Sunday, July 29, 2018
Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth. Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven and share this bread with all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
2 Kings 4:42-44 Elisha feeding a hundred people
Ephesians 3:14-21 Prayer for wisdom, strength, and Christ’s indwelling
John 6:1-21 Christ feeding the five thousand
Title: A Feast in the Field for Today
It certainly is one of the best-known miracles of Jesus. Definitely one of the most referenced. (Although the water into wine remains a favorite of many.) But, I’m remembering this feeding of the five thousand as one of the first miracles I learned about in Sunday School. Food, families, picnics, little boy with a bag lunch, saying a prayer of thanksgiving at meal time – all things that children can connect with. This supernatural act is a natural for children to wrap their developing brains around.
So, good chance, this story has been in our minds for a long time. We hear some version of it two out of the three-year lectionary. In fact, it is the only miracle performed by Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels.
I find that, with these most familiar stories, it is always good to engage current contexts to explore and examine how present-day circumstances might be bringing new meaning and insights to a story that seems to be as comfortable as…as…I don’t know, what’s a picture of longtime comfort for you – a well worn sweatshirt, a deeply and personally indented chair, a much used recipe, or a repeatedly read beloved book? Whatever image works for you, join me, comfortable as we may be with this meal time miracle, and allow it to fit in a new way, invite a new position, welcome a new ingredient, or offer a new insight.
One of the gifts that this story offers us that assists in taken a fresh look at it, is that it has a large number of characters, literally a cast of thousands. And so, the first question to ask yourself is: which character am identifying with today? Whose concerns are louder than usual? Whose questions are resonating deeper? Who do you feel connected to or who are you aware of that you may have never noticed before?
Maybe today you are connecting with Philip the realist more than ever. Jesus hands him a huge challenge – feeding 5,000 people, and, understandably, he assesses the resources available for addressing the challenge and comes up way short. Its easy to understand why anyone would be fixing on Philip today. As children are being separate from parents at the border. As parents are being deported without their children. As families are being ripped apart by unjust immigration laws and brutal ICE practices. I know I feel as effective as Philip trying to feed all those people with so little. What can I do? I’m left asking with Philip. I’m just one disturbed citizen in a sea of overwhelming need.
Andrew offers a glimmer of hope, but it quickly fades in the face of reality. Do you find yourself playing Andrew’s part these days? Saying: “Well, I could do _________, (fill in the blank) but it probably won’t amount to anything. The problem is too big.” And so, we retreat into figuring that we can do nothing. Nothing of significance anyway.
Perhaps you are identifying with that little boy with the bag lunch. One way to enter this story through this young hero is to connect with his audacious optimism. He goes beyond being a “the glass is half full” kind of person. He looks at the glass and says – “Look, there’s something in the glass” even if it is just a drop when a reservoir is needed. He sees there is a need. He sees that he has something to offer. And he doesn’t hold back with thoughts of impossibilities. He is not stifled by his limitations, but rather brings his smallness to the one (as the writer of Ephesians puts it) who is him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
(A colleague-friend was musing on Facebook this past week, asking us to imagine naming churches to recognize those unnamed Bible characters who display great faith. Picture it, a parish named: Kid with the Lunch Lutheran Church. Imagine if we all acted with such hope, courage, faith, and trust.
The young lunch bearer also offers another entry point into the story for those who, in contrast to his audacious hope, see gifts, talents, or passions that they have and are yearning to do something with them, yet are stuck with hesitancy. This young boy could be named the patron saint of those who need to be nudged with a “just do it.” He is the personification of the mustard seed we heard Jesus speak of a few weeks ago. But that seed can’t stay in the bag. It has to be planted. The lunch has to be brought out, offered, accessed, employed, seen for what it is and what it can be. Are you holding on to a treasure, a gift, a passion, a concern, and wondering what to do with it or are thinking “it’s not enough?” “I’m not enough?”
Then of course there is the crowd. So many people so much hunger. Are you sitting with them? Are you hungry this morning? Not for brunch. But hungry for justice, for mercy, for peace? Are you feeling that you are far from home with nothing in your bag? Do you look around and see that no one else has anything to offer? Nothing that will satisfy?
Or maybe you can’t even focus on the frivolity of a picnic, you can’t stay in that grassy meadow, and you are drawn right into the eye of the storm and you can’t help by feel you are sitting with the frightened disciples in that tossed boat that is described as sort of epilogue to the great feast in the field. While the disciples are being tossed by wind and wave, perhaps you are feeling the tempest of the unrelenting news feed. Tossed by ever new headline that seems like another, bigger wave hitting that vulnerable boat that in the past has sailed on calmer waters. Blown to and fro by every gust of wind that fills our air waves, our conversations, fills our dreams even. Growing anxiety keeps us thinking that sinking is inevitable. Is that where you are today?
Wherever you are finding yourself in this story, learn from those who are gathered around Jesus. Join the crowd that keeps following because of the signs that they are seeing – for us it is in God’s promise in the font, Christ’s presence in the meal, the Spirit’s stirring in the word and in this community that is bound together both on grassy field and foaming sea. Stay with the disciples who stay with Jesus, taking direction even in the midst of their doubts and limited vision of their effectiveness. Trust with the little boy that even in our smallness we have something to offer because in Christ’s hands and joined with other members of Christ’s body more can be accomplished than we can ask or image. Sit with those frightened fishermen and see Jesus where you least expect him. Hear Jesus say to you: “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus is calling us to a new way of thinking. For those in the field, about to celebrate Passover, this was a new feast of life and deliverance. For the disciples there was a new way to view scarcity and abundance. For the little boy there was a new way to view the impact of one. For the men in the boat there was a new way to view their teacher – as he walks on the water and calms the storm his deeds proclaim him the Lord of all creation. Yes, this old story still brings new visions of the peace and the power Jesus our Lord brings. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, may we have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:18-19)
The Rev. Mark Erson,