Bread of Life #1 of 5: Crusts and Crumbs

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
July 26, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

“Bread of Life #1 of 5: Crusts and Crumbs”

John 6:1-15

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus 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. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

We’re starting a new five-week sermon series today. Please bear with me for a moment as I give you the context for it. We’ve been in the Gospel of Mark for several weeks, but now, for five weeks, the lectionary (the selection of scriptures that are recommended for each Sunday), moves to John. The lectionary is on a three-year cycle, and because John doesn’t follow lockstep with the other Gospels, there are pieces of it stuck in here and there, but it doesn’t get its own year as the three other Gospels—the synoptic Gospels—do. The word synoptic comes from two Greek words that mean “to see together.” And Matthew, Mark and Luke definitely do that. They have most of their stories in common, and if you read them back-to-back, it can almost feel a little redundant. In fact, most Bible scholars believe that Mark was written first, just a few years after Jesus was crucified, and then Matthew and Luke each used Mark’s Gospel as a source to write their own Gospels. And then along came John, some 20 or 30 years later, and his Gospel is unique—seen apart, as opposed to “seen together” (synoptic)—from the others.

There are a few stories that all four Gospels do contain, though, and Jesus feeding the multitude is one of them. In fact, Matthew and Mark each contain two multitude-feeding stories—one says the crowd was 4,000 and the other says it was 5,000. Interesting. We could spend a lot of time going over the theories of why the Gospels were written that way—and we do learn a lot about a story by understanding why it was written—but that’s not where I’m going today. We’re going to talk about bread. For the next five weeks, as we journey through the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, there’s a recurring theme of “Bread of Life, so … we’re going to talk about bread.

The first thing to note is that John alone gives us an intereting detail about the bread that Jesus fed the crowd that day. John says it was barley. In fact, John’s is the only Gospel that contains any reference to barley—at all! I wonder why—don’t you? I do know one thing: What grain is most bread made from? … Wheat, that’s right. … And barley was worth about a third of what wheat was worth in Jesus’ day. It was a low-grade crop, looked down upon. Among royalty, to be reduced to eating barley would be something like our having to eat just ramen noodles for every meal because that’s all we could afford to have in the pantry. Or the proverbial beans and rice. It was the food of the common folk, those who were down on their luck or were reaping the consequence of poor life choices. Yet John tells us it was five barley loaves that Jesus took that day and transformed into bread from heaven—like manna—to feed a hungry multitude.

I love the plainness of that. That’s the plain old, good and true, rock-solid, down-home gospel. Sometimes we just need to hear it plain. Good old barley loaves. The good old message that Jesus loves you. God loves you. Period. Nothing fancy. Just that. Just love. We get up on Sunday morning and come to church so we can hear it again: Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. We are weak (oh, so weak sometimes), but he is strong.

Sometimes what we need is the barley-ness of hearing that Jesus is strong in the face of our weakness. Jesus loves us so much that he comes into our lives and fills our hungry spirits with bread and meat from heaven. Quenches our thirst. Heals our pain. Calms our fears. Gives us hope. The plain old good news of the gospel. We never get tired of hearing it, amen?

And that right there would be enough, but there’s another detail that John includes that the others don’t. Now, if scholars are right, and John’s Gospel was written 20 or 30 years later than the others, that detail may have been added as a bit of oral tradition elaborated on the original story. What I’m saying is, unless you believe that every single word of the Bible is absolutely literally true (and, in compliance with that, you refuse to eat shrimp because it’s a bottom-dwelling seafood, or wear cotton-poly clothing because it’s a mixture of fibers)—unless you believe that every single word of the Bible is absolutely literally and invariably true—then you may be able to wonder with me whether Jesus really said this next thing I’m going to talk about. Regardless, John had a reason for including it—a story behind the story—and I really love the fact that it’s there. Now, I choose to believe that Jesus really did say this, and that the other Gospel writers didn’t include it only because maybe the detail hadn’t surfaced yet as the story was told and retold in their hearing. I choose to believe that Jesus did say it, because I like what it says about Jesus. I like what it says about God. … I like that Jesus told the disciples to gather up the leftovers “so that nothing may be lost.” John calls them “fragments.” Klasma in the Greek, translated “pieces, broken pieces.” Crusts … and crumbs.

Do you ever feel like a broken piece? A crust? A crumb? Insignificant? Shattered? Broken? Even worse—a worthless barley crumb? That’s what, according to John, Jesus told the disciples to carefully gather up, place in baskets, and save! “So that nothing (so that none of them—not one of them) may be lost.” Isn’t that just the best part of the story?

It’s almost as if Jesus wanted to create a metaphor here. “Don’t let any of them fall to the ground; don’t let any of them be lost, or wasted, because every single one of them is precious to me. I took a few stale loaves of barley bread and I made out of them enough fresh, delicious bread to feed ten thousand people to bursting, with twelve basketfuls left over! Don’t let a single crust, not one tiny crumb, be lost!”

If only we could all know, every minute, how much we mean to God. We are the klasma, the fragments, the broken pieces, that he wants to save. There are so many details, so many distractions, so many debates that we can get caught up in—even in God’s family, even in the church—that would cause us to forget about God’s uncomplicated love for us, God’s unfathomable love for us. But the truth is, no disagreement is worth walking away from God. Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch Holocaust survivor who wrote the book The Hiding Place, is famous for her quote, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” God is there with us in the fragmented places of our lives. If only we could all know, every minute, how true this is.

This afternoon, after the party at Art & Mona Navaltas’, Nathan and Sammi and I are driving up to my sister’s home in Northern Colorado. We’re going to Livermore, outside of Fort Collins. My sister and her family are moving out, moving back to Wisconsin, and they’ll probably have pretty much everything loaded into the truck by the time we get there. So we’re not going up to help them move.[1] We’re going up for another reason, and that is this:

Almost two years ago—about the time I started interviewing for the position of pastor here—my other sister’s son Cody could have benefitted greatly from hearing the simple, sweet, barley-plain message that God loved him and did not want him to be lost—or wasted. Instead, both happened. Cody was found, in his home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, on September 15, 2013, having taken his life the day before. His obituary in the La Crosse Tribune said only that he “passed away unexpectedly.” But I don’t know. His mother and father, twice divorced, both struggle with substance abuse. Cody’s sister Cassie is the one for whom I have shared a prayer request with you because she suffers from scleroderma, a typically fatal condition that hardens the tissues to the point of paralysis. Cody’s marriage was unhappy at best, and it seems one day all of that just got the best of him. He must have felt that day like a worthless crumb, must have had no idea that he really was a cherished piece of heavenly bread that Jesus wanted to preserve, protect and nurture. If only he had known…

John’s Gospel says that after Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, the people started to wonder if he was the prophet they were waiting for, the prophet who was to come and deliver them from the Romans. But this was not why he had come. He had come to spread the good news of God’s love. He had come to give his life for that message—the message that God did not want one single klasma, not one single piece, not one single fragment, of the big barley loaf we call humanity—to be lost. So Jesus escaped, alone, to his favorite mountain, to be with God.

Cody loved the mountains too. He loved eagles. He loved wolves. He loved Colorado. So we are going to northern Colorado to spread some of Cody’s ashes in the mountains he loved so much. Rest in peace, Cody Anderson. Know that you have always been loved. And may we all very simply know that we will all always be loved. Amen.


[1] As it turned out, we did have a large role in helping them load their huge moving truck. Thank God for strong backs!