Sunday, March 19, 2017
The 7 Signs of Jesus Sermon Series
Scripture: Exodus 16:16-, 9-15 & John 6:1-15
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Well, it’s great to be here. Finally. As you know well, these transitions for churches and pastors are never quick, but I’m glad to be here. I’m glad it’s now. And I’m geared up to go!
I’m happy to follow on the heels of Jill and Caleb in this sermon series on the Seven Signs of John, but since I’m just entering the picture now, I’d like to take just a couple of minutes to give my own thoughts on signs.
What are signs?
They are objects that point to something beyond themselves. I know we find signs very useful in daily life, but I also know that we take them for granted.
How do you know you’ve entered Michigan? A sign.
How do you know you’ve made it to Grand Haven? A sign.
But the signs themselves are not the actual thing they point to. Just because I see a sign that says “Welcome to Michigan” does not mean I should stop and stay with that sign so I can be in Michigan. If I stay there, am I really “in” Michigan? The sign is not Michigan. It is a marker telling me that the thing Michigan is is what is to come beyond the sign.
Or take this sign – Beware: Wild Animals/Children. Now the point here should be obvious. This sign is not the thing itself. It’s warning us that there are wild animals ahead. And perhaps wild children too. Those of us who are parents right now only know that reality all too well. Sometimes I wonder which are simpler to contend with…
So, signs point toward a reality that is beyond itself. And that is precisely what John is doing in his gospel. These signs – the water into wine, the healings, the multiplication of the bread, walking on water – they are realities unto themselves that point to something far greater.
Signs are worth paying attention to. They give us a sense of where we are, of what may be going on around us. But if we get stuck with the sign, we never get where we are supposed to be going. If I had just stayed by the sign welcoming me to Grand Haven, I would have never made it here to be your pastor.
Even so, these signs in John point us towards the work of God in the world, culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We are spending Lent focusing on what each of these signs mean, but I urge you not to get stuck at just one of them. John is pointing us in the direction we should go. And so we see that God cares so much about people to miraculously turn water into wine so that the community will celebrate and honor their hosts. God is a God of abundance and provision. And so we also see that it is God’s will to bring about wholeness and healing for those who have been broken by life. And today we see that God in Christ is taking scarcity and turning it into more than enough for all gathered. Let’s take a closer look at today’s sign – the multiplication of bread and fish.
Interestingly, this miraculous feeding is the only miracle that all four gospels include, so it is clear that the early traditions surrounding Jesus’ life held this event forward as crucial to understanding who Jesus was. Particularly in John’s gospel, this event is connected both to the Passover and to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness.
These are rooted in the idea that the One who calls the people into the life of freedom is the One who provides for them along the way. God is the Provider, an idea that the entire Bible affirms.
In our world it’s easy to lose touch with that reality. When I’m hungry, I go to the store or a restaurant. I pull out of few dollar bills or a piece of plastic from my wallet, and – voila! – I have provision. I work so that I have money so that I can provide for my family. That’s what we all do, right?
But, I need to step back a bit, for the bread that I picked up in the store didn’t just appear because I wanted it to. No, it was there because someone was skilled enough to take yeast, water, sugar, and flour to make it into bread. But those raw materials came from somewhere, right? A farmer had to grow the crops and harvest them. But where did the farmer get seeds? I’m sure you’re getting the picture. Yes, we humans take the raw materials of life and we make things out of them that meet our needs and that give us pleasure, but those raw materials came from somewhere else. Understanding that God is the One who is behind it all, who takes care of the earth and all that is in it, who provides sun and rain and wind and land to make the earth abundant, and who gives us what we need to live day by day.
I believe John calls this story one of the signs of Jesus because this sign both points towards Jesus and points beyond him to his Father in heaven. The same God who provided manna in the wilderness and is now at work in and through Jesus providing bread and fish for 5,000 men plus women and children.
Jesus knew where the provision would come from. Still, he uses this as a time to teach his disciples. First he asks Philip, the third disciple Jesus called in this gospel, “Where shall we buy bread for these people?” And Philip’s response is pretty expected, “Are you kidding me? It would take six months’ wages to feed all these people just a morsel!” And so Andrew comes along. Now, he’s the first disciple Jesus called in John, so maybe the slight amount of exposure more he’s had allows him to be open to Jesus doing more than what is expected. He offers, “Jesus, here’s a boy with some loaves and fish. I realize it’s not enough, but I’ve seen you do some amazing things already, so maybe you’re up to something here.”
Andrew’s kernel of faith is the opening for Jesus to do what comes next.
There’s a lot to be blown away by in this passage. It’s a miracle. Andrew’s small step of faith is quite amazing, too. But what I find most interesting as I read this passage is how quickly we all stop trusting in God’s provision for us, for our lives, and for the church. This passage is very much connected to Exodus 16, where God promises manna and quail to a much larger group of people than in our story today. And God does this throughout the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, day after day, week after week – not just for one day! What is more, the people were only to collect what they needed, for too much would rot. And here Jesus has his disciples gather the leftovers, so that the people would not hold on to more than they needed for that moment. Hoarding shows a lack of trust in God to provide.
Of course, we know that perspective is something that this people receiving the manna and the quail struggled with too, for they were not far removed from seeing the wonders of God that brought them out of Egypt in the first place.
How quick we are to doubt God’s goodness and provision!
Friends, one of the signs of the kingdom is contentment and that people actually trust that God gives us what we need day by day. This crowd followed Jesus to a place where they needed to trust in him for provision. And Jesus provided for them.
So this question is before us, do we trust God is the one who provides for us? What’s our perspective on how we obtain what we have? Is it just because we worked hard or saved well, or is it because we did those things in a benevolent universe where God provides air and land and gravity so that we have more than enough?
Our world gears us towards dissatisfaction, which kills me as a pastor. Instead of living from a position of gratitude, we trend towards a scarcity mentality.
I love Russian literature, and in his fine book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.” Now, our lives are quite likely never going to be as wretched as Ivan Denisovich’s, who was imprisoned in the Russian gulag, but this lesson is still very real: With ingratitude comes a perpetual emptiness and a dissatisfaction with God’s good provision in life.
This is not the way of God. This is not the way of Christ. And this is not the way of the Christian.
Which brings me to potlucks. I’ve only been here for a week, and while I haven’t had a potluck here, I can tell that you all like to eat together, which is wonderful! In the first week, I’ve eaten two lunches with our staff and had a great soup dinner on Wednesday night. I served with a pastor in Georgia who believed in the power of community meals as a way of strengthening churches, and I think he is right about that.
Have you ever noticed that there is never a shortage of food at a potluck? Seriously, I have never once gone hungry at a church meal. When Jess and I were just getting started in ministry, we were part of a church with around 30 active members that decided to focus on campus ministry at the University of Michigan. We’d often have 120 in worship attendance, but the congregation was 75% college and graduate students, none of whom had any money. But those potlucks – even there – never ran out! That church’s budget – even though it was tight – made it through year by year. God provided.
So, my friends, as we begin this journey together, I encourage each of us to take stock of where we are today. Are we coming to our faith with a mentality of scarcity or of gratitude? Do we focus on ourselves and our ability to scratch out enough to exist, or do we fix our eyes on the God who provided manna in the wilderness, who multiplied bread on the hillside, and who gives us more than we need day by day?
Churches are made up of people who are at their best when they live from the place of gratitude. For it’s within that attitude of gratitude that we trust in God’s provision for us. It’s in that space where we become openhanded with our money because we get excited to see what God will do with it and with us in mission together. It’s in that place where we realize we have the time and we have the abilities to be signposts to the kingdom of God right here, right now.