The Oliver Challenge John 6:1-13

Romans 8: 1-17
12 My dear friends, we must not live to satisfy our desires. 13 If you do, you will die. But you will live, if by the help of God’s Spirit you say “No” to your desires. 14 Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. 15 God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. 16 God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. 17 His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him.
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John 6:1-13
6 Jesus crossed Lake Galilee, which was also known as Lake Tiberias. 2 A large crowd had seen him work miracles to heal the sick, and those people went with him. 3-4 It was almost time for the Jewish festival of Passover, and Jesus went up on a mountain with his disciples and sat down.
5 When Jesus saw the large crowd coming toward him, he asked Philip, “Where will we get enough food to feed all these people?” 6 He said this to test Philip, since he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered, “Don’t you know that it would take almost a year’s wages just to buy only a little bread for each of these people?”
8 Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the disciples. He spoke up and said, 9 “There is a boy here who has five small loaves of barley bread and two fish. But what good is that with all these people?”
10 The ground was covered with grass, and Jesus told his disciples to have everyone sit down. About five thousand men were in the crowd. 11 Jesus took the bread in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he passed the bread to the people, and he did the same with the fish, until everyone had plenty to eat.
12 The people ate all they wanted, and Jesus told his disciples to gather up the leftovers, so that nothing would be wasted. 13 The disciples gathered them up and filled twelve large baskets with what was left over from the five barley loaves.
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I have been challenged by my brother to include a tractor in today’s sermon. Specifically, I am to tell you about “Sneezy,” an Oliver Row Crop 60 tractor who served well during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s on a little farm located high on the bluff between the Mississippi and Cedar Rivers in Muscatine County, Iowa.
There was a sizable auction south of Grand Mound yesterday. The occasion was the sale of memorabilia from the Eastern Iowa Threshers’ Association. It included every piece of equipment, from a screwdriver to threshing machine, that one would use to farm in the first half of the 20th Century.
My brother likes tractors, especially those that hold sentimental value. Our dad had an Oliver Row Crop 60. It was the first tractor we learned to drive. It was the only tractor my Dad ever sold. Five of his other tractors are still in my mother’s possession. That is another story. When I told my brother about this sale, he immediately checked to see if there was a “Sneezy” on the sale. I think he is trying to restore a part of our childhood. Why else do we collect objects from our past?
So, I read through the sale bill but did not find such a tractor listed. However, my brother contacted the auctioneer, and yes, there was an Oliver Row Crop 60 on the sale. So Friday afternoon, I stopped by the sale to look over the tractors. No logic on my part, either. I just like being around farm stuff. And my dad and I had attended the threshing show many times. So—-one last visit. I walked down the row of tractors and didn’t see anything that looked like the tractor I remembered. I did a second tour, looking more carefully. It’s hard to spot a green Oliver among a bunch of green John Deeres. But then I found one—an 88. I walked a little farther, and I found it, not the bright green I remembered, but a faded, beat-up, almost gray veteran of the fields. What I saw was a tractor that had been, in horse terms, “rid hard and put away wet.”
I would not have bought the tractor even if it were in perfect condition. My brother decided he didn’t need it either. So that little tractor went home with someone else.
The topic of today’s sermon is not Oliver tractors or tractors in general. Our focus today is The Apostles’ Creed, specifically, the first article.
But my brother unwittingly challenged me to include the Oliver in the sermon. I questioned his sanity. He explained:
There has to be something of note or inspiring about a tractor that was once big enough to help feed a farm, both animals and people.
It’s always taken a mix of machinery and labor, just the proportions have changed.

Well, yes, that tractor provided a lot of labor, did contribute to the raising and harvesting of hay and corn, as I remember. And that brings us to Article 1 of The Apostles’ Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

A simple statement, one sentence, but that statement says everything that can be said about our existence.

When we describe God as Creator, we acknowledge that nothing exists without God making it exist. I cannot exist without God. The world I live in, the people I know, the food I eat, the air I breathe exist because God willed the world, the people, the food, the air to exist. It was all God’s idea.

What does this mean?
I believe that God has created me together with all that exists.
God has given me and still preserves my body and soul with all their powers.
My body. Look at your fingers. Touch your ears. Swallow. Wiggle your toes. Where were you this time yesterday? What were you doing? Were you using your hands, your back, your mind, your voice? Thanks be to God!

God provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need from day to day.

Did you eat yesterday? Today? Did you put on clean clothes this morning? Do you have a place that you can safely return to after you leave church today? Are there people in your life who care about you? Do you have anything to do tomorrow? Do you have what you need to survive for another week, another month, another year?

Today’s Gospel lesson is a fascinating example of one of the many ways God provides.
5 When Jesus saw the large crowd coming toward him, he asked Philip, “Where will we get enough food to feed all these people?” 6 He said this to test Philip, since he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered, “Don’t you know that it would take almost a year’s wages just to buy only a little bread for each of these people?”
Philip’s response is a typical human reaction: we can’t afford it. We can’t afford to buy insurance. We can’t afford to buy a new car. We can’t afford to eat in a restaurant. We can’t afford a new coat. We can’t afford. How many times has that been the answer of our elected officials when their priorities are different from our own? From the kitchen table to the halls of congress, we hear “we can’t afford it.”
8 Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the disciples. He spoke up and said, 9 “There is a boy here who has five small loaves of barley bread and two fish. But what good is that with all these people?”
Andrew made an attempt, but he gave up because he saw no further than the five loaves and the two fish.
Jesus took another tack.
11 Jesus took the bread in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he passed the bread to the people, and he did the same with the fish, until everyone had plenty to eat.
Jesus’ first step was to give thanks to God. That is the proper order. For every gift we receive from God, our first thought should be, “Thank you, God.”
Such a simple prayer! Three one-syllable words. Thank you, God. Thank you, God, for every bit of my being. Thank you, God, for my mind. Thank you, God, for my hips and knees and toes! Thank you, God, for my teeth and tongue and lips. Thank you, God, for the roof above my head and for the clouds above the roof. Thank you, God, for the little orange plastic bottles with the many colored pills lined up on the bathroom shelf. Thank you, God for puppies. Thank you, God, for music and soccer and library books. Thank you, God, thank you, thank you, thank you.
It’s important to remember that God did more than create us and all we have and are. God stayed with us. Think of all the creations of our life, starting with the first picture you ever colored and proudly presented to your parents. Where is that creation now? Is it filed somewhere in a trunk in an attic?
God did not file away God’s creation, like a kindergarten math paper. God has never once stopped caring about creation. The earth does not stay the same. God created not only living people but a living earth. Is it not remarkable that new trees sprout up, that new valleys and mountains are formed? It may seem like the earth, its waters, its tectonic plates, its mountains do whatever comes naturally. As I wrote my sermon, I had a splendid view of all kinds of clouds, constantly changing, some threatening, some wistful. In front of my window, birds flew back and forth Leaves moved. Nothing was static.
We, as humans, as creations of God, keep changing. The older we get, the more we complain about the changes we face, but aging brings its own gifts, its own experience, its own wisdom. How can we, as God’s children, live thankful lives, even as our hips and eyes and guts wear out?
God is not finished with us. God has prepared a place for us.
Romans 8: 16 God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. 17 His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him.
This earthly creation includes not only earth, but also heaven. Beyond, not in a physical sense, but in a metaphysical sense, beyond our understanding, is a heaven that is open to us, available to us, because God reached beyond creation to send Jesus to not only walk with us and teach us, but to die like us and for us.
Creation will never end for us. We live it now, and we will live it in the realm that God has prepared for us.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
We know a little about this earth, about the skies above it. But the best news is that when we leave this earth, when we look for the last time on the sun and moon and stars that are so familiar to us, we will open our eyes to a new heaven and a new earth, a new dwelling created by the One Who Knows Us Best: our own Creator, God, Almighty.
And about that little Oliver tractor. Yes, it worked miracles on a little 80-acre farm. It was one part of God’s creation and the people who bounced along on that barely-cushioned seat knew full well that they were cultivating and conditioning what God had made. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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Children’s Faith Formation
Author Anne Lamott says there are only three prayers that we need to offer to God.
Help me! Help me! Help me! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Wow!