July 29, 2018 [Green]
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Christ’s Compassion and Our Hands
The Mission Week with Youth
During the last week, I was privileged to meet our youth and work with them as we reached out in downtown Hartford. It was a lot of work. I can’t count the hours and efforts that our teachers put into this deal of youth ministry. I am so proud of our youth who were willing to serve people on the streets; they are faithful disciples and our hope for the next generation.
More than a miracle
Based on our youth ministry, I had meditated on today’s passage from John’s Gospel, which is about Jesus and his disciple’s feeding ministry. Over the next few weeks, we will continue on this theme of “the Bread of Life,” and I hope we can find how we can share of God’s abundant love and lavish grace to all humanity.
Jesus feeding more than 5,000 people is one of the well-known passages in the Gospels. If we include their wives and children, the crowds would be about 20,000. Jesus did it only with five loaves and two fishes. Our preachers tend to focus on Jesus’ compassion and power to bring out a miracle to feed the hungry. Yes, I never doubt that Jesus Christ is the bread of life and whoever comes to him will have enough for their lives!
But, I’d like to point out that this story is more than a miracle. Good Christians tend to take the Bible literally, and if we consider some of Jesus’ teachings and miracles as parables or signs or symbols, they will say that we are less faithful to God. Still people want to raise a question, “how is it possible?” We know there are things in the Bible that we can’t explain with human reason or science. But we have a very nice answer for all the mysterious events in the Bible. That is, “God can do it!” And we want to shout to those who are still in doubt, “Just believe!”
By the way, if God is the same yesterday, today and forever, why do those amazing miracles written in the Bible never happen in our actual life? If it is all about Jesus’ miracles, why do we talk about discipleship; why do we respond to his command as his disciples? Why do we want to nurture our children and youth and bring them into action?
In terms of miracle, I have no problem saying that miracle is everywhere in God’s creation: God has already given us a world out of nothing, already provided sun and earth, water and wind, seeds and materials everywhere. Everything we have is divine because everything comes from God!
The Old Testament highlights that God provides something out of nothing. That is how God created the world and everything in it; God provided manna for his people when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. But this Gospel story is different. Jesus didn’t make something out of nothing here. Rather, he took what God already provided from people’s hands. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when the disciples turned to Jesus and asked how to feed the crowds, Jesus turned back to them and said, “You give them something to eat.” That means they already had enough resources to resolve the problem there.”
Of course, feeding the large crowds would be impossible. That’s why Philip complained, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (v. 7). As Andrew points out, all they could find is “five barley loaves and two fish” belonging to a little boy in the crowd. And then just like Philip, he also complained, “[What can we do with this little lunch?]” (v. 9)
Our society tends to believe that bigger is always better. Unfortunately, the church has bought into the same philosophy. We think that the bigger church is the better and more successful church. (Honestly, I am not exceptional – talking about how I responded to my new appointment here in Rockville and how the Vermont congregations responded to it). Does Jesus command us to make a mega church? Does Jesus call the greatest to accomplish his salvation ministry?
Let us think about some of the small things that God used to do incredible things: God called a young man David to defeat the giant Goliath; Jesus chose twelve ordinary men to change the world; Jesus even taught us that we have to be servants if we want to follow him… Small things in the hands of Christ can accomplish amazing things. This congregation accomplishes amazing things every week through the small actions of a few people. If everyone did a small thing to help, we would make the world a better place to live.
Today’s passage is another example that Jesus used a small thing to do a great thing. He took the modest lunch from a little boy, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and started to share with people. And what happened? There was enough to throw a big party. This would be like a backyard cookout with everyone spread out on the grass, enjoying the sunset and the cool evening breeze. What Jesus showed in this miracle is that whatever God has already given us, no matter how many or little, how big or small, whatever we have is always enough, if we decided to share with others. And when we share our resources, there is always plenty for everyone, and more left over besides.
Some of you would want to argue that they could have a party because Jesus multiplied the little food; without his power, there is nothing like a party in our lives. You still want to believe that this is nothing but a miracle (but not as a parable) and only Jesus can do this. Yet here is one thing you and I have to agree on although we have a different perspective on how to interpret the Bible. That is, Jesus worked this miracle through ordinary people.
The food was not suddenly dropped from heaven but was offered from a little boy among the crowds. Thus, the boy’s small contribution or sacrifice of what he had was the first step toward Jesus’ miracle. After Jesus blessed the bread, it was his disciples who distributed the meals. Even though the miracle did not take place through their power, they were participated in sharing the meals and feeding all the people in the wilderness. Therefore, we can say that the disciples’ hands for distribution were part of the vehicles of God’s grace.
Some scholars think it is possible that the real miracle of feeding the crowds was that the people were so inspired by the little boy who offered his own lunch, that they all shared what they had—and it was more than enough to feed everyone!
I like this interpretation even if it tends to diminish the reality of God’s unlimited power in Christ. Let us look around our world. The world already produces more than enough grain to feed every human being. But one billion people are now hungry. God has provided enough for all humanity, but the problem is, it is not being shared with all. Why couldn’t we experience all those amazing miracles written in the Bible? It was probably because we might not share or sacrifice what we have; we might not give our hands to serve those who are in need.
The hands and feet of Jesus
With a little boy’s contribution, Jesus fed more than the 5,000. What we have, what we bring to Jesus’ table (or Food Pantry in terms of our ministry) seems too little to meet all the needs we see around us. But let us realize that it is not the amount of our supplies but the power of Jesus working in our sacrificial and serving hands that can transform this world into the world where all the hungry are satisfied. Last week our Youth Ministry worked to feed the hungry and helped the homeless obtain some of life’s basic needs. They gave of their time and energy to provide for others.
Let us remember that Jesus himself is the hope of our life. Christ’s compassion for the hungry world will be our hope. And we as his servants should be his hands and feet to share and distribute God’s abundant love, and when we participate in sharing and serving others, we can always bring forth God’s mysterious miracle to our hungry world. Amen.