A sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost are here.
Since I introduced Mark’s version of these two stories last week, instead of retelling of the gospel reading with my usual artistic license and occasional dramatic flourish, I want to share with you a more current version of the story of the loaves and fishes:
One evening at a previous parish where I was serving – we were hosting our monthly meal and food distribution in cooperation with the local food bank. On this particular evening, we were serving tamales, rice, and beans and I was helping in the kitchen to fill plates. About an hour into serving, with the line still at least 20 people long, I opened the warming container and announced to the room that this was the last package of tamales. And as we put the last two tamales on a plate, someone else opened the warmer and took out another package.
“Where did that come from?” I asked in disbelief.
“From the warmer.”
“But I already got the last package.”
“No this is the last package.”
“Oh, OK. I guess I just didn’t see it.”
A few minutes later, as again we were putting the last two tamales on a plate, someone else retrieved another package from the warmer.
We just stared at each other in silence for a brief moment and then returned to filling the plates. And as the last person approached the window, we put the last two tamales on their plate.
No one spoke. I walked over to the warming container and opened it ever so slowly. I don’t know what we expected, but it was empty and we just stared.
We had undoubtedly witnessed a miracle. But what is most intriguing to me is that at no point did any of us panic or say “what are we going to do when we run out?!?” We just kept opening the warmer and filling plates. And God provided.
We didn’t let the fear of “what are we going to do?!?” take over. We just kept feeding people with what we had. And we had enough.
In our reading today, John tells us that after Jesus fed the crowd of thousands with a single picnic lunch, the people believed that Jesus was God’s prophet. But they were so distracted by their own ideas of what this promised prophet should do for them that they wanted to make him an earthly king.
Jesus knew they wanted a king who would treat the Romans as they had been treated. They wanted their situation dealt with by war and revenge and oppressive power and this is not at all the new Kingdom life Jesus was showing them.
The Kingdom of God, as Jesus had just taught and shown them, is about feeding bodies and souls with compassion and love.
One of the “Episcopal” things that you may or may not be familiar with are the prayers assigned for each Sunday of the Church year along with the readings in the lectionary. The fancy church phrase we use for this prayer is the Collect of the Day, meaning it takes the connective theme from the readings and collects all of our prayers together as one in praise and thanksgiving to God.
We don’t use this scripted prayer in our worship here at Grace but I do post it weekly on my website with the text of my sermon. I know it’s a bit odd to offer up a prayer in the middle of sermon, unless of course y’all are praying for it to be over already, but I’d like to share today’s Collect with you, if I may, because it preaches well:
Let us pray:
“O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
And I want us to really listen to the part that says “with you,” with God, “as our ruler and guide, we may SO pass through things temporal, THAT we lose not the things eternal.”
It’s an odd word order for many of us but what we are praying is for God to show us how not to be distracted by the things of this world, our own desires, ways of thinking, our fears, that we miss out on noticing God’s presence here and now, the eternal kingdom at hand.
“Things eternal” isn’t about something in the future. It is about seeing things as they are now: God here among us, as God has been and always will be, on earth as in heaven.
The people who had witnessed Jesus’ power in this picnic wanted to force fit Jesus into their temporal understanding – the temporary ways and things of this world that Jesus tells us will pass away.
When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom, he is using the eternal meaning, The Kingdom that was and is and is to come, always has been, always will be.
This life we live here and now isn’t something we must just endure until we get to heaven nor is it a test to earn our way into heaven later.
Jesus tells us we are to live on earth as in heaven. That as we live this life, AS we pass through things temporal, the things of heaven are available to us, if we don’t get so distracted by the temporary things that we miss noticing the eternal things.
What do we let distract us from seeing Jesus with us?
Are we distracted by the glitter of wealth?
The power of position?
Or do we use all that we have and all that we are to show the world God’s Kingdom of Love?
Do we let the fear of losing what we have or the fear of not getting what we want stop us from doing what God asks of us?
Or do we see Jesus walking toward us in the storm saying “do not be afraid.”
Do we let the things on the news make us angry against another group of God’s beloved children rather than seeing others with eyes of compassion as Jesus does?
When we see others in need, do we ask like Philip “how are we to do this big thing?”
Do we respond in scarcity like Andrew and say “what we have is not enough.”
Or do we know that with Jesus, we will have enough.
Do we give thanks to God for what we have and believe in the abundance of God’s Kingdom?
On that evening at St. John’s McAllen if the others had listened to me rather than the Holy Spirit prompting them to open the container one more time, we would have turned people away unnecessarily, we’d have missed the miracle. Instead we just kept feeding those who came to us hungry.
And lest we all walk away berating ourselves for the times we’ve been distracted, let me wrap up with this: When we do get distracted, because we do and we will, the Good News is that Jesus comes to us in the storm saying, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
When we let Jesus in our boat we enter the land where Jesus is leading us, the Kingdom on earth as in heaven. Amen.