Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 29, 2012

2012.07.29 “A Meal to Remember” – John 6: 1 – 15

Central United Methodist Church

A Meal to Remember

Pastor David L. Haley

John 6: 1 – 15

July 29, 2012


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, by Eugene H. Peterson



        I hate to admit it, I’m one of those people who remembers where they’ve been by what they’ve eaten.  Are you with me?

Some people remember people they meet on a trip, so when they look at a map they remember names and faces. Others remember places by sights they’ve seen, so when they think of Paris, for example, they think of the Eiffel Tower.

But others of us remember our travels and much of our lives by memorable meals. Honestly, I may not remember my kid’s names all the time, but I can remember great meals I ate forty years ago.  I remember preaching in a small country church when I was just starting out, eating dinner with a farm family, who served two of everything they grew on that farm, including the livestock. I remember visiting Princeton University with a friend 40 years ago, and a fish dinner I had in a restaurant across the street. Just two years ago, my family shared a dinner of boeuf bourguignon in Paris, which makes us all start salivating every time we talk about it.  I remember family meals, church potlucks, and great meals in restaurants.  I’m leaving on a trip today, and looking forward to new meal memories.

What is this about?  Is it the ambiance?  The company? The food? Most of us eat three meals every day, and thankfully, we don’t remember most of them. Is it the addition of the two powerful senses of taste and smell that seals the experience in memory? Or is it all the above? What is it about a meal that makes it memorable?

It was such a meal that is at the center of our Gospel today, Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. Yes, 5,000 served.  Not much when you compare it to McDonald’s, but then again, how many McDonald’s meals will anybody be talking about 2,000 years from now?

Whatever happened was so memorable it is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels, and especially here in John’s Gospel, who gives it his own special style.  It is a story told as only John can tell it, taking 69 verses and five Sundays. It is less a miracle story than an extended meditation; less a morality tale about how we should all share our lunches, than an enacted parable about the abundance which God provides, the Bread of Life which sustains not just our bodies but our spirits.

What made this meal so memorable?  Several things.

First, how it happened.  For the last several weeks in Mark’s Gospel, we have been back and forth across the Sea of Galilee so often you may now feeling seasick.

And also agoraphobic. Agoraphobia is the fear of crowds; if you had it, you probably wouldn’t be here today, or where Jesus was, back then. Because everywhere he has went, he was followed by crowds of people who wanted to be where he was, to hear him, or to be healed by him.

Now, those crowds have come out to a remote place, it’s time to eat, and there’s no place to buy food. Even if there was, who’s going to buy it?  More for their sake than for his, Jesus who asks his disciples, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” John gives us the insight that Jesus said this to stretch Philip’s faith; he already knew what he was going to do.

Which did not stop his disciples from giving him attitude, as they do so often, throughout the Gospels. Philip answered, “Are you kidding me?  Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t buy enough bread for each person to get a crumb.”

Another of Jesus’ disciples — Andrew — said, “Hey, 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.” One wonders how Andrew knew this; was it eyeing it for himself?

That was enough for Jesus. Like we say at a potluck, “Sit at the numbered tables and wait until your number is called,” Jesus had the people sit down on the green grass (and wait until their number is called.  Did the disciples serve as ushers?)

What really made it memorable, was what happened next: “Jesus took bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. And he did the same with the fish.”

Who could miss the Eucharistic symbolism? John is the only gospel that does not have a story of the Last Supper and Jesus’ institution of the Sacrament. In his commentary on John, Raymond Brown explains, “And so it is that, while the Synoptic Gospels record the institution of the Eucharist, it is John who explains what the Eucharist does for the Christian.” (Who knows how close we came, to having to come up with fish every Sunday, in addition to bread and wine?)

In this text, it is notable nobody says, as they did at the wedding of Cana in John 2, “You have kept the best wine until last.” Nobody says, “What was that? Salmon? Cod? Swordfish? That was the best fish I’ve ever eaten. A little salt and pepper, a little dill sauce, a little lemon.”

Nevertheless, it is a text of superlatives. “All ate as much as they wanted.” Even at that, there were twelve basketfuls left over. They were going to need some serious Tupperware for that.

This intriguing theme of abundance shows up not only here, but throughout John’s Gospel. In the first chapter John speaks about Jesus as the Word whose fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. In John, chapter 2, at the wedding of Cana, Jesus asked turned water into “THE BEST” wine. In John chapter 4, at a well in Samaria, Jesus tells a woman about living water GUSHING up to eternal life.  In his departure speech in John 14, Jesus tells his disciples, “In my Father’s house there are MANY rooms.” Whether it’s wine at a wedding or rooms for eternity or picnic food, when Jesus is in charge, there’s always more than enough, always a seat at the table for everybody. Lest we begin to slip into an attitude of stinginess or scarcity, we have a memorable meal each time we gather to remember and to remind us, at the Table of the Lord. By this time, twenty centuries later, way more than 5,000 have been served.

One of my favorite stories of the renowned preacher, Fred Craddock, is about such a memorable meal he once had. It was up at the University of Winnipeg in Canada, where he had been invited to give two lectures, in mid-October. As he left the lecture hall on Friday afternoon, it was beginning to spit a little snow. Craddock said:

“I was surprised, and my host was surprised because he had written, ‘It’s too early for cold weather, but you might bring a little windbreaker, a light jacket.’”

“The next morning when I got up,” Craddock says, two or three feet of snow pressed against the door. The phone rang, and my host said, “We’re all surprised by this. In fact, I can’t come get you to take you to breakfast, the lecture this morning has been canceled, and the airport is closed. If you can make your way down the block and around the corner, there is a little depot, a bus depot, and it has a café. I’m sorry.” I said, “I’ll get around.” I put on that little light jacket; it was nothing. I got my little cap and put it on; it didn’t even help me in the room. I went into the bathroom and unrolled long sheets of toilet paper and made a nest in my cap so that it would protect my head against that icy wind.


I went outside, shivering. The wind was cold, the snow was deep. I slid and bumped and finally made it around the corner into the bus station. Every stranded traveler in Western Canada was there, strangers to each other and to me, pressing and pushing and loud. I finally found place to sit, and after a lengthy time a man in a greasy apron came over and said, “What’ll you have?” I said, “May I see a menu?” He said, “What you want a menu for? We have soup.” I said, “What kinds of soup do you have?” And he said, “Soup. You want some soup?” I said, “That was what I was going to order — soup.” He brought the soup, and I put the spoon to it — Yuck! It was awful. It was kind of gray looking; it was so bad I couldn’t eat it, but I sat there and put my hands around it. It was warm, and so I sat there with my head down, my head wrapped in toilet paper, bemoaning and beweeping my outcast state with the horrible soup. But it was warm, so I clutched it and stayed bent over my soup stove.

The door opened again. The wind was icy, and somebody yelled, “Close the door!” In came this woman clutching her little coat. She   found a place, not far from me. The greasy apron came, “What you want?” She said, “Glass of water.” He brought a glass water, took out his tablet, and said, “Now what’ll you have?” She said, “Just the water.” He said, “You have to order, lady.” “Well, I just want a glass of water.” “Look, I have customers that pay — what you think this is, a church or something? Now what do you want?” She said, “Just a glass of water and some time to get warm.” “Look, there are people that are    paying here. If you’re not going to order, you’ve got to leave!” And he    got real loud about it. So she got up to leave and, almost as if rehearsed, everybody in that little café stood up and started toward the door. I got up and said, “I’m voting for something here; but I don’t know what it is.”  And the man in the greasy apron said, “All right, all right, all right, she can stay.” Everybody sat down, and he brought her a bowl of soup.


I said to the person sitting there by me, I said, “Who is she?” He said, “I never saw her before.” The place grew quiet, but I heard the sipping of that awful soup. I said, “I’m going to try that again.” I put my spoon to the soup — you know, it was not bad soup. Everybody was eating this soup. I started eating the soup, and it was pretty good soup. I have no idea what kind of soup it was. I don’t know what was   in it, but I do recall when I was eating it, it tasted a little bit like bread and wine. Just a little like bread and wine. (Craddock Stories, by Fred B. Craddock, edited by Mike Graves and Richard F Ward, pages 83-   84.)







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