Feeding the Five Thousand
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When 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?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they[c] sat down, about five thousand in all. Then 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. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When 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.”
When 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.
Jesus Walks on the Water
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
~ John 6:1-21 (NRSV)
In today’s scripture reading, we heard two stories about Jesus, and both of them seemed pretty impossible, didn’t they. Feeding five thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish? And then walking on water? Really? You and I could never do something like that! Or could we? The truth is, when we start out thinking that something is impossible, that’s when it truly becomes impossible. But when we open our hearts and minds to the possibility that we just might succeed, that’s when we allow miracles to happen!
So, feeding five thousand people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, impossible? Maybe, but maybe not. And walking on water, impossible? The disciples tell us that they saw it with their own eyes. So though our heads say “no,” somewhere deep in our hearts we long to believe “yes!” For centuries, people have wondered and wrestled and argued about the miracles that Jesus performs in Bible. Are they magic? Does Jesus have superpowers that we don’t? Everyone wants to know the details. How did he do it? What exactly happened to give him the power? But friends, if we had all the answers, would that change things? If we understood the mystery, would it deepen our faith? To be honest, I don’t think that it would, because faith is not about knowing all the facts. On the contrary, it’s about living in the uncertainty. It’s not about having to have all the answers, but it’s in trusting in God that you will find the strength and the courage to do what you need to do.
When I was younger, I understood the stories of Jesus very literally. When Jesus performed a miracle, whether it was the feeding of the five thousand, or walking on water, or turning water into wine, or even the Resurrection on Easter, I believed that it happened just the way I had learned it in Sunday School. I didn’t question anything, I simply believed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a faith like that.
As I got older, I started to ask more questions, and as I did, I started to understand the stories a little differently. It didn’t make me believe any less; it just made me believe a little differently. And again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a faith like that either.
When I attended seminary, the way that I looked at scripture changed yet again, as I learned more about the people who recorded the stories in the Bible and the audiences that the stories were written for. I began to see them and understand them in yet another way. I learned to read between the lines, and I started to understand not just what the story said, but why the story was being shared. Again, it didn’t make me believe any less, it simply changed the way that I believed, yet again.
Friends, the truth is, we are all lifelong learners, and we all continue to learn and to change our understandings as long as we continue to keep our hearts and minds open. But I think it’s important for us to understand that, though we may not all believe the same way, what we believe forms our understanding. Now, that may sound confusing, but let’s go back to where we started today. If you remember, we talked about the fact that if you think something is impossible, it will always be impossible. But if you believe that there might be a way, then you leave the door open to make it happen.
Whenever I look at the back of the sanctuary and see the old weather vane, I think back to the year 2003 when our steeple was taken down. I remember that day like it was yesterday. We had a giant crane on the south lawn. The top part of the steeple was cut off, and the crane lifted it down. The thousand-pound bell in our steeple was lifted out of its cradle and placed in the side yard. Then the rest of the steeple was cut off and removed. I remember being overcome by emotion as I watched the church being taken apart piece by piece. Three years later, in 2006, our new steeple arrived on a flatbed tractor-trailer. The crane returned, and piece by piece, it lifted the new steel and fiberglass steeple into place. It had been three long years since the bell rang out from our steeple, and church members and neighbors alike gathered by the schoolhouse across the street, waiting eagerly to hear that old familiar sound.
As the bell was lifted up by the crane to be put back in its place, it was strapped in with all kinds of safety straps and harnesses, and then the steeplejacks and the crane operator had to get it just in the right place to set it safely into its new home. Afterall, raising a thousand pounds sixty feet in the air is no small feat! As the bell rang out and we all celebrated, I started to think about how the bell was originally lifted into the steeple. It sounds as though it would have been impossible, doesn’t it? To lift a thousand-pound bell sixty feet in the air? It was difficult enough with a crane, and walkie-talkies, and all kinds of power tools. How in the world did they get that same bell up into the steeple in 1828, before electricity and heavy equipment? I’m sure it took lots of ropes and lots of strong bodies, maybe lots of horses, and definitely lots of patience and prayer. I’m sure it took a lot more time in 1828 than it did in 2006, too! But what seemed to be impossible, the people of this church did! Did you hear that folks? What seemed to be impossible, the people of this church did! They took it piece by piece, I’m sure. One step at a time. One rope at a time. One prayer at a time. And eventually, they got it done.
Friends, sometimes we when we look at an entire story, or an entire job, or an entire budget, or an entire project, it can seem daunting, overwhelming, and impossible. But if we take the time to break it down, to look at the pieces, and to take one step at a time, doing what we can do, the impossible can become more plausible. Think about it, in order to read an entire book, you have to start by reading the first page, don’t you? In order to run a race, you need to take the first step. In order to feed five thousand people, you have to start by feeding one. And in order to believe something that sounds unbelievable, you have to leave the door open for it to be possible.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t worry about finishing all of your work, accomplishing all of your goals, saving everyone and understanding everything. Take it one step at a time. Believe that it is possible, and allow God to guide you through. Remembering that sometimes the little things are really the big things. And though they may not seem like miracles, sometimes it’s the little things that change the world.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!