Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2006
The Gospel: John 6:4-15
Sermon: "To Use Our Gifts"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When 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?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus 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. Then 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. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When 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." When 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.
To Use Our Gifts
Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 26, 2006
I want to tell you a story about a man named Steve. Steve was a factory worker. He worked on the assembly line making cars. Steve was a pretty smart guy. He talked with his supervisor every day. He made suggestions about some things occasionally. His supervisor thought he showed good potential. So, he approached Steve and asked him to consider being a line chief. He would still be working on the cars, but he would be over an entire line. Steve liked the idea. He continued to bring his ideas to the supervisor. A few years went by and Steve was still the line chief. The supervisor liked him. His fellow workers liked him. In fact, they thought he was great. Suddenly, the supervisor got promoted. He went to a different factory. The supervisor's position was vacant. The company posted the position. Now, as I said, Steve was well liked by his fellow workers on the line. They pushed hard for him to get the promotion. First, they pressured Steve. Steve was not sure he wanted that job. Then they pressured the personnel office. They practically railroaded Steve into the position.
Steve finally did take the position due to their insistence. He was in the job for about sixty days when he realized he wasn't happy. He hated the job. The pay was great, but he wasn't happy. When he was the line chief, he was always around the cars and the building of the cars. As the supervisor he was dealing with supply records, requisition forms and personnel issues. He didn't like this position at all. He was miserable. Everyone knew it. While he could do the job, his heart wasn't in it. On day sixty-one he went to personnel and asked for his old job back. He even gave them a name of someone off the line that he thought would really love the job. While they did not fully understand, they did agree. Steve's gifts once again flourished as he continued to work with the cars and the line crew. He was perfectly happy.
I know you might be wondering what this story has to do with the feeding of the five thousand. I would like to draw your attention to the last verse, "When 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"
Recently I have heard many theories concerning this miracle. Some people have said that Jesus produced all of the bread and the fish just as says. Some say the people shared what they had. Some people claim it turned into a great big picnic. Personally, I think the story happened just like it is. Even if you don't believe it in that way, there is one thing that is certain. Something extraordinary happened on that mountain. Jesus did something that no one had managed before. We know this statement is true because of the reaction of the crowd. They wanted to make Jesus a king. He had responded to their needs in some manner. In him, they saw what they wanted to see. They saw him as a great leader capable of marvelous acts. They wanted him to become what they wanted him to be. They wanted him to be the new king. They saw his gifts. They saw his abilities. They saw their political and national salvation. Jesus, however, was not interested in being their national salvation.
Jesus did have gifts. Jesus did have abilities. Jesus was to be everything he could be. What he could be was not a political figure. Jesus' gifts and abilities were directly connected to his ministry. He was sent to minister to the people and teach them about God. He knew what he was supposed to do. He followed that understanding of his ministry. He did not allow the pressures of the people to sway him into being something else.
Now, some people would say that Jesus did not know who he was or what was going to happen to him. Do we really believe that Jesus did not know he would be killed for what he was doing? Jesus was teaching the people a new understanding of God. It was an understanding of God as compassionate and caring for God's people. It was an understanding of God that shared God's love and kindness. God was not judgmental or condemning to God's people. To those who taught falsely about God there could be harsh consequences. To the people God is compassionate and loving. The people experienced this love in the feeding they received. As a result, they want to make Jesus a king. Jesus has another ministry to perform. He was not to be a king like David or Solomon. His ministry was to freely offer his life so that all people could be free in the love of God. Please notice I say that Jesus freely offered his life. The free offering of his life was a part of his ministry. In fact, Jesus took the place of a murderer. Jesus offered himself in place of another to show us how loving God can be. What an incredible gift. The feeding of the five thousand is a precursor to the Last Supper and to the most incredible gift of all, salvation.
So, Jesus did not have any other option on that hillside. He had to withdraw in order to not become king. He had another ministry to perform. His gifts were perfectly suited for that particular ministry. No one else had or has those gifts. The gifts he had were once and for all. They were his and his alone.
Even though, Jesus is the only one who could offer himself in the manner in which he did, we all have something to learn from this lesson about ourselves. We all have gifts to be used for God. These gifts were designed to empower us to do certain ministries. When we are not using those gifts for God in the manner in which we should, then out ability to do God's work is diminished. When we use them appropriately great things might happen through God's grace. In order for this wonderful opportunity to occur two things have to occur. First, we must be willing to use our gifts. Second, it would be best for us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. In other words, don't go down a path we know we shouldn't walk. The only way to see the wonder and majesty of God is to use our gifts to God's glory and not to our own. Jesus did not use his gifts for his own glory. His gifts were used to the glory of God alone. He could not be a worldly king.
Finally, this lesson should give us pause for thought, especially right now. If we have begun looking into ourselves for this season, then we might have just learned a few things about ourselves that we might not like. We also might have learned some things that are very positive. We might have learned we have some false pride or some desire to be noticed. We also might have noticed that when we give we give out of love. We have been given an opportunity to slow down, look deep in ourselves and see what we really are. In addition, we have been given the opportunity to address what we have identified that requires a change and celebrate what we have identified that we see as good and positive. Perhaps we are in the wrong place using our talents inappropriately. Perhaps we are using our gifts in the wrong place. Perhaps some of the things we are doing are right on target. We might just identify a few things that do need to be buried on Good Friday so the good things can be celebrated at the resurrection on Easter. Perhaps we can do both through the incredible and wonderful grace of God. Amen.