John 10:22-30 – Sermon – Hear My Voice

John 10:22-30
Hear My Voice
GOD, did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?  GOD, instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you have now?  GOD, I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that okay?  GOD, what does it mean you are a Jealous God? I thought you had everything.  GOD, thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.  These are questions that children have asked God.  They are funny and to look into a child’s mind is always entertaining.  But we all have asked God questions at one time or another during our life. 
In today’s text we receive another story of people asking Jesus something.  There seems to be a tread that we can follow in these questions or better yet in the people who are asking these questions.  You can place the people into three different categories: sincerity, entrapment or mistaken assumptions.  As one looks at the people who sit there and ask Jesus questions, they fit into these three different categories. 
In the third chapter of John we receive a story of a Pharisee Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the night to ask him questions.  Nicodemus asks Jesus how someone can be born again.  He asks this question out of sincerity. He honestly is looking for the answers.  He knew that Jesus was a teacher who came from God and wanted to know more, so Jesus answered him with care and compassion.  Jesus lead him down a gentle path full of love and grace.  The answer given befuddled Nicodemus, there was not a huge light that came on that shows us that he understood what Jesus meant by being born again.  But the point is that Nicodemus’ heart was sincere in the asking.
That is not the case for some of the other Pharisees in the Jesus’ life.  You don’t have to look too far to see that they try to entrap Jesus in order to bring charges against him.  Take Matthew’s recount in chapter 22, this is a text many of you are familiar with.  In this story the Pharisees use one of their disciples to go and ask Jesus if they should pay taxes or not.  Verse 18 it states, But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.  Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”   Jesus doesn’t answer them in the same tone as he does Nicodemus.  Here you can tell that he is a little shorter with his answer, a little more poignant, and you can sense the tension.
Then you have the mistaken assumption questions.  People ask Jesus questions but frame it in the wrong context or make assumptions about Jesus that they shouldn’t, and we all know what kind of trouble you can get into if you assume things.  This is the type of tone that today’s question comes in.  The people asking Jesus a question are not sincere and they are not looking to entrap him, well not quite yet.  Within this question they assume a lot and are mistaken in their assumptions.
First of all who is asking the question?  John tells us that the Jews gathered around him.  Something that we have to remember is that the author of John’s gospel does not mean the whole Jewish race.  Traditionally when you see the phrase “the Jews” in the Gospel of John it is in reference to the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The picture we receive now is one of the religious leaders cornering Jesus while he was in the temple.  The first verse of this section tells us why Jesus is in the temple.  It states that it was the Feast of Dedication, or the Feast of Remembrance.  It was a winter Feast and since it was probably a little chilly Jesus found shelter in the south end of the second temple area called Solomon’s Colonnade or porch. 
What happened was the religious leaders may have gotten caught up in all the celebrating.  The Feast of Remembrance is a time when they would look back at their history and see their forefather’s victories over huge threats.  This might have got the religious leaders blood going and they wanted to have history repeat itself by getting rid of their biggest threat, Jesus.  In order to do so they needed to get some things strait, they needed more information.  They cornered him in the temple and asked him, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.
The thing is with Jesus is that he can see into our hearts, he knows our souls; therefore he knew why they were asking him what they did.  One of the commentaries I read restated the question as this, Jesus, do fit into our criteria of what the messiah looks like?  When they asked this they were demanding that Jesus answer them on their terms.  They wanted the Son of God to tell them a yes or no answer if he was the Messiah.  Since Jesus saw into their hearts though he knew the reason why they were asking was not a yes or no answer, it was much more complicated than that.  Jesus always gives the answers that the people really need, which may not be what they were looking for.  The main point we need to know is that the religious leaders were trying to push Jesus into a box.  We do this a lot with God.  We expect God to be the God we want and desire. 
I have stumbled on a blog called Letters from Leavers.  This site is dedicated to the rants of people who are fed up with the church.  They are so tired of God, ministers, and church people in their lives that they want to leave organized religion all together.  As I have read through some of these posts I am convinced that many of these people suffer from the same thing that these religious leaders did, trying to fit God into their own little box they created. 
Listen to one of these letters.  I have had enough.  I am leaving for good this time.  I have always grown up in the church, going to Sunday School, and attending worship.  Recently I went through a tragedy and neither God nor the church was there for me.  I prayed to God but God did not answer.  I reached out for help and all I got was a cold shoulder.  I am fed up with this so called God.  I always thought God was there to protect you.  God is there make sure bad things don’t happen to the people that believe in him.  That was not the case though and so I am out.  God is dead to me.  And then the letter goes on to rant about the church and the people in it.
Is it God’s fault that bad things were happening to this person?  No, we live in a fallen world and Jesus never made the promise that nothing bad would ever happen to us, that is a huge misconception about God. 
This person and so many more on this site all seem to be asking Jesus questions like, are you the God that will do things my way?  Are you the God who will shed riches upon me if I follow you?  Are you the God who will let nothing wrong ever happen to me again?  When Jesus hears these questions his answer is, Am I the Christ YOU are expecting, definitely not.
But why not?  Why cannot God be the God that we design?  The easiest answer is because we are not the designer, we are the designed, we are the created, we are the children who cannot create the Father.  Add on top of that, that we are humans, fallen creatures who have a limited ability to fathom the awesomeness of God. God is the only one who can tell us what God is like and he does in the second half of this text.
In this part we receive wave after wave after wave of grace from our Lord and Savior.  It shows us that although the Pharisees expected one thing out of Jesus, Jesus offers them grace, care, and love for his sheep.  Once again in the tenth chapter of John we get a picture of Jesus as a Shepherd and we are his lambs.  This is a common theme in John’s gospel and throughout the Bible.  That is the picture we receive from God.  Jesus, or God, is a shepherd and we are his sheep.
What do you picture when you think of sheep.  For me I get the picture of the only place that I have seen a ton of sheep, England.  As Alycia and I lived over in England for a year we saw a lot of sheep in a lot of different areas.  The town we lived in was right next to the Moors, a barren and unlivable place for humans, but a great place for sheep to roam free.  As we would drive around these moors we would always have to be on the lookout for sheep in the road. With all the grass that is in the moors, some very intelligent sheep would find the grass nearest to the fast moving machines known as cars to be the tastiest.  Inevitably we would see that one of these fast moving machines would collide with one of this not so intelligent creatures and the loser would always be the sheep.
It got me thinking about this image of sheep and shepherd that we get so much of in the Bible.  I looked at this dead sheep on the road and I would think to myself, I don’t know if I want to be God’s sheep.  I know like a sheep I will be sheared tonight but I hope I don’t smell as bad as they do.  I hope I have a little more intelligence, no much but a little bit more than they do.  I hope that I don’t just follow God because I don’t know any better.  All of a sudden this analogy was not working for in my 21st century mind.  The truth is it might not work in many of your minds too because of your experience with these animals.
As I looked back on this analogy I came to a realization.  I am doing it again.  I am making it about me.  
I am making it about us, instead of making it about God and learning something about God within this illustration.  What do we learn about God as the shepherd instead of us as sheep.  Verse 27 says, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  In the text it states that Jesus is the kind of shepherd that knows each one of his sheep.  He loves his sheep so much that he gets to know them personally.  God is a God that is personal and wants to have that personal relationship with you.  It also states that if we are Jesus’ sheep then we know his voice.  We know when Jesus is calling us.  That tells us that Jesus is talking to us.  This means that our shepherd is active in our lives and cares so much about us, that he wants to talk to us, call out to us.
What is it though that the shepherd offers his sheep?  Eternal life.  Verse 28 states I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  Jesus is the type of shepherd that offers such an amazing gift to his followers.  He is so loving, so generous that he wants his sheep to be with him forever. He offers us a gift that no one else can give us.  He gives us eternity, a piece of eternity that no one can take away.  We worship one loving God.
Can you see the waves of grace now?  Can you see the loving care, compassion, and joy that Christ offers to his sheep? Even though the idea of being a smelly creature like sheep may be a little outdated, we can understand the care that Jesus offers.  We can understand a little bit better who our shepherd is.  In this text God is telling us who God is and I don’t know about you all but I like what I see.
God is telling his followers that we do not have to worry about eternity.  We can loss the fear of the future.  All we have to do is follow the shepherd.  If we do then we will have eternal life. The thing is though many of us don’t truly believe that in our hearts.  We have been tricked before in life.  We know that people fail to live up their promises. We have been hurt, lied to, and our hearts have been ripped out and stomped on.  What makes us trust God then?
We can trust God because God has never let us down.  God promised to never flood the world again and sends the rainbows to remind us of that, and God has lived up to that promise.  God promised that when the time was right he would makes things right again between us and him.  He would send his Son to die our death in order that we may have eternal life.  Jesus came to defeat death by rising again on the third day.  We are in the Easter season, a time when we joyfully proclaim that God did exactly what God said he would do.  God has always lived up to his promises.  There has never, in this history of the world, been a time when God has messed up or failed to do what was promised.
This must mean that if verse 30 is true.  If Jesus and the Father are one, if they and the Holy Spirit make up the 3 in 1 God that we worship and they have never failed in the past, then we can rest assured that they will never fail in the future.  All of God’s energy, strength and love was put into the sacrifice that was made on the cross. God did not fail and God never fails us.  This means that the promise of an eternal life with God must be true.  This means that the Good Shepherd never leaves our side and is always with us through our life. 
We see this in the 23rd Psalm, the second most memorized section of the Bible.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff, your shepherd’s crook they comfort me.  God’s grace keeps washing over us.
It is alright to ask God questions, that is how we understand who God is.  Asking God to be our image of God will always create a God who fails in some way.  This means that we need to have God tell us who God is. Once we do so we need to rest assured that God will live up to his promises.  Jesus, in this text promises to give his sheep eternal life.  No matter who tries to take that away from us they cannot because it is God’s grace to give out not ours.  It is our job to accept that grace.  It is our job to hear that voice of hope and love; that voice of salvation and simply say thank you.  Then live a life knowing that Jesus is there with us all along the way. Live knowing that you are wrapped up in the hands of God no matter what happens.  That is the voice that calls to each of us. That is God we worship here today. 

Luke 1:39-45 – Sermon – Leaping for Joy

Luke 1:39-45
Leaping for Joy

Theodore Baker translated the lyrics from a 15th century carol.  His German to English translation is just what we sung. 
“Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

Sure this is not as Christmasy as you may have liked on this Fourth Sunday of Advent and maybe Holy Night was more of what you were hoping for this Sunday.  But it isn’t Christmas yet.  Tomorrow night we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and then for 12 days we keep celebrating it.  Next week in worship we will walk through the Old Testament and New Testament texts to hear of the promise of the Messiah and then the Messiah’s arrival.  We will listen to 9 scripture lessons and we will sing 9 Christmas Carols.  All the good ones.

But not today, today we are still in preparation mode.  We are making that last ditch effort to ready ourselves, ready our souls, ready our hearts for the gift that comes on Christmas morn, or as they hymn put it, “when half spent was the night.”  So instead of ringing Christmas fully in this Sunday, we get this simple and nice text about two relatives coming together celebrating the fact that they are both pregnant.


I am sure, since they were family, they had discussions in the past about Elizabeth not being able to conceive.  As the women would gather at any family function, talk would happen and although Mary was still young and not married she would be invited into those conversations because soon she would be.  Mary probably understood the pain and disappointment that Elizabeth, a preacher’s wife, couldn’t conceive children.  In every synagogue all the members simply wanted to see Elizabeth pregnant as much as possible.  A pregnant preacher’s wife is like catnip to church ladies.  I am sure the rumors of why she couldn’t were being placed back upon Zachariah.  But now they had been visited by angels and Zack still had his doubts.  So the Angel Gabriel strikes him mute until their baby is born.  Can you imagine that parsonage; a mute rabbi and a pregnant rabbi’s wife expecting their first child in their older years.

Meanwhile in Nazareth, the Lord’s angel also appears to a virgin named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph.  She was probably just a teenager when the angel came and told her that God had picked her to bear his Son.  It was in her womb that the Christ Child, the God-man, would be born.  She is taking this all in, trying to understand her, when the angel tells her that her Elizabeth is pregnant as well.  After the angel leaves Mary runs off to the mountains to spend time with Elizabeth and make sense of all that is happening.

Growing up with three sisters there is only one thing that comes to mind when two pregnant women of the same family get together for the first time.  I have seen it happen with my own eyes.  I have seen it when sorority sisters see each other for the first time in a while.  Or best friends who have been gone forever come back to see each other.  They all use that high pitched scream they used to have anytime they saw a picture of teen heartthrob.  It starts off a normal human pitch, but still loud, and eventually it moves into a noise that only dogs can hear.  Somehow that is all I can think of when Mary shows up at Elizabeth’s house, both pregnant, both visited by angels, both told of the great thing their sons will do for this world.  All I can picture is…AHHHHHH, OHHH MY YAHWEH!!!!!!  Yes this is the small gift here on Christmas Adam, a sorority sister yell.

As they meet for the first time the baby inside Elizabeth gives a wallop of a kick.  Even John the Baptist in utero understands the wonderful thing that is happening in this moment.  The one who is to pave the way is in one belly, while the one who is to come, is still an embryo in the other.  The holy moment of confirmation of God’s plan to save the world was understood by all of those involved.

When Alycia was pregnant with Dean two of our friends were also pregnant and due the same time.  All three of their due dates were only days apart.  So they would chat on the phone here and there and compare where they were in the process of baking a human.  They would compare doctor check-ups, progress reports, different pains and cravings.  They would talk about the inability to sleep, swelling in places that never were swollen.  The list would go on and on.  I say this as the husband and the father of the soon-to-be born.  As a man I don’t understand what it is like to hold life inside me.  I thought, after a bad burrito, I was close, but I was soon told differently.  My ears would go deaf to some of those things that Alycia and her pregnant friends would discuss but I could not relate.  But all three of them could because they were going through the same thing at the same time.

Mary and Elizabeth get together and they have three months of this shared experience.  Mary can see into her future and prepare for what life will be like at 9 months pregnant.  The scripture says that when she came to visit Elizabeth was six months pregnant and Mary visited for three months.  She left in the final weeks before birth.  I wonder if she did because that is how pregnant she would be when she would be wandering the streets of Bethlehem looking for a place to give birth to her son?  Mary gained first hand experience on what was awaiting her and it was a vital connection she probably needed.

Someone once asked me what to expect when you have children.  I told them that what they should do is write down what their life looks like now on a piece of paper.  Write down what you and your spouse love to do and what your favorite hobbies are.  Write down the moments of joy you have in life to.  Then get in your car and drive down a highway you can get up to at least 70 miles an hour on.  Then when you are cruising at 70 miles an hour, take that piece of paper and ball it up and chuck it out the window.  That is what is like when you have a baby.  It changes absolutely everything but what is so amazing is that you never truly want that piece of paper back because what you have now is so much better.

I am sure there were moments with all of you who were expecting your first child that you needed to get ready for it.  I am sure they are different for everyone, both mothers and fathers.  What moment was it for you?  Was it when the nursery was finally all painted and all the furniture was in?  Was it when you had to child proof your house and you realized it would take you a second or two to get into any drawer or toilet in your house?  Was it when you had to install that car seat for the first time and you wondered what deranged person invented such a horribly complicated device? 

I think we witness Mary’s moment right here in the scripture.  Elizabeth is so happy to see Mary and so elated about how her baby jumps when she comes that she says this to Mary, “With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.  Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”  I love the last part of that verse, “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.” 

With this Mary breaks out into song, which is referred to as the Magnificat.  This song of praise starts with Mary, moves up to God’s people, then the rest of the world and then to God.  It is a song of praise and thanks giving that seems just to erupt from Mary’s soul.  The honor, the joy, the hope, the peace, the love that will be coming from her body, her baby, is overwhelming.  Here is what she says;

Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49         because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
55     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

We don’t know much about the rest of their pregnancies.  This is the only peek we get into the both Mary and Elizabeth’s baking process.   For the other six months they are isolated from connection for all we know, but for these three months they spend it with each other.  This is their big connection to community, to ready themselves for what is to come.

Why are you here this morning?  Why did you feel that today, the fourth Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of winter, was a good day to come to church?  Are you here because you were hoping to get a sense of Christmas?  Are you here because of the darkness that invades your life this time of year and you needed some light?  Are you here because this time of year you desperately seek some sort of connection to make sense of it all?  What brings you here this morning?

My hope is this is not the last time we will worship together before Christmas morning.  I truly hope you will come to one of the Christmas Eve services in order for us to truly celebrate the birth of Christ.  It isn’t Christmas yet, but it is right there.  We can almost feel the birth pains starting.  The baby’s kicks are getting harder and we can tell there isn’t much room in the womb.  God’s promise will be fulfilled.

Elizabeth tells Mary, “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”  God’s promise will be fulfilled.  This Christmas seems darker than others.  Maybe it is just me, maybe it is just darker in my own eyes.  All I know is I cannot wait to see the light. 

Our final hymn today is another Christmas Carol but it is still dark and somber.  In the Bleak Midwinter was written by Christina Rossetti as a Christmas poem for an American magazine in 1872.  She imagined the Nativity in a snowy Northern landscape and what it would have been like if Christ came into the world she knew.  In the early 1900s it was put to the familiar music that we know it by.  I love this carol but what I love is that in the somber tune, the quiet melody there is a hope and joy.  It feels distant.  It still feels far off but it is there.  Listen to the words of the second verse,

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

The light is coming and tomorrow night we will welcome him.  But today, this morning we celebrate the fact that we are happy because we believe that Lord will fulfill his promise.  God will live up to what God says.  Light will come to eradicate the darkness.  This is why we gather together on this fourth Sunday of Advent, on this last day of preparation.  We come to ready ourselves, remind ourselves, in the midst of this community we love that we will find the hope, peace, joy and love in the babe in Mary’s womb.

And all God’s people said.  Amen.


John 6:51-58 – The Bread of Life Part III – Sermon

John 6:51-58
The Bread of Life Part III
A friend of mine told me a story about how he was giving communion on Sunday and a little five year old boy came up to receive.  At five years old the kids in his church stay in the service and so this boy had just heard his first sermon on communion.  The minister could tell he was listening intently on the communion liturgy and his explanation of what was going to happen during communion.  At this church they did communion by coming to the prayer rail and then the minister would walk down and pass out a piece of bread to everyone.  Then he would walk down with one of those things that held a bunch of Jesus juice and everyone would take one and drink it.  As he went down the prayer rail with the bread everyone partook of it.  As he followed with the juice he got to the little boy, who looked up and said, “Preacher, I ain’t drank blood yet and I ain’t starting today!”
As the church was just being started there were rumors about it that it was a cult of cannibals.  Now we may find that shocking but you can see why in the scripture today and when we do communion.  “This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood shed for you.”  When we come to the Lord’s Table we feast on his body and blood.  In the scripture today Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  This is in the Bible, not a Twilight book.  You can tell why some people were hesitant about this whole Christianity thing if they had to eat a body and drink blood.
This railed up the crowd there listening to Jesus.  “Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  But this doesn’t stop Jesus, he continues as he says later, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.”  So as we eat his flesh and blood then he dwells in us?  To an outsider this may sound just like a new summer horror movie plot.  The way it sounds is that we will be possessed if we eat Jesus’ flesh and blood.  I have seen less gory things on a Quentin Tarantino movies.  Yet this is still Jesus Christ saying these things…so what does it mean?
If we remember last week we learned that in John’s gospel the author loved to use metaphors.  Seven times Jesus says “I am…” something in order to give us a metaphorical look at who the Son of God truly is.  He continues the metaphor, “I am the bread of life,” in today’s passage and uses the eating and drinking analogy to discuss the sacrifice he will do later in his life.  When we partake in communion we take the bread and say this is the body of Christ broken for you.  We take the cup and we say this is the blood of Christ shed for you.  There are other denominations that state that in this act of Holy Communion the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.  There are others who say that this is only a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and is not the actual body and blood.  We United Methodists do what we do best and that is we hold down the middle of the road.  We throw down the mystery card and say we don’t understand how the Holy Spirit does what he does, but that in the act of communion it is both a symbol and actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
So Jesus is using this metaphor of the Bread of Life to give us a better understanding of who he is.  He is trying to tell this crowd that keeps following him and wanting to know more about him that he will give the world salvation through his body and blood.  If we want to receive this salvation, this gift of eternal life we have to understand the sacrifice he will be going through.  “Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  This salvific act that Jesus is doing is the bringing about transformation within us.  When we truly understand and accept what Jesus has done, by giving of himself for our sake and for our salvation, transformation happens within us.  The bread of life enables us to live this life as those who go on to live in the next.
Peter Reinhart, in his 2008 TED Talk [which I will post on our new Facebook Page this week for you to watch] says that bread is transformational food.  Bread actually goes through four major transformations.  Pop quiz, what are the three basic ingredients in bread? [flour, water, and yeast]  The very first transformation that happens in the bread making process is where the ingredients come from.  Flour is what happens to grains as you grind them up.  But how do you get the seeds from the wheat to then grind up to make flour, which is one of the basics in a ton of the food we eat.  Just ask anyone who cannot eat gluten and you will find out how much flour is in everything we consume.  But how do we get there.
I did what any 21st century preacher does these days, I surfed the internet and I found this video clip showing how to harvest the seeds from the wheat.  Just to warn you the sound is not that great but the information is.  
I know the sound was a little bad but this is probably a lot like how those in Jesus’ day harvested wheat.  There are three basic steps to get from the wheat in the field to the grains ready to grind.  First you harvest it or to put it another way you kill it.  You cut down the wheat that has ripened and is ready.  We constantly forget that most of our food was alive at some point but then when we picked it or harvested it, it died.  In the process to get flour it has to happen.
Anyway, then they take the heads of the wheat and place them in a pillowcase.  I am not sure if this is how they did it in Biblical times but it still works.  They beat it with a shoe or as the video had on it, “wack it” with a shoe.  What this does is seperates the seeds from the husks, shafts, and hulls.  It frees them up.  Then the final part is the winnowing.  To tell you the truth I have said that word many of times in preaching because it is used all the time with what John the Baptist talks about and in some of the other parables.  Until I watched this video I really didn’t understand it.  Winnowing, in this case using two buckets and the wind provided by nature, separated everything out so that the seeds were the only thing in the bucket.  Then these seeds would be ground up and turned into flour, which then we add to water and yeast and we have dough.
The first major transition in the bread process is the death of the wheat.  It was alive in the fields and then it is dead on our counter tops.  The second transformation is when you add all these ingredients together.  You take the flour and the water and  you mix those together.  That is called a clay.  Do you know the Hebrew word for clay?  Adam.  Then you add a leaven to it.  Leaven means to bring to life.  In the case of bread we add yeast, a live bacteria.  Soon this dead clay now has life.  This is the second transformation, life is added.  As we witness those three ingredients come together and then rise we are watching life happen.  Remember that Peter called bread, “yeast burps and sweat and starch guts.”  This yeast eats and releases gas and continues to rise.  Now stage 9 of the steps in making bread is what?  Proofing.  It is in this stage that we wait for the dough to show us it is truly alive.  The second major transition is life.  What was dead is now alive.
Then we put this alive dough into the oven.  Then Peter Reinhart says we reach TDP, which stands for Thermal Death Point.  This is the temperature at which all organisms of a culture will be killed by heat either instantaneously or within an arbitrary brief finite period.  (This is really turning into a gruesome sermon)  But this is the temperature, after 140 degrees Fahrenheit that the dough dies and turns into bread.  This is the third transformation.  We have gone from alive in wheat, to dead in flour, to alive in dough to dead in bread.  Until that TDP the dough is really uneatable.  I am sure there are some people out there that enjoy eating raw dough but it isn’t like the goodness of cookie dough, it really is tasteless and bland.  But after that TDP, that Thermal Death Point, after the dough dies, the taste is brought out.  It is something that is great to eat.
So there are the three of the four transformations.  Alive to dead – we get the flour; Dead to alive – we get the dough; Alive to dead we get the bread, but what about the fourth?  Where is that fourth transformation happen?  In happens within us.  When we eat bread, when we eat the yeast that has given itself up to die for the sake of making dough into bread, we are the final transformation.  What is dead provides life again, our life.  Bread is referred to as the staff of life.  It is the first product that was domesticated.  Every culture has some sort of bread in its history.  When we think of simple, basic foods, we think bread.  It is bread, dead dough, that gives us, humanity life.
I am sure you can see the symbolism here.  Jesus is introduces himself as “The Bread of Life.”  In order to give us life means he will have to be put to death.  But death was simply for Jesus a transformation.  Without death there would be no resurrection.  What was alive in a human form was Jesus Christ who then was placed upon a cross and died.  He truly and simply died.  But then he was alive again. 
Of course the people there that day did not understand what he was talking about.  Many of us here today read parts of the Bible like this and walk away scratching our head.  Remember metaphors are not supposed to be easy to understand or something that is clear cut but simply a way of understanding or a way of knowing.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Since we stand on the other side of the first Easter, we understand what he is talking about but do we truly know it for sure?
That final transformation still needs to happen within us.  When it comes to being a follower of Christ we have to understand that what was Alive was then dead but then alive again.  Unlike bread, Christ is alive and promises to allow us to be alive forever too.  His death and resurrection makes life possible for us.  It is that sacrifice, that gift, that grace that transforms who we are and who we grow to be. 
Are you hungry for the bread of life?  Are you hungry to grow in that transformation?  Then let us get to know this person, this savior named Jesus Christ.  Let us sink our teeth into the creator who took Adam, simple clay, and created life.  Let us fill ourselves up on the gift God gives called the Holy Spirit and allow us to live as transformed people.  Let us rise like dough and face the world alive and full on the bread of life.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

John 6:35; 41-51 – Sermon – The Bread of Life Part II

John 6:35; 41-51
The Bread of Life Part II
There are a total of 7 “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John.  Seven times Jesus describes himself.  Those statements are…
I am the light of the world
I am the gate
I am the good shepherd
I am the resurrection and the life
I am the way, the truth, and the life
I am the true vine
I am the bread of life
All of these seven sayings are metaphors which are very common in John’s gospel.  A metaphor is a figure of speed in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.[1]  For example you probably have heard this metaphors before.  “She is drowning in a sea of love.”  Does this mean there is a woman drowning, which means she is breathing in liquid, somewhere out there?  Does that mean there is a liquid called love that he is breathing in?  No, the metaphor points to the fact that this woman is so caught up in love that it is consuming her. 
Here is another, this one is a little more poetic and comes from the works of William Shakespeare. 
All the world’s stage,
And all the men and women merely players; 
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. 
This is simply a commentary on life and a way to describe it.  Life is like a play (which is actually a simile and not a metaphor but I hope you get the picture. 
In John’s gospel there are tons of metaphors.  Jesus uses them all the time to describe who he is.  John uses this to give us a rich understanding and picture of God’s son but also it can make Jesus hard to figure out and understand.  “I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” [2]  So we get this image that Jesus is a gate we go through to find pasture.  That gives us insight but only if you understanding what it means to find pasture.  If you don’t know what that means that can leave you wondering.  During my first sermon here I talked a lot about myself.  I told you who I was and I used phrases like, I am a father of two kids.  I am a husband for ten years.  Those were direct sayings that allowed you to get to know me.  But I didn’t say things like “I am the good shepherd,” or “I am the chief.”  I absolutely would not do what Jesus does in this text and say “feed on me.”  But that is what he does when he looks at those people around him and says, “I am the bread of life.”
So what was it like to make bread this week?  I heard a lot of you were intrigued by it.  Connie emailed me about this idea to have the bread maker going during the service to fill up our nostrils with warm baking bread.  Ahh, it smells so good!  How many of you were thinking about what Jesus says about him being bread?  As you went through the steps of baking and put your hands into the warm dough filled with active yeast, did you think of Jesus saying “I am the bread of life?”  As you took the flour, water and yeast and added the time, temperature and ingredients to it, did you think about the one who sustains us for eternity?
Bishop Will Willimon says, “Christianity is not a spiritual religion; it is an incarnational religion. It believes that God has a body, God takes up space, God will not remain ethereal and vague. This Gospel (John’s) opens with the declaration, “The Word became flesh and dwelt amount us.””[3]  John’s gospel reminds us that God takes up space in our lives.  He isn’t just an idea, a figure we dreamed up in our minds to compensate for our weakness, but has breathed our air, knows how it is to feel, and wants to take up room in our hearts.
Dietrich Bonheoffer was a theologian in Germany during World War II and was killed in a prison camp because he stepped out on faith and spoke out against Hitler’s regime.  He puts it this way, “The body of Christ takes up space.  That is, the body of Christ makes footprints.  A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for themselves.  They are disembodied amputees – that is all – but the incarnate Christ needs not only ears or a heart, but living people who will follow him.”[4]  Christ looks at the people around him, who were searching for him and he said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  He looks at them and says, “feed on me.”  “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.”
The people who ate the five loaves and two fish were hungry for more of this Jesus so they searched for them.  We come here today hungry to know the God who is in our midst and at times interrupts our lives as he tries to wedge himself into and find room in our hearts.  The Christian faith is not just an idea or a doctrine, it is an encounter with something, with someone, with the three-in-one God who here in our presence today.  
This is the problem with God, he won’t let us go.  He has all the right too.  If God decided to take humanity to court for a legal separation, we wouldn’t have a foot to stand on.  We constantly disobey, disown, and think we are the creators instead of the created.  Yet there God is, still trying to win us over.  I know countess stories of people who have been below rock bottom only to find Jesus there.  They are suffering depression, alcoholism, addiction, pain beyond belief and life is simply an act of suffering.  Maybe you can relate to that.  When they are so far down that they don’t feel worthy of anything, there Christ is offering a hand out and ready to pour grace into their thirsty souls.  There God is ready to walk right into their hearts and give them the life of the world bread they are truly hungry for.  Jesus is always right there, even when we are truly beyond hungry and are starving for forgiveness and grace, or meaning and belonging.
Let’s face it, as I preached last week I, like you, did not realize that one of our seats would be permanently empty.  Mildred’s death is a shock to us all.  I did not want to end my first month as your minister walking through what we have been through last week.  There is still plenty of mourning to go and pain to get through.  I did not want to show up today and act like that event is in our rearview mirror.  It is still raw, it is still fresh.  Part of me was glad that one of her last acts on earth was feasting on the bread of life.  It was in a moment of communion with God that she slipped from this world to the next.  And where has God been in all of this?  Where has the Holy Spirit been active?  Right here in your lives, in my life, in the lives of everyone who came to the viewing and all who mourn.  Jesus never leaves us and is constantly offering us the bread of life to live on.
From February 1 to March 2, 2003 Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s.  He filmed the dramatic effects it had on his body and psyche.  You can see this in the documentary film, Super Size Me.  During that month he visited McDonald’s three times a day and ate everything on the menu at least once.  During this month he gained 24.5 pounds and an increase in his body mass of 13%.  His cholesterol level jumped to 230 and he experienced other physical difficulties.  We laugh at this a little but the truth is that for that month he consumed the bread of death.  He filled himself up with things that were bad for him. 
It is easy for us to connect those dots.  Too much McDonald’s is bad for you.  Yet how can we look at our lives and be blind to the fact that we are feasting on just as bad metaphorical foods?  How many of us are in a relationship that we shouldn’t be in because it is physically harmful to our bodies or to our children?  How many of us suffer from smaller addictions that we cannot break and if we were truly honest with ourselves hold a little tougher grip on our lives than we like to admit?  How many of us find it too easy to slip into bad habits that we know are not good for us?  How many of us are so in debt that cringe every time we open the mailbox or answer the phone?  Are we filling our lives up with the bread of death?  Maybe I’m not talking about you but I guarantee you know someone who fits those description.
On the altar today we see stacks of homemade bread.  Our senses are on overload as we see and smell the wonders of bread.  We had to move some things off the altar to make room for this feast of the eyes.  Peter Reinhart says that “bread is a transformational food.”  I hope you saw that as you worked through the stages of baking; through the degassing, the mixing, the forming, and the baking.  Ingredients that don’t look like anything come together and make something.  What was lifeless then had life.
The same is true with the bread of life.  Those who are truly hungry are able to go through that transformation.   In the verses today Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die.”  What use to send us to the grave is now going to send us to life.  Jesus, becoming the bread of life, and then giving up his life for the world is the cornerstone of this transformation.  This sacrificial act secured eternal life for us all and now he freely offers it to the all of us.  But I don’t want to jump ahead too much.  We will get to more of that next week but we need to realizes that the transformation that Christ offers is unlike anything else in this world. 
Peter Reinhart was on a mission to figure out how to bring out the best flavor in wheat bread.  He was attempting to create something that is good for us and taste great.  He said it is hard to take the healthiest part of wheat, the bran which is filled with germ and fiber, and turn it into something with lots of flavor.  The white part of wheat which is what makes white bread is easy.  It is purely starch with is really just sugar.  Sugar tastes great in all its forms.  That is why Wonder Bread is so wonderful.  But to get to the good stuff that our bodies need, that takes special skills, and an artists touch. 
This world has a lot to offer us.  We can see a lot of white bread around in our world.  Materialism, greed, ego, politics, celebrity, and power all taste great.  They are easy to partake in and understand why so many people like it.  Yet that is not what sustains.  The bread of life is what does much more than the rest of the world.  Jesus looks at our world and he says, “I am the bread of life.”  He is what we need to sustain ourselves for eternity.  He is looking for those places in our lives where he can set up shop and intrude.  He is looking for where he can intrude in order to wake us up to what he is offering.  He is standing right next to us waiting on us to finally admit that we cannot do it on our own and will be happy to take over our lives if we only give him a chance.  The bread of life offers us real true life-giving nourishment, if we only eat.
Metaphors can be hard to understand.  They don’t just come out and say it.  We have to learn about the topic the metaphor points to better understand how it points out the reality it is suppose to.  As you baked this week do you understand what Jesus means when he says “I am the bread of life?”  As you cut off a slice later on today and put butter or jelly on it, will you understand how the bread of life feeds us what we truly need in this world?   Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  We need that bread, Lord give us this bread always.
And all God’s people said, Amen.

[2]John 10:9
[3]Pulpit Resource, Vol. 37, No. 3, Year B, July, August, September 2009, William Willimon, p.27

John 6:24-35 – Sermon – The Bread of Life Part I

John 6:24-35
The Bread of Life Part I
The basics of bread are easy.  Flour (the ground up seeds of wheat) plus water plus a yeast.  This makes up the basics of any bread recipe.  No matter what type you are trying to create it has to have these three ingredients; flour, water, and yeast.  Some sort of bread has been around for thousands upon thousands of years, some say about 30,000 years.  It has been a staple in life for the last 10,000 years.  Wheat and barley were one of the first plants domesticated and planted as a source of food and revenue in Asia and Europe.  Bread was a vital part of any civilization and that is true today.
Today there is a movement of artisan breads that are more readily available.  These are the fancy breads that we see in the bakery section of the grocery stores or at the bakery.  These can get really fancy with different crusts and flavors inside.  Now instead of just regular bread you can go to a restaurant and see that the sandwich comes on ciabatta or focaccia bread.  There is a new awakening for the types of bread that we use in our everyday lives.  Growing up I remember when Subway had either white or wheat and now that have five or six breads to choose from.  But no matter what type it is at its core it is still basically flour, water and yeast.
I have attempted to make types of bread before.  I went through a stage of experimenting with homemade pizza dough but I never really made a real loaf of bread.  As you can read in the newsletter article there are twelve basic steps in making bread.  I didn’t really realize this and I have learned this week that each one is crucial to the outcome of a good bread.  Each step has to be followed and the artisan part, or the art of baking, comes out during these steps.  It is how someone uses the time involved, the temperature of the oven and the ingredients to determine what the bread looks and tastes like.
Peter Reinhart is on staff at Johnson and Wales at the Charlotte campus and is world renouned for his baking.  He did a talk a couple years ago about bread and transformation.  I found this talk incredibly insightful and so you will hear a lot about it over the next coupe of weeks.  Remember that name though because I will be mentioning it a lot.  Peter informed me that there are the twelve steps and all of them are vital and important in the baking process.  Let’s walk through those twelve steps this morning to bring everyone on the same page.  You can also find these steps in the newsletter article as a reference as we go along.
1.      Scaling – or as the French call it Mis en Place.  This is the weighing and measuring out the ingredients.  Too much of something can through the whole recipe off.
2.      Mixing – this is the process of adding those ingredients together at specific times and at specific temperatures.  As I experimented with pizza dough different recipes had water and yeast at different temperatures and they all came out different.
3.      Fermentation – this is when the yeast starts to work.  Yeast is a living organism that turns sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide.  During this part of the process the yeast starts to teat the enzymes in the flour and turns them into flavor.  As Peter Reinhart says all bread really is yeast burps and sweat and start guts.  Yummy!  Without this process though you would have flat, flavorless bread.
4.      Folding – during this part of the process you are degassing the dough.  You are breaking up that CO2 that the yeast is creating and making room for the yeast to continue to work.
5.      Dividing – this is simply splitting the dough into workable amounts to yield however many loafs the recipe calls for.
6.      Rounding/Pre-shaping – putting the dough into the desired shape.
7.      Benching – this is letting the dough sit a while and relax again. 
8.      Makeup/Panning – This is simply putting into the pan that will bake the bread
9.      Proofing – during this step the yeast is proving the yeast is alive and healthy.  This is the final rise of the dough
10.  Baking – you are cooking the bread in an oven
11.  Cooling – letting it rest and cool in order not to burn ourselves
12.  Storing – this is when they package it up or eat it up like I prefer.
These twelve steps will yield bread; the substance truly is part of our daily lives and has been for almost forever.  These are the same steps that were around 100 years ago and even over 5,000 years ago.  The process has not really changed over time although the artisan part has here and there.  But that is how we get bread.
Bread is the stuff that last week Jesus used to feed 5000 people.  He took the five loaves of bread the youth had on him and he fed all those people and had twelve baskets of leftovers with.  It was that miracle that set the stage for this sermon series.  As we go through the rest of John 6th chapter we learn how people reacted to being fed in that miraculous manner.  Here is what happened.  After feeding the 5000, if you remember, Jesus was nervous because the people wanted to make him their king.  In order to escape that he went up onto a mountain alone.  While he was up there, the disciples headed off on a boat headed to Capernaum.  As they were traveling the waters started to get rough and the wind drove them out onto the lake about three or four miles.  Then they saw Jesus walking out to them on the water.  After the disciples panicked a little Jesus got on the boat and they were at Capernaum.
We pick up the story this week with the crowd.  While the disciples and Jesus were heading the Capernaum the crowd was waiting for Jesus to come down of the mountain.  In the morning they knew that only one boat had left with the disciples on it and that Jesus wasn’t with them.  No one saw Jesus come down off the mountain and walk across the water.  They were wondering where Jesus went and so they hopped into some boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.  When they get there they find him and they are really confused.  What they really want to know how Jesus gave them the slip and got over here.  There was only one boat missing and he wasn’t on it but now he is here…?
Jesus answers them in verse 26, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted.  Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you.  God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”  Jesus knows that they are not searching for him because he gave them the slip but because they are hungry for more.  They are hungry to learn more about the one who fed them that miraculous meal. 
In a commentary I read this week Benjamin Sparks wrote about Rice Christians from 19thcentury China.  This is what he said, “There was a name in nineteenth-century China (and perhaps all over Asia) for persons who came to church because they were hungry for material food.  They converted, were baptized, joined the church, and remained active members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation.  But once their prospects improved and they and their families no longer needed rice, they drifted away from the church. Hence missionaries called them ‘rice Christians.’”[1]
This happens all the time even in the modern church.  I know people who go to certain churches because their kids get a discount at the church’s school.  Or they become members in order to get a lower rate on the wedding they are planning.  We all know people who come to church for what the church can give to them and then when they don’t get that anymore they leave.  Jesus sees a little of that in the people who followed him to Capernaum.  They wanted more of that fresh miraculous bread but Jesus knows that stuff will fad eventually. After a while that bread will taste just the same as everything else.  What they need, what their souls are truly hungry for is the “food that endures for eternal life.”
After they hear this they want to know how they can get that type of soul food and Jesus tells them all they have to do is “believe in him who God sent.”  They come back with a follow up question, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you?  What will you do?  Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”  I wonder if these types of questions grated on Jesus’ nerves?  They get under my skin from time to time.  This question that the people ask just proves that they are only in this quest for Jesus for themselves.  They had just witnessed two miracles, Jesus feed the 5000 and then mysteriously getting to Capernaum without a boat and now they are demanding a third.  Plus they are using scripture to attempt to get Jesus to do what they want.
We do this all the time.  We have an idea about how God is supposed to act and so we attempt to force God to do it that way.  We constantly demand signs to answer our questions or as another hoop that God has to jump through for our obedience to happen.  When we do this we are simply being “rice Christians.” 
Yet what Jesus is offering us today is the Bread of Life.  He is offering us food today that is richer than anything at the most expensive restaurants in Uptown Charlotte.  He is offering us something that is everlasting.  What Jesus is offering us is the chance to be transformed by the Bread of Life.  If we believe in Jesus then we will never go hungry and never be thirsty.  This is metaphorical here.  There are places in the Bible that you cannot take absolutely literally.  We will need real and physical food and water to live life.  But what we are truly hungry for, meaning, purpose, acceptance, belonging, love, grace, forgiveness, peace, is all found in the Bread of Life. 
It is amazing that all this bread is (holding up the loaf of communion bread) is flour, water, and yeast.  The people who created used the same process, the same steps as we walked through earlier.  Over those steps raw materials are transformed into something that almost miraculous.  Time, temperature and ingredients came together to create what we will partake in today, the physical bread we will feast on.  God, the artisan of life, used time, temperature and ingredients to send his Son to be the sacrifice needed to save humanity.  That process is also being felt in our lives too.  Maybe the timing is just right for you to start your transformation?  Maybe you are realizing that God’s miraculous ways are present in your life and you want to continue to the process of being made whole?  Maybe life has turned up the heat in your life and it seems a little overwhelming?  Maybe the right ingredients are not present in your life and you need to go all the way back to step one again and rescale your life, reprioritize your life again?
The good news is that Jesus offers us a way to do just that.  The meal that we are about to partake in is a means of Grace where we can physically met, connect, and be transformed by the Almighty Baker.  We come today to the table and partake of one loaf because we who are many are one in the body of Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Let us ready ourselves and then come forward to be fed by the Bread of Life.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

[1] Proper 13, Pastoral Perspective in Feasting on the Word. O. Benjamin Sparks, P.308.

John 6:1-15 – Sermon – Abundance

John 6:1-15
I am slowly, SLOWLY getting use to this 9:00am worship hour.  It is definitely a change.  More for Alycia who has to wrangle two kids and get them here by herself by 9.  We will get used to it and week three was a little easier than the past two.  I was talking with a friend of mine who wants to come here me preach but lives about an hour and half away.  I told him that worship is at 9:00 and he requested we change it to 11 for the week he and his family were coming.  I told him no.
I realize there are some pros and cons about this worship time slot.  Some of the pros are the fact that I will never miss a Panther’s game.  I’ll be home in plenty of time and heck, I could even make a game when we are done at 11:00.  I will never have to wait in line at a restaurant after church.  I still have plenty of time in the day to do whatever I want.  One of the cons is I will have to figure out some different sermon illustrations than what I could use if we worshiped at 11:00. 
For example, how many of you are hungry?  If this was 11:30 instead of 9:30 I be the number would be almost doubled.  Plus, there are some awesome snacks down in the fellowship hall as a nice buffer between breakfast and lunch.  Hunger is a fickle thing.  It is something we all experience at one time or another.  We all know what hunger is because we all have had it.  But there are people in this world who know real hunger because they haven’t eaten in days.  The backpack ministry we donate too here is great because there are kids in our community that will go home on Friday and not have a good meal until they come back to school on Monday.  But we all get hungry.  It is cycle of life.  We use up all the nutrition in our last meal and our bodies start to remind us that we need to eat.  We need to put some fuel into our stomachs.
We all have different ways we react to that feeling.  For me, when I am hungry I start to get irritable.  My head might start to ache a little and my fuse gets really short.  But after I have put some food in my belly, I’m better.  I wonder what the crowd was acting like that had come to see Jesus.  They had seen the miraculous signs that Jesus had done with the sick and they wanted to know more about him.  They flocked to him because of they started to learn something about this guy named Jesus and what he could do.  They wanted to know more.  So they came in huge numbers.  We come here today hungry for Jesus too.  We hunger for that connection, that grace, that love, that forgiveness that only Jesus can offer.  Are you hungry this morning? 
There are four gospels in our Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels.  They seem to share similar sources and although they take different perspectives they follow each other in their story telling.  John seems to stand out on his own and looks at the story of Jesus a little differently.  You can come out from reading these four gospels with the same message but the story is told differently in each.  One difference is found in the telling of this story.  In the synoptic gospels the disciples look to Jesus and ask how they are going to feed the 5000 people sitting there.  Here in John’s gospel Jesus asks the disciples, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?”  John tells us that Jesus asked this question to test the disciples and he already knew what he was going to do.
In John’s gospel there is no doubt that Jesus is divine.  Jesus is God’s Son and John does everything in his power to demonstrate that.  In other gospels you can see a more human side of Jesus, but not in John.  In this story we see that Jesus is aware of the needs of the people and knows how to deal with them.  But instead of doing it himself he wants to involve the disciples.  He looks at Philip and poses the question, “Where are we going to buy enough food to feed these people?”  Philip opens the calculator app on his smart phone and does some quick math.  “Roughly five thousand people give or take.  Multiply that about $5 per extra value meal at the Kosher Deli and you get $25,000.  Jesus, you will need about half a year’s salary to buy enough food to feed all of these people!  And that is just a value meal, which will not fill everyone up!”
Then Andrew comes up and says “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish.  But what good is that for a crowd like this?”  That is all Jesus needs.  He found his gap and he is ready to burst through.  I have more in common with Philip then I care to admit.  As a planner I like to calculate everything.  Alycia makes fun of me because she will ask me  question and if it is number related, out comes the calculator and I find out the answer.  Alycia is rolling her eyes the whole time.  I like the easy answers and sure things.  I try to think about every option and what is the most feasible.  I love to find what is the most reasonable way to handle a situation.  I don’t like to fail, although I have a lot, and so if things aren’t going to go well, then I may not think about doing it.  Yet Jesus isn’t interested in the safe answer or the sure thing.  Jesus could care less about what is reasonable. 
So where does that leave us this morning?  I love preaching this story because of what it represents.  This demonstrates for us the idea of abundance.  When God gives he gives abundantly.  Jesus say in John’s 10th chapter, “I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.”  Jesus brings to us more than we can ever imagine.  What he offers is more than we actually need. 
When we think of abundance what is the first thing that comes to mind?  The amount of French fries you get at Five Guys? The amount of cars on 74?  The amount of political ads on TV now, no wait that will become worse as we get towards November.  When we think of abundance we also think of stuff.  Those people on Hoarders have an abundance of ‘stuff’.  How many cats do you have to own until you have an abundance of cats?  This story is really all about God’s abundance.
After Jesus receives the five loaves and two fish from the youth what does he do?  Notice it wasn’t an adult that stood up and said, “here Jesus can you use this?”  No it was a youth.  The adults were probably hoarding all their snacks to make sure they had enough for themselves.  That would be the reasonable thing to do right?  Jesus is holding the five loaves and two fish and he tells the disciples “Have the people sit down.”  The verse goes on to say, “There was plenty of grass there.”  The first sign of abundance was the grass.  There was enough room in this field for everyone to have a seat.  How much grass has to be available for 5000 people to sit down on?  I don’t know if you could fit 5000 people on our lawn out there?  We probably have just under 100 people here this morning and so think about 50 times more people like us.  That is a lot of space yet there was enough room. 
I think this shows that Jesus has enough room for all of us.  There is enough space in his heart, in his grace, for all of us to be there.  I know there are people who feel they can’t come to church because they won’t be accepted or they say “the church doesn’t want people like me.”  Yet in Jesus’ eyes and at this spontaneous meal he makes sure everyone has a place to sit down.
All 5000 people sit down and then Jesus gives thanks for the bread and fish.  Then he passes it out to everyone.  I love what it says next, “each getting as much as they wanted.”  Jesus didn’t just pass out enough to fulfill everyone’s needs.  No everyone got what they wanted.  One fish sandwich may be enough for some, but some may have wanted a second.  Jesus’ didn’t hold back, he gave them what they wanted.  All 5000 people ate until they were full on those five loaves and two fish.  They didn’t get just enough to take away their hunger headaches but they ate until their bellies hurt, until they had ‘plenty’ to eat.  Not just enough but plenty.
You know what plenty feels like don’t you?  You have had plenty to eat when you can’t suck in your belly any more.  You try but for some reason that 2 pound burrito you ate is sticking out and over your belt.  Plenty is that third plate of Thanksgiving that you probably shouldn’t have had.  But there is the abundance again.  Jesus doesn’t give us what we need but offers us even more.  His love and his grace is more than we can ever desire or want.  In Psalm 23 it states, “my cup runneth over.”  Everyone in that crowd that day felt taken care of, loved, and full.
Then after everyone was full the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers.  12 baskets!  It isn’t just a couple of pieces of bread but it was tons more than what was originally offered.  Even then there was an abundance of leftovers.  Can you imagine if you were the youth who offered up the 5 loaves and two fish and then after dinner the disciples walked back up to you with the12 baskets to take home?  How would you explain that to your parents.  “Yeah, mom, I know you sent me out on my trip to hear that Jesus guy with two fish and five loaves of bread.  I decided to give it to him and then he let me bring all these baskets back home!  NO I didn’t steal them, it was a miracle and Jesus made my bread and fish multiply to feed everyone there and these are the leftovers!”
There are some people who like to claim that what really happened was that when they saw that the youth had given up his food, they dove into their own pockets and shared what they had brought.  I can see how this might happen.  If you get enough mom’s together you could probably cook a holiday feast with the amount of goldfish crackers, gummies, and other snacks they have in their purses.  But what this does is really take away from the miracle here.  That idea says that if we shame people enough then miracles can happen, but I don’t see that here.  I see a miracle.
There is a story about a man who was caught in a flood. As the flood waters were rising, a man was on the stoop of his house and another man in a row boat came by. The man in the row boat told the man on the stoop to get in and he’d save him. The man on the stoop said, no, he had faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising and the man had to go to the second floor of his house. A man in a motor boat came by and told the man in the house to get in because he had come to rescue him. The man in the house said no thank you. He had perfect faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising. Pretty soon they were up to the man’s roof and he got out on the roof. A helicopter then came by, lowered a rope and the pilot shouted down in the man in the house to climb up the rope because the helicopter had come to rescue him. The man in the house wouldn’t get in. He told the pilot that he had faith in God and would wait for God to rescue him. The flood waters kept rising and the man in the house drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked God where he went wrong. He told God that he had perfect faith in God, but God had let him drown.  “What more do you want from me?” asked God. “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”[1]

How many times are we the man waiting as the flood rises?  How many times do we say, God will save me as we ask the boat to leave?  I know when I am struggling with faith or for answers to come for God I tend to get it in my head the way it supposed to be and I look for that instead of being open for God to work in God’s own way.  I tend to look for the most reasonable way to do something but then later I realize I may have denied God the ability to work and provide a miracle because I was too caught up in the fear of failure.  When we do this it seems that we are telling God we know better.  In one of the synoptic gospels during this story the disciples beg Jesus to let the people go but instead he lets them stay and eat.  The people going home would be reasonable but then a miracle could not happen. 
Are you hungry?  Did you come here today hoping to be fed by the Spirit?  Well welcome, there is plenty of room on the grass.  Come and have a seat.  Are we willing to let God work through you?  Are you willing to give God our five loaves and two fish and then get out of God’s way?  Give him what you have because he can turn it into enough to feed thousands.  Are you willing to eat plenty have so many leftovers that you have to share them with those you know are hungry?  Are you going to leave this place today so filled with grace that you flock to the next time we come together and you bring others with you because you have been fed by Christ?
My prayer for Indian Trail UMC is that we are hungry and we trust in God to feed us.  Because we if are willing to hand over our five loaves and two fish, if we are willing to eat plenty of what is offered, then I promise we will see a miracle of abundance.
And all God’s people said…Amen.