Sunday, July 26, 2015 Lectionary 17, Proper 12
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Non Communion
John 6:1-21 (preached at Centennial during a pulpit exchange)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
I read a magazine article recently written about the feeding of the 5000. The author, thinking of his own sons, expressed how he just couldn’t imagine a young boy holding onto his lunch late into the afternoon. He mentioned how the first thing his sons want to do whenever they go anywhere is eat. He suggested that the boy, still having his food at that time and also being willing to share it, was miracle enough. The truth is, with our world being now so different from that of Jesus’ time, we cannot fully understand just how extraordinary the event of the feeding of the 5000 was. And most of us would likely turn our noses up at a meal of bread and dried fish, no matter how hungry we were and no matter how much there was for us to eat.
But the feeding of the 5000 was not just about eating. Jesus began by making reference to the nearness of the Passover festival. Passover was and still is the most important celebration on the Jewish calendar. And this festival included symbolic references to foods and God’s actions; this feeding, it seems, Jesus wanted to be thought of as a kind of mini Passover celebration. Still, Jesus only says that Passover was near; this event was also about hospitality and hospitality demanded that they try to provide for the people’s needs, for you see Jesus and his disciples were the hosts. And food meant a lot more then, than we who are comfortable might understand; few of us really know what it means to go without. And politically speaking food is power. Military and political strategists have always argued that when you control the food supply you control the people; provide the people with food and you earn their allegiance, at least until someone else gives them better food. It sounds so unfeeling, but it is true; still I do not believe that power was Jesus’ motivation; Jesus had compassion for the people; Jesus understood the rules of hospitality; Jesus wanted to honor the upcoming Passover festival; none-the-less Jesus’ loving act of hospitality in the feeding of the 5000 sent fear through the leaders of the Temple and Rome’s local leaders who understood the power of feeding people. Jesus did not feed them to gain power, but the leaders were not so sure and certainly feared that he would. And consider the response of the people that Jesus fed; they were beginning to identify Jesus as “the prophet who is to come into the world”, the Messiah. And it seems that they were getting ready to take Jesus by force to make him their king. It was not just the small beginnings of 5 barley loaves and two fish that made Jesus’ act such a miracle, it was also the fact that it satisfied the crowds; and they began to envision a new world, now with Jesus in power, where they would never again suffer hunger.
People are willing to give away almost anything, even their freedom for the promise of food; Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung, and countless other dictators (unscrupulous as they were) came to power with the promise of food for all. This is where Jesus was so very different; Jesus did not want or need such power; Jesus’ ministry was based on love; he wanted only the people’s love for him and their love for each other and he wanted the people to trust in the one true and living God. Jesus sought, not just to feed their bellies and to care for their health, but to feed their hearts and minds with the word of God, with the love of God; food and even health come and go, but the love of God is eternal. Still today, that is Jesus’ will for us and Jesus’ primary concern is our spiritual health and wellbeing.
Elisha could feed people; he was a great man of God; but as I said earlier even despicable people like Hitler could feed people; it is just that they do it only for their own personal gain. Jesus has now called us to ministry. Our calling is modeled after Jesus example. We, like Jesus, have been called to feed the people, and from what I know of Centennial (this could be said also of St. Peter’s), you have that as a priority for your ministry, and not to gain power or influence, but simply to share Jesus’ love in a tangible way. Mostly we have all been called to share the word of God’s will and Jesus love. With such things as VBS and your presence at the Kimberton Fair (Centennial), with your Sunday school programs and Bible studies and with your participation in worship, you are doing this. The difficult thing for most of us, as we feed the hungry, and also feed the hungry spirits around us, is to steer clear of the temptation to take power for ourselves. Over my many years of ministry I have seen how committees, women’s and men’s groups, church factions and individuals have at one time or another, come to believe that they were so right, that it was their responsibility to exert undo power within their congregations; these men and women fell victim to the temptation of power, and have often caused much suffering and often divisions within their congregations. With this in mind, the working together of St. Peter’s, Zion and Centennial has seen pastors treading lightly and the group working carefully in order to keep everything on an even keel. No one wants to allow another church to gain undo power; all of us are being careful that we are not taking undo power.
Even good things like food and righteousness and cooperation can be abused for power. Jesus, when he saw that the people were warping his acts of love into a call for power, withdrew from them. Again Jesus did not want and did not need the power that they were willing to give him, power over them. All he wanted was to share God’s love with them and have them love God, love him and love each other. The Church is not a place to claim, exert or even harness power, but rather a place to share Jesus’ love. The Church has always been at its worst when given great power; individual Christians usually fall victim to self-indulgence whenever too much power is rested in their hands. As we participate in the ministry of Jesus Christ let’s make it about service and love; winning is not nearly as rewarding as seeing someone embrace the love of Jesus. May Jesus example and love be the guide we all follow.