What Do You Have to Lose?
Come on, what do you have to lose? That question is almost always an invitation to foolishness. Our ancient Collect says we're in danger of losing things eternal as we pass through things temporal. But there are temporal things it would be good to lose. So come one, what do you have to lose?
You could lose you understanding of problems. The Lord doesn't put every problem in your life for you to solve. Based on our text I can say that the Lord puts some problems in your life to test you. Jesus indeed sets this problem up. Yes, the crowd followed Him to this wilderness place, but Jesus didn't disperse them in time for them to go back where food could be obtained. And Jesus even points the disciples to a path with no solution. "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?"
Immediately Phillip and Andrew jump on that as a solution but one that won't work. Phillip does the math and concludes 8 months wages wouldn't be enough for the thousands to have even a bite. Andrew looked for a local answer, but he only found 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and those were small. This meager supply wouldn't go far among so many.
Not every problem in your life is there for you to solve. Some are there to test you. This is not a new way for God to deal with His people. Look in the Old Testament. You will see it frequently mentions that the Lord did this or that to test His people. It usually says He did this "to know what was in their heart." That can't mean for God to know but so that they might know. So it is here. John 2 says that Jesus didn't need anyone to tell Him about man because "He himself knew what was in man." But they don't; we don't.
So Jesus already knows Philip's heart, Andrew's heart, and ours, but we don't know our own. Jeremiah asks the question, "Who can know the wicked human heart?" The answer is no one unless the Lord holds up a mirror for us. Problems are there not always for you to solve but for you to look in the mirror.
And what do you see? I see that I do what Philip and Andrew did. I look right past Jesus. I don't see Him as the solution to whatever temporal problem I have. And that is laughable. I say that Jesus is the solution, the only solution, to eternal problems, but I don't think of Him as the answer to temporal problems. Yes, Jesus, you're the answer to sin, death, and the devil, but the problem of food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, job, and all that I need for this body and life is on me. One sure-fire way to pass through things temporal and lose things eternal is to think you've got the whole temporal world in your itty-bitty hands.
Lose your understanding of your problems. Not every one is there for you to solve, but everyone is there to show you what is in your heart, everyone is to turn you to Jesus in prayer. In our text, neither Philip nor Andrew prayed. They didn't pray, praise or give thanks to Him. They just told Jesus that feeding the thousands was a no-go. But Jesus was only testing Philip "for He already had in mind what He was going to do." This tells us there is something else we can lose. Loose not just your understanding of your problems, but your understanding of the solution.
Author Stephen King is known for long novels, but he has several short story collections. Some stories are real short. I think that King has an idea. Gets his characters in a certain situation and then has no idea where to go with them. He has no satisfactory solution to the dilemma he has led them into. Not so our Lord. He never puts us in places, situations, or problems that He doesn't know what to do next. He always has a solution, so lose your understanding of the solution.
I know it's cliche, but think outside the box, and the box here is what men can do, what men can think, what men think possible. That was the problem Andrew and Philip ran into. Math said there was not enough money to buy bread so everyone could have even a little. Math said that 5 loaves plus 2 fish equals not enough. Phil and Andy couldn't think beyond the math, and so concluded there was no solution. But what did our Lord say in Isaiah 55? "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts."
Part of the reason we can't think outside the box of what men think possible or probable is we don't see that God regularly does miracles. Every year He takes seeds and multiplies them into thousands more. The bread you're going to eat for lunch started as a seed. But because God works so regularly and reliably in nature, we don't regard our daily bread as the miracle it is; we don't see our eternal God at work everyday in the temporal. This only happens when there is a glitch in the system. And like in our text, He puts the glitch there.
He led the Old Testament Church into the wilderness where there was no temporal system to feed them, and so they turned to Him for bread and meat. Then they could see food for the miracle it is. Likewise, in our text the New Testament Church, the apostles, our confronted with no temporal system for feeding many thousands. But they didn't turn toward the eternal God who stood before them in time for a solution. No, they fell back on their resources and rightly concluded they had none.
See your temporal problems arrayed before you. Let go of your understanding of them as something you must solve. Now lose your understanding of how they could be solved. Your solutions will be mired in the temporal; won't go any higher than the here and now. But the eternal God is not limited by time or what you think possible. Quite often He works the opposite of what we think. He kills to make alive; He hurts that He may heal; He is strong in weakness; wise in foolishness, loving in meanness.
Lose, let go, get off your back, your understanding of a solution realizing that you may see the end result but never the miracle involved. Neither sense nor vision can keep up with the inconceivable miracle in our text (Trench, 288). Jesus takes 5 loaves and 2 fish and we know from the other Gospels He gives pieces to the 12 who take it to the crowd. Piece after piece He breaks off and still the 5 loaves and 2 fish aren't used up. St. Hilary said, "'It is true wisdom to leave the indescribable undescribed'" (Ibid. fn. 1).
Come on, what do you have to lose? Plenty. The false understanding that all of our problems demand solutions from us, and our misunderstanding of what the solution can be. And finally we can lose our understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to do.
The multitude was satisfied with a temporal king. Note it doesn't say, "After they heard His teachings" but "After the people saw the miraculous things Jesus did" they concluded He should be king. Don't kid yourself; we too would be more than satisfied with a temporal king. That is the lesson of genies in the bottle. No one asks them for forgiveness of sins; no one asks for eternal salvation; everyone asks for the here and now. We too would welcome as king the Jesus who solved our temporal problems.
But Jesus would not allow it then, and He won't allow it now. God descended into our flesh and blood by means of a virgin's womb to do more than fill our bodies, mend our bodies, or extend their temporal life. God could have done all that by means of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. If He had left that on earth rather than washing it away in the Flood, you and I could eat of it and have temporal life forever.
God the Son didn't need to place Himself under all the dos and don'ts that you and I fail to do to give us temporal things. God the Son didn't need to become a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief to give temporal blessings. God the Son didn't need to suffer, sigh, bleed, die and be stuck in a stone-cold tomb to solve our temporal problems. But God had a far higher agenda. One beyond the temporal. One that stretches from here to eternity.
God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, willed to redeem humanity from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. That can't happen with a nod of the head, the blink of an eye, or the olly olly oxen free that everyone can come in to heaven. God's Holy Word promised eternal life to those who kept His Laws perfectly in time, and eternal death to those who failed. We all failed miserably, richly, completely the instant Adam fell. But God sent the Second Adam, His Son. Down, down, down He descended into our dust to take our place in keeping the Law and suffering its punishments. All of God's promised punishments were taken out on Jesus, paid for by Jesus, satisfied by Jesus. And He wills to be your king not just in time but for eternity. He wills for you to live not just for today but forever.
It's about more than temporal things; it's about eternal things. This is clear from what Jesus left us. He didn't leave us bread to fill our temporal bodies but the Bread of Life to fill our eternal souls. He didn't leave us water to quench our temporal thirst but Water to wash away our eternal death. He did leave us temporal Words, Words to be spoken, to be read, to be studied in this time and place. But they are temporal words with eternal significance.
But where's the miracle? We no more see it than the multitudes or the disciples did. When we baptize a baby we don't see the baby glowing with everlasting life. When we celebrate Communion our eyes don't see Jesus coming back to us with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. When sinners are absolved we don't see sins slipping off them. But you don't see your sinfulness, your death, or the devil who stalks you either. Yet you have no difficulty believing those problems are real, so why don't you believe the solution Jesus tells you is real? Come on, what do you have to lose? Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20150802); John 6: 1-15