Summary: A sermon for Proper 12, series B
7th Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 12) July 27, 2003 "Series B"
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we gather this morning to hear your word for our lives and to receive your grace in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, be near to us, open our hearts to receive your word, and empower us to love you as we ought. This we ask in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Last Sunday, I worshipped at a large congregation, where I was privileged to baptize my oldest grandson, who gave me a tremendous gift. Aidan looked me in the eyes, and smiled the biggest smile, as the water trickled down his forehead in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I will never forget that smile, and the privilege of welcoming him into our Lord’s family.
Now, this particular congregation in which Aidan was baptized, is one of the fastest growing churches in the region, with over 2000 members served by four pastors. Their budget requires a weekly offering of thirty-five thousand dollars to maintain their ministry. In addition to an organ and piano, they had a band, complete with electronic drums, an instrument which I have never seen before.
Each of the pastors on their staff have specific talents to compliment their
ministry. One only works with children through the sixth grade. One only works with youth through high school. One is a ventriloquist, with fifty different puppets, each having their own unique personality. He does all the children’s sermons. And then there is the senior pastor, who oversees the weekly operation of the congregation and preaches the adult sermon.
Of course, I’m in no position to judge their ministry. I only attended the one service. But I was disappointed. With all of those resources at their disposal, I anticipated a powerful proclamation of God’s word. But the word was missing from the service. The Scripture lessons were never read, except for a couple of verses from Ephesians, which only loosely connected to the pastor’s sermon. The service seemed more like a well-staged performance, than worship.
Well, our Gospel lesson for this morning begins a series of lessons which are drawn on the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. This chapter is central to John’s theology, as it pushes us to come to terms with the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the incarnate Word of God, and the purpose for his ministry.
With this in mind, let’s consider some aspects of this familiar text. First, John tells us in verse two, that "a large crowd kept following Jesus, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick." Now this sounds as though Jesus has become a success. Surely this must mean that he is getting his message out to the people. Wouldn’t we like to see large numbers flocking through our doors every Sunday morning?
But large numbers do not tell the whole story. John tells us that the large crowd was following Jesus "because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick." Jesus had healed many who were sick with various diseases, and so the people were flocking to him in order that he might meet their physical needs, or in order to witness a miracle in action.
Yet in John’s Gospel, the miracles that Jesus performed were not to be seen as ends in themselves. They are called signs - signs that were meant to point beyond the actual act or miracle, to something greater that God was doing for the people in Jesus the Christ. And the miracle of multiplying the five loaves of bread and two fish is no exception.
It is no accident that John begins this story by telling us that the Passover, the festival of the Jews was near. This is the festival in which the Jews recall God’s deliverance of them from the bondage to slavery in Egypt, as they ate a sacred, but simple meal - the meal their ancestors ate as the angel of death passed over their homes. It is festival that celebrates God’s action to redeem them as a people who live in a living relationship with God.
Thus, John sets the scene for our understanding the sign of the feeding of
the five thousand. As Jesus takes the five barley loaves, gives thanks, and distributes them to the crowd, it is a sign that their deliverance is at hand. It is a sign that Jesus is at least a prophet of God, as recorded in our first lesson for today, if not the messiah. And according to all of the commentaries that I read on this story, it is John’s way of helping us to understand the sacrament of communion, in which Christ continues to nourish us with his grace.