Sermons from St
Fr John Reed, Sunday 29th July, 2018
On the Sunday before the Vicarage garden party this is a very fitting Gospel reading. Over many years of parish ministry one of the first things I have learned is that one of the fundamentals of church life is the shared meal. Secondly there is a fair amount of anxiety around the question of making sure that no one leaves feeling hungry. There are several approaches to alleviate this anxiety, involving signing up on lists, or requiring the purchase of tickets (Brenda has some today), and then there is the Methodist Faith tea. You are all expected to bring something with you, and God willing there is more food than anyone can possibly eat. This was the standard way of doing things in New Zealand churches and it worked well, and woe betide anyone who didn’t leave with some food at the end.
But if you suggest this approach with loyal Church of England folk, someone is bound to ask the question, what happens if everyone arrives with a trifle? More anxiety!
But on the scale of anxiety Philip had a colossal amount. five thousand Men, and if there were 5000 men there were women and children in the crowd too. They had all followed Jesus seeking more teaching and healing. This story appears in all 4 Gospels but in Mark and John which unusually seem to follow the same details before the teaching begins the miracle happens. And Jesus asks Phillip to feed them all, What! says Phillip who obviously had an eye for figures, we would need 200 days wages to fed this lot. And then Andrew introduces and the small boy with 5 barley loaves and two fish. A boy’s packed lunch and five thousand plus hungry people, naïve to say the least. But maybe it takes a child’s faith to turn the world of many right thinking serious grown ups upside down.
In the prayer at the Eucharist we use this morning which is based upon scriptures accounts of the last supper we will take bread, just as Jesus took that bread. We will give thanks just as Jesus gave thanks that day with the five barley loaves and two fish. And we will break it so it can be distributed. And it is from the Greek word for fragment we will find the word used by the early church for the bread we distribute at the Eucharist.
That day it was distributed among 5000 men and their dependants, it’s a parable of God's extravagant generous love. Everyone had sufficient and still there is enough left for 12 baskets, and for those who like significant numbers one for every tribe of Israel. There are stories of miraculous feedings in the old Testament, Manna and quails in the wilderness, the prophet Elisha feeding the starving widow and her son. And yet the one we have in Kings today is about Elisha walking 60 miles from a miracle to find a group of starving prophets, one of the servants is sent to gather herbs and they develop food poisoning, Elisha heals them, but still they hunger. And then a faithful worshipper of God arrives, a man who has walked a considerable distance to fulfil his religious obligation and present the first fruits of his harvest to the prophet. The servant complains there is not enough, and God again ensures there is far more than they can eat. The worshipper must have felt greatly appreciated. And Jesus was greatly appreciated, so much they tried to make him King. In ancient Rome those who ruled lived in constant fear of the mob. One Emperor had a philosophy that seemed to work, it was arranging elaborate circuses to entertain the crowds and to provide bread for the hungry to eat. Jesus could have provided loaf upon loaf, and yet he chose to slip away.
Both John and Mark follow the story of the feeding of the 5000 by calming the storm. Again we have anxious disciples but this time imperilled by a storm. And this is in an area that most of the disciples would have felt at home in, they were fishermen. And Jesus walks on the water, the Spirit of God literally dances over the stormy water during the story of creation. And when God speaks the water is confined in its place so the land can appear. And when Jesus speaks the waves and the wind are stilled. It is no accident both evangelists put these two stories together. A Roman Emperor can easily provide food for the mob. Only the Son of God can provide food for everyone to eat, left overs for everyone else, and as God did in Creation can still the waves. The second miracle dwarfs the first in scale.
And when Paul in Ephesians asks us to pray for the power to comprehend what the love of God. He realises that in the face of a God shown to us in Jesus we have a God of unimagined extravagant generosity. And there is so much love it will take some understanding, and so he goes into 3 dimensions unlike the page we look at in a book, he talk about height, depth, length and breadth.
When you put your hand in the hand of the man who stills the water you will begin know about love, but never think you will know it all, there is far more than you can comprehend. And when you take that fragment of bread which is part of a feast for everyone who hungers for to be rooted and grounded in Gods love. Know you are rooted in love and give that love away. You will never run out because with Jesus there is always more.
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.