[Given on the Sunday, July 26, 2015, by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, Missouri]
A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
John 6.2 (NRSV)
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father, and her son Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Reigning Savior.
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John contains a story about Jesus that warrants our collective reflection this morning, but I want to call your attention to the second verse: “A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.”
What you need to know about John’s Gospel is that the Jesus of John’s Gospel is quite literally a superhuman figure. Unlike the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Johannine Gospel does not include a birth narrative. There is no Star of Bethlehem, no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, no visit from the magi, no angelic chorus singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” For John, Jesus always was and always will be. He begins his Gospel with this poem – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, the same was in the beginning with God.” From the very beginning of his story-telling, John is shattering the constricting limitations of prose and inviting the Johannine community into the poetic mystery of Jesus Christ who far exceeds human imaginations because he far exceeds creation itself. He is the manifestation of Paul’s Jesus who “can do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” This Jesus oozed miracles and seemed to walk just a few feet off the ground, with a constant and growing crowd in his wake.
I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: God gathers communities. That’s just what God does. God’s very nature – Trinity – is community. Father loving Son loving Spirit loving Father. God choses to exist in and gather community. And we who would seek to pursue God through Jesus Christ are called to do the same – to exist in and gather community. There’s no way around that. To be Christian is to be a community organizer.
There’s a story told about a woman who was attending a class on Evangelism at some gathering of the Episcopal Church. The speaker talked about the need for Episcopalians to engage in evangelism – to be bearers of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. When it came time for questions and answers, this woman stood up and said, “Father, you’re young and I’m not sure if you know this or not, but Episcopalians don’t do evangelism. Everyone who is supposed to be Episcopalian already is.”
Are you listening?
Too many contemporary Christians are missing the very point of Christianity. We don’t do all of this – gather in this space, read some scripture, sing some songs, share some bread and wine, and shake some hands just so that we can feel good about ourselves. Liturgy isn’t merely “the work of the people.” Properly translated, the word “liturgy” means “public work done at private expense.” We do all of this for folks who aren’t here. We do all of this because there are people out there who are broken and are in need of wholeness, people who are hungry and are in need of the Bread of Heaven, people who are thirsty and are in need of the Living Water, people who are outcast and unloved are in need of community and belonging, people who are guilty and are in need of forgiveness. Please allow me to disabuse you of the notion that we are a club or a clique. No, beloved, we are a missionary outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are the Church not for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of the world around us.
Jesus gathers community. That’s what he does. That’s what John 6.2 shows us. The community gathers around him because they are witnessing the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God right before their very eyes. However, I think there is more to this story because the gathering community creates a problem – the perception of scarcity.
One of the things that can hold us back from being bold evangelists – bearers of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ – is not fear of failure, but fear of success. What will happen to my church if a whole bunch of new people come in? What will happen to my service? What will happen to my favorite hymns? What will happen to my place?
There’s a picture making its way around the internet that asks “How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?” And it breaks it down into denominations. Apparently it takes:
- Only one Charismatic because their hands are already in the air.
- At least 15 Baptists. One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the chicken and potato salad.
- No Presbyterians to change a lightbulb because the lights will go on and off at predestined times.
- 10 Pentecostals. One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.
- 3 Episcopalians. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much better the old one was.
We are afraid of change. In fact, it is the very nature of institutions to resist it. In our rapidly changing world we have many reasons why we should be afraid of change. But I am going to give you one reason why you ought not be afraid of change – because God is in control. We may not understand everything that happens or that goes on around us, but we can rest in a God who sustains the very pillars of the universe with his Word.
A God who is in control is at the very center of our Gospel story this morning. I can imagine Jesus – that calm, cool, and collected brother – sitting their calmly while the disciples looked behind them, saw the crowd, and scrambled to figure out how to solve the problem. Philip, so tactical, looked in his pockets and said it’s no possible. Andrew, looked at the boy’s lunch and said it’s not probable. Jesus looked up to Heaven said it’s not even a problem, “tell the people to sit down.” He takes the little boy’s lunch pail, opens it up, takes out the two fish and five loaves of bread, gave thanks to God, and started handing it out.
And he kept handing it out…
And kept handing it out…
And kept going, and kept going, until all 5,000 souls were fed and they had packed up the Tupperware.
It didn’t matter how much the boy had, when he gave it over the Jesus it was magnified.
Are you listening?
There is no such thing as scarcity in the Kingdom of God; there is only faithfulness that yields abundance. I know the Prosperity Gospel has taken advantage of this concept saying that if we only have enough faith God will reward us with big homes, fancy cars, nice clothes, and lots of money. That’s not the kind of abundance I am talking about. I am talking about the kind of abundance that bears witness to the Kingdom of God in the world.
The kind of abundance that takes some volunteers and story books and creates Vacation Bible School where just shy of sixty children had the opportunity to explore “God’s Wondrous Creation.”
The kind of abundance that takes a few separate voices and an organ and creates a choir that seems to grow and grow every week with willing voices who are desirous of lifting their voices in praise to God.
The kind of abundance that takes a poet, a potter, and a few other artists and is drawing them together into a community that will create together and worship together and explore spirituality together in this place.
The kind of abundance that takes a few loaves of bread baked with love and a few chalices of wine and feeds hundreds of souls who come to this place each and every week to behold the beauty of the Lord and to find strength for the journey.
It all depends on whose hands it’s in.
A basketball in my hands is worth about $20.00; but, if you put that same basketball in the hands of LaBron James, it is worth about $19M.
A tennis racket is useless in my hands; but, if you put that same tennis racket in Serena William’s hands, it’s worth an Australian Open, a French Open, and a Wimbledon trophy.
It all depends on whose hands it’s in. Can I make it plain? Let me flip it.
Two fish and five loaves in my hand will make you a couple of fish sandwiches; but, if you place them in the Master’s hands, he can feed a multitude.
Three nails in my hands my give you a birdhouse; but, when they were placed in Jesus’s hands, they produced salvation for the entire world.
It all depends on whose hands it’s in.
Our hands may only be able to do a little, but God’s hands can do much. God’s hands can give us abundance. I’m talking about the kind of abundance that is only made manifest when communities gather around Christ, when we throw off our fear of scarcity and lack, and when we boldly proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
I’m talking about that kind of abundance and the kind of God who cannot help but to abound in love and grace and mercy and who chooses to pour forth his abundant love into our hearts and into our world if we would merely open our eyes and behold God who is gathering and multiplying right in our very midst.
But much like that little boy, we’ve got to release it and put it in God’s hands.
 Ephesians 3:20