All Good Things Come From God

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians puts me in mind Margie McAdams, the wife of a pastor I once knew.  It was her heart felt concern that Christians who before their meal in a restaurant bowed heads and said grace must leave a decent tip.  How simple.  To pray that Christ would strengthen another’s inner being, that Christ would dwell in another’s heart and then fail to make the connection to the practicalities of life gives a lie to one’s profession of faith and diminishes Christ’s work in the world.  All life and all good gifts come from God. Jesus comes to open our hearts and our hands to those around us. We can do that only because he also comes to open our eyes to his own presence among us as the grace-and-peace-filled “I am”.



 

 

John 6:1-21

 

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

 

This is the only miracle story that appears in all four Gospels.  It intrigued me that somehow, among the gathering crowd Andrew was aware of an unnamed boy who came with a sack lunch. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, we only meet Philip in a listing of the disciples, but in John he plays a much larger role.  He is one of the first to be called.  He is instrumental in recruiting Nathanael.  He was singled out as a go between by some Greeks who sought an interview with Jesus. On the practical side, Philip and Andrew play a larger role in this story because apparently it occurs nears their home town, Beth-saida. They would know the country and presumably would know if anyone would where to acquire enough food for this enormous crowd. 

 

Only John of all the Gospels connects this story with Passover.  That would account for such a large crowd most likely including hungry pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.  But John’s rendition also has some other intriguing elements.  At the end of chapter 5, Jesus mentions that those who opposed him did not understand or believe what Moses had written (John 5:39-47). Then, as chapter 6 begins to unfold we have this supernatural feeding and of salvation from the sea joined together, just as the manna in the wilderness and the crossing of the Red sea were part of the story of Moses. In the sixth verse we read of a “testing” as there was in Exodus 16:4. Jesus commands that the pieces be gathered up so that nothing is wasted, just as Moses commanded in Exodus 16:19. And near the conclusion, in a more literal translation, Jesus is said to go up “to the mountain”, not simply “a” mountain as would be a literal translation of verse three. In fact, the text in verse 15 strangely says that after the feeding, Jesus “again” withdrew “to the mountain”. Perhaps this repeated mention of “the mountain”, another piece unique to John’s account, is intended to recall that other mountain in Israel’s story, where Moses met God.  According to John the elements of the story are designed to recall to the mind of those on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem the Passover-Exodus story.

 

And I think it’s neat.  Verse 14 indicates that the people got it, they made the connection! 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” In witnessing this feeding miracle in the wilderness, they remembered the promise that God will raise up a prophet like Moses, and they confess that Jesus is that prophet. Yet they failed to grasp what this sign actually revealed. Instead of seeing in Jesus the very embodiment of God’s glory, love, and Word, they see a king, a political or military figure, who will serve their fondest hopes, dreams and desires.  But why wouldn’t they?  Passover is a festival of national liberation from a foreign oppressor. The crowds are certainly acting on their beliefs, and acting boldly; but they have missed the point of what happened. They see Jesus’ gracious gift, but they want a glory for him that fits their presumptions and serves their goals. Their desire to make Jesus king is a dangerous act of insurrection, but there is more to it than that.

 

I guess we too can be like the crowd, only seeing partially and in distorted ways. We fail to realize how graciously God is acting among us, for our sake and for the sake of the whole world. We need the continuing word of Jesus, and the gift of himself. This is what the crowd needed, though it will take all of chapter 6 to tell the story.  The feeding “miracle” is no mere miracle it is theophany. To use John’s vocabulary, it is a “sign,” a window into the glory of God present in this world through Jesus.

 

Like the crowd in John 6, we too have been fed by God’s grace, fed with God’s mercy, care and steadfast love; and, like them, we often fail to see what God is doing among us. The danger is always there of our seeing the “wrong” kind of Jesus, one who will simply serve our programs, our desires, and our wishes. We are tempted to domestic him, making him over into our king and protector.  As we learn from the story, Jesus will have no part of this, because God is up to something far greater. Jesus comes to us as God in the flesh, the one who reveals to us the Father and draws us into the Father’s love.

 

When Jesus’ responded to his disciples’ fear it was not with simply “it is I,” but, again in a more literal translation he says “I am”  the language of divine presence and revelation found in Exodus and  Isaiah. “Do not be afraid” is also the language of theophany in Genesis and Exodus 14:13.  Christ’s spirit comes across the fearful, lonely, empty, threatening times and places, as have been told in our text and says “I am.” The “I am” has come to be with us and bring us to the goal God has intended.

 

His presence means we find ourselves called, as were Jesus’ disciples in this instance, to feed the hungry. This means, of course, that we are to provide food and clean water to those in this world who lack those things. And while food and clean water are real and actual, they are also symbolic of the desperation in our world.  And, yes, our resources are not sufficient for such a task. But that is no excuse to refuse what Jesus’ gives, and to bring it to others within the world. It is no excuse not to receive from Jesus’ hand what he gives, and to go into the world with this gift.

In the 145th Psalm the writer speaks of God and says: 16You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. And God does.  And the challenge comes even more intensely to us as it did to Philip and the other disciples to take the loaves and fish from Jesus’ hands and turn and offer it to the gathering crowd.

 

Paul in Ephesians 3:16-19 challenges us about how and for whom we pray, about how and to whom we offer grace.  Listen to his prayer for friends in Ephesus:

 

16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians puts me in mind Margie McAdams, the wife of a pastor I once knew.  It was her heart felt concern that Christians who before their meal in a restaurant bowed heads and said grace must leave a decent tip.  How simple.  To pray that Christ would strengthen another’s inner being, that Christ would dwell in another’s heart and then fail to make the connection to the practicalities of life gives a lie to one’s profession of faith and diminishes Christ’s work in the world.  All life and all good gifts come from God. Jesus comes to open our hearts and our hands to those around us. We can do that only because he also comes to open our eyes to his own presence among us as the grace-and-peace-filled “I am”.

 

 

 

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