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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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THE STRENGTH OF OUR POTENTIAL

July 29, 2018

THE STRENGTH OF OUR POTENTIAL

July 29, 2018 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

 

John 6:1-21


6After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.*  2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages* would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ 8One 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?’ 10Jesus 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.11Then 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. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When 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 lake, 17got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles,* they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, ‘It is I;* do not be afraid.’21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

In your compassionate love, O God,
you nourish us with the words of life and bread of blessing.
Grant that Jesus may calm our fears
and move our hearts to praise your goodness
by sharing our bread with others. Amen.

The New Testament Gospel accounts of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with a boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish is the only miracle recorded by all four Gospels (Mt. 14:13-21; Mk. 6:32-44; Lk. 9:10-17; and Jn. 6:1-21), aside from the resurrection of Jesus.  According to the Gospel of Mark, the feeding of the 5000 happened when Jesus and his apostles were traveling for a retreat from the demands of their ministry of healing and teaching (see, Mk. 6:30-44).   

Yet, while this miracle is recorded by all four Gospels, only the Gospel of John reports the source of the five barley loaves and two fish.  After Philip remarked to Jesus at Jn. 6:7 that six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of the multitude to get even a little to eat, at Jn. 6:8-9 we read:

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him [Jesus], “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.  But what are they among so many people?” (Emphasis added)

Philip’s remark about the projected cost of feeding so many people and Andrew’s remark about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish show that even faithful people are susceptible to overstating our challenges and overlooking our potential as God’s people.  Philip focused on the cost of feeding the multitude.  Andrew focused on the drastic contrast between the food at hand and the much larger amount of food needed to feed the multitude.  

Do not gloss over what we find at John 6:5-6.  Those verses read:

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?”  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

He said this to test him…  Jesus gave Philip what might be termed a “pop quiz” on faith.  Philip and the other apostles had recently concluded their first mission project during which they had done works of healing and deliverance none of them had ever performed before.  Now, Jesus gave Philip a pop quiz to see how his faith in God’s power had been affected by what God had already done.

Like Philip, Andrew, and the other apostles, God has brought each of us through experiences and situations.  Like the apostles, we have witnessed God’s power at work on us, through us, and for us.  Yet, like Philip, we often are unable to handle “pop quiz” faith situations confident in what God has already done.  We somehow do not contemplate that God may have brought us through “many dangers toils and snares” to prepare us for new situations of faith.  

Somehow, Philip and Andrew decided that feeding the multitude was not a ministry they could undertake with Jesus.  Somehow, Philip and Andrew reasoned that the hungry multitude was beyond the scope of God’s purpose for their ministry.  In the same way that Simon Peter was overcome when he focused on the wind as he walked on water at the invitation of Jesus (Mt. 14:28-31), Philip and Andrew were intimidated by the daunting prospect of trying to feed thousands of people with inadequate resources, even after they had personally been instruments of God’s abundant grace.  

LESSON:  Our strength is not defined by the stuff we face, but by the potential of God working through us!  What we have at hand does not define our power.  The size and extent of our challenges are not limitations on what we can accomplish.  The issue is not what we have at hand nor the size and extent of our challenges.  Rather, the issue is whether we have the faith to surrender ourselves for God’s power to work through us.  God’s power does not come from us, but moves from God through us!  

Throughout the Bible, we read how the power of God worked through people to overcome daunting challenges despite what appeared to have been insurmountable odds.  

 

  • Recall the account of Abraham and Sarah being blessed to become parents long after they were past their years of sexual fertility.  Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born (see Gen. 17:15-17)!  
  • Recall Moses being called and empowered to lead the liberation of Hebrews from slavery despite his background as a fugitive after killing an Egyptian soldier (Ex. 2:11-15) and his self-consciousness about his public speaking experience and skill (Ex. 4:10-12) .  
  • Recall Hannah praying and being blessed with to conceive and give birth to Samuel after having suffered the personal frustration and cultural shame of infertility (1 Sam. 1:1-20).
  • Recall David, the shepherd who overcame the battle- seasoned and armor clad Philistine warrior named Goliath  armed with only his shepherd’s staff, a slingshot, and five stones (1 Samuel 17:38-40).  
  • Recall the resurrection of Jesus!  God raised a dead man.  God raised a man locked inside a sealed and guarded tomb.  God raised a dead man whose friends had deserted him and whose family grieved him as lost.
 

Our strength is not defined by the resources we see.  Our strength is defined by our potential as agents of God’s purposes!  Instead of counting what we see and comparing it to the challenges we face, we should focus on whether we are doing what God wants done!  

God wants people to live in peace, justice, and compassionate fellowship as neighbors, despite all the suffering, oppression, and hardship we see.  What are we doing to accomplish what God wants done?  What are the reasons we don’t do more?

God wants immigrants, aliens, sojourners, and strangers to be welcomed, accepted, and treated as equals to citizens.  What are we doing to accomplish what God wants done?  What are the reasons we don’t do more?

God wants oppressive people powers to be confronted, condemned, and denounced?  What are we doing to accomplish what God wants done?  What are the reasons we don’t do more?

God wants food, water, housing, safety, and health to be experienced and enjoyed by all persons regardless to who they are, where they are from, or how little they own.  What are we doing to accomplish what God wants done?  What are the reasons we don’t do more?  

Beloved, our strength lies in our potential as God’s instruments of grace, truth, justice, hope, peace, and joy.  

  • Our strength is not defined by the amount of dollars and cents in bank accounts.  
  • Our strength is not defined the number of people in our congregation.  
  • Our strength is not defined by the youthfulness of our congregation, the size of our physical facilities, or the social standing of the people in our fellowship.  

Whenever we focus on those factors we, like Philip and Andrew, not only limit ourselves.  We limit God!  

But thank God for the boy in John’s account.  I imagine that boy may have overheard Philip, Andrew, or some of the other apostles frantically trying to talk Jesus out of feeding the multitude.  I imagine that boy may have been seen by Andrew, who used him and his picnic lunch to emphasize to Jesus that what was on hand was not enough to accomplish what Jesus intended.  

I imagine that boy may have offered Jesus his picnic lunch of five barley loaves and two fish.   It was all the boy had to eat.  But he offered it to Jesus.  

Andrew didn’t think it was enough.  Yet the boy offered it to Jesus.

Philip didn’t think it was enough.  Yet the boy offered it to Jesus.  

The boy didn’t have feeding thousands of people in mind when he left home that day to find Jesus.   Yet he offered his lunch to Jesus.  

And from that boy’s offering, Jesus fed more than 5000 people.  From that boy’s offering, the hungry multitude was strengthened and returned home fed and inspired by what Jesus did with five barley loaves and two fish.  From that boy’s offering, twelve baskets were filled with leftovers.  

Andrew considered five barley loaves and two fish inadequate.  Philip was worried about breaking the budget.  But the boy – who had not been sent by Jesus to heal and overcome demons – was simply willing to offer what he had to Jesus.  

Are we like Philip?  Are we like Andrew?  Or, or we like the boy?  

What is God waiting to do, wanting to do, willing to do, and able to do – despite whatever we imagine or think about what can be done and needs to be done – based on the needs and situations God reveals to us?  

What is God unable to do because we don’t believe our loaves and fishes are enough?  What is God unable to do because we don’t believe the budget, membership, youthfulness, or other factors are enough to do what God has revealed needs to be done?  

Thank God for Jesus who showed the strength of our potential for God when we trust what seems to be little with God.  Thank God for an unnamed boy and his lunch of five loaves and two fish.  

Thousands were fed and filled because he was not stingy.  Twelve baskets of leftovers happened because the boy wasn’t ashamed to offer his lunch to Jesus.  The budget Philip worried about wasn’t busted because the boy offered his lunch to Jesus. 

Where are we demonstrating that boy’s faith and trust in God’s power to work with our version of loaves and fish?  

Amen. 

 
©Wendell Griffen, 2018