John 6:1-21 (9 Pentecost B)
Our gospel text describes two of Jesus’ most well-known miracles—the feeding of the 5000, and Jesus walking on water. But I’ll be honest, when I first read this text about the feeding of the 5000, it made me a little upset. I know that’s an unusual reaction to this story—Jesus performed a miracle and fed 5000 people with a little boy’s lunch. What’s wrong with that? That’s a sweet story! But what upset me is if Jesus can feed 5000 people then with no problem, why are people starving now? Why are there people who go home every day to abusive spouses and parents? Why do some live their lives feeling lonely, abandoned, and cut off from the rest of the world? Why can one man kill 12 people and injure dozen others and in act of pure hatred and psychosis? If God is powerful enough to feed 5000 people and walk on water, why is there suffering in the world?
I know everyone in this room has at experienced points in our lives where we’ve felt alone and in pain. We’ve had those moments when we say, “God, where are you? Have you abandoned me?” But I am here today to tell you there’s hope, and I can tell you this from my own personal experience. I spent about 5 years of my life living in Sioux Falls, SD in an attempt to be an independent woman. Some great things happened while I was there, but that’s also when I’ve felt the loneliest and most distanced from the world and from God. I was not able to find a home church, which has always been a source of strength for me. My college experience was not spectacular and did not end well. The people I thought were my close friends betrayed me. I was alone. I felt like I was living in darkness and had no light to guide me. I can’t tell you how many days I yelled, literally, at God, “Why have you left me? This is when I need you most and you’ve abandoned me! You’ve forgotten me! You’ve left me alone!” I was one of the 5000 and I had no food to eat. I was in the boat and storm was thrashing me. I was alone. The thing that finally made me throw my hands in the air and say “I can’t do this alone anymore” was, of all things, a speeding ticket. That was the straw the broke the camel’s back and I realized I couldn’t live my life alone anymore, and I did what any grown woman does when she’s in over her head and breaks down from something as trivial as a speeding ticket; I called my mom. She told me that I don’t need to feel alone anymore, and I was given the strength to move back to Colorado, because I was too broken to be alone anymore.
Looking back at that part of my life, I can see now that I was never alone. God was there in the midst of my suffering, in the midst of my loneliness and, while I didn’t realize it, was feeding me the whole time. When we feel our loneliest and are in our darkest places of our lives, God is feeding us whether or not we ask for it or recognize it at the time. When I realized that God was with me the entire time, bringing light to my darkness even though I didn’t see it, it was like I felt a wave a strength—I had never been alone.
When 5000 people showed up at the mountainside to see Jesus, he didn’t say, “Sorry guys, I have nothing for you. You’re on your own.” He did not turn them away or leave them high and dry. He invited them to stay with him. And that’s what Jesus says to us. Jesus does not turn us away and make us face our pain alone. Jesus is with us and will not leave us, even during our darkest days. We never have to live alone. We do have a light guiding us in our darkness. God is always there to pick us up when we’re too broken even to cope.
When we feel that we’re a part of the 5000, and that Jesus as left us to go up the mountainside, we can know that God does not abandon us. In fact, it’s when we face the roughest storms, when we think we won’t be able to make it through, when Jesus faces the storms for us, and walks out to us on water to let us know we’re not alone.