Sermon for Laetare, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, AD 2021

John 6:1-15

This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, is traditionally seen as a little lighter than the rest of Lent. In some places the colors are changed to rose instead of violet to show the lightness of the week. The name of the Sunday, Laetare, means “Rejoice!” as we heard in the beginning of the introit today from Isaiah 66. Rejoicing isn’t something we usually associate with Lent, the time of repentance and fasting. Yet we need to know that even in repentance, even in fasting and preparation and sorrow for our sins, there is rejoicing. We rejoice because we have a gracious God who provides for all we need. As we hear in our gospel reading today, our Lord provides for all, even in the wilderness.
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he went across the sea of Galilee, leading the large crowd up onto the mountain. He was completing what began with Moses in the wilderness after the exodus. There, after being saved at the Red Sea, the people grumbled against Moses saying he had led them in the wilderness to starve when they had been fed so well in Egypt. Even though God had miraculously saved them, they viewed their slavery in Egypt as a better deal. Yet the Lord responded and provided for them, he rained bread from heaven in the wilderness. Despite their ungratefulness and lack of belief, the Lord was there with them and provided for their physical needs. Jesus shows that He is the Lord who does greater.
Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” The Passover is at hand, the remembrance of when the Israelites were brought out of Egypt by God’s mighty hand. This for us would be like saying “it was around Easter” or even more, “it was Christmastime.” It was a holiday everyone was anticipating, it would have been on those Jews’ minds. So whatever Jesus is doing around that time is going to be connected to it, and John wants to make sure we know this. Jesus is ready to do his work, and wants everyone to know this is connected to that Passover.
Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Jesus says this to test Philip. He’s not asking where the Berkot’s is. Jesus knows He will provide the bread. He wants Philip to think – there is no place nearby to provide bread for this many people. No one can humanly do this. But who can provide? Knowing his Bible, knowing what God has done for His people in the past he should know this – God can provide. He provided manna for His people in the wilderness. All provision ultimately comes from Him every day. But where is He, this God who provides?
The God who provides is right in front of Philip, Jesus Christ. Philip sees the impossibility of the task, but not the solution. He thinks of the market or household elsewhere that could provide this much food, and knows there is none. Andrew looks to the crowd itself and finds a boy with only five loaves and two fish. In themselves, the crowd has no ability to feed itself from such a meager amount.
This refutes the idea of some liberal scholars that there was no miracle here, that the crowd merely were inspired in their hearts to share what they have. Andrew looked to the crowd and only found little. The solution to our need for provision isn’t first to look to each other, to trust in each other. In ourselves, we make nothing. We are creatures – creatures dependent on our creator. No amount of shuffling around, breaking into tiny pieces the things we have will ultimately satisfy. We must first look to the giver of all good things, and he provides for us and through us.
It’s not surprising that a boy, a child, is the one who brings the loaves and fish to Jesus. Children understand faith. Jesus tells us to become like little children because they know how to trust. We adults are often like Philip in saying, I don’t know where to go, this is impossible. Then we sit on our needs and do not bring them to the one whom we should trust in first, the one who provides all good things. Therefore, we should be more like the child, bringing what we have to Jesus. We know it is not sufficient. That’s a given. But He is sufficient.
Jesus then 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. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” Where will they find food for so many? Jesus is the answer. The one who created the universe, who brought the stars and planets into being, who created man from the very dust. He is able to provide for many. Not only that, but He does not only provide a meager amount. He provides as much as the people want, He provides until they are all satisfied. There is even more left over, as the disciples gather twelve baskets full.
The people saw this sign and knew it was miraculous. They knew it was the new Prophet, the prophet who Moses promised would be like him. He was feeding them just like Moses fed their ancestors in the wilderness. They wanted to make him their king. They wanted a new leader like Moses, to establish a worldly kingdom for them. But Jesus would not be king in this way. Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom and He did not come only to provide physical bread. He came to also provide for us eternally, to bring us into His eternal kingdom.
Jesus had to withdraw because His glory would not come though being made an earthy ruler. His glory would come through the cross. He would not be exalted, but despised and rejected. He would be sent to die, to bear the curse for our sins. For the people would receive the food He gives, but they did not want a heavenly ruler. They did not want to repent. So it is that God still provides for all, even all evil people, but having our food provided for us does not save. Even those who do not recognize Jesus receive their daily bread. What is necessary for us is to recognize this bread is nothing we deserve. We bring nothing worthy of his provision. Yet God provides for us in Christ. He provides because Jesus died for us, to take away our punishment and guilt. He provided His Son so He could provide for us. Where do we find our heavenly food, the source of all good things? In the cross of Jesus Christ.
For He has risen and reigns over heaven and earth. All things are under His rule. Just as He provides physically, he also provides for us spiritually. As he took the bread and thanked God before the five thousand, He regularly, through the hands of pastors, takes the bread and gives thanks, giving His body and blood. From the simple hands of men, He brings the body and blood sacrificed on the cross to us, so we can receive life and forgiveness. Through the meagre offerings of bread and wine, He gives us a supernatural food so we may be united to Him and strengthened in our faith.
Those in this congregation who serve, who set up communion with the Hannah Guild, who provide the financial resources to support the pastor and buy the bread and wine, this is your offering in faith like the boy with the loaves and fishes. And like the boy, I cannot promise that you will be especially blessed by your offering. He was certainly filled like the rest, but received nothing more. Yet such work, such offerings have an eternal effect as our Lord multiplies them to his people. Just think – simply providing to purchase and set up bread and wine helps our Lord strengthen the faith of those who come to this altar. It creates Christians who make more Christians. It furthers Christ’s kingdom, not one of this world, but one that works in simple means in people’s hearts.
And if you feel like you don’t give as you ought, come to the Supper. Be strengthened to trust in Christ more for your provision. If you feel like there is nothing you can give, come to the Supper. Christ in Himself will provide all you need. Where can we find bread to feed all these people? Look to Jesus – look to the altar – the place was Jesus has promised to be. Here through His called servants He gathers you, and you will eat until you are truly satisfied. For true contentment and provision comes from no other place. Rejoice! Our Lord provides! Amen.

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