“The Abundance of God”
Pentecost 9B (Lect. 17)
July 29, 2012
Some of you may remember the TV show “MacGyver,” which ran seven seasons from 1985-1992. Richard Dean Anderson played MacGyver, a resourceful secret agent who preferred non-violent solutions; he hated guns. Trained as a scientist, MacGyver was known for his ability to solve complex problems by using whatever materials at hand, especially his omnipresent duct tape and Swiss army knife. I think Don Hemingsen, who we recently laid to rest, was something of a latter-day MacGyver; he could build anything with materials at hand. However, it wasn’t Don who made me think of MacGyver this past week; it was Jesus.
Today we begin five weeks in chapter 6 of John’s gospel, and the theme throughout this chapter is bread. More specifically, the texts are about whom Jesus is, what he came to do, and his meaning for us. Although Jesus doesn’t use the term in today’s text, each week we will explore a different aspect of Jesus’ identity as the Bread of Life. This reading, the feeding of the five thousand (plus women and children) begins our reflection and it recounts the only miracle story found in all four gospels. In fact, it is even found twice in Matthew and Mark. Our exploration of the text is something of a mixed bag, being both helped and hindered by its familiarity to us. Because we think we know it, we tend to miss what it has to offer us.
Jesus was busy all day healing the sick, which not only drew a large crowd, but also presented a problem: what to do with them now that dinnertime was approaching. Philip asks Jesus to send the crowds away, but Jesus turns the tables on Philip, telling him to deal with it. Somehow, a lad appears with five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus blesses the meal, miraculously feeds the crowds, and instructs the disciples to pick up the leftovers, twelve baskets full. There is enough in this one story, let alone all of chapter 6, to feed us for five weeks with a lot leftover. However, what I’d like to focus on is this: whereas the disciples see scarcity, Jesus sees abundance. Andrew sums up the prevailing attitude: “But what are they [the loaves and fish] among so many?”
Both Andrew and Philip, and presumably the rest of the disciples, focused on what they lack, not on what they have. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn as a follower of Jesus, to value what I have, not what I don’t have. This came home to roost this last week when I had the opportunity to have dinner with my in-laws. We went to a favorite restaurant of theirs, a national chain, and the wait for our food was very long. When we finally got the food, I asked for some yellow mustard for my patty melt, which didn’t come for several minutes; I waited and I fumed, refusing to eat until I had my yellow mustard. It occurred to me later that I chose to focus on what I didn’t have rather than the abundance of what I did have. It seems to me that advertising in general, and our society in particular, often focuses on what we lack rather than what we have. However, that’s another sermon for another day.
Douglas John Hall observes that when many people discuss this text, they focus on trying to explain the miracles of how Jesus fed all of those people or how he walked on the water. Instead, he says, we ought to focus on a different miracle, the hope that Jesus instilled in the folk. Through his actions, Hall thinks, Jesus’ powerful presence inspired them to walk where they feared to go otherwise. Hope takes root as we look at what God provides for us, as we trust that it will be more than enough. Jesus simply asks that we offer up ourselves, to give back what God has already given, to be used to bless others.
Our problems and challenges can seem overwhelming, such the losses in members over the years and a global problem such as malaria. Yet, that’s true only if we focus on what we lack rather than the abundance that God can provide for us. We can’t solve malaria on our own, but for $10 to buy a mosquito net, we can save one life. We may not be able to have hundreds of children in Sunday School or youth groups any more, but we an incredible variety of families of all ages that have incredible gifts to share with each other. We may not have MacGyver, and Don is gone now, but we have you and me, ordinary people with an extraordinary God who blesses what we have to love and bless the world in return. What gifts has God given to you, maybe that you don’t think amount to much of anything? God will use them to bless the world. Thanks be to God! Amen.