3. August, 2014Sermons No comments

Sermon given Aug. 3, 2014 by Fr. Jim Gordon.

Jesus said to his disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

In the name of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bread and wine and water are center stage in today’s Old Testament reading.

Thus says the Lord:
“Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

In this passage from Isaiah, the words are about water and food but the message really about is about how you spend your life, your energy, your time, talent and treasure.

Through the prophet, God asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

In saying that, God was calling the Hebrews of the Babylonian exile to return to Jerusalem but, more importantly, to return to Him, to a deeper, more truer relationship with Him. The Hebrews who had been carried off to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem had survived by adapting to their new circumstances, but it seems they had adapted a little too well, had become what one commentator called “Jewish lite.”

“Is not life more than food?” Jesus will ask near the end of his Sermon on the Mount. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t appreciate the importance of life’s basic necessities. He does; witness today’s Gospel lesson, the feeding of the five thousand with food for the body. But even here, there’s more to the lesson than that. Let’s take a look.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the feeding of the five thousand comes right after the banquet that results in the death of John the Baptist.

Back to back, the two stories provide an interesting contrast between the world of Herod and the world of Jesus.

At Herod’s banquet there is pride and arrogance, scheming — and murder. It all takes place in a royal court. At Jesus’ banquet there is healing, truth and sharing. It takes place in a field, away from places of power.

Well, away from places of worldly power.

Jesus has his own form of power, born of his connection with God, and already in their travels with him the disciples have seen this power — in a leper made clean, in a centurion’s servant healed with a word, in sight given to two blind men. Yet they’re not prepared for what is about to happen.

Upon learning of the death of his cousin, Jesus has withdrawn to a deserted place. He wants to be alone, needs to be alone, needs to process John’s death and consider what it means, both personally and for his ministry. But he can’t get away, the crowds follow him wherever he goes, and eventually he stops trying to get away because he sees that the people — in the wake of John’s death — are like sheep without a shepherd. His compassion makes him turn and minister to them.

When his disciples come to him and tell him — note that, they don’t ask him, they tell him — to send the people away so they can buy food, he has the perfect opportunity to finally get the solitude he needs. But he doesn’t do that.

He may be tired, he may be grieving, he may be even a little afraid. But not so much that he’ll let a teaching moment pass. He is now fully engaged with the people who followed him. He looks at his disciples who are so ready and eager to move on from this situation, this responsibility, and he tells them: You give them something to eat. In the Greek, the YOU is emphasized.

YOU give them something to eat.

We all know the response: “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

I wonder about the tone of that statement. It could have been loud, in exasperation. It could be incredulous. Some scholars think it may have been sarcastic. Regardless, it’s significant that there’s no “Lord” in front of the sentence, like there usually is when they address Jesus. Very unusual.

And then the response: No rebuke, no anger, just clear direction, “Bring them here to me.”

Bring them here to me.

To be fair, if Jesus is tired and in need of rest, so are the disciples, and they, too, would be wondering what John’s death means, for them and for their master. And while they have seen marvelous things in the past few weeks and months, they’ve never seen him try to do so much with so little. I think THEY are tired, hungry and afraid, and in an emotional place where that sentiment — how can he use the little we have? — likely extends past the fish and the loaves to them, to their talents, their abilities, their faith.

But the disciples do take what they have to Jesus, and transformation takes place, first with the loaves and fish that somehow become enough food for five thousand, and later with the disciples themselves.

I’m confident there’s no one in this church today who has not thought about their talents, abilities, faith, time, and felt the way I believe the disciples felt. But Jesus says to US the very same thing that he said to the Twelve about the loaves and the fish: Bring them here to me. Everything you have, all the pieces of your life, whole, broken, somewhere in between, bring them here to me.

Come to me, all of you that travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Bring them in prayer, bring them in service, bring them to the altar.

You may have noticed the Eucharistic echoes in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Jesus takes bread, acknowledges the Father, blesses the food, breaks it and gives it.

The transformation of the disciples doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over time, through what they see and hear and experience, before Jesus’ death and after. But it happens because eventually they do bring everything they have to Jesus. All of it, every bit of it — including their insecurities and their pride and, ultimately, their lives — and they lay all of it on the altar as a sacrifice to God.

I mentioned that some scholars view the Hebrews who adapted so well to the Babylonian captivity as “Jewish lite.” Now and then, Episcopalians are accused of being “Christian lite” — we’re not known as the most evangelical branch of the Christian community. Which gives us a good opportunity to surprise people.

St. Augustine said of God — and he spoke truly when he said it: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

So, do a friend or an acquaintance or someone you’ve just met a favor — ask them to church. The worst they can do is say, “No.” And possibly, “I didn’t think Episcopalians were like that.”

Jesus spoke to his disciples when they thought all the things they had were too insignificant to serve God’s purpose. He said, “Bring them here to me.”

At the close of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all nations. Bring them here to me.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen

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