Call to Worship/Psalm 78 (select verses/NRSV)
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord,
and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot what he had done,
and the miracles that he had shown them.
In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt,
in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed,
can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?”
Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of rage;
a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel,
because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.
Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.
God of our hopes and dreams, we are empty, and long to be filled; we are hungry, and long to be fed; we are lost, and long to be found. Gather us into your love, and pick up the pieces of our lives, just as Jesus gathered up the fragments of the five loaves and two fish that remained after feeding the five thousand. Call us anew to eat our fill and to find our true nourishment in Jesus, the bread of heaven. Amen.
John 6:1-13 (NRSV)
1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When 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?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus 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. 11Then 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. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
The names we bear often reveal a great deal about our parents—their affections, dreams, and loyalties. Some names reflect a family’s cultural or ethnic ties. Other names are derived from the family’s faith traditions. Marcie and I selected our children’s names this way. Our son’s name, Matthew, literally means “gift of God” and our daughter’s middle name, Grace, similarly meaning “God’s gracious gift to us.” A child’s name often tells the story of the family and the strong bonds between generations, as when a baby is named for a parent or relative or given a paternal or maternal name. For example, I share the names of both my grandfathers. My first name, Morris, is my maternal grandfather’s middle name, and my middle name, Victor, is my paternal grandfather’s first name. In rural America, sometimes children were named after the doctor who delivered them or after a geological or geographical place or fixture near where they were born.
The name Philip may not raise any eyebrows among us in our time and place. I’ve met many Philips along my life’s journey. However, the Philip we meet in today’s scripture has a name that may have had people wondering about what his parents had been thinking. Philip was a Jew, born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee. However, Philip was not a Hebrew name, but rather a Greek one. For faithful Jewish parents to give their son a Gentile name would have been something quite peculiar. The name Philip in the Greek means “lover of horses.” We might not need to look to far for an explanation, however. At that time, Philip was the tetrarch of Ituraea. Histories record that this Philip, one of Herod’s sons, was a fairly capable ruler who brought many benefits to the people living around the Sea of Galilee. So perhaps it was out of respect and appreciation that the Philip we are focusing on today was given his name.
The first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us nothing about Philip. In those Gospels, he is only a name in the listing of the twelve disciples. As it is with the Andrew, it is John’s Gospel that gives us a glimpse into the kind of person Philip was. Philip appears only four times in John’s Gospel and in three of the stories, someone is looking for him. Only once is Philip the initiator of the relationship. These stories paint a portrait of Philip as someone who was deliberate, matter of fact, retiring, prosaic. He comes across as reserved, perhaps even shy. And yet, Jesus chooses Philip to be one of his original twelve disciples. The first story in which we find Philip is in the first chapter of John. Jesus said, “follow me.” The Gospel doesn’t say whether Philip followed Jesus immediately or not. It only reports that he in turn found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth” (John 1:45). It was a no-nonsense, almost surgically precise statement that includes the background of Moses and the prophets, the name of Jesus’ father, and the place from which Jesus comes.
The next time we meet Philip is in the text that we encountered this morning. Jesus is faced with five thousand who have followed him into the wilderness, and who now have to be fed. Jesus looked over the crowd and then turned to Philip with a question: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5). Ever the deliberate one, Philip breaks out his slide rule and offers a practical, reasonable answer: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7). Someone has said that Philip was a person with a warm heart and a pessimistic head. And we probably all know several persons like Philip. They sincerely want to do something for others, but they can’t quite see how it can ever be done. Their intentions are good, but they may be weak on the follow-through. They may be enticed by the idea but toss it aside when analyzing the details and counting the costs.
But I’m not willing to completely castigate Philip here for his reasoned response and there is nothing in the text that indicates Jesus having been annoyed with Philip’s answer. Jesus ask an incredible question and Philip offers the only answer he has at his immediate disposal, given the facts confronting him. As this familiar story continues, we find Andrew making things happen by bringing a boy forward who had brought his meager lunch of bread and fish with which Jesus blesses and has distributed to all the people with even twelve baskets left over. It was a miraculous moment, one that defied all of Philip’s logic and reasoning, but one that reveals that God’s grace defies and exceeds human logic; that God’s intentions are not about scarcity and limitation but rather blessing and abundance.
On another day, a group of Greeks came searching for Jesus. The did the logical thing, approaching the disciple who had a Greek name. Again, the plodding Philip is unsure about how best to handle the situation so instead of taking them directly to Jesus, he chooses to bring them to Andrew to see what he would recommend. The cautious Philip feels the need for a second opinion, to be sure what he was doing was appropriate—and Andrew, ever the introducer—brings assures Philip that it’s okay to take the Greeks to meet Jesus. Both of these stories tell us about the type of person is—he is deliberate. While seemingly pessimistic, Philip was no obstructionist. He never got in the way of Jesus feeding the multitude or the Greeks’ desire to speak with Jesus. In both stories it seems that Philip was ready to help, he was just unsure of the best way to do so.
Lastly, we find Philip engaged in the final discussion that Jesus has with his disciples. There, around the table, with feet washed, and Passover celebrated, we hear Jesus say, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” Philip, ever on the search for more data, asked, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 14:6-8). There’s nothing appalling or scandalous about Philip’s request. It was perfectly consistent with who Philip was. He was someone who insisted on adequate research before drawing a conclusion. Be sure that we have all the details so we can offer a well-thought-out solution. Philip’s request opens the door for one of Jesus’ most stirring statements—one that is essential to Christian doctrine—“Whoever has seen me,” Jesus says, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9). We know who God is because Jesus, incarnate in human flesh, has revealed the sacrificial and unconditional love of God. Jesus is the very embodiment of God’s mercy and grace, the one who takes on flesh to become the ultimate object lesson for all of us.
The New Testament says nothing more about Philip. One of the leading personalities in the book of Acts is named Philip, but more than likely, this was a deacon in the church at Jerusalem rather than Philip the apostle. There is an apocryphal book called the Acts of Philip dated to the fifth century AD that record some of the stories and legends that grew up around this mysterious apostle, attributing Philip with the slaying of a dragon, having a conversation with a talking leopard, and the resurrection of a young man on a dare from some unbelievers. One tradition that seems the most plausible records that Philip’s missionary work took him to Greece, Scythia (Ukraine), Parthia (Iraq), and Asia Minor (Turkey) where, in the city of Hierapolis, he was martyred by crucifixion. Because of his connection with the feeding of the five thousand, Philip is often symbolized by a cross surrounded by loaves of bread. Also, because of this same association, he is the patron saint of bakers.
While Philip’s cautious personality may seem at first rather innocuous, his willingness to follow Jesus and then to witness to his faith in the face of opposition suggests that Jesus was wise to include Philip among the original twelve. Never known for his outward enthusiasm or personal charisma, Philip’s methodical, deliberate, low-key approach reminds us that God can work through anyone and that, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, everyone, even the most prodding and practical among us can share the Bread of the World with others.
Prayers of the People
Gracious and merciful God, thank you for sending your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the Bread of Life for the world.
Forgive us for elevating our earthly appetites above our devotion to you. Feed us with the knowledge of Christ so that we recognize our sin and gladly repent in his name.
We pray for those who hunger for food, water, and shelter. Help us to trust in your abundant and saving grace, that we may be found sharing our resources to feed, clothe, and shelter them.
Have mercy on those whose lives have been shattered by war, violence, and abuse. Feed them with hope in the possibility of new life in the One who has felt and who understands their pain.
Feed those who are sick or grieving with the healing and comfort of the light Christ.
Feed our nation’s leaders—local, state, and federal—with your wisdom that they make decisions in accordance to your will and sensitivity to the needs of those whom they govern.
Bountiful God, you heard the prayers of your people in the wilderness and fed them bread from heaven despite of their doubts and frustrations. Hear us today and feed us too with the Bread of heaven, even our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Closing Thought & Benediction
Our closing thought for this morning come from Father Donal Neary, a teacher and priest in Ireland—
The mother and small child stood in line for communion;
the child was too young for communion
so just trailed up by the hand.
And then looked up at the minister with a big open mouth.
And the gospel came alive with the need of the people for food,
and mouths open for the bread of life…
Only in the face of the child was the mouth so open,
but aren’t we all gasping for the bread of life?
May the love of God which gives life to the world, sustain you;
May the bread of life, Jesus Christ, feed you with the food that endures to eternal life;
May the power of the Holy Spirit nourish and strengthen you in faith. Amen.