Peace, Multiplied - Sermon on John 6:1-15

Peace, Multiplied - Sermon on John 6:1-15

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You, like me, have witnessed crazy things in the last ten days. Last Saturday, I drove past Woodman’s and the parking lot was absolutely full, cars circling and looking for a place to park. I heard later Woodman’s had done something it had never done before—it closed in the middle of the night so they could restock shelves and keep up. I heard the wait in line was 90 minutes that Saturday. People felt the need to get their hands on five loaves of bread and two small fish before it was too late, I guess. Unbelievable.

Sunday evening, about 8:30, the lights in my house flickered three times and then went out. Our entire neighborhood was pitched into total darkness. Given the underlying amount of fear and anxiety, it’s not surprising that when I stepped out of my front door there were neighbors going up and down the street, flashlights in hand, panicked, frightened, wondering what in the world was going on.

Then the orders came. No gatherings with over 50 people, no gatherings with over 10 people, and here I am video-preaching to you. By the time you’re watching this, who knows what measures will have been added. The streets are quiet in the morning, everything is shut down, and people who are already dealing with all this stress are sitting at home staring at their screens reading one bleak analysis after another. 

I don’t have to tell you that the internet is not a particularly happy place. Headlines that are grim and frightening and content that feeds into anxiety, fear, and selfishness are the specialty of this domain. And let’s be honest. We’re all feeling this. Young people scoff and say, “Eh, coronavirus will give me a cold, what’s the big deal?” But those in our midst who are high-risk are singing a different tune. What if I get this disease? What if hospitals are overwhelmed and I can’t get care? What’s going to happen?”

Then there’s everything else, the fallout that we’ll be dealing with for a very long time. Where’s the bottom of the stock market crash? What will happen to my job, my salary, my investments, my retirement portfolio? People who were already dealing with fear, worry, anxiety, depression—such things are multiplied by the stress of a time like this.

It’s clear, is it not, that the veil has been torn and the illusion of security that we had grown so comfortable with has been shown for what it is, just an illusion. Think it could never happen in our days like it did in the days of Noah when people were eating and drinking and all of sudden they woke up one day and everything had changed? Think again.

Into the midst of all this fear and anxiety steps Jesus Christ, our Lord. We find him in John 6 stepping out of a boat and stepping into the midst of a sea of humanity. Thank goodness there were no limits on mass gatherings. Think of the citation Jesus would’ve racked up for gathering 5000+ together on a mountainside! And though there wasn’t quite the panic like we’re seeing around us, there was a problem and that problem was very similar to the shelves at Woodman’s growing bare. There wasn’t enough food for everyone.

Read the other accounts of this miracle—it is one of the few events of Jesus’ life that is recorded in all four Gospels—and you’ll find the disciples greedily holding on to what is their own. “Send the crowd away” they tell Jesus in Mark chapter 6. Where shall we get food? he asks them and they come up with nothing. Two hundred denarii wouldn’t do it! Here’s a boy whose Mom fished out of her seemingly-bottomless Mom bag what all Moms always have on the ready, snacks! A lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish, but how far would they go, really?

Isn’t it so like human nature in the midst of insurmountable problems and rising fears to greedily turn our backs on everyone else and hang on to as much as we can for ourselves? The illusion of security may be shattered, but not the illusion of control. I want to feel like I’m doing something, I want to be in control, so I’ll panic buy and I’ll hoard and I’ll convince myself if I just have a little more in my stockpile I’ll be ok.

Yet in our attempts to control and regain a sense of security we fear the realization that our best efforts might not be enough. Isn’t that the fear? It’s unbelief. It is trusting in ourselves rather than in our Lord. It’s what the disciples did on the mountainside with Jesus. They could trust money—two hundred denarii—or a basket of food—five loaves and two fish—but they totally forgot who was asking them in the first place.

Had they just lifted their eyes to see Jesus, they would’ve seen a man who faced an insurmountable problem with total composure. Why? Because Jesus actually is in control of all things! He knew exactly what he was going to do. Even the devil knew better than we do sometimes when he tempted Jesus to do what: Turn stones into bread! Look at Jesus! He’s unafraid. He takes what little has been given to him and the first thing he does is give thanks.

Let’s confess our fears for what they are. Instead of looking up, we’ve been looking at ourselves. Instead of giving thanks, we’ve been chewing our fingernails. Instead of fixing our eyes on Jesus, we’ve let them wander to a thousand different experts giving their opinions and hoping to find a solution from them. Instead of faith in the face of fear, has it been unbelief that’s found a place in your heart?

If so, you’re not alone. It took Jesus’ disciples a long time to learn that lesson. I can’t help but think that’s why this miracle got recorded in all four gospels. What an impression it made on their minds, to see Jesus looking up to heaven, giving thanks, and then handing the means of feeding that crowd to them so that they could see the multiplication literally happening right in their hands and be blown away that Jesus could change everything so dramatically, so quickly, and so effortlessly.

Now, what’s multiplying in our world right now isn’t barley loaves or fried fish but a virus. And it may not be Jesus’ will to stop this virus dead in its tracks. But it is most certainly Jesus’ will that we would learn to take our fears to him. To fix our eyes on him. To truly trust and believe that he has the power to change everything in an instant and that he exercises that total control to multiply something even better than a free lunch: to multiply peace in our hearts, no matter what tomorrow might bring.

Probably you’ve heard us say before that these lessons we read and preach on have been used by Christians for over a thousand years. Let’s think about that today and do some simple math of our own in considering how much peace and trust in Jesus has been multiplied since the day he first multiplied the loaves and fish. Christians living in Europe in the 1300s heard these same words of Jesus feeding five thousand on the fourth Sunday in Lent and their peace in Christ was multiplied even as the most terrible pandemic of all recorded history, the bubonic plague, began ravaging western Europe, eventually killing half its population, an estimated total of 200 million people. 

People in our own country a century ago heard these same words on the fourth Sunday in Lent as the Spanish influenza of 1918 unleashed terror and claimed millions of lives—and that right after the bloody mess of the first world war. They heard how Jesus has control over all things and how he multiplies his grace and his blessing, and these words gave peace and comfort and hope.

May they do the same for us today. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we sure do know who our Savior is. We know his power and what he is capable of. And we can be assured of this: Jesus steps into our midst today, and, as we hear his Word, he brings life and security in the face of illness, fear, anxiety and death.

May he bless us with hearts that cry out not, “How am I going to get through this?” but “Lord, have mercy.” And maybe even remember to look up to heaven and to truly give thanks to our God for giving us this day our daily bread, and letting that be enough, as Jesus says, letting tomorrow’s worries go for it will worry about itself. And he will be there tomorrow as much as he is today and as much as he was on a grassy hillside with a hungry crowd when he took bread, gave thanks, and multiplied not only lunch, but peace for all his followers for all time. Amen.