SCRIPTURE READING: JOHN 6:1-15 (NIV)
6 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Feast was near.
5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
SERMON: DIRECT ACCESS, JOHN 6:1-15, JULY 29, 2012
If you’ve recently tried to call your insurance, credit card, or any other companies you deal with on a regular basis, your call was no doubt answered a pleasant but dispassionate voice. Welcome to the advent of IVR or “interactive voice response.”
In 2002 alone, companies spent over $7.5 billion to improve their IVR systems by placing more and more layers of menus and information between themselves and their customers. More than likely, you’ve had occasion to experience this if you’ve ever been stuck in the purgatory of an automated phone systems.
It would be better for these corporations to just give us the information we need up front rather than wading through layers of irrelevant information. Imagine what that call would sound like:
“Hello and thank you for calling Con-Glom Corp. Your call may be monitored for our future entertainment. Your call is very important to us, but not nearly as important as it is to you. If you are calling from a rotary phone, well, that’s just sad.
“Our automated voice system enables you to answer the prompts by voice instead of pushing buttons, making it seem like you’re talking to an actual person. We know that you’re not really fooled by this, but we’re going to do it anyway.
We don’t have to pay the computer or give it a coffee break, health insurance or vacation, so the whole thing works great for our profit margin. You can scream at it all you want, but it will still be pleasant.
“Please listen to the following menu options, and then press or say the number that corresponds with your choice. You will need to have on hand your Social Security card, names of your entire extended family, 54-digit account number and your eighth-grade locker combination.
Even though you enter these now, we’ll ask you to repeat them over and over again, because even though you’ve been sending us truckloads of money every month for our services we still have no idea who you are.
“If at any time you wish to speak to a customer service representative, hang up and call the unemployment office …”
However, some enterprising consumer advocates are fighting back. Paul English was featured on NPR and several other media outlets for his Web site (paulenglish.com; now GetHuman.com). It gives consumers the special “secret codes” to connect directly with a customer service representative.
The Web site lists over 100 companies and their codes for being quickly connected to an actual human. At Gethuman.com you can type in a business name and it gives all the contact info, menu overrides, and other well-informed customer suggestions on what works best to “get a human.”
When we need something badly we want to talk directly to the person in charge, or at least someone that can help us. Corporate answering services that screen your calls are no substitute for someone who will really listen and respond.
Body of Sermon: The classic example of getting what you need when you need it is contained in this story of the feeding of the 5,000. That it occurs in all four gospels is a clue that it was an important story about the ability of Jesus to provide very personal and powerful service.
The crucial point here is that the people had an immediate and pressing need, an immediate Person to address that need, and an immediate response to the need. They were in the right place, with the right person, at the right time.
The crowd that gathered by the Sea of Galilee had some definite needs. John 6:2 tells us that many had come for healing, seeking the cure that getting close to Jesus might provide. These people were hungry — physically and spiritually.
They were likely far from any town or village that could provide them with some fast food options. Most likely, some had wandered miles from their homes and villages to hear this awe-inspiring preacher-prophet.
Jesus knew this and was about to give his disciples the ultimate lesson in God’s economy. Seeing the predicament that was fast reaching crisis proportions, Jesus turned to Philip and asked, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (6: 5).
It is a rhetorical question: a problem that can’t be easily addressed by simply calling the local bakery, pressing “1” and banging in a credit card number for delivery.
Philip does the math — six months’ wages wouldn’t be enough to give all these people even a bite of food. You can almost imagine the disciples circulating among this crowd with people recognizing their closeness to Jesus and asking them questions: “Can we see Jesus up close? Got anything to eat? Can you tell me if I can get healed here?”
That is why the disciples frequently saw themselves as a watchdog group whose function it was to keep the crowds from getting too close. They kept little children at bay, until Jesus reminded them that “such” are the kingdom of God.
They tried to keep the blind and disabled from getting too close to Jesus as well. They saw themselves as an insulating layer between the people and the Christ — as though Jesus needed their protection.
So this story is a story about feeding the many, but it is essentially a story about access. Direct access to Jesus. Will these people have access to Jesus who can — and will — feed them? Will Jesus respond to their questions and their needs?
Other examples of direct access:
--“Let the children come”; --blind beggar shouting; --woman w/issue of blood in crowd
--Centurion’s daughter; --the leper; and many more.
Are you aware that you have access? Do you know it? Hebrews 4: 16 (NKJV)
16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Do we understand that Jesus offers direct access? That there is indeed a menu, but it’s a menu of loaves and fishes, a menu in which Jesus says, “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you.”
Imagine that you have called your insurance company in a panic and, lo, a person picks up the phone and it’s the CEO himself waiting and wanting to address your needs. How would that make you feel?
That is essentially what happens. Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish that have been brought to him and invites the people to have a seat. He then begins to act like the host of a Jewish meal, extending the invitation, making his guests comfortable, and then distributing the meal himself (6: 11).
While the synoptic gospels say that the disciples waited on the crowd after Jesus blessed the meal, John’s version focuses on the service of Jesus himself walking among the crowd and handing out bread and fish.
That simple act provides an overflowing abundance of food, but also of hope for the crowd. Jesus had not only given these people food, but also in a larger sense he had also given them himself — his touch, his compassion, his word.
Later, he would go so far as to allow himself to be broken and his sacrifice distributed as grace for all people in need of hope.
The crowd responds with ultimate customer loyalty — they want to make Jesus king (6:15). Jesus would be king, but not according to their definition of power and prestige. His call would be for them to serve others and give of themselves, following his example.
The good news for us is that we do not have to wade through a purgatory of electronic messages and corporate minions in order to have access to Jesus himself. We bring our needs directly through prayer, and the CEO of the universe makes the connection with us. That is direct access on a heavenly scale. Amen. Let us pray . . .