The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - July 29, 2018
Scripture Reading: John 6:1-21
Sermon Title: “Loaves and fish and walking on water”

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     If you have been paying attention to our readings from the past few months, you realize that we are in Lectionary Year B, which is dominated by readings from Mark.  Last week our reading contained Jesus teaching and healing from Mark, but there was a large section left out, which we pick up this week from John’s gospel story.  As much as I have tried, I have given up any hope of understanding the minds of those who put together the lectionary.  I was enjoying Mark, but now we are thrown into Chapter 6 of John, and will be in this chapter for the next several weeks. 

     The story we read this week, of the feeding of the 5000, is found in all 4 gospels, and Jesus walking on water is found in 3 of the gospels.  But let’s look into what John has to say about these miracles.  It starts the same, Jesus has been followed by a great crowd.  It is getting late, and Jesus asks Phillip “It is getting late, where are we going to buy bread for all these people?”  Andrew says, “There is a boy with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, but there are a lot of people, not enough to go around.”  Jesus instructs the disciples to have everyone sit down on the grass, and then he takes the food, blesses it and hands it out.  It keeps going and going and going.  Somehow, nobody really knows how, everyone had as much as they wanted to eat, and there were 12 baskets of left overs! 

     I don’t know how it happened.  Some say that everyone really had food, they all shared, and that was how everyone got fed.  Others claim that the loaves of bread and fish were somehow multiplied, and that was how everyone was fed.  Doesn’t really matter – at the end of the event everyone was full, and there were leftovers. 

     Think for a minute about politics.  Not today’s, but in general.  What does every politician promise? Lower taxes, more production, everyone being taken care of.  No problem that is too big for them to solve, everyone will be better off.  And Jesus fits that bill.  Jesus would be an awesome president, or prime minister, or king.  He was faced with a problem, 5000 hungry people, and in the end there was not only enough to go around, but left overs.  Those 5000 saw in Jesus the same thing.  Here is a guy who creates food for everyone.  No more proof needed, let’s make him King.  And if he can create food where there was not enough, just imagine what he could do in other areas of government. 

     So Jesus runs for the hills, so to speak.  Or left the crowds at least.  You see, Jesus does not want to be a human king or president.  The feeding of the 5000 was a sign pointing to the kingdom, but that was not the kingdom he came to proclaim.  God’s kingdom, the one we ask to come every week, is not only a place where all are fed, and there are left overs.  God’s kingdom is a place where all are loved and respected, where there is room for everyone at the table, where the worries of this life are no longer of worry.

     When I was working at camp, one of the camp directors felt that food was the most important thing we did.  When we made mashed potatoes, he always told us not to mash them too much, he wanted a few lumps, so people would know they were real potatoes.  When we were serving meat, sometimes a drop or two of juice would end up on the edge of the food platter.  He was often there with a towel to wipe it away.  He explained that, in his mind, it all started with food.  When people were hungry, or not satisfied with what they ate, they would not be open to all the other wonderful things they could experience in their time there. 

     Jesus could have stayed around and fed people, but ultimately it is not what Jesus was here to do.  You eat and are satisfied until your next meal.  Ultimately eating and drinking are necessary for this life, but will not lead anyone to eternal life.   But you do have to take of physical needs, nobody is going to be open to the kingdom of heaven if they are hungry.  If Jesus had just fed people, just met their physical needs, he would have been a great guy, but not the messiah. 

     After Jesus left that day, so did the disciples.  They got in their boat and started across the sea.  Did you catch that, the disciples left in the boat, Jesus was still out of view from those who wanted to make him a King.  I have this vision in my mind of any school trip. The bus pulls out of the rest area, but little Bobby is still in the restroom, sees the back of the bus pulling onto the highway when he comes out.  And with Jesus, this was well before radios or telephones, so no one can let them know that they forgot Jesus. 

     Maybe the disciples had made a decision, let’s leave without Jesus.  Not too hard to imagine, this guy just fed 5,000 people, that is some power.  Everyone wants him to be king, so let him be king, doesn’t need us anymore.  Let’s get out of here, leave him to deal with the crowds, get back on with our own lives.  Heck, he didn’t even stay around for the end of the meal, he ran off to hide from the people, so now it’s our turn.  Forget him, it is night time, we can be long gone before he comes back in the morning.

     And while they were out at sea, the winds come up.  The other gospel stories suggest that the disciples were frightened, but this one does not.  They are skilled fishermen, have certainly hit worse weather, just got a little rough.  And they see a figure walking on the water.  Jesus says, “It is I, don’t be afraid.”  Another translation is “I am, do not be afraid” perhaps in response to a “Who is that?” 

     Think back for a minute on your Old Testament, Moses on the mountain with God.  God identifies as “I am.”  I have always this was a blending of time.  God is not “I was,” or “I will be” but “I am” - past, current and future all wrapped together.  And as Jesus approaches this boat on the water, he says “I am.”  In John’s gospel this is what Jesus uses when he talks to the Samaritan woman at the well.   She asks if he knows the messiah is coming and Jesus replied “I am.”  Took a long time for the disciples to figure out who Jesus was, and I wonder if they really knew when he was hung on the cross.  But here, this night, on the water, Jesus identifies himself as the great I am.

     When Jesus gets in the boat, in this story, there is no calming of the water, no making the storm quiet down, but suddenly they are at their destination.  This is probably the miracle or the sign in this story, Jesus walking on water, pretty cool, but traveling from point a to point c without passing through point b is probably the bigger sign.  When you’re in the presence of God, you are always right where you should have been all along and where you will want always to be thereafter.

     Ultimately, I see both these miracles or signs as a love story.  God loves us so much that God will not let us go hungry.  Later in this chapter Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life, when we accept him into our lives we get more than nourishment until the next meal.  Accepting Jesus is nourishment not until lunch, but forever.  We also are reminded that our God is different than all the Kings and rulers and politicians.  Jesus didn’t want any part of that.  Jesus had a mission to show us God’s love, and in the end, we will see that love in the shape of a cross.

     And God loves us so much that God will not leave us alone, floating on whatever sea we find ourselves on.  It does not have to be a time of being afraid, or with big storms in our lives, but anytime we are on the sea and the wind picks up at all.  God will join us, and bring us to the place that we want and need to be.  Even if we try to leave Jesus behind, which we all have done, God knows where we are and is never far away.