John 6: 1-21
Let us pray. Dear LORD: May your holy word and my thoughts work together to provide the spiritual food and energy we need. Help us to recognize your presence and engage ourselves. Amen.
²“A crowd followed him because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.” (RSV) They were seizing an opportunity to see destroyed lives, restored. Basically, they had the same motives we have for watching tv dramas and makeover shows. We like to see how the chapters of a person’s life unfold.
Plot themes haven’t changed much over time. Disease and injury still disfigure. With advancements in medicine and technology, Jesus may not be sought until we run out of options. We count on science to offer solutions. We count on media for entertainment. The way we spend our time often doesn’t involve real people in the flesh. Our desire to connect drives us to do the next best thing. We watch or read the true or fictional stories of others. We let sad or happy endings feed us.
The feeding of the five thousand tells a pleasant tale. Jesus uses the meager rations of one poor child to provide food for thousands. A humble offering is not rejected, but prompts thanksgiving to God. One verse practically says, “The poor people got as much as they wanted and ate until they were full.” We could stop there, and call it a happy ending, right?
But, let’s not miss the marvelous way Jesus counts every person, special. In a huge public venue, Jesus fulfills each person’s need. He expresses one of his love languages, the desire to give without exchanging. Jesus lets us share the joy of seeing thousands of tired, hungry, maybe cranky people come together. They become one, through the food Jesus prepares for them. Like a dear aunt or grandmother, Jesus anticipates people’s hunger and serves them lots of food. He beckons them to share a family meal.
To avoid crises in family life, we are advised to eat meals together. To make it work, the new trend is to offer each person a portion of their preferred food. “Provide menu options at home,” they say. I know many of you never got those choices when growing up. Jesus, most certainly did not say, “And, what would you like? Is that for here or to go?”
Jesus was gracious, even while aware that his guests had really come to see him perform. Like ticket holders at a concert or ball game, the audience didn’t notice others, unless they blocked their view. They didn’t come to form connections to each other. They were merely fans.
Americans have gotten good at creating private atmospheres during public events. We open our truck tailgate, set up our own chairs or blankets and claim our space. Everyone else becomes just part of the backdrop. We see the crowd as anyone outside of our group. At the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus pointed out that no seats or spaces are reserved. Each person was going to get the same as everybody else, no matter where they sat. It was an opportunity not to compete, but to share.
Jesus knows that people can travel the same roads, but never share their stories. He knows that creating memories isn’t just about arriving at a destination like an arena or seaside. Jesus doesn’t want people living their lives as spectators or in parallel modes. Cars come and go in driveways as each family creates its own good time. He sat the crowd down and made them wait. They were about to have a meal at the dining table, so to speak.
When the altar becomes the Communion table, we sit and wait. We are reminded that Jesus offers himself. Even though Communion is a public event, I can withdraw into a private space. My excitement about personally receiving Jesus makes everyone else become just part of the backdrop. I may not hear the songs during Communion, much less sing them.
Use of the altar rail during Communion genuinely warms my heart. Taking a humble posture while waiting with expectancy is a precious moment. Everyone has left their seat to come together. An intimate connection has been formed. Then, we all go back to our seats. We spread far and wide throughout the sanctuary. It looks like the communing is over and done with.
For introverts, it may be a stretch to kneel elbow-to-elbow when receiving the holy meal. Those five thousand people were probably knee-to-elbow joint, too. Involvement in the meal was not meant to be a parallel activity. A shared posture and two basic food groups didn’t join them together. But, sharing bread and fish, or bread and wine, makes us no longer strangers. Living out a parallel existence is absolutely adequate by the world’s standards. Christianity challenges us to exchange life experiences, risk personal interaction and seek deep encounters. Talk, touch and listening builds community.
Then and now, Jesus provides a meal that prepares people for their journey home and the days ahead. Communion is an encounter in, under and with not just Jesus himself but the family Jesus has created. A family that Jesus recognizes. We also, are people who follow him because we have seen signs. He has gathered us into his story of feeding the five thousand.
You’ll learn that I am obsessed with making connections between people, concepts and seemingly unrelated things. That’s my attempt to explain how the latest Dairy Queen commercial ties into the sermon. “We’re not just fast food,[they say]. We’re fan food.” I was thinking about how what Jesus provided was so much more than a meal. The people who were following him may have just been groupies. And suddenly it comes to me, “Jesus isn’t just fast food, he’s food for his fans.” My hope is that you won’t think of DQ again, without thinking of Jesus, lol.
My mind continued to draw parallels to the story of loaves and fishes. And to my dismay, I suddenly remembered that Olive Garden also offers unlimited breadsticks! They also used the slogan, “When you’re here, you’re family.” So how is Jesus/Christianity any different?
For one thing, Jesus always picks up the tab. He has to, because none of us can afford the cost of sin. His Word is not an advertising slogan. It is a love language realized by his thoughts, words and deeds, toward us. He builds Christian communities where fellowship offers more than friendly association. Grace is not a limited time promotion. When we ask for forgiveness, Jesus doesn’t put our name on a list and hand us a pager. We don’t have to wait until the dirty remains of other people’s sin is cleared off. We are seated immediately at his table.
Community is the context of Jesus’ choice. Jesus gives life and bread to whomever He wishes. And those who eat, shall live. When Jesus acts, we are invited to be present with HIm. The blessing of the meal offered, extends beyond this moment in time.
Drama and makeovers are continuously happening among us and within us. The plot theme never changes. The chapters unfolding in real life are always worth watching. Amen.