[Isaiah 49:8-13 / Acts 2:41-47 / John 6:1-15]
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Devoted themselves is pretty strong language. To devote yourself means you've made a commitment to something and, further, made that commitment not out of some dreary sense of duty, but out of love. Think what it means to speak of a man as a “devoted husband and father” or a woman as a “devoted wife and mother.”
So those first Christians after receiving Baptism on that joyous day of Pentecost – they devoted themselves to, they made a commitment out of love to listening to the Apostles' teaching, to sharing in the communion, that is, breaking of the bread, and to joining together in the prayers. They were committed to living at the receiving end of God's good gifts, and look at what happened!
Their lives began to shine with the love of Christ Himself as they provided for the poor in need, out of new hearts that were both glad and generous. Said simply: if they had the Divine Service, they had enough and more than enough, and that freed them to live in charity.
We might look at their giving away all their stuff and shake our heads, though. “Live like that and what will become of you?” we wonder. Such is our unbelief. You see, they knew WHO they were living with – they knew WHO met them in the Apostles' Words, the Communion, the Prayers. They knew it was none other than He who knows how to multiply the loaves and fish and provide for His people all that they need, more in fact than they ever dreamed possible.
Our Lord tosses Philip the hot potato to see whether he's learned anything yet. But instead of tossing it right back as he should have done, he plays with it and it burns his hands. Jesus asks: “Philip, where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Philip starts looking over the crowd, does some math, comes up with the answer: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Andrew joins in the game: “There's a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Picture the three of them: Our Lord looking at the two disciples. Philip staring opened mouth into the crowd. Andrew, shaking his head over the pitiful amount of food. Neither passed the test.
You see, our Lord does not send us tests to find out how bright and ingenious we are, let alone to test our will power. He always sends tests for us to toss them right back at Him, and look to Him alone because the problems are too big for us to handle. Jesus shows us that by what He does with the disciples next.
“Have the people sit down.” Then HE took the little food and gave big thanks over it and handed the little food to the Apostles to dish out.
Can you see Andrew looking at the little piece of bread in his hand as Jesus says: “Go, give it away!” Can you see Philip looking at the vast crowd and shaking his head? How long did it take them before they realized? How long before they discovered that no matter how much they gave away, the Lord multiplied in their hands the food? They never felt as though they had anymore than that little bit that the Lord had first given, and yet they found that little bit to be, with His blessing, an inexhaustible supply. Twelve baskets of left overs. One for each Apostle. Twelve baskets out of the little amount they held in their hand.
Ah, but if they had held on it? If they had not given it away? If in fear of not getting more they had kept it for themselves? What then? They would have had not a basket full, but a little piece only.
Are you beginning to see? They saw, and that's why we find those who devoted themselves to their teaching in our second reading, taking their earthly stuff and handing it over to those in need. They knew they were not impoverishing themselves. They had made the joyful discovery that you can't out-give the Lord Jesus. He gives, and you pass it on to others, and He multiplies and provides. But how can He multiply what is not given over?
To have more than enough as you give it all away makes no sense in the ways of the world. But we must think of Who teaches us this. For it is not some principle of finance, but of LIFE that He is disclosing here.
He gave Himself away, not in part, but in whole. He poured Himself out for you and for me and for us all. He emptied His life upon the Cross so that He might forgive us – His blood blotting out our sin – including our sin of fear that tries to hold onto earthly stuff as though we could squeeze some real life out of it; His life destroying our death by giving us a real life that never ends. He gave Himself entirely to us. And you might think: “If I do that, then there's nothing left. Best to hold on to what I've got.”
His resurrection shows that such is a lie. This is why He would say: “The one who saves his life, will lose it; while the one who loses his life for my sake keeps it for eternal life.” The One who gave His all is the One who lives forevermore, His body made incorruptible and the very fountain of salvation. And He goes on giving Himself away, feeding His people in the wilderness not with earthly food alone, but with Himself. For HE is the very Word of God made flesh to be our bread of life. Here at His table, He reaches you a food that provides you with more than you'll ever need – and that's how He frees you not to grasp, but to open the hand and give away. Your stuff, yes, but above all your life. It's not just what He did when He multiplied the loaves; it's what He did when He went to Calvary; it's what He calls you and me to join Him in doing now.
Then we will know first hand the joyful heart of those first Christians on Pentecost, for devoted like them to the Lord's Words, His Meal, and the Prayers, we will find that the One who poured out His life to death for us and who now lives forevermore – that to have Him is to have everything and so our hearts will be set free to give ourselves away entirely. And we'll then find ourselves among that company that the Lord adds to every day – the company of those who “are being saved.”