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This Week's Sermon !

July 29, 2018

Ephesians 3: 14-21
Psalm 14
John 6: 1-15

What Just Happened Here?

I know folks who are always feeding people. Of course they feed their families whenever they arrive but they also dish out food to almost anyone who comes in the door. One older man comes by a woman’s house, on a regular basis, with a hungry look on his face he gets fed; that’s why he comes! He used to come to talk to the woman’s husband but he still comes now that she’s a widow. She feeds him and then he’s on his way. Her friends joke with her about him being her “boyfriend” and she laughs! I know other folks who can almost always feed two, three or four more, easily, when more people drop by than they expected. They insist that there’s plenty! And there is! I know folks who have teenagers and when their kids come in with their friends the food in the cupboards just seems to disappear and they don’t mind - insisting that “that’s why it’s there”. A friend of mine said, “When my son was a teenager, I spent a ton of money on groceries, but at least I knew where he was!” He was, however, trained to ask if fresh baking was for the family or “someone else”. His grandmother who did all the baking was was active in the UCW, and often took baking to her friends.

In today’s gospel passage, we have what is often regarded as a “miracle” story. Jesus fed a crowd of thousands, seemingly with only a boy’s small lunch! You might find it interesting that not only does this miracle appear in all of the gospels but that two of the Gospels tell the story twice! While each account is slightly different, it was obviously a very important story in the life of the early church.

John’s version goes on to tell his readers that the crowds wanted to make him their king, but he escaped! He desperately needed to get away and be with the disciples, to reflect, to teach them and to pray.

If you were living the kind of existence most of those folks were, hand to mouth, on the edge of starvation, you would want him as your king too. He’s certainly be more good to you than the Emperor and his minions whose only concern was their own wealth and power. John’s Gospel is also the one that tells the reader that he turned water into wine. Who wouldn’t want a friend who could do that!

But I wonder if, the people who had been there that day ever stopped to think about what had happened and what it really meant? After the heat of the day had dissipated, and their chores were done, did they sit in the evening breeze and wonder, “what really happened out there?” “What did this all mean?” Was it all about the food, or was there more to it?

Do you know the story of “stone soup”? In this story a stranger comes to a town which is suffering from a shortage of food and he essentially “tricks” them into realizing that they have enough food, IF THEY SHARED IT. This is certainly one way to look at this Gospel story. The boy who was willing to share his lunch inspired, at best, or, at the worst, “guilt-ed” others to do the same. As they saw his small lunch being shared they opened their secret stash and shared what they had brought with those who had none. In a climate of scarcity, such sharing would still be a miraculous event!

OR we could take a much broader view of the story. The gospels are not interested in telling random stories about Jesus. Each writer has a purpose in what is included. Obviously this story has a broader meaning for the life of the church than just telling of an event in his life. It’s not just about feeding a crowd on one long ago day; it’s ultimately about God’s relationship to the whole of creation! It’s not about keeping Jesus around so there would be lots to eat and drink - though that would be kind of cool.

It would be like Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew and visitors ordering their meals from the replicators scattered throughout the USS Enterprise, in the 24th century!

When they want to take him and make him king, though, Jesus leaves. It seems he does not want any of that kind of “hero worship”. Jesus is there to show them the ways and heart of a generous God, a God who calls people to live in faith and a spirit of great expectations. He’s not there to perform magic tricks!

This passage calls us to expect big things! One student aims for a 100%, achieves an 80% and sees it as 20% less than what was possible! Another received a 60%, seeing it as 10% more than was needed to pass!

Perhaps our problem in the church is not that we aim too high but that we don’t aim high enough!

I was reading a story about a couple who went to a foreign country to work for one of the United Church’s overseas partners. They were told that if they wanted to take pictures of spectacular and interesting things, for their friends and family back home, to do so in the first few months. After that, the things they once found to be unique, spectacular, and well worth writing home about, would become commonplace and not worth mentioning.

My last manse was on a hill, facing the west. It was the “Blomidon look-off”, of Kings County, PEI. In the day time it just looked like some trees and “regular farmland” but at sunset the view was often spectacular. I became so used to them that I had to remind myself how amazing they were; in seven years there may have been a thousand really good ones! I took pictures but missed many exquisite shots! The “Creation Time” stole I will wear in the fall was inspired by those sunsets. In case you want to have a look, the view is preserved in my Facebook pictures!

I think our first step in expanding our expectations is to be aware of “the Holy” in our midst; one we often forget to notice. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the person who wrote, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways,” also wrote a poem called Aurora Leigh which ends with these words,

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,	
And every common bush afire with God;	
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,	
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,” 

When we go outside do we expect to see something beautiful and marvellous or do we just see common everyday garden flowers and vegetables? When we see the new baby in the family do we see only “grampa’s nose” or do we see a miracle of epic proportions. When we look at the sunrise, do we marvel at how blessed we are on this earth to have so much working in our favour, at least in Nova Scotia?

When we look at passages such as the one for today we may feel that it tells us that God’s will is that all people have enough to eat. But when it comes to trying to determine what part we could play, how we could help make this happen, we can easily become paralyzed. We can’t feed all the hungry people in the world. We can’t bring about peace on earth so that fewer people are hungry and homeless because of wars. We can’t take in all the refugees looking for a new home. Most of the time we can’t stop the conflict in our own families.

About 1,600 years ago, in what is now Algeria lived a man we now call St. Augustine and part of his many writings refer to what has been called, “the Divine-Human interface” or the relationship between the will of God and human action. It’s a simple sentence: "Without God we cannot; without us, God will not.” pause "Without God we cannot; without us, God will not.”

When 5,000 were fed on that day the disciples had already figured it all out. It would take them 6 MONTHS wages to pay for the food needed for this crowd. A small boy, not well schooled in “the ways of the world, bravely offers his lunch. In the end, it was more than enough! There were even leftovers.

One day, well over 50 years ago, my older cousin was given the task of distributing candy at a family gathering. She took great delight in going to each person, handing them a candy and saying, “one for you, and one for you”, and so on. Until she came to the end and realized she had run out and there would not be “one for her”. I suspect an adult helped out and she got a candy, but that is our fear, I think, even as adults, that WE will end up with the short end of the stick. So the candy that could give so many a treat stays in the bag, is hoarded by a few, and blesses no one!

Planning ahead and counting the cost is a useful and necessary task when we take on a project, such as building a house, or even having a banquet, but when it becomes our whole way of living, we have lost our sense of trust. We have lost our trust in God if everything is costed out in such a way that we do nothing because we don’t have the resources to do everything.

When I think of the great social movements in history, people of faith seem to have just leaped into the water and started to swim. Just over a week ago the world observed the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, who lived to the age of 95. When he began to oppose Apartheid, the oppressive system that governed the country of South Africa, I suspect that many people would not have expected him to see that system abolished. But he lived to become the new country’s president!

When William Wilberforce began to oppose the slave trade, few thought he would win. But he did! When slavery was abolished in the USA, would Abraham Lincoln have ever thought that an African American would sit in the Oval Office!

The problems we face are huge. The needs are enormous. But we can do something. When our fear of not being able to succeed paralyzes us and we do nothing we certainly never will succeed, but if we step forward in faith and act, in the ways we can, trusting in God plan for the goodness of creation, surprising things can happen

No MIRACLES can happen.

Thanks be to God!


1995- 2018 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

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