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Sermon: Making Much More with So Little

A Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on July 26, 2015.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable,

O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

        The amazing story of the feeding of the five thousand is the only event in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ that is recorded in all four Gospels. That, in and of itself, should certainly indicate the importance of this particular miracle of Jesus. And today is the first of five Sundays with readings from Chapter Six of John’s Gospel, with the first four focusing on Jesus as the bread of life. There, that's your preview of coming attractions.

For me, this miracle story is a quite powerful one. It uplifts me and gives me strength and hope ... while at the very same time ... it challenges me more than any of the other miracle stories ever, ever do. I find it so challenging because I very quickly and completely identify with both Philip and Andrew. I imagine that had I been there, my analytical, practically inclined brain would have done exactly what those two did: Compute the cost of feeding so many and conclude that such a task was impossible given the scarcity of the resources available.

          The Greek word translated in our text as wages referred to a denarius, which was the wage for one day's work. Therefore when asked by Jesus about feeding the crowd, Philip quickly sized up the amount of people there and calculated that at least two hundred denarii, two hundred days' worth of wages, more than six months of earnings, would be required to feed such a large number of people. And he knew that either he, the other disciples or Jesus had that kind of money available.

          Furthermore, we can almost hear Philip saying to himself, 'And besides, Lord, even if we could take an offering and collect enough money, how could we find enough bread already baked to feed thousands of people?' 'And how could we get hundreds of hundreds of loaves of bread from the bakeries here to this mountain site anyway?'

          Andrew followed right along the same path by declaring that "There's a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"

          More frequently than I really want to admit, I am just like Philip and Andrew. I too quickly look at my resources or consider those accessible to me, by the grace and generosity of this parish, whether it is discretionary funds, grocery cards, and small bags of food assembled by our Outreach Committee as an experiment ... sometimes even cash out of my own pocket, and ask myself, "What is that among so many requests." When what I should be doing is to remember whose presence I am in, who it is that I am following, and who is really in control of the situation.

          Jesus' question to Philip, 'Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat' is a significant one. Jesus wanted Philip and the other disciples to realize that it was from Him that the food to feed the five thousand would come. Not from going out and spending a huge sum of money to purchase it, even if the money were available.

          Jesus' question to his disciples was really one regarding his identity. Because if the disciples knew the source of Jesus' gifts, then they'd be much more likely to recognize who Jesus truly is.

          In this particular instance, Jesus knew what he intended to do. So he was simply testing Philip, hoping no doubt to find a person of faith; a disciple who knew that Jesus had come from God and that he was acting with the power of God. After all, by this time in John's Gospel, Jesus had already transformed water into wine, healed a royal official's son and a man who had been ill for well over thirty years and unable to get up off of his mat. But sadly, in spite of all those signs of Jesus' power, Philip came up short in the test. Just as I, and probably some of you, would have done as well.

         

You and I have experienced Jesus' power in our lives individually and as a congregation, and yet all too often, we like Philip and Andrew fail to trust the Lord. We immediately look at our resources as Philip did, or the lack thereof, the absence of the two hundred denarii, instead of looking at what God is capable of accomplishing in and through us. Or we, like Andrew, only see the five loaves of bread and the two fish and conclude that such a small amount of food is totally inadequate to feed such a huge number of people. This, by the way, would have numbered more than five thousand. Five thousand simply represented the number of men and wouldn't have included the women and children because in that time and culture, they weren't counted; although we certainly can be assured that they were there, and would have eaten or been hungry!

          It is easy to profess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is God's Son. We can confess that because of God's deep and abiding love for the world. He came to live among us, and even died in our place on that cross at Calvary so that we can live in an unending relationship with God, here on earth in this time, and in the life to come. But ... but, it's much more challenging to live out that profession of faith and trust God in the daily circumstances of our lives.

          Why do we as children of God frequently look at life from a view point of scarcity rather than abundance? Why do we fail to believe God's power to do the seemingly impossible?

          I wish I had thought to change the first reading today because then both the Gospel and the Old Testament text (from Second Kings, Chapter Four, in the other track of the Lectionary) would be faith-building stories about God and Jesus' ability to transform a little into more than enough. God did it when Elisha told his servant to give the twenty barley loaves and fresh ears of grain to the one hundred people to eat. They ate and had leftovers. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, gave thanks, and gave them to the crowd of more than five thousand. When they had finished eating, the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers - far more than what Jesus had started with.

          God's supply is always more than generous. It exceeds our needs and even our wants. The emphasis on each of these stories is God's overwhelming abundance, providing more than we could hope for or even begin to imagine. The young boy who gave Jesus his five small barley loaves and two fish enabled Jesus to miraculously feed the great crowd.

          Barley bread was inferior bread eaten only by poor people, and the fish were very like very small ones that would have served simply as a side dish to the main course of bread. We know nothing about how Andrew became aware that this boy had this food with him. Nor do we know if the boy, like Andrew, felt that his little lunch was totally inadequate to feed so many. However, none of those details are particularly important to the story. The important fact is that this poor boy offered what little he had and Jesus transformed that little bit into more than enough.

          So while we may be prone to looking at our own resources and concluding that they cannot possibly make a difference, our God is saying to us, 'Trust me. Yield up what you have and watch what can happen, O you of little faith!'

As we move forward as Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, in this city of Alexandria, along with other Episcopal parishes in the area known as Region IV, there is a new endeavor underway to expand the existing Lazarus Ministry program that started in Christ Church and St. Paul's to the West End of Alexandria. Church of the Resurrection on Beauregard Avenue will open their doors in September to become a third site in Alexandria to help feed the hungry and provide emergency assistance to those in need. Parish Outreach funds have been put forth to assist, but I hope you will give thought and prayer to possibly joining in this effort to volunteer and help. As 'hands and feet' of the Body of Christ, you can assist by enrolling those needing help for financial aid toward housing, food, utilities or medicine. There is more information in the parish notes of your service bulletin with specific contacts to speak with to learn more.

          We continually hear about the overwhelming needs beyond Alexandria, around our country and throughout the world. The very same process of thought and prayer is called for in all of this, lest we sink into despair. We have to remember that no gift given to the Lord is given in a vacuum, but rather that all gifts, regardless of how small or seemingly insignificant, can and will be used and multiplied by God to bless others.

          We must always look to God and Jesus rather than at the lack of resources we may think are necessary to accomplishing our mission. Jesus knew how he was going to feed the five thousand, even before the crowd asked for any food.

          And the Lord knows our needs, even before we do. However, God needs what we do have to offer, and more importantly, we need to offer what we have been given. God needs what we have to accomplish ministry here in Alexandria and beyond. Our commitment to the ministry to which we have been called, our faithfulness, our enthusiasm and willingness to strike out in new directions, with our two fish and five loaves, as it were. Individually and as a congregation, we need to prayerfully determine what gifts we bring to the Body of Christ that can be used and multiplied by the Lord for ministry.  

          God is gracious, loving, extravagantly generous and can never ever be out-given. God longs to abundantly provide all that we need so that we can live each day, trusting that God's hand wide open will satisfy the needs of every living thing (Ps 145:17). But in order for us to receive what the Lord has for us, we have to open our hearts.

          We also have to be willing to offer up to God our gifts, even if we consider than small and inconsequential, trusting that God who loves us so much that he died for us is, as the writer of the Ephesians passage this morning says, "able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine." No one expected anything from those five barley loaves and two fish, but it just goes to show the incredible places of growth, healing, and nourishment that become ours when we place ourselves, our very beings and lives, in the hands of God.

          May the Holy Spirit open all our eyes to see Jesus and his love, and in Him, may we see the gracious, generous giving God who provides far more than we could ever want or need. It is my prayer, that empowered by the Holy Spirit, we'll live out of the power of God's overwhelming abundance as we share our gifts and celebrate God's love and compassion, as we do the work of ministry to which our Lord is calling us.

          In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.