July 29, 2018

Pentecost 10  July 29, 2018   (Psalm 145, 1 Samuel 7:18-29, Ephesians 3:14-21) John 6:1-15          Loaves and fishes

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Jesus and his disciples head out of town, out into the countryside, trying to get away from the ever-present crowds for awhile. But the crowds see them going and follow. Because, we’re told, they’ve seen the signs Jesus does for the sick. Signs is the word John the gospel writer uses, always, instead of saying miracle or miraculous. And using sign as the word-of-choice is a sign – as a sign points us to something bigger than itself.

So in one sense, almost everything Jesus does or says is a sign – pointing to God’s purpose – pointing to what God is doing – pointing to God’s love at work…

Even Jesus asking Philip – a home-boy from the nearby town of Bethsaida – “so where can we go to buy food around here for all these people?” – is a sign of sorts – a sign Jesus has a sense of humor – as he knows full well five thousand people, minimum, are coming for dinner… (In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s versions of this story, we’re told it’s 5000 men, with Matthew adding ‘plus women and children.’) In other words, we are expecting quite a bit more company than any restaurant around here (here on this planet) is going to be able to serve… on short order…

But we’re also told – Jesus is testing Philip. Jesus already knows what he’s going to do. But he’s testing to see if Philip (or any of the disciples) has been paying attention – noticing what Jesus has already done – and connecting the dots… (They haven’t connected much yet, as it turns out. But – )

Maybe we need a brief station identification break, here, just to note that following our ecumenical lectionary, we have just moved today out from Mark’s gospel, where we’ve been camping all year up to now, over into the gospel of John, chapter six.

Here we are, on a mountain, away from the towns and villages. The time is almost Passover – Israel’s high holy day celebration of liberation from slavery. So with Jesus and disciples on a mountain, we’re remembering Moses on the mountain – remembering Israel’s sacred tradition of celebrating freedom from slavery every year with the eating of unleavened bread – remembering also God feeding our ancestors with manna, the bread of heaven, given free-of-charge, every morning for forty years, by God in the wilderness exodus.

Now we’re back in Galilee after several trips to Jerusalem. We’ve already seen Jesus work three major signs – turning water into wine, doing a long-distance healing, and getting a lame man on his feet and walking. Now we’re into sign four of the seven major signs described in John. (John tells us elsewhere Jesus did many other signs besides these – but seven is the biblical number of completion, as in the seven days of creation – so the seven signs narrated are a sketch of the wider, deeper, broader spectrum of signs that Jesus does…)

But before we go deeper with the details, let’s ponder today’s sign on the most basic level: We all need to eat. And Jesus feeds us all…

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And all is a word that comes to mind today, big-time, especially in Psalm 145 – where we hear the word all nineteen times in our English translation (seventeen times in the original Hebrew) in reference to all that God does for all God’s people, and for all flesh on earth… This emphasis on all is also running in the background in the gospel, as Jesus serves all who show up, all who come to him, whether for teaching or healing… or even just to eat with him… Jesus takes the two small loaves and five little fish and gives the blessing– and the blessing is not so much for the food as a blessing of God’s name in high praises… And again there’s a close link with our psalm… As…

Psalm 145 is the last psalm in the psalter attributed to King David, and the only psalm with the inscription: Praise. Of David. Jerome Creach, in his commentary, notes: “The Talmud recognizes (this psalm’s) unique identity as a song of praise by saying, “Everyone who repeats (this psalm of praise) of David thrice a day may be sure that he is a child of the world to come.”” (Here’s a basket of take-home-take-away gospel food. Say this psalm three times a day – reserve your grandstand season ticket seats in the heavenly world to come. Alleluia! Wow! Making a note to myself to do this…)

And since the theme of kingship is also a big theme that runs in the background all throughout John’s gospel, and since we hear the crowd today wanting to force Jesus to be a certain kind of king… Let’s also notice how…

Psalm 145 names God as King over all the universe – saying in it’s opening verse: “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.”  And let’s notice how King David refers to himself in this psalm as the servant of God the King – saying this servant word ten times – to make sure we get the point –  even the very few rulers on earth who are actually hand-picked by God to rule, as David was, are at best only servants of God, our one true King. Something most kings and rulers on earth usually have a hard time remembering….

Much like a hungry crowd can have a hard time remembering – “We don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.

We probably know these words from Deuteronomy 8 (v.3), and from Jesus recycling these words when tempted by the devil. We know we don’t live by bread alone – and even if we might say “we live by fried clams and ice cream also” –  we know not to joke when it’s not a joking matter – if we’re with someone hungry, or thinking about those truly hungry. We know we don’t live by bread alone. We also know we don’t live without bread. But that’s not something most of us ever really forget. It’s the other part of our necessary daily diet – the word of God – that we sometimes do forget…

Yet it’s most of all in the word of God where we hear – God’s deepest desire is to feed us with all we need…

As again Psalm 145 tells us – “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” (145:15.) As Psalm 107 (v.9) says, “the hungry he fills with good things.” As Psalm 104 (v.14-15) says of God: “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use (You bring) forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.” And as Psalm 23, our most familiar psalm says –  “You prepare a table before me (even) in the presence of my enemies…” All these and many other psalms, proverbs, and words of the law and prophets tell us many times, many ways – God is the one who feeds and nourishes all creatures great and small. And God is willing and able to take care of all who trust in him…

The crowds eating their fill of loaves and fishes multiplied by Jesus probably remember these psalms… As they correctly notice, as Jesus feeds thousands from just a few loaves and fishes with twelve baskets of leftovers (twelve being the symbolic number of the tribes of Israel) – “This is indeed the prophet who is to come” – the prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy (18). They notice Jesus doing what the Messiah King is expected to do, and they’re ready to make him king on the spot.

What the crowds don’t recognize yet… Is what kind of king… King Jesus is.

They’re ready to start the revolution here and now. Ready for armed struggle against the Roman empire. Ready, perhaps, even to try to force Jesus to serve as Messiah King, willing or not. The crowds recognize the power of God at work in Jesus. But they just don’t get it yet – what kind of king Jesus is…

And just as I was starting to feel a bit self-righteous in comparison with that clueless crowd long ago… I opened an older beloved commentary by William Barclay, who got my attention quickly by agreeing with my assessment of this crowd, saying (quote): “they were eager to support Jesus when he gave them what he wanted. He had healed them and fed them; and they would thereupon have made him their leader. There is such a thing as a bought loyalty. There is such a thing as a cupboard love.”

Then Barclay nailed me, saying – “But are we so very different?…  When we want comfort in sorrow, when we want strength in difficulty, when we want peace in turmoil… there is no one so wonderful as Jesus, and we want to talk with him and walk with him and open our hearts to him. (That’s me alright….) But (Barclay continues:)

“When we appeal to Christ, is it for strength to go on with our own schemes and ideas – or is it for humility and obedience to accept his plans and wishes? Is our prayer: Lord, give me strength to do what you want me to do” – or is it… “Lord, give me strength to do what I want to do”?

(It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer….)

Let’s pray – Dear and holy God – help us take time – all the time we so truly need, to be with you… Time eating and drinking with Jesus – enjoying his blessed company… Feeding on the bread of life he offers. Feasting on your living Word of life, who blesses and fills our lives with all the fullness of God…

Help us, Lord, take all the time you want us to take…

And share your words of life – share You, our bread of life –  share with all who, like us, hunger for the fullness of true life with you

May this be our prayer always.

In Jesus’ blessed name.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.