Pentecost 10 July 29, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 10  Proper 12  Year B

2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday July 29, 2018

The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell

 

 

 

Five loaves of bread

and two fish,

five thousand people

fed to satisfaction;

more left over

than they started with –

twelve baskets full!

 

Immediately,

inquiring 21st century minds

seek a rational explanation

that fits with what we know

(or think we know)

to be possible.

 

One such explanation

is a lesson in sharing.

 

When a boy volunteered his own lunch,

everyone else,

each with

his or her own

carefully concealed traveling food,

brought it out of hiding

and offered it around,

and so there was enough and more.

 

But it’s an impoverishment

to subject the story

to the test of what our reason tells us

can happen in this world.

 

To stay on the surface of the event.

 

Because what matters

is not how this happened,

but why.

 

Let us accept

what it tells us

 

and look deeper

into what that means.

 

For it’s just a tantalizing appetizer

to a much richer meal.

 

And the main course

is a generous helping

of theology.

 

For John,

the feeding of the five thousand

is a sign:

 

something that points us

beyond the event itself

to a deeper truth . . .

 

revealing who Jesus was

and what, in Jesus,

God was doing.

 

Jesus,

not just another itinerant wonder-worker,

(of which there were many

in first century Palestine),

 

but Jesus,

the fulfillment of God’s intent

for the people of Israel,

for all God’s people,

for all of creation,

for all time . . .

 

the fulfillment,

of the Law and the Prophets,

the Hebrew Scriptures.

 

 

As Jesus himself said in Matthew’s Gospel,

“Do not think that I have come

to abolish the law or the prophets;

I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

[Matthew 5.17]

John’s community

knew their Scriptures,

which, because they were Jews,

were the Hebrew Scriptures.

 

(The Christian Scriptures

were still coming into being.)

 

They would have caught

the allusions in the Feeding of the Five Thousand

to Moses and the Exodus,

their foundational story.

 

Moses,

leading the people of Israel

out of slavery in Egypt

through the waters

of the Red Sea

into the desert wilderness,

a place with no food,

where God fed them with manna,

that flaky substance

that fell from the heavens

each morning like the dew . . .

 

“bread from heaven,”

God called it.                 [Exodus 16.4]

 

And there was more each day

than the people needed.

 

 

Moses,

receiving from God on Mount Sinai

the Ten Commandments,

the tablets of the Law.

 

Moses,

traditionally

the author of

the first five books

of the Hebrew Scriptures,

the Torah,

also known as the Law of Moses.

 

Moses,

the personification of the Law.

 

The feeding of the five thousand

points to Jesus as the new Moses,

the fulfillment of the Law . . .

 

crossing with his disciples

over the waters

of the Sea of Galilee

to a deserted wilderness place,

a place with no food . . .

 

where, taking what was available

(5 barley loaves and 2 fish),

and giving thanks to God for them,

he fed the multitude

that had followed him.

 

 

And there was more food

than was needed.

 

Jesus,

the fulfillment of the Law.

 

 

John’s community

knew their Scriptures

and

would have seen

the parallels with this morning’s story

of Elisha’s feeding of the one hundred.

 

A man comes to the prophet Elisha

with an offering,

the first fruits of his harvest:

20 barley loaves and some ears of grain.

 

A boy in the crowd comes to Jesus

with his lunch:

5 barley loaves and 2 fish.

 

 

Elisha instructs his servant:

“Give the offering to the people to eat.”

 

The servant’s response:

There is not enough.

 

“How can I set this

(implied, insufficient amount)

before a hundred people?”

 

 

Jesus tests his disciples:

“Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

 

The disciples’ response:

There is not enough.

 

“6 month’s wages wouldn’t buy enough bread.”

and

“What are these 5 loaves and 2 fish

among so many people?”

 

Elisha – a prophet

who speaks the word of God:

 

“Thus says the Lord,

‘They shall eat and have some left’.”

 

God’s word will make it so.

 

 

Jesus – the prophet

who IS the Word of God,

the Logos of the prologue of John’s Gospel,

 

the Word of God,

living and active,

making so what he speaks.

 

They ate and had twelve baskets

left over.

 

Jesus, the new Elisha,

the fulfillment of the Prophets.

 

Looking into the depths

of the sign,

we come to understand

that everything promised by God

in the Hebrew Scriptures,

the Law and the Prophets,

was coming to fulfillment in Jesus.

 

All the history of Israel

was coming to its culmination

in him.

 

 

And there is more

in this generous meal of a story

that fed not only John’s community,

but has been feeding

Jesus’ followers ever since . . .

 

It signifies

the inauguration of God’s Kingdom . . .

the new world order,

the new Creation,

grounded in the abundance of God,

manifest in the being and actions of Jesus.

 

 

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

shows us not only

that, in Jesus,

Israel’s past is gathered up

and brought to fulfillment,

 

but that in Jesus

the future is being realized . . .

a future found in Jesus himself.

 

 

The story appears

in all four Gospels,

but only in John’s gospel

does it expand into

Jesus’ long discourse

on the Bread of Life.

 

For John,

the sign of the feeding

points to the mystery

of the presence of Jesus

among his followers

across all places and all time:

 

Jesus,

the bread which came down from heaven,

the bread which gives life to the world,

the bread of the Eucharist,

infinitely multiplying

for the feeding of

the worshipping faithful

across all place and time,

foretaste of the Kingdom banquet

and the life everlasting.

And there is always enough and more.

 

In this sign,

we contemplate

with John,

with Jesus,

with one another,

the gift and meaning of this bread

infusing us

with the very life of Jesus

risen and alive within and among us.

 

In the taking and eating

of this bread,

we become what we receive.

 

We take into ourselves

not only our nourishment,

but our call.
For what are we to say

of this astonishing sign of God’s abundance?

 

What are we to say

when we set this story

of God’s generosity

to all people, without partiality,

 

over against the cruel partiality

of our own time . . .

 

the poverty and suffering of so many

in the very midst

of the extravagant prosperity of so few.

 

How can it be

that anyone in this land of milk and honey

has nowhere to live,

not enough to eat . . .

 

 

Now we might return to look more deeply

into the meaning of the boy

and his five loaves and two fish.

 

For this is how

the coming of God’s Kingdom works now.

 

The boy’s sharing

as a sign:

the “how” this “impossible” feeding,

this abundant providing,

can and must continue in the world.

 

 

“Give me something to work with

out of the abundance I have already provided,”

says God,

“and I will change the world.”

 

“Move beyond your stinginess and fear

into my generosity and daring.”

 

“Be the sign I have given you.”

 

There is food, more than enough,

there can be homes, more than enough,

there can be adequate medical care . . .

 

 

Millions of Christians

and millions of God-lovers

of other traditions

all around the world,

 

all have their own five loaves

and two fish to share . . .

 

Food, houses, money,

time, energy, imagination, daring,

prophecy, advocacy, insistence on the right . . .

 

love . . .

 

Broken and given,

they are more than enough.

 

They signify

the inauguration of God’s Kingdom . . .

 

the new world order,

the new Creation,

grounded in the abundance of God,

manifest in the being and actions of Jesus,

 

God’s promise of a new creation

coming to fulfillment

in and through

every one who loves God.

 

This sign is needed,

a sign for the world,

and it is our call,

the call of all who love God,

to be that sign.

 

 

What if that boy thought

he was too small to make a difference,

that who he was and what he had

was just not enough . . .

 

for surely,

in the perceived reality of things,

it wasn’t.

 

And yet,

given to the purpose of God,

it was more

than enough.

 

 

We are all too small,

and yet together,

and with God,

we are not . . .

 

we are all inadequate to the task,

and yet together,

and with God,

we are not . . .

 

May we all give over to God

who we are and what we have . . .

 

person by person,

community by community,

 

then surely there will be enough for others,

and enough for us . . .

 

more than enough for all.

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