Abundance: The Fullness of the Kingdom
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
August 25, 2019
John 6:4-15 (NRSV)
4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 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?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages[a] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they[b] sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 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. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 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.”
15 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.
Last week we talked about detachment and at the end of my sermon I challenged us to tangibly give away or let go of something we had become attached to or that was keeping us from spiritually growing and loving our neighbors. Even though our time of waiting worship last week was mostly silent, I was overwhelming surprised (in a good way) by all the conversations I had this week with many of you regarding the actions you have taken and the things in which you have chosen to let go. I sense there was a lot of burden in the form of anxiety, fear, jealousy, sadness, and hopelessness that needed to be removed.
This week, we move from Jesus clearing the temple to Jesus feeding the five thousand. Now, that might seem like a drastic transition - from Jesus with whip in-hand knocking over the tables to Jesus with fish and loaves of bread feeding the masses. In many ways two completely different pictures of Jesus.
Again this week we are going to see some obstacles which get in our way of fulling living life in “real time” – but also we are going to juxtapose the obstacles with the abundance of God and how it provides for us and helps positively fill those spaces we have opened up through detachment.
To begin, let’s take a look at the scriptures for this morning.
To give some context, just prior to this story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, Jesus had been doing some rather miraculous but highly controversial things.
· He had healed an invalid at the pool of Bethsaida causing a huge controversy because it was on the Sabbath.
· He also healed a Roman Official’s son causing such a controversy that Jesus didn’t even go to the official’s home – rather he did a “distance healing.” The ramifications for him going to his home would have been numerous.
· And finally, Jesus even brought some hated Samaritans to faith (a huge no-no).
If you thought the whip and turning over the tables were controversial…these three things alone were enough to get him crucified in his day. Obviously, he got their attention because in verse 5 of our scripture it says a “great crowd” was coming toward him. I think it would be fair to say this was not a completely friendly crowd, actually it was growing to be a fairly large grouping of people. It was most likely made up of…
· Jews and Gentiles, and probably people who followed other religions
· Sick people, invalids, people with disabilities wanting healed
· The curious
· People wanting forgiveness
· People looking for a handout
· People wanting a new vision
Scripture says that it was 5000 men – which really meant like 10,000+ people when you add the women and children and extended family.
So, to make this more understandable – just imagine all the people who live in Speedway, Indiana actually coming together on the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That is about what we are talking about.
It interested me that Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” But after doing a little research, it is clear why. Philip is the “local” among them. He lived and came from a small town outside of Bethsaida – the exact location this event takes place. Philip would know where to get bread and food.
Yet, Philip knew too well the reality of the request immediately going to finances.
In vs. 7 Philip answers him… ”It would take more than a half a year’s wages to buy enough bread.”
Now…Having a crowd of this size is one thing, but having a crowd this size hangry (hungry and angry) is another thing, and then add to that having a diverse group of people from beggars to politicians hangry raises the tensions even higher. Finally add to that a financial problem and knowing the little town’s assests are not going to be able to compensate creates a quick crisis – a major one.
Just the other night, I was watching the documentary on PBS about Woodstock. Woodstock was much larger than this, but in many ways was very much the same.
Where was the voice of reason?
In verse 8, Andrew takes a shot.
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will that go among so many?”
Andrew almost seems to be grasping for straws by picking out the boy and his small lunch.
Let’s stop here for a moment before moving into what Jesus does.
I see this scene as a perfect example of the Universal Church - a large group of people from all walks of life and cultures, with all kinds of issues, sicknesses, problems, orientations, lifestyles, some seeking, some curious, some following the crowd, some advocates, some cynics, some helpful…but all with basic needs like eating, sleeping, shelter, finances, and community.
But the piece that we often forget is Jesus is in the center of it all. He is one of them. He knows the crisis that is brewing. He has been assessing the situation for several days as the crowds started to grow and follow. He probably even knew that he was going to have to get them to an open space where they all could sit down comfortably. Not an easy feat in Jesus’ day.
See folks, too often we make Jesus into simply a magician or maybe more like Will Smith’s genie in Alladdin when reading this story. But the Jesus who emerges in this situation is more than a genie or magician who solves our problems or fulfills our wishes.
Instead, I believe Jesus acts as…
· A Community Leader
· A Unifier
· A Calming Presence
· A Priority Setter
I see Jesus in this moment more like a Martin Luther King Jr., Malala Yousafzaia, Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu…
The scripture says, Jesus sits them down – a gesture that speaks to his leadership, of bringing order, and settling. He had picked a comfortable place – a large grassy area – which are not easy to find in this part of the world. Location was important.
I am sure this gesture would have signaled a break – and people would have immediately looked to their bags for food.
Now, remember not everyone could see what was going on – we’re talking 10,000 people plus sitting in a large area. Scripture doesn’t even say Jesus got everyone’s attention – because he simply couldn’t – there was no P.A. systems, no big Sony Jumbotrons, nothing like that.
Instead Jesus does exactly what he knew and taught.
· He gave thanks for what they had. (that was his first priority always)
· He led by example and gave away what he had or what he was given to those sitting around him.
Please note, scripture does not describe any “magic” – rather it describes abundance and good stewardship. It says…
11 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. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”
I sense his example was so contagious, so freeing that a chain-reaction took place. As Jesus broke-bread and gave thanks – the hearts of the people were opened. This is the true miracle – a miracle bigger than multiplying fish and loaves. This was a miracle of people caring for one another – people who had come probably for their own gain, or own selfish reasons.
God’s abundance was not only seen in full stomachs, but more importantly in the unifying of a large diversity of people from all different cultures, beliefs, positions, and statuses finally seeing and taking care of one another.
Thus the people’s response, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” They didn’t say miracle worker or great healer – they used the word prophet – a person in the flesh who carried an important message from God. And since many in the group were most likely Jewish and they believed that the prophet to come was also the messiah or the one to rule the nations. They would have agreed as well that Jesus’ actions were of this nature, thus he should be their KING!
In reality, what these ten thousand plus people experienced was the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is all about abundance. Author and theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote the following about abundance in his book, “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity.”
We who are now the richest nation are today’s main coveters. We never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us. Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity – a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly. We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity.
The conflict between the narratives of abundance and of scarcity is the defining problem confronting us…The gospel story of abundance asserts that we originated in the magnificent, inexplicable love of a God who loved the world into generous being…And the story of abundance says that our lives will end in God, and that this well-being cannot be taken from us. In the words of St. Paul, neither life nor death nor angels nor principalities nor things – nothing can separate us from God.
What we know about our beginnings and our endings, then, creates a different kind of present tense for us. We can live according to an ethic whereby we are not driven, controlled, anxious, frantic or greedy, precisely because we are sufficiently at home and at peace to care about others as we have been cared for.
At the end of his quote, I believe Bruggemann is saying when we allow ourselves to detach (like from last week) from the things that drive, control, cause anxiety, make us frantic and greedy – then we are able to finally see our neighbor and find a new sense of peace.
What Jesus did was to help the people gathered on that grassy space having lunch to see their true calling and to glimpse a picture of the Kingdom of God in action.
Abundance is described in the dictionary as fullness. Most of the time we think of fullness in terms of our stomachs being full, but Jesus showed that there was more to it…there was a…
· Fullness in leading his followers through example.
· Fullness in bringing unity among the diverse people of this world.
· Fullness in holistically healing the people (body, mind, & spirit).
· Fullness in meeting the basic needs of those around us.
· Fullness in being a person of hope, grace, forgiveness, and love.
In our day and age (much like in Jesus’), these are radical concepts. We live too often in a self-absorbed, cynical, stress induced, anxiety driven world. But if we allow Jesus to sit us down on the grassy knoll of our lives and learn by his example, we are able to see and, I believe, inhabit the foundations of Kingdom Living as Jesus taught. This story of feeding the crowds teaches us to…
· Lead by example in our own areas of influence.
· Bring unity (not division) in the places we live, work, and gather.
· Be healers (not hurters).
· Make sure that those around us have their basic needs met.
· And be people of hope where grace, forgiveness, and love are central to living.
At First Friends, how can we answer the "Kingdom Call” to be bearers of the abundance of God? What part do you play? In what way will you make visible God's abundance in someone else’s life this week?