Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 17, year B
texts: John 6:1-15; Ephesians 3:14-21; Psalm 145:10-18
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Of course they wanted to make Jesus king.
About 20,000 people will die of hunger today. 1.5 million children will die of hunger this year. If a leader could make bread appear out of nowhere, why wouldn’t we want that?
That’s what we want from our leaders, isn’t it? The ability to solve intractable problems, without any commitment from us? The daunting number of people who want to be elected president in 15 months time are already exciting crowds with impossible promises, hoping to fool people into believing they are able to make bread out of thin air.
Wouldn’t it be great, though, if Jesus were here, and could just end world hunger? While he was at it, maybe he could also take care of our war making and violence, end oppression and injustice, clean up a lot of things? Our world has far more than 5,000 needy people; Jesus could be a big help.
Unless that’s not what Jesus means to do.
Jesus slips away at the end because he wasn’t about providing bread.
Jesus fed 5,000 people with a little boy’s lunch, and there were leftovers. Of course they wanted to make him king. Anybody with that kind of power should be in charge. The next day after this miracle, the people were looking for Jesus again, wanting another sign. Wanting more bread.
My friends, Jesus isn’t about the bread. This story isn’t about the bread. This astonishing lunch is simply a byproduct of Jesus’ unstoppable compassion for people in need. He couldn’t ignore that they were there, and they were hungry.
But he went away when they wanted to make him king because he didn’t come to give them bread. He came to give them himself.
Jesus knows the needs of this world are a people problem, not a God problem.
It’s a people problem that 20,000 will die of hunger today, because every reputable agency working on world hunger tells us there is more than enough food in this world to feed everyone. This planet produces enough. God’s hand is open, and offering enough to satisfy all.
Yet millions are starving. And in places like the United States we throw 40 percent of our food away every year, about $165 billion worth. Imagine today’s story if some of the 5,000 started grabbing bread and fish from their neighbors and hoarding it, so some of the folks got nothing. Then after getting the food away, they threw nearly half of it into the trash. That’s our world. That’s a people problem.
The Son of God coming to offer food to all people today would look exactly like the world looks today, because that’s precisely what God is already doing. It’s a people problem, not a God problem that we can’t feed everyone. That’s why in all four Gospels, Jesus asks the disciples what they’re going to do about feeding the people.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, one of his temptations was to turn stones into bread. Maybe he refused to do it for the same reason he walked away from the people after this lunch, and for the same reason he’s not miraculously placing stacks of food in every poor village and city in the world. You don’t need to turn stones into bread if there’s enough bread for all. You just need to transform the people’s hearts so the bread is shared.
The same is true about most of what we are anxious about, what we need, what we lack.
People worry about security, about jobs, about having enough money. People worry about their health. These are the things we’d ask Jesus about if we were in that crowd.
But if we were living in a world that truly understood God’s abundance, most of these would never be a problem. People wouldn’t fret about retirement income, or loss of a job, if everyone took care of everyone else. People wouldn’t lose sleep over security, over a threatening, violent world, if everyone looked out for each other. We would still have our health concerns, but we’d have a world where everyone got the care they needed, and safety nets below safety nets to make sure no one fell through.
Our needs and the needs of the world are almost universally people problems, not God problems. When the Triune God looked at the world and decided to come among us, the answer wasn’t miraculously solving needs. It was changing the hearts of the people.
Paul proclaims this today.
There are three abundant gifts Paul tells the Ephesians he is praying they receive.
First, that they would be strengthened inwardly, in their inner being, by the power of the Spirit.
Second, that Christ would live in their hearts through faith, so they would be rooted and grounded in love.
Third, that they would have the power to comprehend the incomprehensible, to know the unknowable, that is, that they would begin to grasp the height, depth, breadth, and length of God’s love.
This, Paul says, is God’s abundant gift in Christ to us, to the world. And somehow, he says, in giving these gifts, God is doing far more than we can ever ask or imagine.
Since we tend to ask and imagine God saving the world from all these pains and fears and suffering, that’s saying something. What it’s saying is that when God enters our hearts and transforms them, the people problems of the world start to disappear.
The eyes of all wait upon you, we sang, and you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
How does God satisfy every desire, if it’s not about the bread, about the miraculous ending of all human problems?
By giving us God’s very self in Christ Jesus, not just bread, and changing our hearts. Hearts that hunger not for our needs to be fulfilled but for God’s love to fill our hearts and lives. Hearts that long not for God the great vending machine of the world but God the one whose love will root and ground us and give us strength of heart and the love of Christ in our lives.
When we begin to comprehend the incomprehensible love of God, we are changed. And we become part of God’s saving of this world. The only way everyone in the crowd gets fed, with leftovers to collect, is when everyone in the crowd passes bread and fish to their neighbor.
It’s far more than we usually ask and far more than we can imagine.
That’s our problem. Like people looking for political leaders who promise to fix everything without any involvement or sacrifice on the part of the people, we simply haven’t had the imagination or the will to consider that God could end all of human suffering through us, the people of the world. The problems seem so unsolvable, so daunting, whether it’s poverty or hunger or racism or war, or the systems that perpetuate all those things, we can’t imagine how any of that could be changed.
God can, and does imagine how all this can be transformed, and the world made into a better place, where all are fed and healthy and strong, and there are leftovers. This will happen when we are transformed by God into people who, rooted and grounded in God’s love, reflect that love in our lives, our decisions, our votes, our work, everything.
What would happen if we asked, if we imagined?
What if we imagined that through changing the people of the world God would bring life to the world? What if we asked God to transform our hearts so we’d be a part of the needed solutions? What might happen then?
We don’t know exactly. But we know God can accomplish this, and far more even than that.
It seems foolish if we don’t at least ask. And prepare to be changed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen