Lectionary (Year B): 2 Samuel 11:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 14 or Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Too often the narrative of the feeding of the multitude is relegated to children’s church and Sunday School and is seen way too often as having way too little to say to adults. So, though I am sure many if not most and maybe even all of you have heard the story before, I am hoping to present it in two new ways, hoping, even praying as my publisher Laura Alden says, may you find something new in the familiar and something familiar in the new. you will find some new in the familiar and something familiar in the new.
I am going to provide two different evangelistic/missional takes on the one and same passage. The first will focus on just one disciple in the narrative. The second will focus on the collective of all the twelve. One should be seen speaking to the congregant. The other should be seen as speaking to the whole congregation.
Something to say very quickly about the crowd. It was:
- Multicultural “came from everywhere”
- Intergenerational “adults and kids”
- Gender inclusive “women … besides the men”
- Interested in spiritual things “they sat all day and listened to Jesus”
Activity Page for Children: (Lesson, Coloring Page, and Craft)
Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6TjOhnv1Nk (ESV: with subtitles)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kc8o5nC9Ew (ESV: without subtitles)
Music: “Break Thou The Bread Of Life”, “Little Is Much When God Is In It”, “Tell Me The Stories of Jesus”, and “Come and Dine”
Poem: Loaves and Fishes
‘Are you so anxious for your life? ’ The problem of hunger.
‘What shall you eat? ’ Now listen and ponder.
Remember He took five loaves in His hands
And looking up to heaven, gave thanks,
And broke and kept on giving,
And in His hands, in the very act of breaking,
The bread multiplied
And they all ate and were satisfied.
Each of the twelve picked up a small basket
To take home, a divine token,
Of fish fragments and bread broken.
Another time He took a few small fish and seven
Loaves, and looking up to heaven,
Blessed, and kept breaking;
And the disciples taking
The food to the multitude
Wondered how it multiplied;
And again they all ate and were satisfied.
From each loaf a large basket (a total of seven) ,
Speaking of the overflowing abundance of heaven.
When questioned about the miracles, they replied
Childishly, and He dissatisfied
Said, ‘Do you not yet understand? ‘
This is a divine illustration of supply and demand:
Twelve small baskets for each disciple’s need;
And from seven loaves, the baskets broad
Display the bounteous provision of God.
© Tom Prato/Pratonix
Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth. Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven and share this bread with all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen
Messages: “Being Invitational” and “Missional vs. Maintenance”
- INDIVIDUAL PERSPECTIVE
It is interesting to note that Andrew, specifically mentioned by name in this miracle, only appears by name, apart from the listing of the disciples in each of the four gospels, in the Gospel of John and then on three separate and specific occasions.
Andrew is first presented as a disciple of John the baptizer (John 1:34-42). In this passage, Jesus came and was baptized by John the baptizer, who served as the announcer of Jesus’ public ministry. Andrew then, with unnamed others, approached Jesus and asked him this question: “Where are you living?” (v. 37). Jesus’ answer was “come and see” (v. 39). Here we witness a process in which Jesus allowed these ‘seekers’ to belong or “hang around” before they believed, prior to becoming official followers. Jesus did not ask them to make a decision on the spot. He just asked them to walk with him, see where he lived, get to know him, and see where it might lead and who they might follow. Then Andrew, having spent the entire day hanging out with Jesus, went and shared that news—not with a total stranger, not with someone he did not know—but instead his elder brother Peter, someone with whom he had had a lifelong relationship and rapport, someone who is trusted and who looks out for our best interest. Investing leads to inviting. When we are intentional about spending time with others, either by conception or choice, they will in turn want to spend time with us and be interested in what interests us.
John went on to describe Andrew was present in chapters 6 and 12. Every time Andrew is mentioned, he was introducing someone to Jesus. He introduced Brother Peter to Jesus (John 1). Andrew introduced the lad with the lunch to Jesus (John 6). Andrew introduced the Greeks with questions to Jesus (John 12). Younger or older people, individuals or groups, Andrew—complimentary to his more passive personality—was always introducing someone to Jesus. The simplistic and practical definition of biblical evangelism is inviting someone to meet Jesus. Introducing someone to Jesus might be an even better definition. If we make the definition of evangelism any more than inviting people to meet Jesus, we create loop holes we can slip through and thereby absolve ourselves intellectually of any individual participation and responsibility. Andrew becomes a clear and simple example of what evangelism ought to be.
I cannot emphasize enough how an earthly relationship can be used by the Holy Spirit to lead to a heavenly one, especially those within the context of family. One study found 44% of Christians linked their conversion to growing up in a Christian family. In conjunction with that, 37% became a Christian as a result of being invited to church.8 Clearly, over 1/3 of all professing Christians say they experienced their conversion within the walls of a church building and got there only because someone else had invited them to attend with them. The power of the invitation and what can come from it cannot be denied.
In Andrew’s life, we also see the multiculturalism that continues to come to life in Scripture. Whether they were people Andrew knew or were strangers, people he was related to or were foreigners, Andrew demonstrated evangelism by simply introducing all these different kinds of people to Jesus. I think I am pretty safe in saying that sometime in our lives, everyone has introduced themselves or introduced someone to somebody else. We all can and all do this. When it comes to evangelism, they simply bring people to Jesus, make necessary introductions, and then leave the rest of the relationship building to the Holy Spirit. Think about it this way. If you call yourself a Christian, that means somebody sometime, somewhere introduced you to Jesus. The question then is this, who are you introducing? When you get to heaven, you will be able to point to people that God used to get you there. That’s a given. You wouldn’t be there without their evangelistic efforts in some form or fashion. The question remains … who will point to you?
(For more information on Andrew, consult Chapter 6 in my book, Got Style?, published by Judson Press, 2009, available for both Kindle and the Nook)
- COLLECTIVE PERSPECTIVE
Any congregation or individual embarking on evangelism needs to deal first with their own spiritual health. The evidence of spiritual health in a congregation is the birthing of spiritually healthy individuals and also other spiritually healthy congregations. Spiritual health here is equal to a missional mindset. Individuals and churches doing evangelism to save others, viewing it as a step in growing mature followers of Christ are missional. Individuals and churches doing evangelism to save themselves and as a means to perpetuate an institution have a maintenance mindset. So the question that must be asked is this: do you have a missional or maintenance mindset?
There is much discussion today about the Missional Church. This dialogue must be rooted in the Word of God and demonstrated in the life of Christ, the greatest of all Missional examples. To contrast the mindsets of the Missional and the Maintenance Church, we will examine the Feeding of the 5000-Plus.
I modify the traditional title of the text a bit, calling it “The Feeding of the 5000 Plus” because the passage clearly states there were five thousand men, not counting the women and children. If just half of these men had brought their wives along for the day, there were 7,500. If those couples had just one kid in tow, the crowd swelled to at least 10,000. A number of Bible scholars place the crowd that afternoon somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 people. As such, this was the largest miracle recorded that Jesus performed, impacting the most number of people in one place at one time. Present that day were young and old; singles and married folks; men and women; boys and girls; Jews, and probably even some Gentiles. The crowd was a microcosm of humanity. Yet at that moment, few if any in the crowd knew they would be and were direct recipients of the miracle working-power of Jesus to provide for basic needs.
One fact of life is that day-to-day things—eating, drinking and such—consume our time, energy, and resources. Evangelism is done even as other things vie for our time and attention. Jesus experienced the same tension. Feeding of the 5,000-plus was not the only thing that happened that day in Jesus’ or the disciples’ lives. Earlier, Jesus had sent his disciples out to minister in pairs. They came back both exhilarated and exhausted. In addition, Jesus heard that his relative, friend, and colleague had been put to an unjustifiable and tragic death. Now Jesus also learned the same guy who put John to death would like to “have a meeting” with Jesus, probably with similar and suspect motives. Overshadowing all of that, the Jewish Passover feast was near with its special preparations. If Jesus had waited for the perfect, uninterrupted time, free of distractions and other responsibilities, this miracle would have never occurred.
Jesus’ response to life’s turmoil was to tell his disciples, “We just need some time away.” He led them to the far side of the Sea of Galilee. However the crowds, who could see from one side to the other, followed the shoreline and met him as he disembarked. Life for Jesus, as for us, did not happen as planned. In spite of this interruption to the planned get away, Jesus’ immediate reaction to the crowd was compassion. The text states Jesus sat down and taught them. Sitting down indicated his intention to spend quality and quantitative time with them. So if we are looking for the right moment when things calm down in order to address maintenance and missional issues and attend to evangelism, that day will never come. A missional mindset is motivated by compassion for others. A maintenance mindset is moved by concern for oneself.
The initial miracle is that Jesus could get them all to sit down, to be quiet and to listen—for hours. Even though Jesus taught for the better part of a day, nothing of what he said has been recorded in any of the four accounts. Not one word. That is intriguing in light of the fact that in a similar setting, maybe in the same geographic spot on an earlier occasion, Jesus’ every word was written down in Matthew 5-7, traditionally referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. It seems possible Jesus’ words were not recorded here because the disciples were not listening. Perhaps, as a national colleague of mine said, the reason Jesus’ teaching was omitted was because people tend to always remember what you do though they may not remember what you say.
So if the apostles were not listening to Jesus, what were they doing? It seems they had a quasi-committee meeting and, after reaching their decision, shared their collective wisdom with him. “We have decided you should send the crowd away.” Here is a first key distinction between the missional and the maintenance mindset: the first looks to thrive while the second is happy to survive. In the life of the church, we see a missional mindset at work in teams to make disciples as they operate in compliment to their personalities. Missional churches attempt to embrace situations and see their potentiality, while acknowledging the difficulty they represent. Personal involvement is high. By contrast, the maintenance mindset it focused on forming committees that make decisions, not disciples. Serving on boards or committees becomes the ministry, not merely the means to get ministry done well. Committees and boards use phrases like “we” and “us” to represent a larger or stronger constituency than themselves—one that usually does not exist. Maintenance churches attempt to distance themselves from potential problems. Why? They are in meetings and have no time. They believe if they distance themselves far enough away from the reality of the problems of people’s lives, it might just go away. That is exactly what the disciples asked for. They asked Jesus to send the crowd, i.e., the problem, far, far away. Personal involvement is low. Those particular words may not describe the organizational structure or attitude, but the structure will operate in one of those ways and with one of those mentalities.
Please note that the result of the disciples’ committee meeting was to tell Jesus what to do. The disciples had a right theology because they believed Jesus had the miraculous power to control and command a crowd that numbered into the thousands because he already proven he could. They did not, however, believe Jesus could do anything for them like miraculously feed them. Fend them off, yes. Feed them, no. It never entered their thinking. Another distinction between missional and maintenance is a maintenance mindset tells the Lord what to do; a missional mindset does what the Lord says. Right theology or orthodoxy does not necessarily mean right practice or outcomes. In the quoted words of Brian McLaren, “orthodoxy does not equate with orthopraxy.” Jesus said it first when he warned his followers about the Pharisees: “listen to what they say (theology), but do not follow their example (practice)” (Matt. 23:3).
Back to the hungry crowd. The passage records Jesus already had in mind what he was going to do. So when the disciples attempted to force their agenda on Jesus by saying, “You send them away,” Jesus said, “No. That’s not how it’s going to happen.” I can hear the discussion in my mind. The disciples pressed Jesus: “But we discussed it over and over—over there!” Jesus said, “That’s the problem. You were over there and I was over here. If I’m not in it, then it’s not mine, and I’m not claiming it. I will not accept responsibility nor will I give approval.” Jesus continued, “I never told you to do that. You should have been here with me, hearing the word of God about the Kingdom of God instead of trying to establish and maintain your own idea of the kingdom, or your kingdom. You would do better identifying with the present reality instead of trying to create a separate and different one.” Jesus added, “I have a better idea. No matter how many votes you “got” in your committee, I am a majority of one. I’ve decided you are to feed them.” He expected they would depend on him for the outcome. The disciples suffered from a maintenance mindset here because they thought they had to create something that met with Jesus’ approval. Just the thought of such responsibility incapacitated them, as it would any of us. But the missional mindset realizes God already and always has a plan. It is simply our responsibility to discern, discover, and then do it. In a missional church, everyone is or can be involved because they view themselves as doing God’s work in partnership with God, not just working for God. The missional mindset believes everyone has something to offer because God has given everyone something to share. It is emancipating to live it this truth and reality.
The disciples responded to Jesus’ instructions with excuses. The first but not last excuse was, “We don’t have enough money. If we had more, it would solve all our problems!” Second was, “We’re in a bad location. We are out here in the middle of nowhere. One time this was a real thriving area, Lord, but not now. We just don’t “got it” going for us here; send the people into the towns and villages and let them find something there because we don’t have it to give.” Their third excuse was, “it’s too late. We did great things once, but that was then and this is now. Now we are just kind of passing time, but we are not passing out food. What we have, we need, and it is never enough.” Simply put, they told the Lord, “this is not a good time.” They found time for excuses but not for dealing with the problem. No matter what you do (or do not do), you expend energy. Deciding whether it will be spent productively or in vain is the real decision.
Over and over again, we see the disciples of Jesus being the hindrance, not the crowd and not their need. Those closest to Christ caused the difficulty in the working out the problem and the unfolding of the miracle. But here we find God makes things happen. God does not wait for things to occur. Maintenance-minded believers are always tense, always anxious because they never know what’s going to happen or how they will have to respond. They avoid engagement, doing just enough to get by. Missional-minded disciples are proactive, looking for things to do. Even though they are already doing some things, they are willing to do more, believing that since God’s in it, God’s sufficiency will be more than their lack of supply.
So Jesus made things happen by sending the twelve into the crowd. The disciples needed to identify with the people (as in the Relational Style) and their need (as in the Incarnational Style). That day, some had wandered for days, thinking they had finally found the answer, only to find more problems. We who are believers have been with other believers in our “holy huddles” for so long that we have forgotten what it is like to be lost and spiritually hungry. We have forgotten what it is like to be in that crowd. We have just forgotten. Jesus says, “The only way you will appreciate their pain, identify with their ‘lost’ and lack, and find motivation to do something is to get out among them.” Maintenance believers/churches want to be attractional, getting people to come to them. Missional disciples are attracted to where the people are.
The passage says the disciples simply go–not willingly and definitely not submissively, but they go. They probably did not think it was a great way to spend the day. That is additionally worth noting. You do not have to want to or wait to have a really good attitude to do what God asks you. With God, it is not so much about our attitude as it is about our availability and obedience in doing what God asks, even we do not understand all the dynamics and particulars.
After going out among the crowd, the disciples returned with a report: “We’ve “got” only five loaves and two fish.” Though there was little food, Scripture says there was plenty of grass in that place. If God could provide ample space for them to sit, God could provide ample food for them to eat. Every excuse the disciples made, Jesus counteracted.
So the first big problem was addressed when Jesus told the disciples “Make the people sit down” in groups of 100’s and 50’s. Jesus continued to engage the disciples in working out the miracle, not allowing them to sit on the sidelines as observers, letting Jesus “do it right” the first time all by himself. Jesus wanted and encouraged their involvement even with their faults and shortcomings. While a maintenance mindset is immobilized by the size and scope of what one is called to do, a missional mindset breaks the problem down to manageable parts. Missional disciples do not try to do everything all at once because they know they cannot be everything to everyone all the time. Jesus accepts and understands our limitations. He only expects us to work with what we have and with the next person who comes across our way.
Then Jesus did something that the disciples never did in the entire portion of scripture. Jesus prays. He may have actually prayed the traditional Jewish blessing: Blessed are you Lord God of the universe creator of heaven and earth who brings forth bread from the earth. We don’t know for sure what Christ said, but we know to Whom he said it. He spoke to God. Here again is another distinction: missional disciples pray with intensity and a sense of God’s presence; maintenance believers do not, or pray token 30-second ‘bless us’ prayers.
Jesus then did something I will never understand. He gave the food back to the very disciples who had just tried to pan the problem off on him! If I had been Jesus, I would have operated out of that old adage, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” I would have looked those disciples in the eye and said, “You have been more hindrance than help; just sit down and watch me do it.” But as you know, that is not how it happened. Even when they continued to distance themselves from the crowd and the Christ, Jesus once more commissioned them to go into the crowd. The first time they went with empty hands; the second time they went with what seemed empty hands. Each disciple carried about a two gallon sized basket with their portion of the five loaves and two fish. The loaves were about the size of a silver dollar pancake and a fish were probably the size of a bluegill. They had thousands of stomachs to fill. No way could they have moved forward if they had not depended on the Lord, even if that dependence was half-hearted. A maintenance mindset tries to do things without God. A missional mindset realizes it is all about dependence. God will never take you to a place of self-sufficiency. Jesus kept calling them (as he does us) to involvement, from maintenance to missional living.
Notice Jesus was the one who sat on the side line. He did not personally feed anybody that afternoon. The disciples took the food to the crowd as Jesus instructed and became his hands and feet (as in the Incarnational Style). Maintenance believers hold and horde, thinking what they have is all they are going to get. They are probably right. There is no reason for them to get more because they do not do what is right with what they already have been given. Missional disciples release and receive because they acknowledge everything is the Lord’s. Theirs is not a theology of give to get, but a belief of give to give. Maintenance believers do not get what missional disciples fully embrace. God’s name is on the line, and God will see it through. It is not about us. It is about the crowd out there who form the community we are called to reach. Wherever you have a chance to encounter people by divine providence—that is your community.
The crowd did not respond antagonistically to what God offered them. They literally ate it up. Our unwillingness to reach out has much less to do with how the unchurched will respond and much more to do with our assumptions about their reactions. We have believed our own lies. We have told ourselves ‘they’ do not want us to interact with them, when it is probably more honest to say we do not want to interact with ‘them.’ Maintenance believers set up a Fortress—ways to keep people out. They do not want to change and do everything they can to prevent it. Missional disciples see themselves as a Force for good, moving out for God. They constantly change methods in order to remain relevant and contextual, for the sake of others.
What do we make of the twelve baskets of leftovers? It was more than the disciples could have eaten themselves. So they had food for the moment and fragments for others in the future. Missional disciples see potential—with God everything happens to serve both a present and future purpose. Every person who comes to faith in Christ represents the potential of someone else also coming. Maintenance believers live primarily in the past and in fear of the future.
I want to conclude this message about evangelism by demonstrating how this passage clearly presents the elements of the Gospel message, an adaptation of Got Life?® First we see the love of God expressed through the compassion of Christ. Eight times scripture tells Jesus was moved with compassion. He saw the crowd and was concerned about their entire well-being, physically and spiritually. Jesus could not leave them how he found them and had to do something to address their need. Since love is woven into his spiritual DNA, he responded not out of obligation nor guilt, but love. He knew his solution to their pressing problem was temporary because they would need to eat again the next day. But that day he was responsible for their lives and so did what needed to be done. Secondly, we discover the crowds’ isolation and inadequacy. They were in a deserted place, unable to find enough food for themselves to eat. Even with their intentional efforts, what they came up with was insufficient. Thirdly, the passage tells us the disciples surrendered their wills, were obedient to Christ’s command, and turned over themselves and what they discovered (repentance and forgiveness) to Jesus. They trusted him even if they did not understand how it was going to work out. Jesus turned around and empowered them to do by faith what they otherwise could not be or do without him. Finally, the passage teaches God provides for both the here and now as well as the hereafter. The people had food in abundance—there was food all over the ground! There was so much that the folks did not need to be very careful about how much they grabbed to eat or how they ate it. The twelve baskets of leftovers indicate God clearly provided extraordinary (here and now) and eternal (hereafter) provisions. The people did not have to understand all the dynamics to be recipients of God’s grace. They just had to be willing to receive it.
This whole thing is about “co,” which means partnership—commission, commandment, community, compassion—disciples working together to do something for and with God they could never do without God. We must believe God wants to do great things, and do them through us. Let’s get busy doing God’s work, anticipating a world changed for God one spiritual mouth at a time!
(For more information on Missional vs. Maintenance and for a compilation of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and a side by side comparison of the Missional vs. Maintenance Mindset, consult The Postscript in my book, Got Style?, published by Judson Press, 2009, available for both Kindle and the Nook)
Lord, too often I block you by my refusal to just trust you and go ahead as you are seeming to direct. How much ministry and blessing do I miss out on, Lord? Too much, I fear. Please forgive me. Help me to count it a joy to be a participant in the great thing you are doing rather than being a mere bystander. Lord, here are my small resources. I offer them to you unconditionally. Do with me as you will — where you will, when you will, how you will, with whom you will. In Your holy name, I pray. Amen.
July 23, 2012 By Jeff Johnson (National Director of Evangelism and New Church Planting, American Baptist Churches USA, American Baptist Home Mission Societies) Leave a Comment