The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6:1-15 [16-21]

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

“Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.”

Today’s gospel – the feeding of the five thousand – is probably one of the best known episodes recorded in scripture and of the life and times of Jesus. Since childhood, it has been a favorite of mine, and I have a vivid picture in my mind of the scene and the event as it might have taken place.

The setting is beside a huge lake with beautiful aqua blue waters, and just beyond a short strip of sandy beach is a large, deep green, grassy meadow. And just beyond that, low rising, treeless hills made half of earth and half of gray granite boulders.

The crowd that had followed Jesus that day were those who had either seen or heard of his teachings and his ability to heal the sick, and the dis-eased, and the disabled. And at the forefront of this crowd was a small, excited, young boy. He was probably from or near the last village Jesus had passed through, and perhaps he had overheard some of the grown-ups talking about the man from Nazareth who did great miracles.

More than likely, he had begged his mother the night before to let him go and see this wonderful teacher and miracle worker, this prophet of whom everyone was speaking. His mother had probably tried to explain to the boy that he was too young to enjoy or understand what he would find, that the teachings of Jesus would be over his head, that the journey to where Jesus was would be too long and too tiring.

But being persistent, as children often are, he finally pestered his mom into giving her permission, and the next morning, she packed her son a lunch of dried fish and bread, kissed him on the cheek, and reluctantly sent him on his way.

And now here he was, standing only a few yards away, as close to the great man as he dared go, when he overheard the conversation between Jesus and the disciples. “Where are we to buy bread for the people to eat?” asked Jesus. “Buy Bread?!” gasped Philip. “Why there isn’t a town for miles. And even if there was, where would we get the money to buy bread for all these people?” The little boy stepped up beside Andrew, the disciple closest to him, and began tugging on his robe. “I have these fish and these loaves,” he said.
Andrew smiled, patted him on the head and went back to the argument.
“What did the boy say?” asked Jesus.
“He has two fish and five barley loaves,” said Andrew. “But what are they among so many?”
“Have the people sit down,” said Jesus, as he motioned to the boy to come forward. He took the food from the basket, smiled, and thanked the boy. Then he thanked God and divided the food among the disciples who distributed it among the people, and everyone ate and was satisfied.

The faith of one overcame the doubt of many.
The gift of one was sufficient to supply the needs of many.
A small thing offered became a great thing.

And this is just one story among many. We’ve heard of it, seen it, experienced it time after time. So why do we still doubt?

Is it that we’re too grown up? Have we lost or traded in our child-like faith and trust in the Lord for the cynicism of adulthood?

It happens. There’s a certain safety in that. That’s why it happens. Not only does it lower our expectations of God and others, presumably to save us from “possible” disappointment, but it excuses us from commitment, opportunity, sacrifice, risk, joy – and, thereby, assures us of disappointment. It helps us wear our feelings on our sleeves, to keep our bottom lip poked out. It helps our selfishness, our anger, our whining and complaints. It makes it easier for us to find fault with one another, to see the world and each other in the worst possible light. It promotes a bad attitude and just generally bad behavior.

But most of all, the cynicism that steals away our faith and trust and hope makes us afraid. And fear is the kingdom of God’s worst enemy and Satan’s most powerful weapon. Because fear causes withdrawal, hate, division, worry, anxiety – all those things that stand opposite from the kingdom, opposite from faith and trust and hope. It can make you sick: physically, mentally, spiritually. And if you let it, it will steal your blessings away, turn your heart to stone, and separate you from the grace and mercies and power of God.

So, if fear can do all that, you say, then why are you trying to scare us with this sermon. Well, I’m not trying to scare you, but I am trying to make you sober to the fact that there is an enemy out there—a powerful, ugly, sin-full one—that is trying its best (or its worst) to suck out and undo all the good that God has done in you.

We don’t talk about evil much in the Episcopal Church – we preachers don’t. We prefer to concentrate on the grace and love of God, because we know that the love of God is much more powerful than evil and if we can come to understand and accept the love of God, then evil has no hold on us. It is defeated, destroyed in us. (It’s true.)

But I believe we do a disservice to you and to our calling as preachers and givers of God’s word, and even the power of God’s love, if we ignore the power of evil, and the fact that evil is at work in the world, and don’t sound a warning against it and the influence it carries when we let fear and doubt and cynicism creep into our lives.

And this is the point I think Jesus is trying make with us when he tells us not to worry and not to be anxious about our lives but to strive for the kingdom of God.

When he says, “Do not be afraid little children, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

And when he reminds us that we must become like children – have the faith and trust of children – if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.

And that’s what the story of the fish and the loaves is about too. It’s not so much about Jesus’ miracle of feeding the five thousand as it is about a child’s faith: the kind of faith that sees an opportunity and takes a risk; the faith of trust and unselfishness and sacrifice that allows us to offer up what we have believing that God will take it and make it enough. And if we’re willing to offer up all that we have, and are—the best that we have and are—to make a sacrificial offering, as opposed to just something comfortable and safe, it will be enough, and a blessing for the giver.

The faith of a child is the faith that drives away fear, and doubt, and cynicism, and all the curses of evil, and allows God to work miracles in us, and through us, and with whatever gifts we have and are willing to offer up for God’s blessing and use. May we all have that faith.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Do not be afraid, little children, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Amen.

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