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  after pentecost for the web

July 29th

 

I Am the Bread of  Life Series –
(1) I Am That I Am  

 

John 6:1-21

 

Let us pray. Speak to us Lord, speak to us.
For we are listening. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen. 
 

Starting from today, five Sundays in a row, we will listen to the sixth chapter of the gospel according to John, and its focus mainly on Jesus - the bread of life. The sixth chapter of John deals with a matter that is situated in chapter 5, the matter of faith. Jesus was pointing out people’s unbelief. Therefore, the feeding of five thousand episode is not about teaching us to be Jesus’ hands and feet to serve, or about giving without worrying. The whole series of the bread of life message is about who Jesus is – the author and Perfector of our faith. And the two incidents: 1) Jesus feeds the five thousand; 2) Jesus walks on the water, are shadowed by the Exodus story in the Old Testament.

Both John the evangelist and the lectionary editors intentionally slow down our pace, so that we will not miss what is essential. Knowing who Jesus is, is needed if we believe that besides the Lord, there is no other name under heaven given among humankind in which we can be saved1.

Both incidents we have heard about this morning are mentioned in all four gospels, each with different descriptions and emphasis. For example, in Mark’s record, Mark did not mention that Jesus tested Philip, and Mark did not even mention Andrew. When Jesus walked on the water, different from John, Mark made a remark about the disciples: They were completely amazed [about Jesus’ doing]; their hearts were heartened.

John portrays the feeding of five thousand incident as a reality-check incident, and he makes clears that the feeding of five thousand challenge belongs not to Jesus but to his trainees. Jesus wants to test how his disciples would handle an impossible mission. Where will they turn to so as to find resources? What will they do?

Philip’s immediate response is very practical: How much money do we have? If a problem can be solved by money, it is no longer a problem. But the problem is that they don’t have enough money?

Another gospel writer, Matthew, told us that the disciples had suggested Jesus sends the group away before dark so that no one will be in trouble – this is called ‘prevention, or being proactive’-  Do something before it is too late. However, Jesus insisted, “They don’t need to go, you give them something to eat.” This instruction makes it clear that it is a designated challenge that none of his disciples can escape from it – they have to learn how to handle an impossible mission.

Another disciple, Andrew who comes up with an idea thathe consider to look beyond themselves – this called “partnership”, if you will. Maybe they can find something out there to help us to achieve the goal.Among the crowd, from a boy, they find five loaves and two fish. However, compared with five thousand empty stomachs, this amount of resources is inadequate, isn’t it? These disciples did try, but all their methods lead them nowhere.The fundamental question still exists: What can or should they do to pass this reality-challenge? They are trapped!

The Lord does not confront his disciples nor is he angry with them, what he does instead, is to show them the solution.First of all, He instructs his disciples to make the people sit down on the grass – Be Still. Then he takes the limited food and says grace. The way he holds the loaves and fish, the thanksgiving prayer that he offers direct both the disciples and the crowd to the source of life, the ultimate giver – Our Father in heaven. Then, he distributes the resources to those who await him.

Now, I want you to sit with this picture for a moment and imagine that you were one of them. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to be one of the disciples or one of people among the crowd. I want you to focus on the baskets. How many bread and fish can you see in the basket?

I am sure, while these people wait for their portions, both the distributors and the recipients are never sure whether there is enough food or not. I want you to sit still and try your best to experience the feeling of not seeing but listening and obeying, not knowing but still expecting.

This is exactly what we will experience all the time throughout our journey of faith, however, most of the times, we keep ourselves too busy on finding solutions, but spend only a little or even no time to turn to the Lord.

When challenges occur, not many people like to hear words “God is faithful, God will help us, or God will provide”. We even hear people sometimes saying to us, “God helps those who help themselves”. So do something, make efforts, if we really get into a dead-end, then we turn to God. Is this what you are doing? Does it work?

I don’t know about you, but I can tell you in my experience, it never works that way. There are many situations that happen in life without our consent, and we need to face them and handle them regardless if we like it or not. Knowing our identity does avoid us from falling into panic and dismay. We are children and servants of God, followers of our LORD. We are in a position of being led by a higher order – which is God, our commander.

We should not rule out the methods that the disciples had used when we see the rising of a potential problem, Jesus teaches also us the importance of doing the math. They are practical methods, and to a certain extent, they are helpful. But we too often forget what kind of battle we are in – we are not merely dealing with problems but the power that generates problems like hunger, sickness, injustice, and death. Jesus wants us to be realistic – we cannot stand tall in this battle without God.

If we believe in the resurrection of our Lord, we should also believe that God has won the battle. If this is our conviction – our mindset should not try to be a fighter, but a hope bearer, a living sign that shows God’s victory. This is what glorifying God means.

When Jesus tells us to pass on the baskets, the blessings, it takes faith to empower us to be faithful on our duty. Is it easy? Not really, especially if we don’t know God and have confidence in Him.

Perhaps it is for the sake of helping us to believe in Him, we are given the second incident. We need to know who Jesus is in order to believe in him.

The second incident – Jesus walks on the water. John mentions twice that it was evening and it was dark. What’s more – the boat in which the disciples were in was unstable because of the weather and the roughness of the sea. However, don’t forget that these are professional fishermen, they shouldn’t be surprised because they are so used to it. It is life. Therefore, what threatens them is not the stormy sea but Jesus’ unconventional approach. 

Jesus’ unconventional approach is to put God as the center of every circumstance and to rely on God and God alone. This is not a method that the world uses, for it is foolish to let someone in charge of your fate. But this is what God showed the ancient saints in the past, it is what Jesus shows his disciples, and you and me, this morning. The invincible solution is a solution we always ignore even though He is present with us all the time. The disciples have seen Jesus perform miracles before, but they cannot perceive it. Or they are sidetracked, and they forget.

Like those who follow Jesus, our following maybe only for the sake of having our personal problems taken care of. But Jesus wants us to have more – not merely to live, but to live abundantly. How do you define ‘abundantly’? I believe it means to lack nothing – a full satisfaction with ourselves. We live out the purpose of our lives that our Creator God has designated to us “Everyone who is called by my name whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."2 How can we live abundantly if we do not know God? Since God’s image is part of who we are, we can never be satisfied if God’s image is vague to us.

In this ordinary season – it is for the sake of orienting us back to what is essential, are we given a decent length of time to contemplate on the bread of life. Our effort, our capacity matters, but they need to accompany with the origin and Perfector of faith. Our resource, our effort is minimal and inadequate, what we should do, as it stated in the book of Hebrews, is to make an effort to enter God’s rest -  to stay with him and in him in the journey. We still need to walk and work but the result relies not on us but on the great I AM who is able to turn the impossible to possible.

This morning, Jesus invites us to turn to him, to surrender to him our efforts, our inadequacy, and our challenge, and to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit – yes, the world, even sometimes ourselves, we may consider that is a waste of time, but the faith that we are inherited assures that it is not. Be still and know that GOD is GOD.

When God invites us to go with him one his mission Journey, it is not because he cannot handle the workload and He needs us to take care of it. No. God offers to those who want to follow him an on-the-job training opportunity. The ultimate goal of this training is not really about getting the job done but to search God, to know him, and to learn to rely on Him. Therefore, let’s not be afraid if we see only darkness and experience only the blowing of winds. In time like this, we should imitate Jesus’ unconventional way of living – living a God-centered life.

God, the Great I AM can fix all the problems by simply saying, “Let every problem be fixed”, but it is for our sake that God chose not to because all these problems can turn into opportunities that lead us to turn to him and call on him. What used be a problem is changed into a blessing, and through the lens of faith, we may see and experience the richness of God’s mercy and the power that the world cannot see. 

It is in journeying with the LORD, God reveals to us who He is – It is I AM, don’t be afraid. It is in knowing God, we discover our true identity. God doesn’t need us to make Him “God”, but we need God to make us complete. And St. Paul reminds us, “The one who calls us is faithful and He will do it.3"

 

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1 Acts 4:12
2 Isaiah 43:7
3 2 Thessalonians 5:24

 

 

 

©2018, Pastor Mei Sum Lai, MDiv. Please do not reproduce this article in whole or in part, in any form, without obtaining the written permission of the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Did you miss reading a sermon? The 4 previously posted sermons are listed below:


Updated: August 4th, 2018