August 2, 2020, Scripture Readings and Sermon
Rev. George Porter, Message
Bishop Doug Fisher, Sermon
Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22
The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is loving to everyone
and his compassion is over all his works.
The Lord upholds all those who fall;
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and loving in all his works.
The Lord is near to those who call upon him,
to all who call upon him faithfully.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and helps them.
The Lord preserves all those who love him,
but he destroys all the wicked.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord;
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.
I am speaking the truth in Christ-- I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit-- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “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.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Sermon: Why get out of bed?
The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher
I get to preach on the Feeding of the 5000 - my favorite gospel story. And it seems to be a favorite of the gospel writers. It is the only story in the ministry of Jesus that is in all four gospels. And it is told six times because in Matthew and Mark we hear a very similar story a few days later in the feeding of the 4000 (showing that even in the days of Jesus average Sunday attendance was slipping.)
It might even be the favorite story of Jesus himself. Several times when the apostles just don’t understand what is going on, Jesus says “if you would have understood about the loaves you would understand this.”
This story is so very powerful because I believe it tells us something about being a human being, something about the very nature of God, and something about the church.
About being human. After the apostles tell Jesus to send the crowd away at dinner time because they are in a deserted place, Jesus tells them to give them something to eat. The apostles’ reply: “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” We have “nothing”, even though they have something - five loaves and two fish. It is not enough.
How often do we say “it is not enough?” There is not enough money in my back account. There are not enough IQ points in my head. Not enough followers on Twitter.
Jesus looks at the exact same amount- five loaves and two fish- and recognizes this as a gift from God. He thanks God for this gift, blesses it, breaks it, gives it away, God multiples the grace and all are fed and there are twelve baskets of broken pieces left over.
It makes all the difference in how we regard what we have. A friend of mine has a tag line in his email that reads: “The days I thank God for more things than I complain about, that is a good day.”
Perhaps we need to remember this during the pandemic more than ever before.
And this story tells us about God. The God that we meet in nature and the God we meet in the Bible is a God who over-creates. Consider nature. If you look out at the sky at night and see a dozen or so stars, it is a beautiful night. But we know God did not just create a few stars. God created millions of stars, more than we will ever see because God over-creates in abundance. Consider trees. They inspire poetry. And if they had a few hundred leaves, they would still inspire us. But as we know around the first week in October in New England, there are not a few hundred leaves on those trees. There are thousands of leaves on those trees because it is the nature of God to create abundantly. In today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t provide just enough food for the 5000. There is food left over because Jesus reveals God to us.
What this means is we don’t have “just enough grace” to get through the day. We have more than enough grace because it is the nature of God to over-create. And when we get to the end of our days on this earth? There will be more life. Not because we earned it but because we can’t possibly use up all the life God gives us.
The feeding of the 5000 tells us something about us as human beings, something about the nature of God, and finally it tells us something about the church and that is where the “left over broken pieces, twelve baskets full” is important.
To understand this we need to remember that for the Hebrew people some numbers had symbolic meaning. Here are just a few examples. The number seven means “perfect.” Creation in seven days- God made creation perfect. How many times are we supposed to forgive each other? According to Jesus, seventy times seven. That does not mean 490. It means perfect and endless. The number four signifies “completeness” -north, south, east and west. The number 40 is in the Bible a lot. How many days and nights did it rain in the days of Noah? 40. How many years did the Hebrew people wander in the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt? 40 years. How long was the reign of King David in Israel? 40 years. How many days did Jesus spend in the wilderness after his baptism? 40 days.
Now do you think in each and every case it was exactly 40? In the days of Noah, could it have rained for 39 days and 39 nights? Could the Hebrew people have wandered in the wilderness do 41 years, three months, two weeks and a day?
For the Hebrew people, 40 meant “a long time.” How long did it rain in the days of Noah? A long time. How long did the Hebrew people wander in the wilderness? A long time. How long was David king? A long time.
That’s why when you get to be my age, if someone asks you how old you are, with the power of the Bible behind you, you can say “40” - a long time.
Numbers mean something in the Bible and one of those numbers is 12. The number 12 signifies “the church.” Why? There were 12 tribes of Israel. There were 12 apostles. When we see the number “12”, the Gospel writers want us to think “church.”
At the end of the day, after all have been fed, there are twelve baskets of broken pieces left over. That means the church is left over after this miracle. And what are the baskets filled with? In all six accounts of this story the Gospel writers tell us the same thing. The baskets are filled with “broken pieces”. What is the Church? It is not perfect people coming together in a perfect church. It is not people who have their lives all figured out. It is the gathering of broken people whose lives are made whole by the grace of the Living God. We are saved by grace.
This is a story for all time and for our time. I’m not sure any of us sail through this pandemic peacefully and easily. We experience fear, doubt, confusion, anxiety, sadness, loss, uncertainty. We are broken pieces. But God comes to us in our brokenness and brings resilience. An abundance of resilience because that is the nature of God. Not just enough grace to get through the day, but an abundance of grace for us to draw on.
And maybe God is using this imperfect church to offer hope in our world. Even when Zoom doesn’t work right. Or we disagree about when to open the church building. Or as we try to figure out how to be the Body of Christ in this time.
2000 years ago, God was so very present in that “deserted” place where over 5000 people gathered. God is present here now - especially here, now. We are the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for us.