02 Sep Jesus the Bread of Life
The Rev. John C. Brink
Sept. 2, 2018
John 6: 1-14
Most people believe knowledge is power. Especially in earlier eras, those who had access to deep, intellectual, and even spiritual information had power over others. The period of Modernity, starting in the 15thcentury and extending all the way into the 20th, is associated with many cultural and intellectual movements. The kind of power provided by education and knowledge, when applied, seemed endless and unable to be challenged.
Now in the Information Age, there is another reality. Now it seems, there is so much access to information, whether it’s news or gossip or literature or sports or online shopping or other things we won’t mention now. Is there such a thing as too much knowledge and contact?
The electronic media bring into our lives knowledge of every kind you can imagine. We channel surf from a documentary on World War II to a reality show to local, national, and international news or sports. Even when we are transfixed on one thing, a crawl comes across the bottom of the screen to alert us to yet another thing. In the face of all this knowledge, it is not uncommon to feel paralysis instead of empowerment. We know more about what’s going on around the world than ever before. But when faced with a crisis, famine, or war and strife in Africa or Syria, we wonder, what can we do? That is often the end of the connection until the next big deal comes along. We are often struck by inertia.
Being overwhelmed by knowledge is often an escape from reality and does not empower, but it can entertain until the next round of data washes over us. Sometimes we can talk endlessly about a topic, event, or subject, but we feel powerless to do anything.
The gospel of John is all about knowledge as power. It is about the way, the truth and the life. It is a knowledge that refuses to be objectified and controlled. It is not a knowledge intended to entertain or provide a satisfying experience. Rather, it is knowledge of a different kind, expressly relational and deeply passionate. It is a knowledge that grounds the knowing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as revealed in the Incarnation, God in human flesh, of Jesus. In the Christian tradition, notes Parker Palmer, “truth is not a concept that “works” but an incarnation that lives.”
The feeding of the 5,000: Now there’s a potentially paralyzing situation. There is an overwhelming need and a few resources. We can replace the bread and fish with any combination of limited resources to address a current critical situation. This gospel message reveals the finite nature of human knowledge and replaces it with “the Incarnation that lives.” Jesus provokes the discussion that ensues, saying, “where are we to buy the bread for these people to eat?”
The disciples respond with the despairing truth. “Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to have a little.” Andrew seems to get an unfair knock as he says, “What are they, these fish and loaves, among so many people?” But we can actually thank Andrew for paving the pathway for Jesus to spring into action and show us that the bread of life, Jesus Himself, is here to nourish us through all such dilemmas.
For, at the end of our human knowledge and superiority stands Jesus. In this text, the end of human knowledge is the beginning of Love’s knowledge, and that is enough to feed a multitude with much left over.
Think of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf coast in 2005 and its ongoing despair and effect. Think of the Japanese tsunami in 2011 and its continuing devastation. And recently, the massive destruction of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, still in despair, of lost people and property. Because of our indisputable worldwide connection, we got debris from Japan that has floated across the Pacific to our shores.
Toxic weeds from Japan even came onto the coastal beaches, having journeyed all the way around Cape Horn to get here. If this doesn’t show that we are connected, I don’t know what does – and we need a way to hold the whole story. It is easy to look at the sheer magnitude of need and say of any people, “what are they among so many?? It’s easy to come to the end of knowledge and into that place of despair. Massive resources are provided…and usually they are not enough to restore. Trust in God and Jesus is often the sustaining help until some form of rescue arrives.
During my time as pastor of Dennis Union Church on Cape Cod, I discovered that a church member and I were in the Marine Corps in the late 1960s. Mike served in a unit in Vietnam, and after a significant period of combat, he was isolated from his company. He spent 61 days in the jungle alone, without a weapon or food. That sounds pretty ominous, and it was. I asked Mike one day, how did he make it? What did he do? Mike said, “I prayed all day long. That’s all I could do was pray to ask God to keep me alive so I could get home to my wife.” After 61 days of fear, terror, sadness, and hope, Mike was rescued and made his way home.
When we pray our prayers of the people we place before God and Jesus the raw truth of our joy, fears, needs, and sadness. When we hear the words of the Scripture come back to us saying, “What do you have?” we feel it’s often not enough. Yet, as this text points out, “not enough “is not the final answer. When placed in the hands of Jesus, human weakness and limitation becomes more than enough. But we know, that Jesus rescued Mike first.
Like the disciples with Jesus that day, we are challenged to take time and listen for where God has come to meet us. While it may seem sometimes that God has travelled off a distant place, that is not so. All the questions we have about how to offer our resources in stewardship, mission trips, and local ministries are God’s way for us to stand and fully own our decisions about how to share our gifts. Only by opening our hearts and minds through questions, discussion, and discernment can we hear God’s voice.
As Jesus fed the 5,000, he was not looking for headlines and notoriety. He broke bread, blessed it, and gave it to the people — each person fed, face to face, hand to hand. As a good steward of resources, He said, gather up the leftovers, so that nothing is lost. Even then, the crowd pursued him to take him away to make him their king. Jesus left the crowd. The Kingdom of God is from a different place. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is glorified in the light of God. This is yet another certainty that Jesus is truly God with us.
Jesus feeding the people, feeding us, is a sign of His Intention and ability to provide what we need. His care for us is all-inclusive. His power is unrestricted. Both our human bodies and our internal, holy spirit are equally nourished by His presence.
All around us are those with knowledge of human need but with few resources. There are countless, small congregations, here on the South Shore and all around us, faithfully trying to do some good. But the need is so great. There are people with limited incomes. There are those with physical and mental challenges. Neighbors may go hungry. In the face of all of this in our community…our resources seem inadequate and we wonder, like the disciples as they looked at 5000 people and 5 loaves of bread “what are they, our resources, among so many?”
Yet, there is Jesus, the Bread of Life to nourish and sustain us and our neighbors. The gift of Jesus assures us and sustains us to think clearly and take action. In the hands of Jesus, little becomes much, the few become the many, and the weak become powerful.
Prayer:Loving God, we see that hunger in so many ways can be handled from a commitment from our hearts to serve first, in trust and love. Cultivate in us a reckless generosity and plant within us spirits of simplicity and balance in body and soul. Amen