(This is the fourth sermon in my current series on The 1 Thing. Sermons two and three will be posted soon. I've been trying to take some vacation so please be patient. Thanks!)
1 After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?" 6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. 7 Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little." 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, 9 "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?" 10 Then Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost." 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." 15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. John 6:1-15 (NKJV)
I’ll admit, I’ve always been a bit intrigued by politics and opinions. I think it came out of my enjoyment of studying history. In college, I found myself somewhat politically active (though I’m going to keep details to myself) and had a great professor in Poli Sci who really challenged us to think.
But it was my senior year as a Broadcasting Major that may have been the most pivitole for me. I was taking a class in Broadcasting Law in a lecture hall of about 180 students. One night, the subject turned to religion. And I was struck by the hatred and vitriol that was suddenly directed at Christianity, primarily on how churches had made politics the 1 Thing.
After a time of listening to numerous voices in that hall, I felt it necessary to speak up. I don’t remember what I said but I know the conversation ended after I did speak. But I couldn’t help but wonder and reflect, “What have we done?”
In their book, The 1 Thing, the Schultzs ask a simple but cutting question that resonates with what I heard back in college, “But what about the masses in our society who desire spiritual growth? What do they most want and need from the church - - a conduit that attempts to influence public policy, or the opportunity to personally grow close to the living God? (pg 51)”
In the past few decades, we’ve seen churches make politics their 1 thing. Granted, this isn’t new – it is historical that churches have been involved in politics but today we are just more aware. Many people now have new avenues in involvement because of digital media and Political Action Committees.
We read this story of the feeding of five thousand and reflect on how it is the only miracle Jesus did shared in all four gospels. We focus on the miracle itself. We focus on the disciples being maybe a bit selfish. We talk about the boy who gave what he had. We see the hungry gathered around Jesus. And those people, John says, began to see Jesus in a very different way. They began to put their own ideals, their own desires onto Jesus. They were ready to form their own political party.
But before they could make their move, before they could grab hold of God in the flesh, Jesus was gone.
Professor Merrill Tenney observed, “They wanted someone to rule them who would feed them and guarantee their security (pg 72).” Jesus was no opportunist even though he was at the height of popularity. The people had no comprehension of Jesus mission. But Jesus did – Jesus was ALWAYS focused on the 1 Thing. Even at the end they didn’t get it. Standing before the Roman Governor, Pilate, Jesus said pointedly:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here (Jn 18:36).” No one got it then either.
The 1 Thing for Jesus wasn’t politics. The world has plenty of politics and political systems. Reforming government, while a good thing and a noble endeavor, was not the 1 Thing for Jesus.
I think I speak for many of us here who have come to a place where we struggle with our political system. Democrat or Republican, Conservative, Liberal or Moderate, it makes little difference, many of us are asking hard questions about these things. Me too and so I’ve been reading through the Gospel of John the past few weeks, using it to help my relationship with God, trying to keep that relationship the 1 Thing. What I’ve kept noticing in John’s Gospel was this whole thing of getting it wrong about the 1 Thing, even his disciples.
And you know what? Jesus never got angry trying to explain it to them. He just kept telling them they weren’t getting the 1 Thing he kept saying. And then he kept living it in front of them, kept in relationship with them. He kept loving them and inviting more people. Of all the needs in this world, what’s The 1 Thing the church is best equipped to address? It is the one thing Jesus came to offer.