Readings: Psalm 14, 2 Samuel 11:1-15, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, July 29 2018
Jesus must have felt that kind of pressure. Everywhere He went, crowds pressed in on Him, demanding His attention. Today’s passage tells the story of Jesus leaving the crowds behind to find some time alone. John 6:1-10 sets up the story for us. Jesus and His disciples are in the middle of their Galilean ministry. In the midst of this crazy, busy time, Jesus takes His disciples aside for a break. But the crowds begin to appear. “Then Jesus lifted His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him...” You can almost hear the disciples sigh. “We really need some time out right now...”
Jesus turns to Phillip.“Where shall we buy bread?” Phillip answers in despair, “How should I know? Even if we could find any stores out here, we couldn't afford to feed a multitude!” Andrew comes on the scene. Andrew has found this cute kid willing to share his lunch: five loaves and two fish. There is a hint of sarcasm in his voice as he says, good try kid, and nice of you to offer, but “What are these among so many?”
Rumbling along below the story is the idea that Jesus actually knows what is going to happen. That the disciples are being set up to witness a miracle that will change the way they think about God's provision. Verse 6 tells us about Jesus words to Phillip, “He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He was going to do.”
What is He going to do? First thing Jesus does is to tell everybody to sit down. I like that. How often have we been in a crisis situation and everybody is bustling around, “Oh no, what we going to do now, I'm so hungry, what's going to happen?” Jesus takes control. “Everybody, sit down, there's enough for everybody. Just settle down and listen.”
How often do we get so caught up in trying to fix everything and worry about very eventuality so much that we don't actually take the time to sit down and listen to how God sees the situation. It was only when they sat down and listened to Jesus that their hunger was met.
The crowd settles in the grass fixing their eyes on Jesus. Jesus took the loaves and did what? He gave thanks. At first glance this “Giving Thanks” seems like an insignificant detail. I would suggest that it is the most important thing in this passage. It is giving thanks that leads to 5000 folk being satisfied.
Later in John's gospel, in John 10:23 we read: “Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” It doesn't say “Near the place where the Lord miraculously fed 5000,” or “Near the place where the Lord worked a great wonder,” but “Near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” What was important to John about this event was not the miracle feeding, but the lesson that Jesus taught about being thankful.
In a nutshell (or maybe a bread basket) this lesson is about thanksgiving. Being thankful releases resources within our situations that meet the deepest need of our hearts and lives. Let me offer a few observations about this principle of thanksgiving.
First, be thankful for what you have. Jesus gives thanks for the five loaves and two fish. The miracle hasn’t happened. He offers thanksgiving for the blessing that is at hand. Jesus knows full well what is going to come, but His disciples and the watching crowd don’t. All they see is Jesus offering thanks, for a little bit of bread.
I bump into discontented people on a daily basis. You ask them how they’re doing and they say, “You won’t believe what happened to me. This person came right up behind me on the interstate...” And then they’re off on a twenty-minute tirade. You ask them if they like their meal, and they tell you about a place that did it better. You ask them about their work, and a complaint session begins on the folk they have to work with. Whatever the weather is they find something to complain about. “It's miserable” “So cold” “So hot.” “Can't wait for it to change.”
You are in the shops and they are shaking their head, “The prices. Can't believe how much everything is.” Seems like they best they can muster about anything is “Well. It's O.K. I guess.” And whatever you do, do not mention politics or religion, because you are going to be told in no uncertain terms where you are getting it all wrong.
The worst part about it, is that the discontent rubs off on me. I find myself succumbing the curse of the criticisms and infected with the “If only’s.” “If only I had this...” “If only they would do that...” “Why can't she do something about him or he do something about her?” This atmosphere of discontent is like a virus. The action of Jesus, in the face of peoples hunger and dissatisfaction is to lift up a little bread and give thanks.
We can be thankful that we have a roof over our head. We can be thankful for the people God has brought into our life. We don’t need to worry that they’re flawed because we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God. We can be thankful for the food on our plate each day. We can be thankful for the challenges that force us to grow. We can be thankful for the air we breathe. We can be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy. We can be thankful for the simple joys.
Like the little boy with the loaves and fishes, they may not seem much in the light of the needs around us. Nevertheless, we can be thankful and offer what we have God. Be thankful.
Secondly, realize that gratitude is more action than emotion. Have you ever thought to yourself “I just don’t feel thankful.” So notice that Jesus didn’t talk about “feeling” thankful, He instructs us to practice a daily discipline of thankfulness. Be thankful. You prayed “Give us this day our daily bread.” Well, you know what? You got it. So be thankful!
When I was growing up my mother made me sit down and write thank-you notes in the days immediately after Christmas. I didn’t feel thankful, I wanted to play with my new toys. We only had a few more days before Christmas break was over. But my mum was trying to teach me that expressing gratitude is important, even if the gift was a pair of green socks!
Too often my prayers are characterized by requests, when they should be full of thanksgiving. The act of expressing thankfulness makes us more aware of blessings. When we are thankful, it shifts our perspective away from what we don't have and towards the abundant blessings we have received from God.
God’s abundance comes in unexpected ways. None of the gospel writers gives us any idea how this miracle happened. Did the food miraculously reconstitute itself as it was passed around? Did it stretch as each person tore off a hunk? Was it placed in baskets that suddenly filled to the rim? We don’t know. John isn't about to satisfy our curiosity, because that's not what the account is about. It's about thankfulness.
It was unexpected. The disciples didn’t see it coming. You see this same truth in the turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana. We see it again when a whole town of Samaritans come out and believe on the testimony of a woman Jesus meets at a well.
When Jesus provides abundantly, He often does so through unexpected means. Our challenge, is to keep our minds open enough to receive the blessings when they come. And the way to unlock openness to blessing, is the path of thankfulness. So be thankful for what you have. Secondly, realize that gratitude is more action than emotion.
Thirdly, notice that thankfulness is never wasteful. In verse 12. Jesus tells His disciples to gather up the fragments, that nothing might be wasted. That is a fundamental principle of thankfulness, not wasting what you have. The United States is possibly the most wasteful nation on the planet. We throw away so much. I'm embarrassed by the amount I throw away. Wastefulness is an indication that we are taking our blessings for granted. It is in direct contrast to thankfulness.
In a world where millions go hungry I can think of few more disgusting sights than visiting an “All you can eat” restaurant, and watching people stack their plates high with food, and then throw half of it in the garbage. If ever there was a statement that says “We are blessed and we don't even know it” … there it is.
God has given us abundant life, and abundant possibilities and abundant time and abundant resources. For the majority of us who live in the developed world, life is an “All you can eat buffet.” But too often life is squandered and wasted and thrown away. Our wasteful actions betray our thankfulness. God calls us to be wise in our use of God's blessings, be it our time, our finances, or our abilities.
Thankfulness is not expressed through excess, but when we treasure our gifts and use them to their greatest impact in blessing others. Isn't that what happened with that little boy and his loaves and fishes? He was thankful. He had enough. He cared enough to share and God blessed everybody through His thankful action. Wastefulness is a direct contrast to thankfulness.
Neighbor, Hey neighbor, Be thankful for what you've got!
Neighbor, Hey neighbor, If you want to live at the right altitude,
You got to have an attitude of gratitude.
Neighbor, Hey neighbor, If you want to live grateful,
Then stop being wasteful.
- Being thankful releases resources within our situations that meet the deepest need of our hearts and lives. Be thankful for what you have. Instead of focusing on other peoples circumstances, let us look into our own situations and wake up to just how blessed we really are.
- Realize that gratitude is more action than emotion. When we focus on thankfulness, it releases good things in our lives and in the lives of those we share our lives with. Just as misery loves company, thankfulness can be a positive influence on those around us.
- Notice that thankfulness is never wasteful. God never gives us blessings with the intention that we throw them away. The greatest gift of all is life itself. We honor God when we live with an attitude of gratitude.
And to God be the glory. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.