Sunday, 19 July 2009

Sunday's sermon

I get to preach at oth the Parish and the Sung Eucharist today, so I'm cheating. Same sermon served twice! And here it is ...

Trinity 6 2009

“But he answered; you give them something to eat.”

+ May I speak and may you hear in the name of the Father, son and Holy Spirit.

Quite a challenge that; large hungry crowd, late in the day, remote from anywhere and the disciples, pragmatically say to our Lord –

“Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

His response must have felt like a slap in the face. All they can find is five loaves – and two fish, not even enough for themselves – or so they think. But now comes the miracle, Jesus takes the bread and the fish, blesses them and has the disciples distribute them. Five thousand are fed and there remain twelve baskets of left-overs. A miracle? Or, as some would argue, the crowd opened their hidden lunch baskets and shared? Or something else?

I would put my money on the first. Why? Simply this, it is one of the very small number of miracles that occurs with slight variations in the detail in all four Gospels. John has a small boy bring five small loaves and two small fishes, Matthew tells us that besides the five thousand men there were as many women and children as well as does Luke and John uses it as a centre-piece in his selection of the miracles that point to Jesus being the Christ, the Chosen One or as he so aptly puts it in his opening lines of the Gospel, “The Word made flesh.”

Probably irreverently, this story always brings into my mind – especially in John’s account - the image of someone’s sandwiches, or as someone else once described them, Pitta Breads with a fish filling, and a hungry boy has slipped the fishes out of two or three during the course of the morning.

The feeding of the five thousand is a miracle in itself but there is far more to this story, in fact there are second and third layers to it. Let us take a look at these in the context of our Epistle.

St Paul writes: “But now in Christ, you who were once far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”

This brings us a new context of the miracle described in our Gospel for in sharing a meal, especially in the Eastern understanding of fellowship and hospitality, we are gathering into one community or even one communion. This is evident in the actions Christ makes as he Takes the bread and the fishes, give thanks for them, breaks the bread, and then distributes and shares it. The actions we will share in our Eucharist this morning.

It is in the action of gathering in the name of Christ for worship and fellowship that we renew our faith, share our doubts, our fears and concerns and come together for worship and fellowship. It is in gathering that we renew our discipleship and receive the strength to go out from here to face the challenges of the world and bring the gospel to others. If we look carefully at our Gospel we see that there is much more to this story than simply the miracle of the shared meal. There is also the fact that this large crowd went out looking for Jesus who had withdrawn with his disciples to rest and refresh their own spirits. And the crowd wanted to be part of that, there was a desire to share in that spiritual growth and renewal. So now we have another miracle, a less noticeable one perhaps than the question of the food. These were people hungry for hope, hungry not in the flesh but in the spirit.
And that leads me into my third layer to this story.

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things.”

And now we come to the meaning of his charge to the disciples –

“You give them something to eat.”

He was probably being ironic and teasing them. I’m pretty sure they saw quickly enough what he meant. It is an image he uses again and again. After all, their retreat into the lonely place was to rest after having completed a tiring and taxing spell on their own teaching and ministering to the sick. They had discovered for themselves just how tiring it was to be at everyone’s beck and call, to have to stand and teach, encouraging the faltering in faith, helping others to find faith, to encourage them towards the road and the start of the great journey of faith. No doubt those who had performed miracles as the other gospellers tell us, had experienced the drain of their own resources as they did so. They were beginning to understand how tiring Jesus himself must have found it.

The time was coming when Jesus would say to Peter, “Feed my sheep,” and Peter would know by then that this meant taking up his own cross and walking towards it, if not with joy, then at least with courage and in the company of our Lord.
Our soul’s need the nourishment of fellowship, of learning, of sharing in worship and in sharing in the learning and teaching we are all called to do in the name of our Lord.

“Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

The disciples first saw only the physical need to eat, Christ saw much more. He saw the spiritual hunger, the need to gather, to hear the Word and to nourish the Spirit, alongside the physical. He teased the disciples and he challenges us as the Gospel tells us -

“But he answered; you give them something to eat.”


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