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Moses or Jesus: Identity Crisis at Suppertime: A sermon on John 6:1-21 for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost
August 3, 2015, 2:35 pm
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Grace and peace to you, Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
We’re beginning the first of five weeks exploring chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. In this chapter, we’ll witness the feeding of the five thousand, and hear Jesus declare, “I am the bread of life.” The lectionary planners thought this chapter says something important enough about Jesus that we should spend more than a month exploring it every three years. I encourage you to study it, not only when you’re here in worship. John’s words can sometimes be deeper than they first appear, so it’s worth letting them soak in by dwelling in this chapter.
As we enter the beginning of chapter six, I’m going to back us up just a bit into chapter 5. Chapter five included Jesus healing on the Sabbath, talking about his own authority, and reflecting on the work he has done. It ends with Jesus talking about Moses. Moses is the great leader who met God in the burning bush and followed God’s call to return to Egypt and free the Israelites from slavery. Moses is the major teacher in Jewish tradition, traditionally referred to as the author of the first books of the Bible. He’s one of the people who has been closest to God.
I think John places this chapter six, with its feeding and “I am the bread,” right after commentary about Moses because, especially in the part we’ve read today, John has a point to make about Moses and Jesus.
John is comparing the two to help us know Jesus better. Moses was a great teacher, and in many ways was a representative of God to the people, but Jesus is something different, something more.
We don’t all make it to Bible study, so today we’re going to look closely at the text in a way we don’t always in the sermon. Please follow along with me in your bulletin or Bible.
In verse three, “Jesus went up the mountain.” Anyone know anything important about Moses and mountains?
Moses first meets God on a mountain, Mt. Horeb, when he sees a burning bush that isn’t consumed. There God tells Moses to go to Egypt and free God’s people from slavery. God tells Moses God’s name: “I am.” After the people are freed, Moses will go up Mt Sinai, to meet with God. God is there on the mountain, declaring a covenant with the people, and giving the law.
So mountains are those places where the human realm can sometimes break into the heavenly realm, and God might reveal Godself there. This mountain talk gets us ready to look for God showing Godself.
As we read on, we get a setting detail- it’s almost the Passover. What’s the Passover? Verse 4, with a reference to the Passover reminds us of the final plague God sent to convince the Egyptians to release the Israelites. All the first born in Egypt died, except those whom the angel of death “passed over” – those who celebrated a quick meal and painted their doorpost with blood, as Moses instructed the Israelites to do. With this sign of blood, the Israelites were saved from death and from bondage.
It won’t be until much later in this chapter, in verse 53 and following, that Jesus talks about blood. When he does it will be about his blood. Then, it will not be the blood of a sacrificed animal, but Jesus’ blood that will be what saves from death, and gives life.
In verses 5 and 6, we get Jesus asking, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” while knowing full well how they would be fed.
This recalls Moses’ troubled time as leader of the whining Israelites, who come complaining because they are hungry as they wander the wilderness. You can read this story in Exodus 16 and Numbers 11. God provides manna, bread raining down every morning, and then the people complain that bread is boring, so then God provides quail for fresh meat as well. When Moses comes to God, he comes as a leader at the end of his ability- without a clue as to how all those people might be fed.
Jesus takes a little boy’s offering, five coarse loaves of bread and two fish, gives thanks, and gives some to each of the 5000 people sitting on the mountainside. They each get as much as they want, and when they are full, the leftovers are collected. What was once too little to satisfy even the twelve leading disciples has now been given out by Jesus to feed 5000 with 12 baskets of leftovers.
Does anyone remember what would happen to leftover manna? In Moses’ time, people received just enough for their meal, and anything leftover would spoil.
What are you hearing as we compare Jesus and Moses? —
There’s something more about Jesus- more powerful, more direct.
When we get to the final paragraph in our periscope, starting at verse 16, John makes his point even clearer.
The disciples are out on the sea, in their boat, and they see Jesus walking on the sea.
Do we know anything about Moses and the sea? —-
Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea, on dry ground. They were able to cross on dry ground because God held back the water, only letting the sea come together again when it would trap and destroy the Egyptian army.
Moses needed God to make it possible for him to across the sea. But Jesus? It’s just him.
Jesus is not only more than Moses. When Jesus declares, “It is I” he says, “Ego Eimi” = “I am.” Who is the “I am?” This is Yahweh, God, creator of heaven and earth, who of course has power over wind and waves. Jesus is God, who has power over bread and fish. Jesus is God, who has power over death and life.
God reveals Godself on this mountain. God reveals Godself in Jesus. This will be difficult for the disciples and the crowd to accept and understand. It can also be difficult for us to grasp. Jesus is more than a teacher, he is God incarnate, God made known and revealed among us.
What does it mean for us to center our lives and found our church on Jesus, who is God?
In this sign of the feeding, the bread multiplied and thousands fed point to Jesus’ identity as God. It also shows the power of God to transform what seem insignificant and not enough into something powerful and more than enough.
Here at Cross, we like calling ourselves a small church. I think small church means to us that we know each other, care for each other, and are invested in this church. We aren’t passive observers or unknown masses.
But sometimes, calling ourselves a small church can be an excuse for not taking on big mission. It can mean that we shy away from truly following Jesus in ministering. Small church can become a mindset of scarcity. We don’t have enough to take care of ourselves, we can’t possibly take care of those outside us. We don’t have the numbers, or the finances, or the energy.
Scarcity is the mindset of the disciples, whom Jesus was testing. Jesus knew he had the power to transform what little there was into something great. He was just waiting to see if the disciples were ready to trust that Jesus was powerful enough to make that transformation happen. They weren’t ready, they don’t totally understand that Jesus is God. Not at this point in the story.
We know the whole story. We know this God incarnate, this Jesus, will die and rise to life, showing his power even over death. Today, Jesus is right here with us, ready to use his power to take whatever effort we have to offer, and transform it into life-giving work in our community and around the world.
We may be small, and only human, but the Jesus we follow is anything but.
Jesus, encourage us to trust in your transforming power and your will to bring life to the world. Open our eyes to the signs of your work among us. You are our God. Amen.


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