Text: John 6: 1-13, 25-40
Those of you who were part of our gathering at Beacon Hill Park yesterday may be thinking what a great story for the weekend of our congregational picnic! We had enough food to feed every living being in the entire park yesterday … including the crows and a handsome peacock who strutted right into our midst.
There certainly is, in the story we have from John’s Gospel, the theme of food in abundance … in a sense it’s all about the food and yet not about the food at all … just like yesterday’s picnic.
This story, often known as ‘the feeding of the 5,000,’ appears in all the New Testament Gospels … though in John’s Gospel there are a few features that don’t show up in the others. For example, as it’s told in all the others, it’s the disciples who raise the alarm: “here are all these people, far from town, and it’s late in the day … Jesus, you better send them away, because there’s no way we can feed them.”
In John’s rendering of the story, it’s Jesus who raises the issue. “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?’” And then comes something else we don’t hear in any of the other Gospels: “he said this to test him, for he knew what he was going to do.” Maybe that’s why I’m more at home with this story as it’s told in the other gospels -- we don’t have Jesus testing the disciples. I don’t know about you but ‘my Jesus’ doesn’t test people.
When I heard this story for the first time in a long time a few weeks ago, I realized I never noticed that testing bit before … or maybe I just ignored it, glossed over it … like I was about to do a few weeks ago when I heard it … only this time it came to me to ‘let it be there and wonder about it.’
The other thing about the way this story is told in John’s Gospel that stands out from the other Gospels is the explicit reference to the young boy … the one in the crowd who is seen to have five loaves and two fish. In the other gospels, there’s the loaves and the fish but no mention of a young boy.
So now I’m ready to tell you about why I think I heard the testing bit like I did a few weeks ago … heard it in a way that nudged me to be open to it.
My story, which is ultimately our story, takes us back to the Sunday after Easter, when just a few minutes before the service was to begin, someone met me in my office to say “I spoke with 7 people last week who found it really hard to concentrate with Peter moving about the sanctuary. We have to do something about this.” Now if you happen to be one of those people, I want to urge you to breathe easy right now, and to stay open to what I’m about to say … because I’m not going where you might think. Where I’m headed is a personal confession.
That morning, 2 minutes to start time I’m thinking, ok, so there’s an important, even urgent, conversation for us to have … but it’s not going to be right now. The service begins, and we’re into the first verse of the opening hymn, and Laura and Peter arrive into the sanctuary. Sanctuary … place of safety … place for being, thriving … place that invites our resting, our opening up to mystery, to grace.
Laura and Peter arrive into the sanctuary and I become anxious.
So here’s my confession … I didn’t trust -- rightly or wrongly -- that someone wouldn’t be hurtful toward Laura if Peter wandered about the sanctuary that morning. So during the singing of the hymn, I approached Laura and asked her, “what do you think if Bev was to look after Peter in the reception area this morning?”
I could see it in her eyes as soon as I said it … hurt, blind-sided, un-safe. I didn’t trust that someone wouldn’t be hurtful toward Laura, and in my endeavour to spare her, I was the one who hurt her.
I want you to know that in the meantime Laura and I have talked … honestly, caringly … huge graciousness on Laura’s part given the hurt. Before that conversation ended, I told her I would like to bring this to all of us … there’s such an important conversation for all of us to have. Big reservation on Laura’s part … the thought that Peter would be spoken of when he doesn’t even know he’s been part of something. And yet it was obvious to both of us that it is through the particularity of Peter that something has been opened up for us … I believe something potentially wondrous.
The very next day after that Sunday morning, I was away on a retreat in Nanaimo. This story from John’s Gospel was read in our opening worship, and I encountered the testing Jesus. After my knee jerk “Jesus doesn’t test us” response, I found myself saying wait a minute … maybe there is something here. Maybe that’s what happened on Sunday … maybe that’s what’s going on among us. Maybe we’re being tested … in the sense of being challenged --not manipulated or messed with like the word testing might suggest-- but tested in the sense of being faced with a question, a circumstance, a dilemma even, that requires our response.
“How are we going to feed all these people?” Jesus asks … testing them. Isn’t that the question that has arisen among us? … how can we all be fed? There’s this desire as we gather here to be fed in some way … and there’s a way in which that’s become difficult for some of us with a little guy in our midst moving around.
“How are we going to feed all these people?” Jesus asks … testing them. In each of the Gospels the response to Jesus is, we can’t. We can’t all be fed. We don’t’ have nearly enough to go around. Best to send them away to find food themselves.
That’s one solution.
In the language of organizational management, that would be called a technical fix. In response to this problem, here’s the solution … and we’re good to go. But some problems are more complex than to be solved so simply or obviously. Some situations call for more … and we sell ourselves short by applying a simple solution. “What if Bev was to look after Peter in the reception room,” is a case in point.
“How are we going to feed all these people?” Jesus asks … testing them. Jesus sees that what they are facing is about bread … and it’s about more than bread. It’s about these people discovering and trusting and tapping into the transforming power and generosity of God. That’s what this moment offers.
“How are we going to feed all these people?” Jesus asks … testing them … testing US -- this is Jesus who knows that all may be fed.
You might imagine that hearing this story on the day after that Sunday, I couldn’t help but notice the young boy in story … and role he plays … as the one who provides the food from which Jesus feeds the crowd. What if Peter & Oscar have come among us as agents of God’s transforming Spirit? And that’s not to say that wouldn’t be true of every one of us. But of Peter and Oscar … it wouldn’t be out the question would it? that the Spirit is up to something … in and through them for their sake and ours, and for any number of other people right here in this neighbourhood, that we might be fed MORE abundantly … not less.
In the story from John’s Gospel, the feeding begins by noticing the young boy … how he is seen (not out of sight but seen) and seen to be the bearer of the food that somehow Jesus takes and blesses and breaks open to feed them all.
So what would it be for us … what would it take … to truly make a place for young ones to be among us? You may or may not be aware that there have been a number of young people arrive here on a Sunday morning … some young parents with little ones … and they don’t return … this isn’t seen to be a place for them. For all that it takes to get little ones ready and get here on a Sunday morning, there needs to be something here to meet them.
So what would it be for us … what would it take to truly make a place for young ones to be among us where what they sense is love, regard, being valued, belonging … and where what they absorb is the goodness of this Tradition … the stories, the sacraments, the rhythms of the season, and the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and the companionship of the beloved community.
What might it be for us to truly make a place for young ones among us where we may receive the gifts -- the life-giving contributions- they have to offer. What would it be for us to make a place … the kind of place that every one of us longs to find?
I can envision some changes that we could make within our sanctuary … that provide a place … that is a visible sign that we are prepared and expecting and desiring young ones to be part of us.
A place that not only welcomes children, but a place that helps parents feel more at ease and helps make it possible for their children to be present--not just here-- but present to what’s happening. So I think it will be good for us to talk about some of those possibilities.
AND I realize that simply shifting some furniture isn’t the secret or the solution. Just as this one reflection isn’t going to fix it or us! Because we’re not talking about fixing anything. Jesus is inviting us to grow! … to discover and trust and tap into the transforming power and generosity of God … and not just for our own sake but that the multitudes may be fed -- nurtured, strengthened, sustained by all the goodness that this living, breathing, hope-bringing, life-changing faith provides.
We belong to a big story of grace.
We belong to a big story of grace in abundance.
“How are we going to feed all these people?” Jesus asks … testing them -- testing us.