Sermon–July 26, 2015


9 Pentecost–Proper 12-B

July 26, 2015

William Bradbury

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Psalm 14

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 6:1-21

“Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted….[until they] were satisfied.” In the countryside of ancient Palestine people knew hunger. As Stanley Hauerwas puts it: Herod throws a banquet for those who have enough, to show his power. Jesus feeds the 5000 who don’t have enough, to show his compassion. Brazos Commentary on Matthew The people sitting on the grass, John tells us, had enough to eat and were satisfied, which is a sign of the Kingdom of God.

In my parish in North Carolina our sexton for many years, Willie Ebison, once told me the reason he orders so much food when we have our staff lunches is because he was often hungry as a boy and that he promised himself he would never be hungry again. Willie was not overweight because he was one of the hardest working human beings I’ve ever known.

Many, though, in the First World know what it is like to be filled but not what it’s like to be satisfied, because we always want more or something different. The project called modernity also takes away from us, as Hauerwas says “any sense of the miracle of life. We use the analytic language that gives power to experts and fails to designate what is being described. As a result, the world has been reclassified from creature to machine, making us strangers to our own lives.” Ibid

As farmer and poet Wendell Berry puts it, “To treat life as less that a miracle is to give up on it.” Ibid

The focus of the feeding of the 5000 is on Jesus and how his love makes manifest the Reign of God that touches people in the concreteness of their lives. Jesus isn’t just teaching our spirits, he is also touching for our bodies.

But the story begins with a test. He asks: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Do the disciples care that these people are hungry and if so, do they feel responsible enough to do something about it?

Or do they care only about fixing their own hunger?

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, rises to the challenge and says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish,” which is the right approach—offering what you to have.

But then Andrew can’t help himself and he immediately judges what the boy has to offer as “not worthy” and “not enough” for he says, “But what are they among so many people?”

Jesus would have Andrew not focus on the little he has, but to have faith in the faithfulness of God who can use whatever we offer.

It reminds me of the old-fashioned hand pump my 4 year old granddaughter likes to play with in Maine: In order to access the vast amount of water underground you first have to prime the pump by pouring water from a jug into it in order to get the water to start flowing.

Remember the Kingston Trio’s 1963 song “Desert Pete”? A guy is thirsty down to his toenails crossing a western desert when he comes upon a pump and a note from Desert Pete who has left water in a jar to prime the pump: The note says:

“Yeah, you’ll have to prime the pump, work that handle like there’s a fire. Under the rock you’ll find some water left there in a bitter’s jar. Now there’s just enough to prime it with, so don’t you go drinkin’ first. Just pour it in and pump like mad and, buddy, you’ll quench your thirst.”

This is the dilemma we all face: If we don’t believe that we really are surrounded by abundance, then we will naturally drink the water in the jar, because we think it is all we have.

We say: “I’ve got to take care of me and my family first, right? There’s just not enough food to feed the 5000 people sitting in the grass or the 2.8 billion living on less that $2 a day.

We don’t even have enough to give a little something to the homeless vet holding a cardboard sign at the street corner. Right?”

This is the test we face every day: Is there such a thing as the abundance of God hidden in plain sight? If we give up our five loaves and two fish to prime the pump, will there really be anything left for us?

I suspect if it had been an adult who had the five loaves no one would have known about it, cause we’re real good at hiding what we have. But the boy hasn’t learned how to hide, so he says to Andrew: “here, sir, give what I have to Jesus!”

But once the boy, with Andrew’s help, makes his offering, Jesus in turn offers it to his Father and all heaven breaks loose, pouring out on ordinary men, women, and children. And we notice that none of the crowd has to pass a religious litmus test to be deemed worthy to receive the compassion of the Father.

Paul prays today that the Church in Ephesus will also catch this vision of the inexhaustible love of God.

He writes: “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

When we focus on what we have, we turn our attention onto ourselves, or as Martin Luther puts it, we curve in on ourselves, so that we become smaller with less to give. The only thing we will have more of is our victim story about how hard life is.

When we focus, however, on Christ, the incarnation of the love of the Father, then we are set free from the prison of self and the Spirit makes us into conduits for the blessings of God to the world.

I’ve told you that Willie Ebison grew up poor in eastern North Carolina and worked hard every day. But his greatness came from his profound faith in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

Everyone at the parish knew this. When we’d gather at our weekly staff meetings we’d usually ask Willie to open us in prayer because when he prayed you could feel heaven leaking into the room. His prayer was always simple, always the same:

It started something like this:

“Dear Lord, thank you for waking us up this morning clothed in our right minds with action in our limbs.”

It ended like this:

“Bless us all one by one, and bless us all together.”

Willie had learned the secret of being grateful for what he had and then in faith offering that to Christ—in whose hands small gifts become large.

And like the boy with the bread and fish, Willie was granted the honor of participating in Christ’s healing of the world.

That’s our call: we are called not to save the world but to participate with Christ in his saving of the world. In a few minutes we will receive bread from heaven—so we will have the strength to go into life to give to others what Christ so freely gives to us.