Weeks of Bread, #1
Jul 25, 2021
9th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: John 6:1-21
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Let the “Weeks of Bread” begin!
Today is the first of five, count them – five, Sundays focused on the sixth chapter of John and bread. That is why I am inviting the bread bakers among us to pick a Sunday between August 1-23 and bring a sample of your homemade bread specialty to the Kinship Café. Butter and jam will be provided. The goal is to make the five weeks of bread more interesting (shall we say palatable?) and to remind us that Jesus is the bread of life.
Today’s familiar story is the backdrop for what is to follow; its purpose is to both raise and answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” That question is probably on the minds of the thousands who, in today’s account, are following Jesus. They are doing so because they want to see more of his miraculous power.
As Jesus surveys the crowd, he sees people who are hungry in more than one way. But his disciples see an insurmountable problem: how to feed them. Philip notes a shortage of funds. Andrew has been taking inventory of their resources, and it is not looking good. The only food that has been found is a boy’s lunch of two fish and five barley loaves.
I was wondering about barley bread since it is mentioned in both of today’s readings. In the first century, according to one commentator, barley bread was of poor quality, eaten by poor people. The loaves were less nutritious, less tasty, and harder to digest than bread made with wheat. (1) However, “Google” says that barley flour is exceptionally high in fiber and low in starch. It has three times the soluble fiber of oats and is delicious and nutty tasting. Maybe the difference is 1st versus 21st-century methods used to produce flour or to bake the loaves?
Well…delicious or not… it is only five loaves, causing Andrew to wonder, “what are they among so many people?” Yet, when the loaves and the fish are blessed and distributed by Jesus, there is enough to satisfy everyone’s hunger, with food leftover.
For centuries there has been debate about what actually happened that day: was the food miraculously multiplied, or did people bring out previously concealed food and share it? I am not sure it matters because the message is the same: in Jesus there is more than enough; he meets needs.
The crowd is amazed by this “sign” (the word John uses to indicate that Jesus’ astounding actions point beyond whatever occurred). They declared: “This is indeed the prophet who is come into the world.” But, for some at least, being the prophet – Elijah, Elisha, the Messiah - was not enough. They want Jesus to have broader, earthly recognition and power, as would a king. And, they are determined to hold on to the potential for free food … and more. So, Jesus evades them, leaves them to revel in their dreams of a new king; he will have much more to say on the topic of the kingdom and of bread.
In her commentary on this text, Karen Yust asks the reader to imagine Jesus posing his “test” to a contemporary congregation. (Remember, upon seeing the large crowd coming toward them, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” The next sentence notes this is a test because Jesus knows what he is going to do.)
This is what Ms. Yust surmises, “One might expect the trustees (Church Council) to echo Philip’s money-management concern, pointing out that the congregation does not take in enough revenue to support such a project. The outreach committee might reinforce Andrew’s position, stating that the congregation has earmarked only a small percentage of its income for mission giving and the proposed project’s needs far exceed the allocated amount. The groups responsible for discipleship and worship may not even offer an opinion, as they are busy preparing for a fast-approaching religious festival. The building and ground committee may assist with seating everyone on the lawn, although some members might worry about the effects of this event on the property’s landscaping. It is likely that none of congregation’s boards or committees would expect in a miracle, as that is not what they signed on for.”
But then she poses this question: “How would a congregation’s work together be different if its members deliberately shared in Jesus’ goal of revealing God’s power through each act of ministry?” (2)
What do you think? Is that possible? Can we reveal God’s power through each act of ministry? Can we use (or multiply) resources in such a way that they become a sign of – a revelation of – grace? Whether it is the worship service or the preschool or the garden or fellowship events or helping at DLM, how can God’s power be revealed more and more? That is a great question for us to ponder, and the answer begins with grasping who Jesus is and that the bread he offers feeds more than physical hunger.
That question “Who is Jesus?” is addressed again in the “sign,” which concludes today’s Gospel lesson. Evidently, Jesus has been off by himself after slipping away from the king-making crowd. So the disciples decide to leave without him, in the dark, on a sea made rough by the wind.
In this story, a different yet familiar type of need is addressed – the disciples are afraid. Their fear is, no doubt, due to the rocking boat, but more so because they see Jesus walking on the water. In one of the great understatements in scripture, Jesus says to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” This story is not as complicated as we sometimes make it; the disciples need Jesus, and he shows up, reveals himself to them, and meets their needs.
Did you notice that is the theme of both accounts: Jesus responds to the crowd and to the disciples. In both cases, he reveals God’s power, making it clear who he is, and meets their needs. That’s the first ingredient as we begin this “Weeks of Bread.” AMEN
(1) “God’s Signs for the Masses,” July 28, 2012, www.sermonsfrommyheart.blogspot.com
(2) Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, 2009 Westminster John Knox Press, pgs. 284, 286