Topic: Stewardship Scripture: John 6:1–6:14
Have you ever been in a situation or a season of your life where you saw a task that was both exceedingly important but also seemingly impossible to accomplish on your own? It can be this dizzying concoction of priority and paralysis. We want to do what we see needs to be done but we feel trapped in our own inability to see how we can tackle the task before us. And the truth is that we experience these types of scenarios throughout most of our lives. As kids, we might look at the prospect of building a treehouse or learning how to dance or play a sport - or even something as simple as a school project and feel totally lost in how to move forward. When we become teenagers, we come face-to-face with the enigmatic mysteries of social circles, trigonometry, and dating. That feeling of being lost can quickly become mixed with a sense of looming despair. And we know it doesn’t stop when we become adults. Starting a new career, joining our life to another in marriage, moving to a new place…and perhaps the most intimidating of all ventures, becoming a parent. All of those experiences can leave a reasonably well-adjusted, previously confident adults wondering if we really know anything about this world at all.In an ideal world, we quickly come to realize something about each of these intimidating realities, regardless of what age we are, and that it is - we can do more with the support of others than we could do on our own. Building a fort or a treehouse is not only easier but it’s more fun when you do it with other people. Study groups can make subjects like trigonometry and world history easier to understand, and while dating and relationships are never easy to understand, having people to talk and commiserate with does help to some degree. Kind and welcoming neighbors can make a big move easier on the whole family, and identifying the best team members or co-workers for a specific purpose can make any project or career task much easier to tackle. The bottom line is that we are better together.
I want us to explore an account in Scripture that lives right into that idea. It’s a familiar story, maybe even one of the most familiar for some of us. And it’s an especially fitting passage for a communion Sunday like today. The text we’re going to look at is the Feeding of the 5000. We’re going to read the account in John 6:1-14.
I wholeheartedly believe that this story is one of the most revealing moments to us of who Jesus is and what He cares about. At this point in His life, Jesus already has a crowd following. He’s known as both a compelling teacher and a miracle worker. He is equal parts controversial and compassionate, and that is enough to draw the attention of virtually every person who crosses His path. At the beginning of John 6, we see that Jesus is being followed by a great crowd because they’ve seen what He can do. Jesus goes up a nearby mountainside and sits with His disciples. And then Jesus looks out and sees this multitude of people approaching Him. And with His first words in John 6, we learn a great deal about our Savior.
Jesus looks over this mass of people, all with different interests and stories, and His heart urges Him to ask His disciples a simple question: “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” This question reveals to us a critical reality about the heart of Christ and it’s this: Jesus cares about the needs of people. You might be thinking to yourself that this is obvious but humor me for a moment. Jesus has this massive crowd who has come from far and wide to see and hear Him. He is the center of attention. He is the star. He could dive immediately into a sermon or a parable and give the crowd what they’re asking for. But that’s not what Jesus does. Jesus begins by thinking less about what the crowds wants, and instead about what those people need. Which, in this case, is something to eat. To Jesus, this crowd is not an audience of fans but a gathering of beloved people who He can serve.
So Jesus asks His trusted disciples this question of where to buy bread and you can almost hear the tonal pitch that Philip’s voice takes as he speaks for the group, declaring how preposterous that question is and how ridiculously impossible such a feat would be. Philip is the rationalist, the pragmatist, the skeptic. He’s the one who knows too much for his own good and who is impossible to sway from his own opinions. He looks at the crowd, he does the math, and he throws his hands up.
Andrew, another one of Christ’s followers, brings Jesus’ attention to a small boy who has offered up his sack lunch to help Jesus. Two small fish and five small loaves of bread. Andrew then asks, “How far will they go among so many?” You see, Andrew is the hopeful optimist. He is the dreamer and the one who thinks more with his heart than with his mind. Andrew looks at the same crowd as Philip does, he does that math, and he imagines the best.
And then comes the miracle. Christ has the disciples get everyone in the crowd seated, and then Jesus takes the bread and the fish, He gives thanks for the food and then gave out as much bread and fish as the people wanted. Jesus gave out so much, in fact, that there were 12 full baskets of bread left over. Now, you can imagine what the faces of Philip and Andrew looked like while Jesus was passing out the food. Philip, the number-cruncher and realist, watches as Jesus approaches the first few people. He’s probably watching the third or fourth person, waiting to see Jesus come out empty-handed. Maybe Philip even has a smug look on his face, who knows. But then Philip is left scratching his head. Person after person, Jesus just keeps giving out food that shouldn’t be there. Is Philip flustered? Frustrated? Suspicious? Confused? We don’t know.
Now, let’s consider what the face of Andrew might look like. Hopeful, idealistic, glass-half-full Andrew. Andrew is not stupid. He knows as well as Philip does, what the little boy gave Jesus. But instead of scratching his head and rubbing his eyes as Jesus feeds the masses, Andrew’s face is lit up with joy and excitement. Maybe he’s giddy with laughter as he looks over the eating and satisfied crowd - as Jesus tells him and the other disciples to collect the leftovers.
Today is our stewardship Sunday. It’s an intentional day where we, much like the disciples, come together as the followers of Jesus and look out from where we are and wonder how God will accomplish that which is set before us. For Jesus’ followers in John 6, it was seeing a crowd of hungry people interested in Jesus. For us here at First Pres, it’s looking out over our corner of the world here in Bloomington-Normal - and wondering how we can be used to help people become more interested in Jesus. And throughout the month of October, we used a single phrase to describe the work God does through us in this place, and that is…Shaping Stories.
Each week, we had the chance to hear from several different folks in different seasons of life - share how God has used this church to shape their stories. The Martin’s shared how this place has made an impact on their kids’ lives, on their marriage, on their identity as a family. Judy Lindsay showed us how this place helps us use our heart, our hands, our head, and our health to grow closer to God and to bless others regardless of the circumstances we endure in life. We had the chance to hear from a bunch of our kids and our students, some probably no older than the young boy from our Scripture this morning. The youngest of our family of faith thanked each and every one of us for forming this church to be a space of welcome, encouragement, and empowerment. We heard teens share stories of relationship and acceptance, and we heard children tell us how this place has taught them what it means to love God and love others. And then, with our final video last week, we had the tremendous blessing to hear from three of our mission partners right in Bloomington-Normal, and they shared how our presence as a church and our financial gifts have literally helped to mentor children in our local schools, build homes for struggling families, and offer food, advocacy, and opportunity to our neighbors who are struggling right here within our own zip code.
And friends, I am so pleased and overjoyed to tell you that the accounts we heard in our Shaping Stories videos are only a fraction of what God is doing in and through First Pres.
Your stewardship strengthens our foundation and platform that God uses - as we seek to be the hands and heart of Christ in this community.
I want to be honest with you about something. This is my first time preaching about anything even remotely money-related. In the home where I grew up, my dad did not talk about church a lot. But when he did, it was always about how the church only ever wanted his money. That is the last thing I want people to think when it comes to our church. Our family of faith is marked by an open and warm generosity that takes shape in so many ways.
What I want to ask all of us to do as members of this church - is to be like Andrew from our text. We have a lot before us. We have a mass of people here in Bloomington-Normal, and Christ loves each of them. Our Savior looks at each of them and sees their story and their heart, and His greatest desire is to meet their needs and bring them close to Him.
Their needs could be things like food and shelter, or they could be the needs of warmth, human relationship, and community. People in our neighborhood are hungry for food and so much more, and Christ has spoken to us, His followers here at First Pres, and He has asked us, “How will we feed them?” Your stewardship pledge is one of the ways we answer that question. It is one of the ways God uses us in Shaping Stories. I want to pray and then I have a few brief instructions for us. Let’s pray.
Ok, I am going to ask Phil to play a little music for us. During that time, I would like to ask you to take a moment to pray about your stewardship pledge for the 2019 year. Maybe you have already turned in your pledge card. That’s fantastic. I would ask that you pray for all of the ways God can use our church to Shape Stories in the coming year. Maybe you came today with a pledge card already filled out. Maybe not. But I would ask that you take a moment. Rest and pray in God’s call to you here. When the service is over, you can place your folded pledge cards in the treasure chest right outside the sanctuary doors. Thank you, friends.