September 18, 2018

Sermon: Jesus vs. the Little Red Hen (John 6:1-15)

Illustration by Joyce Hesselberth

For the next five weeks, the lectionary parks in John, chapter 6, and churches who follow it will be reading about Jesus as the Bread of Life. That theme brought an old favorite children’s story to my mind this week.

* * *

Once upon a time there was a little red hen. She lived with a pig, a duck and a cat in a pretty little house which she kept clean and tidy. The little red hen worked hard at her jobs all day, but the others never helped. The pig liked to roll around, oinking in the mud outside, the duck used to swim, quacking in the pond all day, and the cat enjoyed lying in the sun, purring.

One day the little red hen was working in the garden when she found a grain of corn.

“Who will plant this grain of corn?” she asked.
“Not I,” oinked the pig from his muddy patch in the garden.
“Not I,” quacked the duck from her pond.
“Not I,” purred the cat from his place in the sun.

“Then I will do it myself,” said the little red hen. So she found a nice bit of earth, scratched it with her feet and planted the grain of corn.

During the summer the grain of corn grew. First it grew into a tall green stalk, then it ripened in the sun until it had turned a lovely golden colour. The little red hen saw that the corn was ready for cutting.

“Who will help me cut the corn?” asked the little red hen.
“Not I,” oinked the pig from his muddy patch in the garden.
“Not I,” quacked the duck from her pond.
“Not I,” purred the cat from his place in the sun.

“Very well then, I will cut it myself,” said the little red hen. Carefully she cut the stalk and took out all the grains of corn from the husks.

“Now, who will take the corn to the mill, so that it can be ground into flour?” asked the little red hen.
“Not I,” oinked the pig from his muddy patch in the garden.
“Not I,” quacked the duck from her pond.
“Not I,” purred the cat from his place in the sun.

“Fine,” said the little red hen, “I will do it myself.” She took the corn to the mill and asked the miller if he would be so kind as to grind it into flour.

Illustration detail by Joyce Hesselberth

When he had finished the miller sent a little bag of flour down to the house where the little red hen lived with the pig and the duck and the cat.

“Who will help me to make the flour into bread?” asked the little red hen.
“Not I,” oinked the pig from his muddy patch in the garden.
“Not I,” quacked the duck from her pond.
“Not I,” purred the cat from his place in the sun.

“Very well,” said the little red hen. “I shall make the bread myself.” She went into her neat little kitchen, mixed the flour into dough, kneaded the dough, and put it into the oven to bake.

Soon there was a lovely smell of hot fresh bread. It filled all the corners of the house and wafted out into the garden. The pig came into the kitchen from his muddy patch in the garden, the duck came in from the pond and the cat left his place in the sun. When the little red hen opened the oven door the dough had risen up and had turned into the nicest, most delicious looking loaf of bread any of them had seen.

“Who is going to help me eat this bread?” asked the little red hen.
“I will,” oinked the pig.
“I will,” quacked the duck.
“I will,” purred the cat.

“Oh no, you won’t,” said the little red hen. “I planted the seed, I cut the corn, I took it to the mill to be made into flour, and I made the bread, all by myself. And now I will eat the bread all by myself.”

And that’s what happened. The pig, the duck and the cat stood and watched as the little red hen ate the loaf all by herself. It was delicious and she enjoyed it, to the very last crumb.

* * *

We live in a “Little Red Hen” world. And there’s much about that story that we can agree with. Its purpose, of course, is to teach responsibility and the importance of hard work. The Bible contains similar wisdom teaching as well. The Book of Proverbs is filled with these kinds of moral lessons, and Paul says in one of his letters, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2Thess. 3:10).

However, there is a much deeper, much more profound perspective that the Bible urges us to remember, and every now and then in the Biblical narrative, we read a story that makes this abundantly clear. We read one of those today — the story of Jesus feeding the multitude in John 6. Did you know that this is the only miracle from Jesus’ ministry that is included in all four Gospels? It must be an important story for helping us understand Jesus.

Passover, Abecassis

As John tells the story, he mentions a detail that helps us understand what is going on in this chapter. He tells us that these things took place in Passover season.He tells us that these things took place in Passover season.

Passover is the time when Israel remembers how God redeemed them from bondage in Egypt under Moses’ leadership. It’s a story about God’s power, about how the blood of the Lamb saved them from death, how God defeated the gods of Egypt and set the Hebrews free from slavery, how God overcame the powers of chaos and parted the Red Sea, and how he led them to Mt. Sinai, providing manna from heaven and water from the Rock for them on their wilderness journey. Passover is about how God, by grace alone, redeemed a people for himself and provided everything they needed to become his chosen nation.

We see all of these themes in John 6, starting with the stories we read today. We have heard how Jesus provided bread for the crowds and then came to his disciples in power on the waters to bring them to safety. Our focus this morning will be on the feeding of the multitudes. I take a few important lessons from this Gospel text for today.

First, we have nothing to offer Jesus but our hunger and a few resources that are hopelessly inadequate to feed ourselves or others.

John’s account of the story brings this out strongly because it says Jesus asked the question of Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” John then writes, “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.” By his question, Jesus forced Philip to take an honest look at the situation. There was a huge, hungry crowd and no food. They eventually found a boy with a small lunch, but it was obviously not enough for everyone. The fact was, they were stuck. But that was exactly when Jesus showed them God’s power to provide.

One of the reasons we pray the Lord’s Prayer every day is to remind ourselves that if God does not grant us our daily bread, we will go hungry. Oh sure, most of the time to our eyes, life looks like the story of the Little Red Hen — we plant the seeds, harvest the crops, make the bread, and enjoy it. But all it takes is one or two catastrophes: we get sick or hurt or somehow disabled and can’t work, we lose our job, some other financial emergency overtakes us, some unforeseen life crisis befalls us, and we suddenly know we are not really in control like we thought we were. Don’t you think there might be a few farmers across the Midwest this year who are realizing that in a fresh way?

Second, Jesus always stands ready to take the inadequate resources we give him and use them to meet our needs and the needs of others.

This week I read about a church in Texas that holds an community meal every Thursday night. They open their doors and invite the homeless in their part of the city. When the congregation started the meal, they did not know how long the ministry would last or how they would fund it. About 15-20 homeless folks showed up, and they were nervous too, wondering what the catch was. However, after five years, the church welcomes about 200 who come in from the streets each Thursday. The people of the congregation sit down with them and they eat a family-style meal together. They put out tablecloths, cut flowers and platters of delicious food with identifiable meats, and over the years folks in the congregation and the homeless people of in their city have become friends. One guest said, “We know the food is good because you sit and eat it with us.” After the meal they worship around the tables. They announce this ahead of time so that those who don’t feel comfortable can leave, and about half do. Then they go to the chapel and offer communion and perhaps only fifteen of the guests come. But the opportunity is always there. Today, after five years of doing this, 30,000 meals have been eaten around those tables and the church has never lacked funds to provide for these gatherings.

That story sounds so much like Jesus, doesn’t it? — how he takes simple gifts of food and drink and conversation and blesses them, multiplies them, and then blesses the world through them.

Feeding of 5000 Men, Magalona

Third, every meal that Jesus blesses and we enjoy is a sign pointing to God’s great banquet in the New Creation.

Today’s text tells us that the people saw what Jesus had done as a sign that he was the Messiah and then they tried forcibly to make him King. They remembered the prophecy that a Prophet like Moses would one day arise. They recognized Jesus as the one who would provide manna from heaven and set them free from their enemies like Moses did in the Exodus. They knew the promises their prophets had given, about a great feast to come in the last days, when God would gather all his people together and provide a lavish banquet for themThe early church saw this feeding of the 5000 as a eucharistic meal, a meal with many parallels to the Lord’s Supper, especially when it pictures Jesus taking the loaves, giving thanks, and distributing them to the people. In the early church manual called the Didache reflects this story in John in its eucharistic liturgy. Its thanksgiving prayer goes like this: “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.”

When we come to the Lord’s Table we are not only remembering what Jesus did for us, we are anticipating the coming of Christ’s Kingdom and the great feast he will spread for all people then. But I would go further than that. Every time we gather as a congregation and break bread, every time we sit down with our families for a meal, every time we share our bread with the hungry, we are doing what Jesus did in this miracle. And when we do so, we are painting a picture for the world to see that God is our great Provider, that God is our great Redeemer who nourishes us all along the way of our earthly journey, and God is our King who will one day welcome us to his table and satisfy us there forever.


* * *

Jesus is no Little Red Hen. He made it all, and he shares it all with us, even when we are utterly undeserving of his gifts. So go ahead and do your work well. Earn your salary and be a good steward of your resources. Plant and harvest, process and prepare your food.

But at the end of the day we will look back and will find that it is our heavenly Father who has answered our prayer, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread.”


  1. Everett says:

    Thanks for the post Chaplain Mike, it was a nice way to start the day. Blessings.

  2. Thank you for the reflection.

  3. Rick Ro. says:

    Excellent sermon, CM, with three clear and good points about how it’s all about the Father’s provision and Jesus’ ability to work with very little.

  4. dumb ox says:

    “We have nothing to offer Jesus but our hunger and a few resources that are hopelessly inadequate to feed ourselves or others.”

    It reminds me of a scene from a children’s cartoon entitled “Red Boots for Christmas”, where Hans asks Gretchen what she will give Jesus for Christmas, to which she so wisely responds, “I would give Him what I give Him every day — my sins for His pardon, my weakness for His strength, and my sorrow for His joy.”

  5. dumb ox says:

    “And St. Paul proveth that Enoch had faith, because he pleased God: ‘For without faith,’ saith he, ‘it is not possible to please God.’ And again, to the Romans he saith: ‘Whatsoever work is done without faith, it is sin.’ Faith giveth life to the soul; and they be as much dead to God that lack faith, as they be to the world whose bodies lack souls. Without faith all that is done of us is but dead before God, although the work seem never so gay and glorious before man. Even as a picture graven or painted is but a dead representation of the thing itself, and is without life, or any manner of moving; so be the works of all unfaithful persons before God. They do appear to be lively works, and indeed they be but dead, not availing to the eternal life. They be but shadows and shews of lively and good things, and not good and lively things indeed; for true faith doth give life to the works, and out of such faith come good works, that be very good works indeed; and without it no work is good before God.” – Thomas Cramner, from “The Homily of Good Works annexed unto Faith”.

  6. Thanks CM. Very good reflection.


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