March 24, 2017

July 26, 2015


Look! A squirrel! (Sermon on John 6:1-21)

Preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, SD

“Look!  A squirrel!”  That’s a shorthand way of saying, “Look out, they’re giving us trivial distractions to keep us from looking at what’s most important.”

In our interminable warm ups for the next presidential election, plenty of squirrels are pointed out.  Instead of significant policy positions and debates, we get extended news coverage of candidate “tone,” bumper sticker slogans and whether or not a candidate can say something as banal as “All lives matter” without offending this or that group of lives.

“Look!  A squirrel!” is one way to evade a challenging Bible passage.  John’s account of Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry people is our Gospel today, and it’s been the source of squirrel sightings for many years.

It works like this.  Instead of reading the text in detail, the preacher points at the Enlightenment squirrel.  “We don’t believe in supernatural stuff, so this was no miracle.”

“Well, then what do we make of it, Father?”

And Father dutifully points to the moral squirrel.  “It is a story about selfishness being overcome by sharing.”

“Whaddaya mean, Father?”

“Well, it is clear that there was plenty of food carried by the crowd.  If the little boy had fish and bread, so did all those other folks.  And when he handed his over to share, all of the selfish people were shamed and produced their hidden munchies, leading to a great potluck.  Oh, and Jesus blessed it because sharing is good and selfishness is bad.  So it was a holy meal and Holy Communion reminds us to share.”

Squirrels, squirrels everywhere, but nothing there to eat.

If we give John a fair read, we find out that WE are the ultimate squirrel.  It isn’t a practical, moral, human-centered story at all.  Post-Enlightenment, or Humanism, or Liberal Theology, or SJW or whatever - it’s all wrong for the proper proclamation of this Gospel.  The God-breathed words of the text point not to us, but to Jesus as the source of all that matters.

+ It most certainly is about God’s supernatural intrusion.  The crowd was following Jesus because he was doing signs (v. 2).  He was healing, multiplying loaves and fishes and, before it’s all said and done, walking on water.  The people react to the feeding as a sign by a Prophet “coming into the world”, not a moral lesson drawn from the “normal” world (v. 14). 

+ John tells us that only Jesus knew what was happening - he asked Philip how to feed the crowd, but “he himself (Jesus) knew what he would do.”

+ Jesus calls the shots.  He tests Philip.  He speaks in imperatives - “Make the people sit;” “Gather up the leftovers.”

+ Jesus does all the work.  This is a point of emphasis unique to John.  Matthew 15:36 says that Jesus, as he blessed and multiplied the food, gave it to his disciples who carried it into the crowd.  John says, Jesus then 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 (v. 11 ESV).  That’s not a contradiction, as it doesn’t deny what Matthew detailed.  But John focuses in on Jesus as the source, the power, the Word made flesh, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth.  John’s not saying, “And Jesus walked up to each individual in the crowd of 5,000;” but he’s making clear that we don’t need to look at the method of distribution so much as at the source of the abundance.

+ Jesus sets the agenda.  He leaves when the crowd wants to make him king.

+ Jesus is the focus.  The crowd doesn’t extol a generous young man with some fish and bread, but Jesus who worked the miracle.  “This is indeed the Prophet…”  “Let’s make him king!”  And Jesus, walking later on the lake, calms the disciples’ fears by pointing to himself: “It is I…”

When we come together for Holy Communion, Jesus is the focus of this holy and miraculous meal, one he created so that he would be known among us.

His blessing and presence make our simple bread and wine into a participation in his sacrificial death for us.

His grace, received by faith, lets this food become his eternal life in all who share it worthily.

There are plenty of squirrels to see.  We can look out the windows, or around in the church, or anywhere in the wandering places of our minds.  May our Heavenly Father give us the Holy Spirit, so that we can ignore the squirrels and look upon Jesus, really present with us here and interceding for us in highest heaven, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns in glory everlasting.  Amen.


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5 comments

I’ve shot plenty of those squirrels in my years of listening to the strange words emanating from Episcopal pulpits. Thanks for contributing to the cookbook your recipe for squirrel stew.

[1] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 7-26-2015 at 11:11 AM · [top]

40+ years ago I spent a summer reading Morning Prayer in a tiny mission on alternate Sundays.  Of course,  I had to read a canned sermon,  which was this sharing drivel when we had that gospel reading.  After service, I made sure the few people there knew what I really thought.  But they already knew. grin

[2] Posted by Words Matter on 7-26-2015 at 12:06 PM · [top]

#2 Words Matter… glad you set them straight!  That “shame and sharing ” thing is one of those lies that runs around the world before truth has its shoes on. 

The other one is the “eye of the needle” riff in which Jesus’ hard saying about the spiritual danger of wealth is explained away with some appeal to a tiny gate in Jerusalem where camels pass through all the time by doing some kind of low crawl - so you can be rich if you do some humble stuff to score points with God.  (Matthew 19:24)

That one is so heinous that commentaries (I know the ESV Study Bible is one) now point out that it a) lacks historical evidence (no such gate, IOW) and b) overturns the meaning of the verse, subbing in works of humility for the absolute reliance on the grace of God in Christ in order to be saved.

‘pewster, in literal fact, my dad grew up in the Ozarks and did, in fact, eat squirrel stew as a lad.  Every time a squirrel chattered, he would say, “Another one telling me off for all of his kin that I shot.”

[3] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 7-26-2015 at 01:28 PM · [top]

My New Testament professor would jokingly mention the little known miracle in the story of the feeding of the 5, 000. “From where did the 12 baskets come?”

[4] Posted by Blue Cat Man on 7-27-2015 at 06:04 AM · [top]

You don’t want to make someone King just because he shamed you into sharing your lunch.

[5] Posted by Ross Gill on 7-27-2015 at 10:59 AM · [top]

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