Sermon for July 29

Old Testament Reading 2 Kings 4:42-44

Epistle Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21

Gospel Reading: John 6:1-21

Sermon: “Faith Out Walking”

The great Chicago Evangelist, D. L. Moody started out life working as a salesman in his uncle’s shoe store at the age of 17. Later, he traveled and wrote and preached a great deal in the second half of the 1800’s. One quote of his that I am particularly fond of springs from that early experience: “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” In other words, the truths contained in God’s Word aren’t meant to be trimmed in gold leaf and set on a beautifully varnished shelf. They are meant to be lived out in faithful obedience. Our Faith in God is likewise not an intellectual idea to be purely treasured for its own sake. Rather it is the assurance of how we respond to, in the world we inhabit.

Now, as with many things, that’s a whole lot easier to say than to live, but its important for several reasons. First for our own selves – it keeps us focused on our grateful response to God for the wonderful grace we have been given. That’s what Paul was writing about this morning in that glorious passage from the third chapter of Ephesians. where Paul prays for that church and for all believers saying “ (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV)

[16] I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, [18] may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, [19] and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That is what we have received, now the question for today is what are we going to do with it?

Secondly, it is the most powerful testimony we can give to the world – one more D.L. Moody quote for you this morning: ““Out of 100 men, one will read the Bible, the other 99 will read the Christian.” How we live matters not only for us but for all who see us and particularly for those who realize we are Christians. Both the OT and NT readings today offer us a look at how good, dedicated disciples react in matters of faith, out in public and in private. So I would ask you to consider each one briefly with me this morning to ask two questions of each. 1. What would the faithful response to the situation have been? And 2. What got in the way, or if they did seem to get it right, what enable them to see it that way? So first then, was the response faithful or not? And if not, what would have been more so? And Secondly why did they act that way? So ready to go?

First we have the simple example of the unnamed farmer who brought his modest offering to the Prophet – an act of obedience to the law of God and gratitude for the blessings of the season. I think we can agree that he was being faithful – acting out his gratitude. Next we have the great prophet Elisha, successor to Elijah whom he had seen taken up to heaven in a whirlwind accompanied by a fiery chariot. He has seen and handled the power of God in amazing ways already – supporting poor a widow by the miracle of a small jar of oil which filled many, many others without going empty and raising the son of a woman from Shunem who offered him frequent hospitality on his travels. It was to this man of God that the anonymous farmer brought his offering of the first fruits of his land.

Apparently, there was quite a crowd with Elisha at the time – around one hundred in fact. So Elisha graciously instructs his servant to share the food. Here is where this little story gets interesting. The servant seems embarrassed and seems to argue that it is insufficient food for so many. Elisha assures him that not only will it be enough, but that there will be leftovers! And so there were. Now surely Elisha was being faithful in the act of sharing, but even more in trusting the provision of God. But we still have sympathy for the servant. The farmers gift seems just too small, there may be hard feelings from those who get nothing. But Elisha has seen the power of God before flow through his hands. It is experience that gives him assurance just as the fear of appearances temporarily holds the servant back. Humm… might be some lessons here for us too.

Lets go on now to the gospel lesson and observe the crowd that followed Jesus to this spot. Tradition holds that this place is at the site now called Tabga looking out over the Sea of Galilee. Its a beautiful place with springs of water and nice lush grass. But it is quite a way from any town. The story echoes several of the elements of Elisha’s story. There is a large group – even much larger here thousands versus 100. Hunger too is universal. One is here too that is familiar and confident with the power of God. As are those who will express the worry and doubt the practicality of it all. Jesus seems to invite such questions as a way of teaching a lesson here.

First he asks poor Phillip a difficult question: “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Two questions immediately arise – Where to buy? and of course the one that Phillips raises “With what resources?” Phillip lays out the practical problem no doubt prompted by Jesus asking about “buying” bread. Next good ole Andrew steps up to bat. He has evidently been looking around a bit and has come up with the little boy and his snack. But he expresses the same worry as had Elisha’s servant. Does he perhaps remember the story? We don’t really know. What we do know is that Jesus gave thanks for the meager food and began distributing it. Wonder of wonders, when everybody had eaten their fill, Jesus arranged a second lesson – when the remains were gathered up. 12 basket were filled!

Now with the advantage of hindsight, lets ask ourselves, what would have been a more faithful response for Phillip and Andrew? Might they have remembered the wedding feast at Canna and the abundance of wine from the jugs of water? Or perhaps that strange comment to the disciples about having food that did not know about after talking with the Samaritan woman at the well? Certainly they had seen him heal the sick and cast out demons. Yet, the response was down the practical list of issues of where is the bakery and how are we going to pay. So many times, church committees run down that same well worn trail. Where is the role of faith? Where do we leave room for the grace of God. What interferes? Fear of inadequacy? Yes, Forgetting the presence of God, definitely. Forgetting the blessings of the past and so not having that support to our faith? Most very definitely. Humm… more lessons for us it seems.

There is one character here that deserves special commendation in my view – and that is the little boy. Those men are discussing taking his lunch! And yet we are left to assume that he is just fine with that. Now, Jesus will not have him go hungry- he gets fed along with everybody else. But he doesn’t know that yet. Still he is the one in the story that stands out as faithful. He offered what he had. If Jesus could use it, he was willing to give it. He asks for nothing in return and yet receives a full meal for his meager lunch. Humm… seems I remember Jesus saying something about faith as a little child – might he have been thing about this one?

Some last observations at the close of the story as well. The people were obviously impressed with this miracle for John tells us that the people recognized him as a great prophet – they remembered Elisha’s story even if the disciples did not. Still they got it wrong too. They tried to seize Jesus and make him King by force – at least that way, they thought they would always have enough to eat. But Jesus was sent for far greater things than that. They still did not recognize him as the son of God. Trying to capture the blessings of God for ourselves is not faithful living.

Finally there is the scene out on the lake. Jesus has sent them on ahead and a storm has come up. John tells us that Jesus came to them walking on the water. John does not give us the story about Peter’s response as Matthew does but all three agree that the disciples were terrified. Now that is yet another response to trouble and things outside our experience that we can all identify with. Yet the faithful response is demonstrated for us here – they hear their masters voice – recognize him – and invite him along with them in the boat.

It is a sweet thing to recognize the presence of God in times of trouble. Sweet indeed to recall that we can rely on God now and in the future, as in the past. Faith means walking with God, relying on his word and his grace. Fully trusting that even if we stumble, God never does. Thanks be to God.