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     Sermons | Passionate worship

    This sermon was preached by Pastor Jody Beth Melton at Swift Presbyterian Church.

    Aug. 29, 2021 | 14th Sunday after Pentecost

    Leaning Not on Our Own Understanding
    John 6:1–14

    At the opening ceremonies for the 2020 Summer Olympics last month, about 5,700 athletes entered the arena in Tokyo. Reports say that there were over 10,000 participating this year.

    Those numbers do not include the volunteers, paid staff and contractors, which total an additional 51,100 people! Organizers made incredible efforts to host this event, postponed from last summer, while the COVID pandemic continued to hover over the entire world.

    Imagine being responsible for the housing and meals and safety protocols of the 10,00 athletes — plus volunteers, paid staff and contractors. Incredible efforts were made for just the one event. Last week, the Paralympic Games opened with similar coordination.

    † † †

    In today’s Scripture, we have a group of over 5,000 people gathering around to hear about some miracle worker. And from historians we know that this number only represented the men. It didn’t include women and children. And it didn’t include any volunteers, paid staff or contractors — because …

    … there were no organizers for this event! There’s seems to be enough room for everyone to gather, but there are no concession stands, no T-shirts being sold, no news coverage. You can’t grab a coke and a hot dog, or a hot pretzel, or even a bag of chips.

    Jesus sees this. The disciples know it. The people must be realizing it. So Jesus asks one of the disciples, Philip, where will we buy some food to feed all these people.

    Philip may have been studying to be an accountant or some kind of CPA, for he immediately estimates the number of people in the crowd and calculates how much it will cost over at the Piggly Wiggly or Publix to feed everyone and decides there is no way it is possible. And there isn’t even a grocery store or purveyor of any kind anywhere anyway. He looks up from his scratch pad and pencil and tells Jesus it can’t be done.

    Before Jesus can respond to Philip, Andrew steps up, desperately trying to find a way to feed these people. I sense he has more compassion than our fact-finder Philip. He’s reaching beyond the way the question was asked — about buying food — to another possibility. Apparently, some mom sent her son out for the day with a lunch box. Not a peanut butter and jelly with an apple juice, but some barley loaves and fish. The loaves would have been flat, small round pieces, more like a Ritz cracker, and the fish would have been very small. Maybe the size of your pinky finger.

    Andrew can’t see any way this could help, but he thought it might help feed a few people. He seems skeptical, but hopeful as he mentions it to Jesus.

    As it is written, Jesus immediately puts the disciples to work. Have everyone sit down. That alone must have taken some coordination for 12 men to get well over 5,000 people to sit down. But they did.

    There’s a blessing — and there’s a miracle. Everyone has plenty to eat. I know that’s the highlight of this portion of Scripture, but there’s more.

    There happens to be leftovers. Twelve baskets of leftovers. Broken pieces of the barley bread. Twelve baskets. Twelve disciples. Now I’m staring to think like Philip. I’m calculating, and I can’t help but think this is no coincidence. There is enough left for each of the disciples, who have been working at corralling all the people gathered and serving everyone there, enough for each of them. For I believe they were hungry, too.

    The disciples didn’t know how they were going to feed a huge crowd. One decided it simply couldn’t be done. Another had been hanging around Jesus long enough to know to have some faith. All he could come up with was that lunch box.

    Like the disciples, when we see others in need, we often think there’s just no way we can do anything about it. We all have bills to pay, and some have been out of work during the pandemic, and many have kids and grandkids.

    This kind of thinking comes when we are relying on ourselves and our own resources. But God wants us to rely on him. To have even just a mustard seed of faith like Andrew had, and to go to God with that faith and say, is this at all possible?

    † † †

    Over 20 years ago, when I first returned to church, I was part of a very small congregation in Hamden, Connecticut. I had just returned to church after a 15-year hiatus, and I was listening up and soaking in everything God seemed to be saying to me. I didn’t know it, but it was stewardship month so each week someone gave a talk about the importance of tithing.

    There was another new person there. She was a young mother on her own, desperately trying to provide for her son. I spoke with her after worship one day and she told me she had decided she was going to take 10% of her meager income and tithe. A week or two later, her refrigerator broke and couldn’t be repaired. One of the church members said: “Oh, I have an extra fridge I was going to donate and didn’t get around to it yet. You can have it.”

    When she decided to tithe, she chose to trust God. It didn’t make sense to give any portion of her money to anybody, but she chose to believe that God would provide for all her needs for her and her son. The whole congregation celebrated as news of the refrigerator spread. I’m not saying that God provided for her because she tithed, or that the refrigerator wouldn’t have been available if she hadn’t tithed. I’m lifting up her faith as an example of learning to rely on God and what he will do, instead of taking out the scratch sheet of paper and calculating what we think we can or cannot do when we rely only on ourselves.

    † † †

    PROVERBS 3:5–6
    Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
    In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

    When we put our trust in God, he provides in ways we can’t begin to conceive of, and fills needs we didn’t even know we had. You probably have your own refrigerator story. Make a commitment to share how God has worked in your life with someone this week. Someone who’s trying to figure things out on their own without relying on God may need to hear it.

    Too often, those of us who seek to follow God can become like hamsters on the wheel. We are constantly doing and doing and doing for others. Putting others first, doing good deeds, doing what we think God is calling us to do.

    This may seem admirable, and it is. But we go back to what we learned from studying Philip. Are we relying on ourselves and our own resources as we seek to serve others? Or do we go to God, through the Holy Spirit, and ask about our plans?

    Andrew said: Hey, Jesus, I need some help. There’s this little boy who has some food, but it’s not enough.

    Before Andrew can say, what do we do? How can I help? Jesus is taking that faith, that reliance on him, to do one of the most-known miracles in the Bible.

    Andrew could have stolen that lunch for himself, or ignored the big eyes looking up to him, offering the lunch, or saw the lunch and thought that’s not going to help. He could have remained silent, doubtful, worried, anxious.

    But he took time to talk to Jesus. Look, here’s what I’ve got. What do you want me to do?

    † † †

    Like the Olympic organizers, the disciples had a huge task in front of them.

    Philip tried to figure it out on his own and decided it couldn’t be done.

    Andrew had his doubts and went to Jesus with them.

    I’ve done both. How about you?

    When I don’t go to God in prayer, and think I have to rely only on myself, I often find myself worn out.

    † † †

    EPHESIANS 2:10
    For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    Look at ourselves. Am I doing what I think I should do, or what He wants me to do?

    † † †

    PROVERBS 3:5–6
    Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
    In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

    † † †

    Thank you, God for all you have given us. You’ve given each of us gifts and talents that differ from the people worshiping online with us this morning, to be used for your purposes. Help us to rely on you as to how you want us to use them. We know we are blessed. Help us to go and be a blessing.


    — Keith Cardwell   

    «God wants us to rely on him. To have even just a mustard seed of faith like Andrew had, and to go to God with that faith and say: Is this at all possible?»


    This is the Word of God for the people of God:

    John 6:1–14
    Holy Bible, New International Version

    Jesus feeds the five thousand
    6 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

    5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

    7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

    8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

    10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

    12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

    14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

    — This is the Word of the Lord.
    — Thanks be to God.


       a.  John 6:7  Greek take two hundred denarii

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