Let us pray:
O God, as we approach your Word again, remind us that you are the source of your miracles: that we do not have to create them ourselves, that we do not have to be perfect to approach you, and that through them you offer us your grace. And so I pray that you would offer us your grace this morning, O God, your imperfect, struggling people. Inspire us, but also give us grace. Almighty God, speak to us through your Holy Spirit, that your Son Jesus Christ may live in us through faith. Amen.
Why do you follow Jesus?
In our gospel reading for today, I was struck by the crowd of people who were following Jesus, “because they saw the signs that he was doing” (v. 2). That is, they followed Jesus because they had seen what He could do. They saw Him heal the sick. They heard Him teach. They saw, perhaps, Jesus turn the water to wine at the wedding in Cana. And all these things that the crowds saw Jesus do, these miracles, these signs, they were signals that God was present and active. They show God’s abundant grace. They were compelling enough for the crowd to continue following Jesus, from Jerusalem out into the countryside.
I was struck by this image of following Jesus because. Because of His signs. Because of what He can do. Because, as Simon Peter says later in this chapter (and as we sang just a few moments ago), “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Because Jesus is special, is more than special: is God’s Son.
We don’t follow Jesus because of our parents, because we think the creed is beautiful or logical, because we love worship, because we like the people in church or grew up with them. We follow Jesus because of Jesus–because of who Jesus is. Because of what Jesus has done for us, how we’ve experienced Jesus and seen things healed and repaired and felt God’s love and known that God is God, that Jesus is God, that God is the Creator. Or maybe because we’re intrigued, because we’ve seen something and want to know what else is there, what we’re missing, who this Jesus really is. We don’t follow Jesus out of obligation–or, perhaps, we don’t follow Jesus well out of obligation alone, for then it becomes a list of rules and regulations, a matter of being good enough and getting things just so, when Jesus is the kind of person and God to turn up in the middle of a storm walking on water, which is both unexpected and unhelpful. It’s somewhere between weird and whimsical.
The people follow Jesus because of what they’ve seen and heard, because of how generously Jesus gives of God’s abundance. And then, here, Jesus makes that abundance something physical, something the people can feel and touch and taste, and gives them more than enough food for all from one boy’s loaves and fish.
For most of us, having enough food isn’t even a sign of abundance. We buy things that are on sale and stick them in the freezer; we know that if we run out of something, we can just run to the store, or eat something else for a few days. This isn’t the reality for all of us, but certainly is for many of us. But these people who were following Jesus lived in a very different world, where they grew their own food each year, and out of that had to come enough for them and for their families and for their taxes. If it was a bad year, well, do the best you can and hope the next year is a good one. Even if it’s a good year, you can’t celebrate too much: everything you’ve harvested has to last you until the next harvest, after all. Food was a precious, limited commodity.
And then here comes Jesus, making so much food that there are twelve baskets of leftovers. Twelve baskets. There was so much food that everyone could eat their fill, with no need to worry about later. There’s no counting it down to the day, no gnawing worry about next year, no urges to hoard so that you, at least, will have enough. There is more than enough for everyone.
I think that if Jesus did this miracle here, today, in America, it wouldn’t be an abundance of food that He gave us. We can go to the supermarket for that, after all, and Jesus is far more than a supermarket. I think He would give us time, but not a few minutes snatched from here and an hour from there, but space to breathe, space to leave our to-do lists behind and enjoy our families. Time where our worries about everything that needs to happen are utterly unimportant, and time where we know that there is enough for what is important.
Not because Jesus is some magic time-giving machine, because that is definitely not true–just as Jesus is not a walking supermarket. Jesus did not come to give us physical bread–or, in my hypothetical miracle, endless time. Rather, Jesus came to invite us into God’s abundance–”I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10) He says only a few chapters later.
God’s abundance is more that food, is more than time, is more than politics going the way we want, is more than freedom from our to-do lists. God’s abundance is freedom from our worries about being not enough of this or too much of that. It is freedom from having to protect our own at all costs, freedom from the fears and shames and everything else that we hide and disguise, and that tangles and chokes and kills. Instead, God invites us into a space where there is enough: enough time, enough for our needs, enough to give away.
This isn’t just a story of the past, something Jesus did that one time. Jesus is still inviting us in, showing us all the places we see only that there is not enough: in our paychecks, in our marriages and friendships, in our to-do lists, in our lives. And Jesus is still showing us that we’re wrong, that there is more than enough, because God is there and with God there is more than enough, always.
And God’s abundance isn’t just for us. It isn’t just for each of us. It’s for all of us. It’s for this church, as we think about our future and wonder what we’re supposed to be doing now. It’s for our communities, as we struggle with changing jobs and cultures and demographics. It’s for our country, as we worry about our future and our politics and our divisive partisanship. There is enough. God’s abundance is more than enough. God is enough for all of us.
And so I’d like to leave you with two questions. The first: where have you seen God’s abundance in your life? or felt it? heard it? Where has God showed you how very, very much Jesus wants to offer you and to free you from?
And the second: where can you spread God’s abundance? Where can you show others what you’ve been given? How can you show God’s love this week?