A children’s sermon given on July 29th, 2018 by Tracy Booth
When you’re little, it’s easy to believe in the unbelievable…superheroes can fly, animals can talk, the moon is made of cheese, if you swallow a watermelon seed, a watermelon will grow in your stomach, and, I’m going to say this one delicately for the younger ones, a grown man with a big belly can fit down a teeny-tiny chimney and visit every home in the whole world in one night. Lots of unrealistic things seem possible when you’re a little kid. But as we get older, we begin to understand that there are rules that govern our world, and our whole universe, really, that make these things impossible. These rules fall under a broad category called “science.” We know people can’t fly (by themselves, without help) because of physics, specifically gravity and aerodynamics. We know the moon is not made of cheese because of astronomy and space exploration (also physics). We know watermelons won’t grow in our stomachs, and also that you can swallow chewing gum, it’s just not a great idea, because of anatomy and chemistry. I, personally, LOVE science, because I love learning how and why things work. It’s kind of like learning how a magician does his tricks, only the magician is the universe. Does anyone else here love science? Grownups, how about you?
Today’s Gospel story is about the miracle of Jesus feeding at least 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. And these were small loaves, not like you’d buy at the store today, though that still wouldn’t go very far with a crowd this size. I know this is a lot to ask, but would someone be willing to read the passage? (For those of you following along, this is from John 6:1-14 in the New International Reader’s Version, which is like a kids’ version of the NIV.)
John 6:1-21 New International Reader’s Version (NIRV) Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
Some time after this, Jesus crossed over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It is also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd of people followed him. They had seen the signs he had done by healing sick people. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside. There he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near.
Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him. So he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test Philip. He already knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “Suppose we were able to buy enough bread for each person to have just a bite. That would take more than half a year’s pay!”
Another of his disciples spoke up. It was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He said, “Here is a boy with five small loaves of barley bread. He also has two small fish. But how far will that go in such a large crowd?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down. About 5,000 men were there. Then Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks. He handed out the bread to those who were seated. He gave them as much as they wanted. And he did the same with the fish.
When all of them had enough to eat, Jesus spoke to his disciples. “Gather the leftover pieces,” he said. “Don’t waste anything.” So they gathered what was left over from the five barley loaves. They filled 12 baskets with the pieces left by those who had eaten.
The people saw the sign that Jesus did. Then they began to say, “This must be the Prophet who is supposed to come into the world.” But Jesus knew that they planned to come and force him to be their king. So he went away again to a mountain by himself.
So…in this passage, we are presented with a problem: the people following Jesus need to eat, and there is not enough food. Jesus suggests to Philip that they buy food for everyone, but Philip knows that he and the other disciples are very poor, and they definitely don’t have the money for that. Another disciple named Andrew sees a boy with a small amount of food, but he knows that it’s not enough for everyone. Andrew knows, as do we, that it is not possible for bread and dead fish to magically multiply themselves. From everything we know about the world through science, there is no way to feed these thousands of people.
But what happens next? We don’t know exactly…it doesn’t actually say that the bread and fish did magically multiply themselves. All we know is that everyone ate as much as they wanted, and there was more food left over when they were finished than when they started. There’s no scientific explanation for how that could have happened…that’s why it’s called one of Jesus’s miracles.
There are lots of people out there who will tell you that’s not possible to believe in both science and in God. You either believe that miracles exist and there is no way to prove them through science, or that there is a scientific explanation for everything and nothing is a miracle, and therefore there is no God who creates miracles. You can’t have it both ways.
Or can you?
[Here Tracy did a simple demonstration with the kids of what is known as the Double Slit Experiment. The experiment involved firing individual particles of light at a screen that contained two openings, or slits. When scientists observed the experiment, the particles of light passed through one slit or the other, creating a pattern of two lines on a second screen behind. But when the exact same experiment was performed without anyone observing it, the particles either split or replicated themselves and passed through both slits simultaneously. Then the two parts came back together, bounced off of one another, and created waves like ripples in the water on the second screen. Scientists still do not know how or why this happens, but the results are the same every time.”
It’s like the particles magically multiply themselves…but it’s not magic; it’s science. It’s provable. If you have the right equipment, you can run this experiment as many times as you want, and the same thing will happen every time. And yet the smartest people on the planet have absolutely no idea why it happens. It’s a scientific miracle.
Many, many years ago – after Jesus, but long before any of us, before electricity, even before microscopes, a man named Augustine of Hippo – yes, Hippo – apparently there used to be a city in northern Africa called Hippo – studied both God and science (which he called nature). And he said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” Even though we like to think we’re really smart, there is still so much we don’t know about this universe we live in. Scientists will be the first ones to tell you that. In fact, there are lots of scientists who believe in God, precisely because they have tried to explain everything in the universe through science, and they can’t do it.
So…as you get older, if you ever find yourself thinking that you can’t believe in the stories of the Bible anymore because they don’t fit with your understanding of the world, please remember the double-slit experiment and that there are so many things in this universe that we still don’t understand. Please do not ever think that because you are a Christian, that means that you cannot question what you read in the Bible. It is okay – in fact, it’s more than okay – to read a story like we read today and ask how five small loaves and two fish could possibly have fed thousands of people. It’s more than okay to try to come up with a scientific explanation for how it could have happened. I believe that it makes God really happy when we spend time thinking about his Creation and trying to figure out how it works. After all, God gave us this amazing universe, and he also gave us these amazing minds that like to try to figure everything out. So, read your Bible. Ask questions. Love God and science. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do both.
Let’s pray together.