Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 25, 2021 Proper 12, Year B
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.
We are off on a foray into the gospel of John.
Yes, I know we’ve been gradually cruising through Mark this summer,
but now we escape into John for a few weeks.
We begin our venture into John’s gospel
with the story of the feeding of the 5000.
This story has to be the most familiar “miracle” of Jesus.
John calls it a sign, but the fact that it is
the only miracle in all 4 gospels
lends to its significance.
The story in John is full of particulars,
important tidbits that lead up to the sign that Jesus will perform.
The crowd had followed Jesus and the disciples,
all the way to the other side of the sea.
Jesus looks upon them with compassion
and asks, how shall we feed them all?
Phillip comments about all the wages it would take to feed them;
Andrew says there are 5 loaves and 2 fishes,
but what are they amongst so many?
All of the details, and especially Philip and Andrew’s responses
help us know the enormity of the task Jesus has before him.
And immediately Jesus says, have the people sit down.
There was plenty of grass there so they sat down,
about five thousand of them.
“There was plenty of grass there”
is a curious detail in the story.
Sure John wanted his readers to envision the idyllic scene,
a perfect place for a picnic,
an inviting place,
big enough for all the people to sit down.
There was plenty of grass.
That there was plenty, though,
is not just a minor detail so that we can picture the scene.
John has written his entire gospel on God’s plentifulness;
It is a central theme running through John’s gospel: the theme of abundance.
John wants his readers to understand
that there is something very different about Jesus,
something so incredibly important,
that he repeats over and over,
with Jesus, there is plenty.
Just after the opening of John’s gospel,
immediately after Jesus calls his disciples,
we see the first instance of this theme.
Jesus attends a wedding at Cana in Galilee,
and because there was not enough wine,
Jesus turns water into wine,
so there was plenty to go around.
Jesus offers the Samaritan woman at the well
a spring of water gushing up so fully
that she would never be thirsty again.
Jesus feeds 5000 persons, from 5 loaves and 2 fish
with plenty of leftovers,
and later in the gospel, Jesus will tell his followers,
“I am the good shepherd.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
In this miracle story,
Jesus takes the little bit offered and provides abundance.
Where to our eyes, there only seems shortage, Jesus sees enough.
We Christians see this story as a foreshadowing of the Last Supper,
the last meal Jesus shares with his disciples
offering the bread and wine as his own body and blood—
an ultimate sharing of the gift of his life;
“Do this in remembrance of me,” he says,
so that those who partake may live always in union with him.
The feeding of the 5000 is Eucharistic—
a thanksgiving for all the wonderous gifts
God gives us to share in this life.
The bread, broken and shared,
in the story of the loaves and fishes is given to all the people,
regardless of who they are,
or what they may or may not have brought along to share.
All eat and all are satisfied, with food leftover.
Jesus doesn’t scold folks for coming so far without provisions,
or screen them to see if they have led worthy lives.
Jesus says sit down.
He takes the loaves, gives thanks, and distributes is to all,
the gospel says, “as much as they wanted.”
In this Eucharistic feast, Jesus presents the substance of the kingdom of God.
There is a theologian named William Cavanaugh
who studies the intersection between the economy and communion.
I’m sure there is a better technical
and more thorough explanation of his work,
but suffice it to say,
he is interested in finding examples
where people are successful in living true to the model given to us in this story.
Where do people live actually live Eucharistically?
Cavanaugh explains that, “The Eucharist announces the coming of the kingdom of God.” He goes on to describe what he means,
that this story of the feeding of 5000
challenges Christians to live in that kingdom,
as if the superabundance of the Eucharist
were the model for our daily lives.
He asks, Where do we really live this out?
Well, there is A lay-led movement in the Catholic Church
which began in the ‘90’s actually called, Economy of Communion?
It is a worldwide effort begun by entrepreneurs,
business leaders, men and women,
who incorporate very intentionally into their business models,
the Eucharistic vision of abundance.
Specifically, they “divide their profits in three equal parts:
a third for direct aid to the poor,
a third for educational projects that further the culture of communion,
and a third for the development of the business.”
When we hear daily of all the world’s problems,
the corruption and division,
and we are learning how the pandemic
has made the gulf between rich and poor even more pronounced,
it is important for us to know we are only hearing part of the story—
the part that makes news, news.
Our 24-hours news cycle covers mostly the story of scarcity, danger, fear.
We are not called to close ourselves off from this,
but there is other news, too, good news.
We just need to look for it.
As a matter of fact as Christians
we are called to look for the good news
and see how we too, can be a part of this—
to spread the good news, in word and deed!
This week Rob and I watched the launch of the Origin Space rocket.
Since I was 5 years old,
I’ve watched with amazement
how we humans can come together
to build such incredibly powerful,
gravity-defying vehicles and go into space.
When we humans put our minds to a task that seems almost impossible,
we can do the impossible.
We did this also in developing and producing so rapidly
the vaccines to combat the pandemic.
Watching that rocket, I had tears in my eyes, I’m not gonna lie.
I thought, if we can do that,
we could also find a way to end hunger,
wipe out malaria, better care for our planet.
I wonder if we are just too busy to be concerned
with all the trouble in our world
or do we live believing in the economy of scarcity—
that there is not enough to go around,
instead of living an economy of abundance.
The story of the feeding of the 5000
teaches us how little it sometimes takes
to make a feast,
and that when we follow Christ there is enough. And then some.
We are called to live this way, to live Eucharistically!
The writer to the Ephesian gets this point!!
We see this in his inspiring prayer today:
…to him who by the power at work within us
is able to accomplish abundantly
far more than all we can ask or imagine.
We come to the feast, the table of the Lord each week,
to be reminded that Christ is in us,
working powerfully, so that we may live into the inheritance God gives us.
All of our relationships,
family, friends, new persons we meet,
in our work and play,
all of our thoughts,
in words and deeds going out from here,
are to be an offering to Christ, as he gave to us,
a holy oblation, so that all are fed.
Thanks be to God.