Let me share with you this story from the Gospel of John:
After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews.
When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”
One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”
Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.
When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.
The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, “This is the Prophet for sure, God’s Prophet right here in Galilee!” Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself.
John 6:1-15 (The Message)
Now, this is a version of a story that many of us have heard countless times before. But as we worship together today, I can’t help but wonder when you hear this familiar tale, where do you imagine yourself in the story?
I don’t know about you, but when I hear this story, I always imagine myself as one of Jesus' disciples – that inner group gathered around close enough to hear everything that's happening. And, as I'm listening, I can hear the concern that Jesus has for this group of five thousand people that have come to see him when he asks about feeding the group.
And I imagine the group of disciples quickly looking at each other, and maybe taking an extra long look at their treasurer, Judas, before they answer that there simply aren’t enough resources to take care of all of these people.
But just as the disciples say there's no way to possibly feed this multitude, Andrew pushes his way through the crowd holding the hand of a small child, practically dragging the boy behind him. I can almost hear Andrew trying to catch his breath after running through the crowd. And then he blurts out to Jesus, “I found this boy...he has some fish and some bread...but I don't know if it'll really help.”
And I can just see this little boy proudly holding his little lunch bag out to Jesus, showing the Messiah the two small fish and five barley loaves that his mother had packed for him. And I can imagine the grin slowly coming across Jesus' face. And this grin soon turns into a radiant smile – going from ear to ear – because in this moment Jesus not only knows exactly how he’s going to take care of these five thousand folks who had come out to hear him teach, but he’s also smiling because Jesus knows that his followers will soon learn a valuable lesson.
Jesus' followers are about to realize that the meager amount they have to offer doesn’t matter because, in God's hands, even the tiniest of resources can be used to accomplish incredible things.
In God's hands, even the tiniest of resources can be used to accomplish incredible things.
But the disciples only offer us one perspective on this story. If you really want to appreciate this story, you also have to be able to imagine that you’re one of the people who were in the crowd that had gathered around Jesus that day. So, can you imagine yourself as one of the people who had come a long way to reach the base of this hill – just hoping to see Jesus?
But in spite of the excitement that surrounded your trip, you're now facing the realities of life...and you're starting to get hungry. And, just when your stomach starts to growl, you hear one of Jesus' disciples telling you to sit down on the grass because lunch is about to be served.
Can you imagine plopping down on that soft green grass? Can you imagine anxiously rubbing your hands together as you wait for the food to arrive? Can you imagine wiping just the tiniest drop of drool from the corner of your mouth as you anticipate the feast that Jesus has prepared?
And can you imagine how you’d feel when a murmur starts creeping toward you from the front of the crowd? And you realize that Jesus is going to try to feed everyone with the two fish and five barley loaves that some kid brought in his Paw Patrol lunchbox. In that moment your heart would sink, because you were expecting a feast, only to realize you'd be lucky to have even a morsel.
Or, if that’s too hard to imagine, just think ahead to Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, you’ll have a bunch of food on your table. And if your table is anything like mine, you’re going to have some dinner rolls. Now, the dinner roll that you eat on Thanksgiving is about the same size as one of the loaves of bread the little boy had in this story from the Gospel of John.
Now, you may have a lot of people coming over for Thanksgiving…but you won’t have 5,000 people sitting around your table. But still, imagine trying to feed everyone at your table with one dinner roll. How far do you think that roll would go? And how do you think your guests would feel when they found out you only had one roll to serve for Thanksgiving?
Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this one before? Have you ever expected something big to happen, only to find that you didn't get what you expected? Have you ever dreamed of having too much, only to awake to the nightmare of not having enough?
In a lot of ways, that’s the place we’ve been in as a church for the last handful of years. We’ve been dreaming big dreams that haven’t really come true. We’ve dreamed about having every seat in our new sanctuary filled. We’ve dreamed about having our Small Group overflowing with people. We’ve dreamed that our church could touch as many lives as Jesus did on that hillside in John’s story.
But these dreams haven’t turned out like we expected. And many of us have felt at least a little heartbroken that our big dreams haven’t come true.
But as I studied this scripture, this story of the feeding of the multitude, I've come to an amazing revelation. You see, usually, when we hear this story, we place ourselves in the shoes of the crowd. And that means that we're little more than spectators to the unbelievable work that God is doing. We just want to watch as the miracle unfolds before our eyes. And as we sit and wait for the work of God to finally reach us, we are simply part of the hungry crowd waiting to be fed.
We, as a church, have become part of the crowd as well, serving as spectators to our own faith. We sit and watch all that is going on around us. And just like the crowd in the story, we're waiting for the work of God to finally reach us. And just like the crowd, our stomachs are growling because week after week we're still longing to be fed.
But did you realize there is a completely different perspective in this story? A perspective I imagine no one in this place has ever thought of before, a place we've never tried to put ourselves in.
What place is that? The place of the bread and the fish.
Just think about it, the bread and the fish in this story are the elements that Jesus uses to serve people who need him. Jesus sends out the bread and the fish to feed everyone in the crowd who's hungry.
And we, as a church, are supposed to be the elements that Jesus uses today to serve a world in need of him. We, as a church, are sent out to offer the bread of life, Jesus Christ, to a world that is starving for him.
So what we need to do is change our perspective. We need to stop being part of the hungry crowd and become what feeds them.
We need to stop being part of the hungry crowd and become what feeds them.
We need to stop sitting and waiting for the work of God to come to us, and we need to let Jesus use us to accomplish his work. We need to stop thinking like people and start behaving like bread.
Think about it for just a minute, what do we know about the bread in this story? Well, from this story, there are basically 3 things we know about this bread. First, we know it's made from barley. Now barley is a cheaper grain – costing about a third of the price of wheat – which means that it's something available for everyone. So if we are to behave like bread, we must be available to help anyone and everyone.
We also know that there are five small loaves of this barley bread, and there are 5,000 people waiting to be fed. 5 loaves of bread, 5,000 people. 5 loaves, a very limited resource. 5,000 people, a very large group.
And when we think like people, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of folks in the crowd. And when we get overwhelmed by the number of people in need we become fixated on the small resources available. The truth is, it wouldn't take us very long before we forgot about the 5,000 people in the crowd, and became solely focused on finding more bread.
As we look around this morning, we see more than 5 people gathered in this place, but we also know we have limited resources. But we are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the city of Louisville. And the Louisville Metro has a population of almost 1.4 million people.
A few dozen people in our church. Almost 1.4 million people in our community. And the sad thing is that many of us have forgotten about the 1.4 million people we’re called to minister to, and instead, we’re trying to figure out how to add more bread, more resources to ourselves.
But if we behave like bread, we never forget about who we are supposed to feed. And although it may seem that these 5 little barley loaves couldn't possibly do what they are supposed to do, these loaves are still used to feed that multitude.
And that means that we must never forget about the people we are called, as the people of God, to minister to. Even though we have limited resources, and it seems that there is no way that we could ever serve a community with 1.4 million people...we can, as long as we remember the final thing this passage teaches us about the bread.
You see, in this passage, the most important thing we know about the loaves of bread is that they are in the hands of God. Literally, in this story, Jesus holds the bread in his hands to give them to the crowd. And, in our story, God holds all of his people in his hands.
And although I may not be able to break bread and feed 5,000 people with it, God can. So even if it may seem that we are just a few pieces of bread trying to feed a huge, hungry crowd, we must remember that we are not trying to feed the crowd alone. God is using us, and when God uses us we can become an abundance.
And the truth is, we are already becoming that abundance. And, sure, we may not see it in the number of people that are sitting in this room this morning...but we are seeing it in the number of people that we minister to every year.
Like every year we work with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a person or family in need in our own community. And we have been doing that for 30 years. So our church has helped 30 families become homeowners...and changed their lives forever.
And every year in the weeks leading up to Easter, we collect an offering of tangible items that we donate to the Cabbage Patch House. Every year we donate over $2,000 worth of pantry and personal hygiene items to the Patch. The Patch relies on us – us at Melbourne Heights – to stock their pantry for 6 months out of the year.
Or just a few months ago, when floods ravaged Eastern Kentucky, we came together and donated 21 buckets filled with disaster relief supplies to help people begin to put their lives back together.
And then there’s the Angel Tree. For the last seven years, our church has worked closely with the Salvation Army to provide Christmas gifts for kids in need in our own backyards. This year, we’re going to provide Christmas gifts to 75 kids. And we’re not talking about one or two small gifts. Every kid we shop for gets $100 worth of clothes and $50 worth of toys. In the seven years that we’ve been working with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, our church has provided $90,000 worth of Christmas gifts to kids in need right here in Louisville.
And that doesn’t even count the ministry that we do online. Our church has ministered to almost 7,500 people in the last year through our website. We’ve reached people in 121 different countries and all fifty states. And in Louisville alone last year, we ministered to over 1,500 people.
So, whether you realize it or not, every year we minister to thousands of people at Melbourne Heights. So we have to stop thinking of ourselves as limited resources. We have to stop thinking that we can't do great things. We have to stop thinking that things are impossible for us.
And we have to start thinking about who we are. We are the people of God – the God who created this universe – the people that God calls to serve. And although we may seem small but, in the hands of God, we are abundant.
We may seem small but, in the hands of God, we are abundant.
So starting right now, let's stop limiting ourselves and truly let God use us as an abundance of God's grace, hope, and love in this world.