest calling.  Let’s give Jesus reason to give thanks for us!

                                                                                     Amen.

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