Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity
Psalm 145:10-19, 2 Kings 4:42–end, Ephesians 3:14-end, John 6:1-21
Today in the Church’s Year we remember James the Apostle, and so to begin, a short piece about him:
James, often called ‘the Great’, was a Galilean fisherman who, with his brother John, was one of the first apostles called by Jesus to follow him. The two brothers were with Jesus at his Transfiguration and with him again in the garden of Gethsemane. They were present again for the appearances of Christ after the resurrection. James was put to death by the sword on the order of Herod Agrippa, who hoped in vain that, by disposing of the Christian leaders, he could stem the flow of those hearing the good news and becoming followers of the risen Christ. James’s martyrdom is believed to have taken place in the year 44.
Today however, in the Gospel reading, we hear about the feeding of the 5,000. Aside from the resurrection, the feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. For today’s telling of this miracle we leave Mark’s Gospel, the Gospel set for this liturgical year, and move to John who in fact is the only Gospel writer to actually tell us where the ‘five barley loaves and two fish’ come from, a young boy. We are not told who he was, although it is slightly odd that in such a large crowd of people, the disciples knew he was there with his picnic. Possibly he was known to one of the disciples, even a member of a family who might have been part of the travelling band that followed after Jesus and the disciples, for we know he often travelled with a large following, often with women as well as men. Whoever the boy was, it would have been a story he could have ‘dined out on’ for the rest of his life.
Although the figure of 5,000 is used, this, in some of the Gospels refers only to men, and many Bible scholars believe the actual number fed that day could have been many thousands more, if the women and children were included in the total number.
As we heard in our Old Testament reading from 2 Kings, this was not the first time God had provided, “They shall eat and have some left”, it was written in 2 Kings, when Elisha passed on to the people the ‘first fruits’ that had been brought to him. Indeed the Jews could never forget how God had fed them in the desert during the Exodus, and we are told that this event took place just before the festival of the Passover, which commemorated the Hebrews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt.
Again in John’s Gospel Jesus takes the loaves and gives thanks over them. This simple act transforms us to that last meal, that Last Supper, when again, “Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.” This the first great Eucharistic meal, before Jesus himself is broken on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for all of us, and all of our sins. An act we will shortly remember and celebrate with his resurrection in our Eucharistic meal.
The crowds who have been fed by Jesus, and with 12 baskets of fragments left over, now have no doubt that this is God’s chosen Messiah, but they want a king who will liberate them from Roman rule, not just a healer and provider. John then shows us in the telling of Jesus walking on the water and stilling of the storm that this is indeed a Messiah who has true authority for even creation obeys him. For his Father was also our creator.
As Jane Williams writes in her lectionary reflections on today’s readings, “Learning to respond to our creator is what this passage in Ephesians is all about. To be ‘rooted and grounded’ in the love of Christ is to come back to the source of our life. It is God who makes us, with care and individuality, not just in a great and indiscriminate creative splurge, but each one given its name, it’s particularity.
(She continues…) As we gradually learn to breathe the air of the Holy Spirit, filling our lungs with it, so we learn what the wind and the waves knew instinctively; that we are made to respond to God. Everywhere we look, we see the power of God at work, in all that he has made and remade and in all that he has done and is doing.” So writes Jane Williams.
It is often very easy to think that we as individuals are very small and unimportant in God’s grand scheme of things, just one of the 5,000 plus sitting there on the grass hoping to be fed. God is not like that, the Great Shepherd cares for each and everyone of his sheep, and can call each and every one of us by name. As the psalmist writes: “The lord is sure in all his words, and faithful in all his deeds. The lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all those who are bowed down.”
As Jesus tells us later on in John’s Gospel,
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; …” (John 6.51); and let us all accept Jesus as that true and living bread of life, as we come to eat at ‘His table’ today.