1Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
With new Covid-19 cases up dramatically, and the highly contagious Delta Variant accounting for over 80% of new cases, I’ve been holding my breath on what this is going to mean for us: how many more people are going to die? Will the children be able to go back to school? Will we still be having in-person activities? Will nursing home residents and hospital patients be isolated from their families?
One thing we won’t have to worry about is our supply of hand sanitizer. We have enough to last for years. The reason why is that when we put out the call when the pandemic first hit, you shared generously.
But we won’t soon forget how hard it was to find last winter—along with toilet paper, antibacterial soap, disinfecting wipes, and bleach.
I’m sorry to say that I am guilty of panic buying. I didn’t go nuts, but if I even sense that there’s going to be a shortage of something, I will instinctively go out and stock up. I justify my actions as necessary to be a good provider for my family. But the truth is, this behavior pis nothing but raw, selfish fear.
In today’s Gospel, a similar fear was brewing. A crowd nearing 5,000 persons had followed Jesus into the wilderness, because they saw the signs he had been doing for the sick. But there was no food. At this point, Jesus could have told his disciples to dismiss the crowds and call it a day. Instead, Jesus asks them, “where are we to buy food for these people to eat?”
That’s a silly question—because there was no place to buy food. And, as Philip pointed out, “six months’ wages would not be enough to buy even a little bread for everyone.” But then, Andrew identifies a little boy who has five barley loaves and two dried fish in his possession. I’m guessing that his parents asked him to carry the family’s food bag.
I’m sure he was paying attention to all the miraculous signs Jesus had been doing for the sick. Maybe he knows; maybe he doesn't know that the food in his possession is vastly inadequate to feed the crowd. But that doesn’t matter. Here was his chance to be part of Jesus’s ministry. To be a young disciple. And he jumped right in.
Granted, I’m sure that if the boy hadn’t come forward, Jesus could’ve made bread appear from out of nowhere. But he doesn’t do that. The child becomes part of the miracle that declares the power of Jesus Christ.
Here we have another example of children teaching us what it means to trust in Jesus.
Keep in mind, it wasn’t children who raided the store shelves, buying ungodly quantities of supplies they didn’t need. It wasn’t children who hoarded gasoline cans following the Colonial Pipeline Cyberattack. Adults did this. To say that they were acting like children would be extremely unfair to children.
Those empty store shelves and hoarded gasoline cans reflect the awesome power of fear to overwhelm reason and basic human decency. And this is something that predated the pandemic, and that will most certainly endure beyond it.
Let me be clear: fear is inevitable in life. Fear is good when it drives you to protect yourself and others from danger. It can motivate you to make necessary changes in your life so that you are healthy and living into your full God-given potential.
But fear can be toxic to your relationship with Jesus Christ, to our effectiveness as a congregation, and our overall ability to live as a civilized society. You’re grabbing everything you can get your hands on and holding on for dear life. When you see someone in need of what you have in abundance, you aren’t opening your hands in blessing; instead, you’re tightening your firsts. If you give any treasure away, you may be without it in the future, life will become unlivable. So you sit firmly on your treasure chests, convinced that as long as you possess everything contained therein, everything will be ok. But that security is an illusion. Moths, rust, and time destroy worldly treasures, and you cannot have a free society without charity. What’s more, Jesus can’t do miracles with your tight fists.
The good news, though, is when Jesus shows up, things change. Perspectives change. You change.
How quickly we forget that Jesus is with us every day, loving us, caring for us, and providing for us. Everywhere, there are signs of his gracious love, if only we would take the time to notice. Love is the power of God at work in the world, which is more powerful than all the things that make us afraid, and greater than everything we may lack. To be a disciple is to follow the little boy’s example, and invest your treasures where are hopes lie—because Jesus can do far more good with your treasures and your life than you can on your own.
So what if, instead of dwelling on what we lack or what we’ve lost; we recognize all the treasures of God’s love which we possess? What kind of church can we become if we invested our treasures and our lives in what Jesus is doing now?
And even if our bank account runs dry, the stores run out of toilet paper and there’s more gasoline to fill our tanks, we would still have Jesus and each other—and the power of his love would not be diminished, but magnified!
I’m glad today’s Gospel ends with Jesus’s disciples on the boat, sailing through a deadly storm. We are sailing through a storm of fear and uncertainty this very day. We don’t know where the future will take us or what we will encounter on the way. But we go forward together, trusting that Jesus accompanies us through the danger. To go with Jesus means that you will always have enough. It is faith, and not fear, that moves us onward—and that gratitude, generosity, and compassion are the way to go.