Eighth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 12B (7/26/2009)

Pragmatism and Faithfulness

Lessons:    2 Kings 4:42-44     Psalm 145:10-18     Ephesians 3:14-21     St. John 6:1-21     Semicontinuous Series:         2 Samuel 11:1-15         Psalm 14

Prayer of the Day:     Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth. Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven and share this bread with all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.5When 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?"6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.7Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."8One 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?"10Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then 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.12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.14When 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." 15When 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. 16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.20But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid."21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

St. John 6:-21 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

I don't need to tell you that these are hard times for Christian congregations in the United States. We are in the midst of a significant economic down-turn. Most of our people are taking a close look at their budget, and are cutting back in whatever areas they can. Some of them have even decided to cut back on their financial support of the church.

I serve among pastors and church leaders who are concerned about this. In my denomination, there are pastors who fear that their congregation's plans are too ambitious, and they worry about where the resources will come from. In my own church, there is the sentiment that we just don't have enough money, or enough volunteers, to accomplish what God is calling us to do.

These are very pragmatic responses to some very significant concerns.

Yet this week's Gospel lesson comes as a challenge to that kind of thinking.

Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the feast, and at the start of chapter 6 he makes his way to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, where he is followed by large crowds. Passover is drawing near, and the people are hungry, so Jesus calls Philip to his side (St. John tells us, to "test" him). He asks Philip if he has any ideas about how they might feed the crowd. Philip surveys the situation and perceives that it is very grave. Some five thousand people are gathered there. Forget the fact that they are in the wilderness, up on a mountain. Even if there had been a grocery store nearby, Philip is aware that six months wages wouldn't be enough to feed them all. It seemed to Philip that they just didn't have enough. Their resources were no match for the situation they were facing.

Enter Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. We don't know what Andrew is thinking. He may have remembered how Jesus previously had been able to do remarkable things with limited resources. He may just have been thinking out loud. He says to the group, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish." However, almost before anyone is able to think about what he said, he begins to back peddle: "But what are they among so many people?"

It is ludicrous, after all. Five barley loaves and two fish. 5,000 hungry people, gathered in the wilderness. Any reasonable assessment of the situation would have reached the conclusion that there was absolutely nothing that could be done.  Yet Jesus takes those loaves and fish. He gives thanks to God for them, and distributes them to those who are seated there. Remarkably, everyone is able to eat as much as they want, and when it is all said and done, twelve baskets of leftovers remain.

They didn't need six months wages to feed the crowd. All they needed was Jesus. And faith. The Apostle Paul claimed that Christian faith is foolishness to those who are perishing (1st Corinthians 1:18), but to us it is the power of God. He was right. There are times when we need to step away from the realistic and pragmatic thinking of Philip, and allow ourselves to be persuaded by the innocent and hopeful thinking of Andrew.

The church more often is guilty of low expectations than reaching too high. Christians are often unaware of how capable they are, if only they allow themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, and encouraged by their faith in Christ.

5,000 hungry people faced Jesus that day, who stood before them with only five loaves of bread and two fish. He stands among us today, and encourages us to reach out with vision and courage. He seeks to remind us that God desires to do great things through us. He wants us to know that we can make a difference in this world. May we be faithful to his call. And may we open our hearts to what can happen when he is present in our midst.


Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. What caused Philip to be limited in what he could imagine Jesus would do?
  2. Why did Andrew point out that there was at least a little bit of food there?
  3. What did Jesus want Philip to discover on that day?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. When have I been more pragmatic than faithful, when deciding what to do?
  2. What challenges lie before me today, that God would have me address?
  3. What can I do to remember that my faithfulness depends not on my own capacity, but on God's strength?