SERMONS THAT WORK
FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B
Sermon for that Day
2 Chronicles 36:14-23; Psalm 122; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 6:4-15
by the Rev. Barbara Beam
The story in today's Gospel has a familiar ring to it. Well, of course, it is one of the better known stories in the New Testament, appearing in all four Gospels, and, in some cases, more than once. But beyond that, it is familiar because it reminds us of the way things still happen in the church-at least if we're doing things right.
First of all, there is a need. In this version of the story, Jesus himself takes the role of the one stating the need and asking for a possible way to address that need.
The next thing that happens is that someone -- in this instance, Philip -- fills the role of the practical person. "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little," he explains. Notice, he doesn't exactly say, "No way, Lord." What he is saying, basically, is, "Just the facts, Lord." However, we certainly hear the voice of caution from Philip.
Next Andrew enters the picture. Andrew has apparently conducted an assessment of the available resources. "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish." Actually, Andrew seems to be in basic agreement with Philip's practical assessment. "But what are they among so many people?" However, he was, perhaps, willing to go a little farther than Philip along the path of faith. The very fact that he has found out about the five loaves and two fish and has taken the trouble to let Jesus know that they are there, might lead us to believe that Andrew has at least a glimmer of the possibilities. He takes one small step towards that leap of faith which is necessary if one would entertain the possibility that five thousand people could dine on five small loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
We would like to know more about the boy who had those loaves and fish, wouldn't we? Just how old is this boy? Is he here alone, without his family? And why does he have this amount of food with him? Inadequate though it is for the crowd, it's a lot of lunch for just one boy. But none of these things are answered. We are left to infer that this boy who, for whatever reason, is on the scene with this small amount of food, is at least willing to share it. Of course, it is a ridiculously meager thing to offer, but he makes what he has available to all.
And finally, we go back to where he started. Jesus is there, "Please be seated," he tells them -- just like we hear in church! And, as always, he gives thanks. The food is distributed and the people ate, we are told, "as much as they wanted." And when they have all been satisfied, the fragments that are gathered up fill twelve baskets. No wonder the people began to say, "This is the prophet who is to come into the world." Jesus had come into the world and nothing was ever going to be the same again. It was the presence of Christ that, in the end, made the whole thing possible.
Let's look at how these dynamics apply to the way we operate in the church, on the vestry, or on any committee. There is a need to be addressed. If we are being called by God to address this need, most likely it is God who, in one way or another, makes us aware of the need.
Once this happens, we need practical people, people who can assess the need and count the cost of addressing that need. (And, yes, we do need those practical people. The voice of caution must be heard as well as the voice of the dreamer,) You know who those people are. Maybe you are one of them.
Then we need those who can tell us what resources are available, and we must be ready and willing to put those resources at the Lord's disposal. That's not as easy as it sounds. What does God want, after all? Surely God doesn't want it ALL? Can't we keep back a little for ourselves? Wouldn't that be more prudent? (There's that voice of caution again.)
All right, maybe we can't spend all our resources on one project because the Lord may well have other needs for us to address. Some discernment is necessary. But the point is that all we have and, for that matter, all we are, must be available to God. And then we must pray and pray and pray for guidance; pray for discernment of God's will in what we propose to do.
And, yes, sometimes that leap of faith is required. Sometimes putting a toe in the water isn't enough. Sometimes we just have to jump in, and believe that Jesus will be there to catch us.
Jesus IS with us. We must remember that it is the presence of Christ that makes possible anything we may be able to accomplish. We come bringing our meager resources, our meager selves, saying, along with Andrew, "But what is this when the need is so great?" And Jesus takes what we offer and somehow it becomes enough-not just barely enough, but overflowing -- just as the fragments of leftover loaves and fishes overflowed and filled twelve baskets. Our offering is transformed -- and so are we, because now God can use us to make a difference in the world.
There is one more thing we must remember to do. Following the example of Christ, we must never forget to give thanks for all that we have been given. Most especially, let us give thanks for the opportunities we are given to be instruments of God's love and peace, right here in the little corner of God's world where we find ourselves.
The Rev. Barbara Beam is vicar of St. Nicholas Church in Noel, Missouri, where the resources are small but the people are good at leaps of faith. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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