Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25, John 6:1-14
November 6, 2005
Have you ever been in a gathering of 5,000 people? Think about that. Where were you at the time? Was it a sporting event? Was it in a large auditorium?
When I was in college we used to talk about the apathy on campus. No one got involved in school organizations. No one bothered to vote in student elections. No one took all that much interest in anything. And when they would have visiting speakers – sometimes famous people – not many would come to hear them. One time we had the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King. And when she come to speak, they say there was only a handful of people who came to hear her – in an auditorium that seated 5,000 people. (Actually, I don’t know. I wasn’t there, myself!)
However, one day Gene Roddenberry came to speak! Do you know who that is? (Gene Roddenberry – the creator of Star Trek!) Well, I’m glad to tell you the place was packed! There was no room to walk! They were standing along the walls. They were sitting in all the aisles. And when Mr. Roddenberry walked out on the stage, he gave the Vulcan salute, and the people went wild. So much for apathy when it came to Star Trek!!
Just imagine that crowd, or perhaps that scene you have in your mind, and think about Jesus feeding all that many people, using only a small boy’s lunch! I love this story. And I hope you will see how this story is totally appropriate for Stewardship Dedication Sunday, though it’s not often used for this occasion.
We read that story today from John’s gospel. But that’s not the only place we find it. In fact, I want you to know that this is the only miracle which Jesus performed that is recorded in all four gospels! And as I always tell people, if something is found in all four gospels, we should pay special attention to it! And this is the only “four gospel miracle!”
I also like reading these stories in John’s gospel for another reason. John tends to “flesh out” the story more. He tells more if the dialogue. He gives us more of the human interaction. He brings out more of the impressions and more of the feelings behind what’s going on. That’s true of this story as well.
Here in John, Jesus looks at the crowd, and then he asks his disciples, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He knew what he was going to do, of course. But he was probing them. He was asking them questions about their faith. He was challenging them to think about what they had seen and heard all this time. He wanted them to understand who he was, and what his life was about. I believe God does the same with us, too. That’s the way we grow. That’s the way we learn. Otherwise in schools there would be no need for tests! (I know the youth are with me on that one!)
So Jesus asks them about this situation. And the first thing we see is Phillip’s answer. He expresses what we would call the ‘practical’ understanding. Now I want to caution you here. Too often I think, people have tried to build entire personalities of biblical characters around one or two sentences. I was watching a program the other night that went on for almost an hour building the personality of Joseph, the husband of Mary, based on the fact that he says nothing at all in the Bible! I think we should be careful about that kind of thing.
In fact, I think the things the disciples said in the gospels were often indicative of what the whole group was thinking! For example, I’m convinced that Thomas was no more a doubter than any of the rest. The only reason he doubted the appearance of Jesus (later in John’s gospel) was that he was the only one not present the first time Jesus appeared! If it had been one of the others instead, we would have called skeptical people “Doubting Matthews” or “Doubting Andrews” for the last 2000 years.
Phillip’s answer here was the practical one. But it’s the one any one of them might have been thinking that day – given the magnitude of the problem that was before them. And we too, might be very quick to go there when we see insurmountable challenges in our faith! Phillip said, “Two hundred denarii would buy enough for each of them to get a little.” Two hundred denarii! That was a lot of money. That was six months wages in those days! And then everyone would only get a little.
We sometimes frame our faith in such terms. When we see great challenges to our faith, we too tend to get real practical. “This won’t work!” “That will only happen if there is a miracle.” “We don’t have enough for that.” We can even see things in that “practical only” way when they are just the normal, mundane challenges. Often when we think of the “nuts and bolts” of our faith we slip back into that mode of practicality, and we forget the miracle and the glory of the Savior we worship.
That can easily happen to us at this time of Stewardship. Often we see our stewardship efforts only in those practical terms. And don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying it’s bad or it’s wrong to be practical! We need that! But (!) do we not also need to see the glory of God? Do we not also need to look to the miraculous? Do we not need to see the wonderful way God multiplies our efforts if we will just take the step of faith?
Let me ask you a question. Do you believe Jesus fed the 5,000 through his miracle power? How many do? Let me ask you this. Could Jesus – who fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish – have fed that multitude without the loaves and the fish? Think about that. I think it’s a very important question! Because I believe he certainly could have done so! Are you with me? (How many believe he could have?)
That’s not what happened, though. Jesus chose not to work with nothing. (Sorry about the double negative!) He chose to use the boy’s gift. And he multiplied the gift. That’s how he did it! And what happened was so significant that it became a “four gospel story.” He even referred back to this day later on when they had a crisis of faith. He recalled this story when he needed to help them remember his power.
I believe this is the story for us today. We bring our gifts like that boy. And what happens? We bring our gifts, and God uses those gifts. We make our pledges, and God multiplies those pledges. God works the miracle which starts with our acts of faithfulness. And that makes all the difference. Perhaps you remember that story in Mark 6 where Jesus came into his own town, and it was said, “he could do no mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.” The miracles of God start with our acts of faith.
Let me ask you this question. How do you think the little boy felt when he saw what happened with his lunch? Did it make him feel special? I’m sure it did. Did it make him feel important? There’s no doubt! But even more important, did it make him feel that he was a part of Jesus and his kingdom? Absolutely! And notice. There was no way those loaves and fishes could feed all those people. Yet the boy gave anyway! He didn’t say, “Oh forget that! I can’t make a difference!” and take back his lunch!
How about us? Are our gifts like the loaves and fishes? I believe they are! I believe this is the way God works. He uses our gifts, he looks for our giving attitude, and he multiplies our gifts, and he blesses our attitude! Just as in scripture, God uses our faithfulness to bring about his abundance!
That’s what we do here at Stewardship. This is far more important than just supporting our program, or promoting our ministry. This is about being part of God’s kingdom. This is about dedicating ourselves to his service. This is about bringing our gifts and our pledges before him and asking God to multiply them.
Yes, let’s see the practical side of this. But let us bring our gifts to the Lord – even thought we don’t always know how our when or why he will use them. Like the little boy, let us bring them to him anyway, rejoicing that we are his people – Every one of us!
I’m going to close in prayer, and then following that prayer I would like us to stay in an attitude of prayer, thinking about this boy and his loaves and fishes, and thinking also of our gifts and our ministry. Then, after some time for reflection, I’d like each of us come forward to this table with our pledges. And I’d like for all of us to come, even if we’ve already sent ours in or we put it here at the first service. I want us all to come, even if we might not have ours with us this week. There’s no way anyone will know which it is. But I invite each of us to come and place our hands on this table for a moment or two, and pray and thank God and know that we are all part of this ministry together!
Eternal God, help us to be people of faith who give of ourselves in every way. Bless us as we seek to live lives of faithfulness. Bless our efforts. Multiply our gifts. Help us to get beyond the anxiety, and to see the joy and the glory of your kingdom. These things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.