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Where or from Whom?

John 6:1-15

“Where will we buy food to feed these people?”

John 6:5b (Common English Bible)

There’s a story I once heard of a minister who was invited to a large family gathering. There was a swarm of people there – all gathered on the lawn of his parishioner’s home – for a Sunday dinner that the man’s wife had carefully prepared and lay out before them – a veritable feast! You could tell that the wife and mother of this household had worked very hard.

When all was ready, the host looked at the minister and asked if he would say the blessing. But before a word was said, a little girl – the youngest daughter of the host couple spoke up and said… “I’ll say the blessing. I’ll say the prayer that I heard my momma say this morning before you all came.” The momma and daddy looked a little surprised…

The minister nodded – pleased that he was ‘off the hook’ – and everyone bowed their heads… And then the little girl offered the prayer her momma had said just that morning…

‘Lord, how are we going to feed all these people! Amen.’

Philip and Andrew were two of Jesus’ disciples who wondered the same thing.


It was a miracle in the making, and no one except Jesus saw it coming. The setting was right…a mountain in Galilee. When Jesus goes up on a mountain…it’s often a signal to us that something is about to happen.

He goes to a mountain to teach.

He goes there to pray.

He goes up mountains to reveal the power of God

within himself.

Yet, when the disciples followed Jesus to this mountain by the Sea – with a large crowd in tow – they still were unable to see the wondrous sign that was about to unfold.

The time was right, also. John says that the Passover was near. The Passover was not only a great feast, of course, for those who shared the Judaic faith of Jesus, it was a time to remember the saving power of God… A God with power to break the oppressive regimes…

of a Pharaoh in Egypt… or

of Al-Assad in Syria…

and set God’s people free.

And yet, even this clue of the approaching Passover apparently did not register with the disciples gathered around Jesus.

It was a miracle in the making…the time and place were right… Even the circumstances would point to the presence of God in the midst of that growing crowd. People were hungry – not only for food…but for God – and something needed to be done. And, by grace, something was done.

You see, miracles – signs of God’s presence and power that defy our understanding – are given for a simple purpose…to increase faith. Miracles are not coerced – or demanded – but given from above. They remind us of the One who (ultimately) is in charge…reminding us – one would hope – that the person in charge of this life (that we live) is not us.


Which is probably why Jesus poses that great question to Philip…the Apostle who gets his 15 minutes of fame in John’s gospel. Looking at the ‘busloads’ of people – a growing throng by the minute – Jesus looks at disciple number 5 and asks a question He could very well ask of you.

“Where will we buy food to feed these people?”

But there’s more than logistics – or food management involved. There’s more behind the question than… ‘Lord, how are we going to feed all these people!’ John, in the Fourth Gospel, calls the question of Jesus a test to Philip…and perhaps it was.

And we might wonder (with others, I assure you) if Jesus is still putting us to the test at times today… Not in the sense of a ‘set-up’ in order to watch us fail… But as a means to see

how we might manage – and even prove ourselves – in the challenges we face…right now.


How are we going to feed hungry people right here in Albemarle County…or even in Covesville?

How are we going to see that everyone has good, affordable health-care – even when they cannot afford it?

How are we going to assist those who are unemployed or disabled – to keep their electricity or power – on – when utility bills are long overdue?

“Where will we buy food to feed these people?”

Pay attention, please!

It’s not an isolated question. And Philip – you’ll notice – doesn’t really answer it. Like a good Presbyterian…like a good Elder in the Church – he shifts to the fiscal challenge before


“More than half a year’s salary…(200 day’s wages to be more exact)…

would hardly give each person more than a mouthful…” he says.

Andrew – a quiet disciple – offers a possibility…having met a boy with a lunch he is willing to share (we suppose). But even Andrew – one of the first to follow Jesus – is skeptical over the meager prospects of feeding thousands with 5 loaves of barley and 2 ‘catch of the day’!

So…everything is set for the miracle that ensues…

Where a small offering…becomes an abundant feast.

Where worried and skeptical disciples…

are led to see what God-with-us can do.

Where the hungry horde is satisfied…

and faith in the prophetic witness of Jesus is proclaimed.


So what may we learn…from this miraculous sign that is described in all four of the gospels? Simply this… (If anything can be simple!)

When it comes to the enormous challenges we face…

When we don’t know how we’re going to meet the ever-

growing demands that ministry has and will bring us…

When Jesus looks at us and asks…(in so many words)…

“Where will we purchase what we need

to feed all these people?”

and waits for our response…

Remember… Remember the One who is in charge of our ministry.

Not you.

Not the Pastor.

Not the Session.

Not our history.

Not our budget or ‘endowed funds’ like Agape!

And the minute you and I start focusing – like Philip – on “Where”…in the sense of…

Where are we going to pay for this?

How much is it going to cost?

From where will we get the money to do this?

We’re asking the wrong question!

We flunk the test!

Because the question – the leading question – Jesus offers in the gospel is not really

Where? but From whom?

He showed them the miracle…when all those thousands of people sat down on that grassy knoll looking on. In fact, it’s the miracle we remember whenever we sit down at Table with Jesus for the Sacrament of grace…

He took bread.

He asked the blessing.

He gave out the bread and fish…

And all those people…all those thousands of women, children and men had more than enough!

Where…or from Whom?

Don’t flunk the test!

W. Clay Macaulay

Director of Alumni Development

Union Presbyterian Seminary

Richmond - Charlotte

A sermon preached for

Cove Presbyterian Church

Covesville, Virginia

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