Quit Playing God: A Sermon for Laetare on St. John 6:1-15

Jesus feeds the crowds

It was an impossible situation. There were about 5,000 men, plus women and children. Maybe as many as 20,000 people. Just to put that into perspective, that’s the capacity of Toyota Park in Bridgeview. That’s a lot of people. And then Jesus asks Philip the dreaded question: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

Now I don’t know about you, but feeding about a dozen people or so can be hard enough. And we all know the time and money and preparations that are put into planning weddings these days. Right now in the US, the average cost of a wedding is $25,200. Now let’s say you’re paying a modest $50 per plate, and you’re inviting 150 people. That’s about $7500 to feed your crowd.

So you can understand Philip’s reluctance to volunteer to head up this particular church potluck. So he objects: “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get little.” Based on the average US salary right now, that’s about $30,000. To feed this many people at a wedding at $50 per plate, you’d be looking at $1 million dollars. And that’s just to feed them a little. It’s an impossible situation.

But let’s say $30,000 was enough for everyone to have just a little piece of bread, which it wasn’t. So you show up at Panera one morning and say, “I’ll have $30,000 worth of bread, please.” Even if you had the money, where on earth are you going to find that much bread to buy? You couldn’t. An impossible situation.

But Jesus specializes in the impossible. He takes five loaves, two fish, and feeds the whole crowd. And when they pick up the leftovers—that’s right, there were leftovers—they had 12 basket’s worth. They had more food left over than they had to begin with! And not only that, everyone ate as much as they wanted.

As miraculous as this was, the point wasn’t the miracle. This isn’t about the bread. The people thought it was, which is why they wanted to make Jesus king. But that isn’t why Jesus came, or even why He did this miracle, which is why He had to slip away quietly after feeding them.

John tells us this was a “sign” Jesus had done, and is the third such instance of a sign in his Gospel. The first was done in Cana in Galilee, which “manifested His glory” and resulted in Jesus’ disciples “believing in Him.” That’s the purpose of the signs, to point to His glory and create faith. When Jesus changed the water into wine, it wasn’t really about the alcohol. It was about His glory. The second sign was when Jesus healed the son of an official. But again, the point isn’t about bodily healing, but about seeing Jesus’ glory and believing in Him.

And likewise here, the point of the feeding isn’t the food. It’s about the One who is the very Bread of Life come down from heaven. Our faith needs to be nurtured in this way so that when the wine runs out, or the healing doesn’t come, or we lack in any way, we continue to trust in Him, knowing that He will always meet our needs as He knows best.

Ironically, Philip was right. Even $30,000 worth of bread would not be enough. You could even spend million. But still you would be in need. There is nothing in this world that can truly satisfy: not money, not food, more talent, harder work, a better home: you name it. Even if you could get them, those things will always leave you in want.

Solomon had as much wealth as you could imagine. All the resources and pleasures the world had to offer were at his disposal. In Ecclesiastes 2, he says, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” So in his quest to find meaning in life, Solomon indulged himself with everything he could possibly have wanted. He lacked nothing, worldly speaking. But he concludes: “Behold, this also was vanity.”

You can spend all of your days laboring for that which perishes, but the bread of this world will never satisfy. Jesus freely gives that which lasts forever, the gift of a good conscience before God and man. We worry and work hard to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, but Jesus cuts right to the chase: your earthly treasures will not last or satisfy. Worrying about these things won’t help anyway.

There is nothing you can do to fix the mess of sin in your life. Working harder won’t help, neither will worrying or feeling guilty. So Jesus invites you to quit playing god, quit acting like it all depends on you and trust in Him. You wouldn’t expect to find comfort in confessing how utterly helpless you are, in admitting that you’ve utterly failed to meet the expectations of God, not to mention often failing to meet your own expectations and those of others. But things are not hopeless. Jesus is God for you. He did for you what you couldn’t do. He entered into our impossible mess of sin and death and put an end to it all by making death swallow itself up.

So what should you do? That’s what Philip wondered. He’s trying to figure out how to come up with the money to finance this meal. And that was his mistake. He’s still trying to figure out what He can do, rather than looking to what Jesus was doing for Him.

Christianity is the only religion in the world that has a commandment that tells you to do nothing. There are no free lunches in the world or in natural religion. We by nature think it all depends on us. But it doesn’t, and thanks be to God that it doesn’t, because in the end, we’d make a mess of things.

The world teaches us that life is all about productivity, about what we can do and be and accomplish. Those who meet the quota go on for a while and the rest are left behind. But even the very best eventually slow down and have to retire. And that’s a hard thing to do, because in our culture, a person’s value and worth is determined by how much you make or how high you climb. But when you look to the cross, you see how highly Jesus values you, that He was willing to shed His blood because you mattered that much to Him. He did this quite apart from any of your own effort or say in the matter. Indeed, your effort was what put Him on the cross. And He did it all so that you might live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

God would not have your highest values be professional or financial. He would have you put the values of the world behind and enjoy the rest He gives you in His Word. That’s what the Sabbath is about. Letting God refresh you even as Jesus refreshed the crowds. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? But if we act as if everything depended on our output or our ability to fix things, we miss the one thing needful. Jesus did it all for you. The Sabbath is an invitation to let God be God, to let Jesus be your Lord, to rest in His provision and delight in His love.

So hear your Lord’s invitation: Come to me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Sit back, relax, and let Jesus, the Bread of Life nurture you with His Word. Don’t forget that He is the One who has given you everything you have. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. John 6:1—15
Laetare, 2014: “Quit Playing God”
Zion on the web: http://zionlutheransummit.org/
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