~ Sermon ~ Sunday, July 28th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Why Am I Here? Why Are You Here?
John 6: 1-21
Believe it or not I spend a fair amount of time and effort selecting the hymns that we sing on Sunday morning. First, I try to match the hymns to the scripture I will be speaking on, or the season of the church year. But I also, (again believe it or not), take into account what you like for hymns. I ask, “Do they know this hymn? Do they like to sing this hymn ? Can they sing it well?” It makes a difference what sort of music you like. I will be honest and tell you that this is probably one of the main reasons why some hymns are selected for singing: Does the congregation like this song?”
And sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s not what I like. (I would go for more of a contemporary sound or the more contemplative mood of Taize songs.)
While this may be a fair question (What does the congregation like?), isn’t it interesting that we rarely ask an even more important question: Do we think God would like this hymn or music?
Of course, this can be a tricky if not scary question; tricky because there are bound to be many different answers, and scary because many of them conflicting, but also because it is such a basic question. And it is scary because the scriptures note that Jesus drove away about as many people as he attracted! Jesus obviously based his ministry on more substantial questions. You know, I just can’t picture Jesus sitting around with two or three of the disciples and asking “What do you think about using this song right before I teach today? Do you think the people of Capernaum know it?”
All this brings me to our reading from John’s gospel. It’s a story about Jesus, but it is also a story about a crowd. “A large crowd kept following him,” says John. Can there be a surer sign of success than this? Isn’t this one of the things we look at in churches? Who can argue with numbers? Look at the bottom line, a large crowd. Jesus has become popular!
Then John tell us why they were following Jesus. “They saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.” Jesus has healed many hurting people. Freed those possessed by their inner demons. If there is one certain, uncontested good that we all have, it is our health. Large crowds were following Jesus because they see his signs. He heals them, meeting their fundamental need for good health.
Curiously, Jesus does not continue to meet these needs. The next verse says: “Jesus went up the mountain and sat down with his disciples.” Even a dedicated do-gooder, even the “Messiah” needs a break, a temporary respite from meeting people’s legitimate needs.
Sitting there on the mountainside Jesus looks up and “saw a great crowd coming toward him.” Jesus turns to Philip and a little tongue in cheek asks him, “Philip, Where do you think we might find a caterer, and how much would it cost for a meal for such a crowd?”
Philip replies “Well it would take well over what I make in half a year and that would probably cover just the appetizer!”
Andrew finds this young fellow in the crowd and pulls him up to Jesus. He happens to have his lunch with him, a few loaves of bread and a couple of broiled fish. Jesus takes the boy’s food, give thanks, and all eat their fill. Here we see Jesus, the compassionate one who feeds the hungry, as well as heals the hurting.
Okay, at this point you’re probably saying, “Heard this sermon before. Yes, Jesus is the compassionate one who meets all our need for health and food.” And after all isn’t this why we’re here? We hoping that in some way to have our needs met by Jesus.
But our story does not end with Jesus feeding the crowd. To be sure the people are impressed. “This Jesus must be a prophet of God who has come into the world!” they’re saying. Surely Jesus is gratified by their accolades. At last, they appear to have gotten the point. After so much rejection, at last the people see Jesus for who he is and proclaim him as Lord. At last, the movement around Jesus is getting somewhere.
But no! Jesus rejects their praises and compliments. The next verse says: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn.1:15)
Right at the point when the people have at last accepted Jesus, have proclaimed him a prophet sent by God, he nervously withdraws, and this time completely alone. The inner circle of disciples apparently were not invited this time!
Why did he withdraw right at the height of his popularity, when his coronation was being arranged?
The people need bread. Jesus has given them bread. They proclaim him king. What else could he want from them?
Remember, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he was tempted in the wilderness” the Tempter met Jesus and offered him this world and heaven too. “Just make stones into bread.” Satan said. Jesus refused.
Isn’t bread good? Isn’t feeding the hungry good? Why then did Jesus refuse, and why , when he did feed people, was he so put off by their calling him king?
Something in Jesus recognized that he could not meet the needs of so many people seeking him without at the same time denying who he was called by God to be.
In the wilderness, Satan tried to transform Jesus into a wonder worker, Jesus refused. Now, Jesus has given bread and when the grateful crowd attempts to crown him king, Jesus withdraws.
In the passage that follows what was read this morning, when the crowds find him the following day, Jesus chides them for caring only about their bellies! They ask for a sign from Jesus, perhaps because they are hoping for another free happy meal. Jesus doesn’t buy into this but rather launches into the famous “bread of life” teaching, where he identifies himself with what they truly need. As a result many of his disciples say, “This teaching is difficult.” Many of them actually leave after he stops giving them bread saying that he is their “Bread from heaven.” (v. 60)
Jesus refused to do for the crowds what they wanted, as if to do so would be forsaking his mission. Then and now the question “Jesus, what will you do for us?” must be secondary to the more critical question, “Jesus, who are you and what is your mission?”
I confess that I think most of us show up in church to get help to make it through the week, to obtain a sense of inner peace, to receive guidance in making difficult decisions that are before us. And there is nothing wrong with any of these reasons! Yet, note that this story, which at first seems to be about the crowd, about us, before it is done is a story about Jesus. We come to church thinking mostly about ourselves, but then we hear the scripture talk mostly about God.
I believe this is one of the important lessons of this account of the fishes and loaves, even the walking on water. When we will ever learn that Christianity, following Jesus, is not merely another useful means of helping us get what we want. Rather, following Jesus is the means whereby God gets what God desires, people of faith!
Jesus will not be co-opted into being just another therapeutic device to enable us to get what we want without actually meeting Jesus. Now, can a relationship with Jesus help us in a therapeutic way? For sure. After all Jesus did promise the Holy Spirit as another Counselor! But the Gospel implies that we often do not know what we really need, until we have an encounter with Jesus.
The great preacher William Sloane Coffin (Riverside Church NYC) once said that he did not know how you attract people to the gospel by appealing to their essentially selfish needs and then end up offering them the unselfish gospel of Jesus Christ!
John says that Jesus performed a great “sign,” by feeding the hungry crowd, but notice John always uses the word “sign” not miracle. This is important. A sign is something that points beyond itself to something greater and more important than the sign. The bread blessed and given for the people was a sign that God was among them, not so much among them as the fulfillment of their hearts’ desires, but present in Jesus as the heart of God.
This God was even greater than their hunger. Jesus coming to them across the water the sign that God is greater than any of their fears.
This God was there to be worshiped, to be obeyed, to be followed,
even when the following did not appear to meet their needs.
May we listen and learn as well!
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