John 6:1-21 (NRSV)
1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 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 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 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. 16 When 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. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
“Do You Believe in Miracles?”
Do you believe in miracles? I do not see how a person could not believe in miracles in some manner. Consider the nature of life around us. Our universe is an amazingly vast and a wonder filled place. Did you know that if you had a giant fish bowl the size the sun, that you could put 1.2 million earths in such an area, and still have room for 4.3 million moons? The sun is 865,000 miles in diameter and 93-94 million miles away from the earth. Galileo once put it this way, “The sun which has all those planets revolving about it and depending on it for their orderly function can ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the world to do.” God has brought into being a magnificent creation with the purpose of providing for His children’s needs. We live amid the miraculous. If nothing more every day is a miracle. Despite the suffering we often see within life, the promises of God’s love and care permeates the very fabric of time, space, and creation, but there is even more than this for us.
Consider today’s scripture. After healing many, Jesus finds himself in a rather isolated place surrounded by a multitude of people, and apparently it was mealtime. Jesus says to Philip, “How are we to buy bread so these people may eat?” Philip he did not have an answer, “Lord, two Hundred Denerii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” But then Andrew comes along, “There is a lad here who has five barley loafs and two fish, but (once again noting the obvious) what are they among so many?”
Then we read an amazing account of what Jesus did next. An account that was so captivating that this became one of the few stories recorded in all four gospels. Jesus had the people sit down. He blessed and broke the bread, and before it was all said and done every single person had eaten their fill, and not only that, but twelve baskets of food were left over. The people were so awestruck with this sign that they decided they should take Jesus by force and make him their king. It was a miracle. Can you believe it? From five loafs and two fish thousands were fed.
And you know what the Bible doesn’t explain how it happened, it just says that it did. When I think about this story, I can not even imagine how it would be possible to divide that little bit of food among so many. If 5000 thousand plus hungry people were looking at you, how would you divide five loafs and two fish among them? And yet a multitude of hungry people came to be with Jesus, and they were fed. They were fed in such a way that it defied explanation, and somehow those few fish and loaves of bread became a central image in the feeding of thousands. Now there are two points that I want to make about this story.
First miraculous unexplainable events do happen. Have you ever had something happen in your life that you have concluded was nothing but a miracle? An event that just seems to countermand the laws of nature. When I was around ten years old, we lived next to a very large United Methodist Church that we used to attend. This church was a big steeple church with its own library and gymnasium. In the winter no one had to shovel the snow because the stones that made up the front walkway had a thermal system underneath that would cause the snow to melt as it fell. The church was surrounded by large parking lots in the back and one across the street next to our house. It was a great playground. One day one of my three older brothers came up with the idea of building tree houses in this large evergreen tree that was actually on the property of our church’s parsonage. The tree was going to be cut down. We had a tree just like it next to our house, and the tree must have been at least 50 feet high if not more.
(This is a real picture of that tree)
There was an old, dilapidated fence that was next to it and so we took boards off this fence and construct platforms up in this tree. Well, I got done and I got bored sitting there and so I decided to climb up to the top of the tree. I ended up climbing so high that the branches got thin. I took one step too many and before I could react the branch under my foot snapped and I found myself tumbling toward the ground at 32.2 ft/s2. Now just for you physic buffs, if a body drops 45 feet from a given point, roughly it will hit the ground in 1.7 seconds traveling at a rate of 37 mph, (not counting wind resistance) and I was falling back first. This was not a good scenario for me and I am sure that if I had hit the ground I would have died. But along the way I felt a tremendous jerk on my hips and shoulders and my head snapped back; the world went spinning in circles and I found myself with my fingers and ankles latched around one of the last few good branches on the lower part of that tree. I hit the branch with enough force and at such an angle and grasped it in such a way that I spun around the branch like a professional gymnast. I climbed down out of that tree laughing; without so much as a scratch or red mark on me. I looked at what happened and even at that young age, I said to myself, I had better remember this because things are not supposed to work like this.
So, my first point is that miracles really do happen.
Secondly, I have a strong suspicion, miracles are not just about things that happen that we can not explain. They mean more than just what we visibly gain. Faith and miracles teach us something about God and are the instruments by which God’s will is made known and accomplished. They enrapture us within the realization that we are not alone and change our perspective on life. Jesus’ life and the feeding of the 5000 is not just about having a full stomach. I once remember a pastor speaking on this text, and he explained it, saying that from the boys gift of the five loafs and two fish, other people got out the food that they had, and began sharing it, and that it is how everyone was able to eat. Actually, everyone had really brought their lunch along. When I first heard that I wanted to say hey now wait a minute that is not what the Bible says. But after giving it some thought, you know, that minister just may have been on the edge of a worthwhile idea. Perhaps there is more than one miracle or more than one way of seeing the miraculous in this story. The scriptures tell us that Jesus was in the hillsides of Galilee just before the Passover was to take place, and we are told there was a multitude of people there.
Now in Jesus time it was customary to travel to Jerusalem in pilgrimages for their holiest days. Every so often the people of Galilee would pack up for an 80-mile journey to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps the largest of these pilgrimages was the Passover. I think it can be argued that the people were out upon the hillsides because they wished to see Jesus and at least a number of them were probably on their way to Jerusalem. Now if this idea is likely then it is also reasonable that not all of them were traveling empty handed. At least some of them would have had food and provisions for a trip, but perhaps they would not normally give their food away. After all, they were on their way to Jerusalem. If a person gives away their provisions, then they would not be able complete their journey.
Remember that the people in Jesus’ day did not have refrigeration. They did not have a supermarket at which to buy more food. They did not even have a McDonalds. But I can almost guarantee you they knew how to take care of themselves. Food was not as easy to come by in Jesus’ time as it is for us, and I am sure people would have been careful in how they used what they did have.
So here we may have had a large group of individuals who gathered and stayed to see Jesus. Most likely many came with various provision; each stayed on that hillside with Jesus for various reasons –Some to be healed, some to hear his teachings, some because they were skeptical, some to see him heal more people, maybe some were just passing through and became interested because of the large crowd. But as Jesus taught, healed, and sat them down and blessed and broke the humble gift that one small boy was willing to share, what if that collection of people began to share and learn not as a group of individuals anymore, but as a community. What if the people around saw that small gift of fish and loafs, given by a small boy, who gave all he had, and responded in such a way as to share what they had as well, and upon doing so realized that God had supplied them with more then they ever really needed. They suddenly realized that God was supplying their needs before they even thought to ask and somehow even after giving they found themselves with still more than enough. All they needed was faith like that of one small boy.
What if the greater miracle was not with the full stomachs, but the full hearts that caused them to say, “God is with us; this is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” They may have not really known Jesus’ mission for being in their presence, but it was revealed to them who Jesus was. They saw him as the successor to King David’s throne.
To know Jesus for who he is and to understand oneself as part of the gathered community of God, this is the essence of the miraculous as well. Even if there is some rationale and logical understanding that may lead us to understand where enough food came from to feed everyone.
A number of years back I had the occasion to travel with the youth of my church to Wilmore. KY. Every year Asbury Seminary used to hold a large outdoor Christian Music Festival called “ICHTHUS”. When I was there at one point towards the end of the festival the 15,000 plus crowd would gather and by holding hands across the field in front of the stage form lines and communion was offered. There is something notable about being in fellowship with 15,000 people having communion at the same time. It is hard to miss the spirit of unity that exist, and perhaps impossible not to feel God’s Spirit at work within the crowd. You go from being a concertgoer to being a member of the worshiping body of Christ. That is a miracle.
For us today miracles happen. God is able to work in big and small ways and reveal his will and presence within our lives if we are willing to respond in faith and love. Maybe the bottom line is for us to always be in the journey of this life, but always take the time to pause in the presence of Jesus and live in fellowship with one another. When we do that miracles happen. When I talk to people who tell me how much their church means to them miracles happen. When people pray for one another, miracles happen. When we take moments in life to serve the needs of our community and meet in meetings to plan ministry miracles happen. We need not fear giving up whatever small portion of prayers, talents, gifts, or service that we have, because when we do in the midst of community, God will multiply our offering in wondrous ways, and we shall find ourselves with more than enough. Think about it. Miracles happen. Amen.