The Need, the Resource, and Jesus

by the Rev. Paul Nancarrow

This sermon is based on John 6:1-21.  

Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

In our Gospel this morning, the disciples have a problem. They want to do what they believe Jesus wants them to do, but they don’t know how to do it.

They’ve been following Jesus – they’ve been with him for about a year now, actually, according to John’s chronology – and in that time they have heard his teaching, they have witnessed his healings, they’ve begin to recognize his ideals and aims and principles, they are being formed in his Way. They’ve come to know what he stands for, and they want to stand for that, too: they want to do the things in their lives too that will show forth the work of Jesus in the world.

And here they have the perfect opportunity. Crowds of people, thousands of people, have gathered to hear Jesus teach. They’ve seen the signs Jesus is doing for the sick, and they know they themselves need to be healed, in body and mind and spirit, so they have come to hear Jesus: hundreds of them, thousands of them, up on the mountain, out in the wilderness, they have come, and they have been there all day.

And now those thousands of people are hungry. They’ve had their souls nourished, and now it’s time to nourish their bodies, too. And the disciples know Jesus would want them to do this. They’ve seen him care for enough people’s bodies that they know he cares about bodies, he cares about bodily well-being and flourishing. And with this many hungry bodies gathered, the disciples know that Jesus would want them to be fed.

They just don’t know how do to it. “How will we feed them?” Jesus asks, and they don’t have much of an answer. “Maybe they could get a little if we all gave six months of our wages,” Philip says; but that’s not much help: they all gave up their jobs to follow Jesus, so they don’t have wages; and even if they did, they’re out in the wilderness and there’s no place to buy anything. So the disciples have a problem: they want to do what Jesus wants, but they don’t know how.

I think the disciples’ dilemma is emblematic of how the church often behaves. We do our best to follow Jesus, we really do. We do our best to understand Jesus’ aims and ideals and principles, and to act them out in the ways we believe and behave. We want to do what we believe Jesus would want us to do. We just don’t always know how we should do that.

And I think that is especially true with the big, hairy, social and global problems of our times. We believe that Jesus wants us to be a force for good in the world, we believe that it is the Way of Jesus to bring peace and justice and well-being to everyone, and that means on the global scale as well as the personal scale. But these things often seem so overwhelming, so huge and complicated and intractable. I mean, what can we do, we here at Trinity Church, to end racism, to solve poverty, to relieve hunger and violence and injustice and climate disruption and war and disease and tragedy? How do we even get our heads around that? Where do we even begin to fix all that?

I think sometimes we act like Philip. We zero in on the fix. We think “If we just had enough money, and we had the right program to put it into, then we could take care of all of this.” We think of the techniques we could use to make everything right, and we focus on what we could do, if we just had enough, in order to show Jesus that we are doing what he wants us to do. And we get overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all and nothing ever ends up getting “fixed.”

That’s why I’m so intrigued by the role Andrew plays in this story. Unlike Philip, Andrew doesn’t fantasize about what they would do if they had enough. Andrew looks around and sees what they have. And what they have is a boy who is willing to offer what he’s carrying – five pitas of cheap grain and two little dried fish – and even though that is clearly not enough, Andrew brings it to Jesus’ attention … and all those thousands of people get fed.

What Andrew does is make a connection: a three-way connection between a need, a resource, and Jesus. The people are hungry; the need is obvious. The boy has some food; it’s not enough, but it’s a resource. And Jesus – Jesus is the key, Jesus is the Word through whom God creates in the world, Jesus is the Way God does good things in human lives, Jesus is the Wisdom that reveals from God what we can’t figure out on our own. Andrew connects that. Andrew doesn’t try to fix the situation, not even in fantasy; Andrew brings together what is there – the need, the resource, and Jesus – and the situation gets resolved in God.

And I think the church – I think we – are called to be more like Andrew than like Philip. Our job as followers of Jesus is to make the connection. It’s not up to us to solve the problems or fix the situations or reinvent the wheels as if the church has everything and is giving it out in charity to a godforsaken world. That’s not how God’s world works. What is up to us is to see the needs: to see them, not look away, not sugarcoat them, not pretend they’re not there, but to see the needs. What is up to us is to look for resources: money, yes, but also relationships and networks and cooperative opportunities and good will to do good things in all kinds of places, whether they’re labeled “church” or not. What is up to us is to look to Jesus, to let ourselves be guided by the Way who leads us beyond what we think we can do, what we fantasize we might do, and leads us to do more than we ever expected or imagined. Our job as disciples is to make the connection between the need, the resource, and Jesus.

Just look at what we’re doing here today. We are making a special offering today for the “Rebuild the Churches” fund, which is a effort being led by Christ Church Cathedral in St Louis to help with reconstruction of four historically black churches targeted by arson. The people of Christ Church Cathedral saw a need to reach out to the black church community, to help wake from the nightmare of racism in a specific concrete act of good for specific churches. And they knew they had resources, they could raise money, but the money they could raise by themselves wouldn’t make much of a contribution, or much of a public statement. So they looked to Jesus, and they knew the love of Jesus would open many hearts to generosity just like theirs. And they made the connection – the need, the resource, and Jesus – and started an online fund to gather the gifts of many, many Christians, including us, and as of yesterday they’ve raised nearly $260,000 – more than they’d expected or imagined. And the need is still there – and in the Way of Jesus we can be there too with our gift today.

Or look what’s going on right here in town. We know there are hungry people here in Staunton, we know there is a need for food that is nourishing and sustaining and healthful. The organizers of the Saturday farmer’s market down at the Wharf saw they had a resource in the produce and fresh food that wasn’t getting sold on the weekends. And the leaders of our Noon Lunch progam, guided in the Way of Jesus, made the connection. And now each week we get pounds and pounds of tomatoes and carrots and squash and berries and sausages and cheese and fruit and fresh farm food to share with our Noon Lunch guests. As a parish church, it’s not our job to fix hunger all on our own; but we help make connections between needs and resources and Jesus – and amazing things happen.

And you are called to make that connection, too. Where do you see a need: global, social, communal, personal? And of what resources are you aware: relationships, networks, cooperations, gifts, talents, compassion, love? And how are you led in the Way of Jesus: the ideals and aims and principles of right-relationship for mutual well-being in giving and receiving with freedom and grace? Where can you make the connection between need and resource and Jesus and open up more good than you can expect or imagine? That is your Gospel today.

Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Turns out, in connection, they were more than enough.

May it be so for us. Amen.