First Lesson: 2 Samuel 11: 1-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 14
Second Lesson: Ephesians 3: 14-21
Gospel Lesson: John 6: 1-21
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The next five weeks of summer, we are going to be looking at John 6 known as the “Bread of Life” chapter. This study will provide us an opportunity to understand communion from five different angles: Communion as Miracle; Communion and This Life; Communion and Eternal Life; Communion as Belief; and Communion as Radical.
What exactly is a miracle? Last week at Bible study, we were talking about one of my favorite Biblical stories in Jonah and the really big fish. This is a really interesting story as we consider the meaning of a miracle. Ask the average Christian what they remember about this story?
They will remember Jonah being in the belly of a great fish for three days and then being spit out. But there are perhaps even more miraculous things that take place within the story: Jonah ends up in the belly of the whale because he didn’t want to go Nineveh. Taking a trip to Nineveh would have been as safe a proposition for Jonah as a Christian today traveling to a meeting of ISIS.
It would have made sense for Jonah to want to run in the other direction, never thinking that he would end up in a fish’s belly. Yet once Jonah gets to Nineveh something even more miraculous takes place than even surviving three days within the belly of a fish. Everyone in Nineveh converted, even the King once Jonah began to preach. Jonah who thought his preaching in Nineveh would be pointless became the world’s most effective preacher to a hostile audience.
So when I was asked whether I believe that Jonah’s story was true in that he spent three literal days inside the belly of a whale? My response would be that there are plenty of more unbelievable events that take place within the scriptures such as the conversion of violently anti-Christian Saul on the Road to Damascus. It’s not a question of whether God could act in such a crazy, way.
Jesus deals with the Jonah story in Matthew 12. Jesus when addressing the story doesn’t seek to provide an explanation for such a crazy story. Instead, Jesus uses this story as a reminder of the great lengths that God went to reach the people of Nineveh even if it involved Jonah getting a bit slimy. Jesus told this story to proclaim that just as Jonah spent three days inside a fish, he would soon spend three days inside the tomb to show how far that God will go to for his people involving either a big fish or a cross.
What exactly is a Miracle? Today’s gospel lesson contains one of the most famous miracles in the Christian Gospel in Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. This miracle is so important that the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all place it within their Gospels?
So why is this miracle so significant?
To answer this question, we need to consider exactly “what is a miracle?”
A few years ago, the author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book on another one of our favorite Bible stories in David and Goliath. Gladwell wanted to write about how this story perhaps didn’t have as unlikely an outcome as we might think.
Was David beating Goliath a miracle? Perhaps not. At first glance, the story would seem to be a miracle, the puny runt David taking down the scariest man in the world in Goliath.
Goliath probably was unbeatable in a sword to sword or strength to strength battle. David wrestling against Goliath would have been foolish. What David lacked in size though he made up for in brains. David used a slingshot because he could counter Goliath’s size advantage. David’s weapon was a stone because being a giant Goliath probably didn’t have the best vision. Was David’s win unlikely? Most certainly so, but this doesn’t mean it was necessarily a miracle.
Even within the pages of scripture, Miracles were not God’s common way of interacting with humanity. Miracles are confined to the Exodus, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus’ ministry, and occasionally the apostles. Miracles from this point on seemed to cease, but does this mean that miracles are no more? Or are there no miracles any more because miracles aren’t what we think they should be. Perhaps God is working only in not the dramatic, visible earth-shattering ways that we think God should work.
To answer this question about the existence of miracles, we turn to our Gospel lesson for John 6. Today’s Gospel lesson is a common, human story. Everyone had heard about Jesus. Jesus was the talk of Bethsaida. People had heard all about Jesus healing the sick. Everyone wanted a piece of Jesus.
When I go home to Lindstrom and spend time with my dad, someone always wants a piece of his time. Someone might be calling about an insurance problem or someone having an issue with the City of Lindstrom, but my dad seems like he always has his cell phone next to his ear. We can complain about people being glued to their cell phones all we want, but in Jesus’ day he wouldn’t be called or texted by people. People would follow him everywhere that he went.
The crowd that followed Jesus on this day was so big that it was over 5000 people. 5000 people in the middle of nowhere, it was getting late, there were no fast-food or twenty-four-hour restaurants nearby. The Disciples and Jesus needed to figure out what to do with all these people.
Jesus asked the Disciples how much money they had to buy these 5000 people food? Two hundred denarii was Phillip’s answer or six months wages. The Disciples’ money was not going to come close to feeding all these people.
So while Phillip’s plan of buying all these people food was poor, Jesus’ other Disciple Andrew hatched a seemingly even worse plan to talk to this one young boy with “five loaves” and “two fish” to feed the crowd.
Feeding the crowd with such a small amount of food was to be an even more improbable plan of success. We all know how people get when they’re hungry. Those at the back of the line were going to be up in arms once the bread ran out.
Jonah surviving three days inside a fish is nothing compared to feeding 5000 people with such a small amount of food.
The Disciples figure that this was the only plan they could try. So the Disciples started serving bread and fish, people started coming then they kept coming, yet the strange thing is it that they never ran out of bread or fish.
The interesting thing about this story is the crowd wasn’t given only a small amount of “bread” or “fish”, the crowd was instead given as much as they needed. What this story ultimately reminds us of is the nature of God’s grace. People will be given just as much as they need.
What’s worth noting is how Jesus served the people the five loaves and the two fish.
A. Jesus looked up to heaven.
B. Jesus broke bread.
C. Jesus fulfilled his promise to feed these people.
D. Jesus had the Disciples gather all the leftover bread for later.
The feeding of the 5000 is an extraordinary story because Jesus is interacting with his people in an extraordinary way. Why doesn’t Jesus act like this today? Who are we to say that he doesn’t?
You see Jesus during the Last Supper took bread no different then today and promised a miracle. Jesus took bread proclaimed it to be “his body” and gave it to the Disciples promising the forgiveness of sins. Jesus then encouraged the Disciples to keep having this meal again and again.
The Lord’s Supper is a miracle because God promises to reach us in an extraordinary way.
I think the reason that so many Christians struggle with the Lord’s Supper is they just look at it as “bread” and “wine”, nothing special about either of those things. Wonder Bread and Mogen David, I can hear the snickers now as people proclaim the Lord’s Supper to be a miracle. The Lord’s Supper is a miracle because Jesus promises to be uniquely present within it.
Luther realized that miracles maybe didn’t happen in his life just like they did in Jesus’ day, but this didn’t mean that God was no longer present. Luther looked at faith as being the greatest miracle of all. Luther looked at the fact that people believed after the world crushed them, after they committed sins that they dare not say, and after they struggled with unbelief nearly every day of their life as the greatest of miracles. Luther saw Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be the greatest of miracles because Baptism dared to create “faith” where as the Lord’s Supper dared to sustain “faith” against all odds.
Luther knew that the Lord’s Supper was just “bread” and “wine” but this was no ordinary “bread” or “wine”. For bread is just bread and wine is just wine but when connected with words of Gospel promise great things take place “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”. The Lord’s Supper is a miracle because God promises to reach us within it in an extraordinary way.
The thing about miracles is that they are at the center of our faith life, regardless of what type of church you attend. The thing about miracles is that they go against every bit of sense and sensibility that we might have regarding their outcome.
People wouldn’t go to church if they didn’t believe miracles reached them in some, small way. The question to ponder would be “Is something a miracle because we think it to be so, or because God promises to deliver us from all evil?”
One might have many reasons not to believe but at the moment they approach the communion rail all those reasons seem to vanish away. One or two moments during the month, God’s presence seems to encounter us in a unique way that we could not previously fathom.
The great miracle that takes place at the communion rail is all our brokenness and sin encounters all of God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness keeps coming and coming, just like five loaves and two fish fed 5000 people. God’s forgiveness seemingly never runs out. This miracle doesn’t come because of the church, this doesn’t come because the people sitting in the pew next to you are particularly good Christians.
We have no idea what the stories were approaching the feeding trough of the 5000 people that Jesus fed, yet he was going to feed them without exception and expectation.
The reason that the Lord’s Supper is so miraculous has to do with the various places that we gather from in life when we approach the communion rail. We are then fed until we are full of God’s mercy.
Bread is just “bread”, Wine is just “wine” but if God wants to do something with it beyond meeting just human needs, but also spiritual needs then this would seem to be God deciding to do the outrageous no different then sending Jonah to Nineveh through any means necessary.
What is a miracle? The difference between a “miracle” and “coincidence” is faith. A miracle can point us to see a grand spiritual purpose in a world that often leaves us longing for answers. What makes something a miracle is the fact that our human brains can not even begin to fathom the reasons why God might be so generous: five loaves, two fish, 5000 people and one gracious and ever loving God.
 Matthew 12:38-45.
 Gladwell’s book is entitled David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants published by Little, Brown, and Company in 2013.
 John 6:1-21
 John 6:7
 John 6:9
 The connections between this story and the Lord’s Supper is made by Ed Markquart in his commentary in his Series B Gospel Analysis of this passage found at sermonsfromseattle.com.
 John 6:11
 John 6:11
 John 6:12
 John 6:12
 Great reflection on Communion that I came across written by Sarah Condon entitled “Low Anthropology is My Love Language”. MBird (Mockingbird Ministries). 28.Apr.2015. Web. Jul.24.2015.