This Sunday starts the first of five Sundays that we will spend in John, chapter six. The first of five Sundays that will talk about bread. Or, as I like to think of it, carb loading. I am telling you this now because if you start to think that the scriptures are sounding a lot alike its because they do. But, I am hoping to run a few themes through my sermons over the next five weeks. I want to invite us all into thinking about and conversation surrounding what it means to be fed so that we can feed. I also want us to have the refrain of John 3:16-17 in the back of our heads as we discuss these readings each week. Just in case you forgot, let’s refresh our memories on the verses of John 3:16-17, which I believe to be the heart of the Gospel of John. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I am going to be referencing this a lot over the next few weeks.
This feeding of the 5000 is probably one of the best known Biblical stories, in my opinion. It is one of the only stories that appears in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, AND John. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus tells the disciples “you give them something to eat.” And then Jesus does the greatest party trick ever since turning water into wine: he takes 5 loaves and 2 fish and makes them a feast. There was more than enough for everyone. There was so much in fact, there were how many baskets left over? (12). An abundance of bread and fish. More than those gathered could even eat. In fact we are told that Jesus told the disciples to gather up the fragments left over after everyone was satisfied. Jesus didn’t let everyone have just a few bites and then declare the party to be over. Nope. Those 5000 gathered were satisfied. Can you imagine 5000 people being satisfied with something? I find it hard to please one tiny person…let alone 5000.
Another interesting detail in this story is the setting. In all of the other gospels, we are told that those gathered are in a grassy area. In the Gospel of Luke we’re told that they are gathered in a desolate area (Luke 9:12). But, as we look at verse 10 in this reading we are told that there is a “great deal of grass.” Once again, this is an abundance. Remember last week’s psalm reading? Psalm 23. He makes me lie down in what? Green pastures. Additionally, if Jesus is the good shepherd and we are his sheep, the abundance of grass provides for plenty to eat in a very literal sense, right? Because what do sheep eat? Grass! (Thanks to Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis for inspiring this line of thinking.)
But now I want to turn to the piece of this scripture that I think really makes it different. It’s a small detail and it can easily be missed, but it is crucial, so I don’t want you to miss it. Look at verse 11. Let’s read it again. “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when HE [emphasis mine] had given thanks, HE [emphasis mine] distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Who fed those gathered? Jesus! This is the only version of this story where Jesus himself feeds those gathered. The other gospels have the disciples doing the feeding. The crowd is receiving the bread of life from the bread of life himself. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son….”
Before we get too wrapped up in additional details, maybe we just need to step back and call a thing what it is. This is called being a theologian of the cross. Luther said that sometimes we just need to call a thing what it is. And while it’s all too easy for us to say “look! This reading talks about communion. This reading is like what happens at the last supper. This reading is about this or that or whatever. What if this reading is as simple this: people were hungry and Jesus fed them. That’s it. Sometimes we make mountains out of molehills (as my dad would say). Sometimes a reading really is just about something as basic as feeding people. And is there anything more Jesus like than this? People were hungry and he fed them. Not only did he feed them, but he fed them until they were satisfied and fed them with abundant amounts left over. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world…”
This was not a one time deal. In our lives, Jesus is the one who feeds us with abundance. And we are fed so that we ourselves can feed. That’s what grace does. Maybe you don’t realize it, or maybe you don’t call it that. But, God, through Jesus Christ, fills us up with grace. And there is always an abundance of it. More than we could ever need. Jesus is always feeding us. It’s not always food, either. We are fed with mercy, love, grace, forgiveness. We are fed with opportunities, time, relationships, and second chances. We are fed with words, music, cards, emails, and phone calls. We are fed by visits, casseroles, and shared tears. We are fed. We are fed. We are fed. And what do we do with the abundance that Jesus gives us? We are fed to feed.
We feed others, literally. We feed others through our food pantry and our backpack program. We feed others with our generosity of finances. Our current level of mission support is 15%. This helps programs like Lutheran camps, colleges, seminaries, missionaries, Lutheran Services in Iowa, Lutheran World Relief, and on and on. We feed others with prayers. We feed in hospitality. I pray that part of the reason why people keep finding us and keep coming back here is because they feel welcome. That is Jesus Christ just spilling out of us. When we take seriously “for God so loved the world” then we can’t help ourselves. We do the same. And do we always get it right? No. Sometimes we are fed and then keep to ourselves versus fed to feed. The idea of scarcity of abundance enters our hearts and minds and we want to keep all we have for ourselves. So thank God the scripture is “for God so loved the world” instead of “for we so loved the world.” It is God through Christ alone that feeds the world. And feeds us.
I know that today may have felt a bit more like a Bible study verses a sermon. But, I wanted to lay the groundwork for the next 5 weeks. We are going to hear more about the bread of life. We are going to hear more about abundance. We are going to hear more about being fed. I hope your takeaways for today are that Jesus is the one who feeds us and feeds us with abundance. And that we are fed in order to feed. I challenge you, my beloved, to keep your eyes open for the ways that God, through Jesus Christ is feeding you. Be prepared, even expect to be fed to an abundance. Then, keep your eyes open for the ways we feed others through the power of God. “For God so loved the world” and the world is so hungry.