Rev. Dan Haugh
Please read: John 6: 1-21
Last week Scott preached about the table of Jesus...the kind of fellowship Jesus is looking for. Jesus welcomes and ministers to a crowd of the lost, lonely, hungry, and hurting...all were and still are welcomed at the table of Jesus. Today we continue to explore this well-known story. In fact, the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle (apart from the resurrection) which is present in all four canonical gospels.
While Christ was looking at the situation through the eyes of mercy and compassion, the disciples were looking at reality, logistics and practical implications of over 5,000 people needing food. They wanted the people to disperse and asked Jesus to send the crowds into the local villages and countryside so they could lodge and get provisions. Of course Jesus had other ideas.
Now unlike the other gospels, John calls this a “sign”. John includes only seven signs, but stresses that they symbolize many others. Signs are not valued primarily for their own sake, but as pointers to God’s glory and entries to belief. Clearly this sign demonstrates the divine power of Jesus Christ, but may I propose that this particular sign points to the character of God. God provides for his people and God desires to partner with his followers in providing for others. We know this from the very beginning of his covenant with Abraham when God said “I will bless you and make you a blessing to others..the whole world will be blessed through you.”
The question is really this: Do we trust God? Do we trust him to provide for us. Jesus taught us to pray for our “daily bread”..believing that God will grant us what we need and when we need. This may seem easy to repeat in a prayer, but more challenging to live daily,
especially when we believe the lie that we are the ones responsible for what we have.
Our sweat, our hard work, our intelligence, our ambition...that these have rewarded us with provisions. We may also begin to believe that what we have is not enough.
The story we read in our 1st reading paints a vivid picture of someone who no longer trusted in God’s goodness and God’s provision. Another full sermon is needed to do justice to the story of David and Bathsheba...but don’t worry I will not do that today. What I find compelling is the conclusion of that story. After David had been confronted by God’s prophet Nathan with his blatant sin, God said these words to David, “I anointed you King over Israel and I rescued you from the hand of Saul, I gave you your masters house and your masters wives, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. So why have you despised the word of the Lord to do what is evil in his sight?
We are called to trust in both God’s provision and his goodness in our lives. Like a good parent, the Scriptures say that God desires to give us good gifts and at the right time. Scriptures also remind us that God knows our needs and will take care of us according to his plans, his purposes..his providence. Trusting in God’s providence in our lives leads us to believe in his provision. You may notice the striking similarity between those two words. The word providence actually comes from two Latin words: pro, which means before or in front of, and videre, which means to see. The concept of providence is that God not merely looks at human affairs, but he looks after human affairs. Watching after us is the heart of the doctrine of providence. Jesus was watching out for the crowds. Jesus still watches out for the crowds of people and he is watching out for you.
You may remember one of the early examples of Providence occurs in Genesis 22, when God tells Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. As they are going up the mountain, Isaac sees the fire and the wood, but he wonders where the lamb is for the burnt offering. Abraham says, “God will provide himself a sacrifice.” Indeed, God did provide a sacrifice in the place of Isaac, and as you may remember Abraham called the name of the place, “The Lord will provide”, which is where we get the name Jehovah-Jireh, the God who provides.
About two thousand years after God provided a sacrifice for Abraham, He again acted to provide a sacrifice through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The cross is at the center of our hope and healing, and the Apostle Paul explains it this way: “If God did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will He not also with him graciously provide us all things?” (Romans 8:32). We can trust the providence and provision of God, for He has already provided for our greatest need: He has given us His Son.
Now this is comforting news, to those going through difficult marriages, financial worries, troubling teenagers, receiving discouraging reports from the doctors, uncertainty in all forms. We believe and trust in Johovah-Jireh. This especially good news to those living in poverty. Upon reflection of our recent experience in Africa, our entire team noticed something: Though the people in Gabon by comparison have very little material possessions and comforts than most living in Europe, they seem to possess something we do not have. Joy and Contentment. The truth of James 4:2 became strikingly clear to us: “Has God not chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom of God? God provides for our deepest needs and with treasures that will not rust or decay. The people of Gabon, and especially the village of Ebel Abenga do not have many material possessions. Finding enough food to eat is a daily exercise of both faith and hard work. There are millions of others living in under-developed countries trusting in God to provide.
But God trusts in his people to participate. As Scott observed last week Jesus responds to this situation by saying “You give them something to eat”. This implies our response, our activity, and our participation in the work of God . Jesus clearly wanted the disciples involvement. You will notice that the disciples of Jesus have an active role to play in the distribution of God’s provisions for His people. John’s story includes the addition of Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter who notices a boy in the crowd. What the other gospel stories do not mention is that the provisions for this overwhelming need and seemingly impossible task initially came from a young boy.
There are those who are in want and others who have. We who have are entrusted with the responsibility to give, whatever it may be to God and believe he has the ability to multiply 100 fold even our most meager and humble offerings. If a young boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish is enough to feed 5,000 people, imagine what God can do with a few million Christians offering their food, clothes, investments, vacation time, tithes, offerings and careers.
Today there exists a crisis of food, water, housing, education, and medicine. There is a drastic shortage of hope and healing. I can envision God looking out at the poverty plaguing the world and like Jesus asking” Where are we to get enough to help all of these people? But of course the question is rhetorical in nature and requires a response.
Throughout Scripture, God often uses humanity to perform some of his greatest miracles. The reason may be as simple as this: God doesn't want to change the world without you. In their book Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers authors Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove write these challenging words, "Prayer is not so much about convincing God to do what we want God to do as it is about convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do."
It was this kind of prayer that lead a French philosopher and musician named Albert Schweitzer to leave his life in 1912 to go as a medical doctor to work at his own expense in the Paris Missionary Society's mission in Gabon, Africa. In the first year he and his wife had about 2,000 patients to examine, some traveling many days to reach him. After briefly occupying a shed formerly used as a chicken hut, in autumn 1913 they built their first hospital of corrugated iron, with two 13-foot rooms which eventually became the now famous Albert Schweitzer Hospital.
In was this belief in God who provides that lead a team of missionaries to Gabon following in the example of Dr. Schweitzer, to build what eventually developed into the Bongolo Hospital of the Christian & Missionary Alliance of Gabon. They offered what little they had to God in what seemed like an overwhelming task. Today, there is a 158-bed facility in the town of Lebamba. Bongolo Hospital has a busy Outpatient department, Surgery, Adult Medicine, Maternity, Pediatrics and Laboratory. There is also a Dental Clinic, Eye Surgery Clinic, and an AIDS/HIV Treatment Center, all needed specialties in the area.
No matter your situation or need, trust in God’s provisions. No matter how overwhelming the need may appear, trust in the God who provides. One of my favorite youth group songs growing up contained these words: God will make a way, when there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see. God will make a way for me.