There Is Always More: Proper 12

There Is Always More: Proper 12

Proper 12: July 25, 2021
The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Year B: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

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From cover to cover, the Bible is filled with miracle stories. Bones that lie dry and lifeless in the middle of a valley are knit back together. Moses stretches out his hand and the waters of the Red Sea part.

You are very likely to have heard the miracle stories, (yes, that’s plural), in today’s Gospel of John at least a few times in your life. The miracle of feeding 5,000 is something that is sure to stick in your mind. It’s even more likely that you’ve heard it because this is the only story of a miracle that has been recorded in all four of the gospels. That tells us something of how important a story it is. The first Christians must have remembered it and told it over and over again at their gatherings. In addition to John, it was eventually recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (14:13-21), Mark (6:32-44), and Luke (9:10-17). We also hear the second miracle of Jesus walking on water.

Miracles aside, I think it’s interesting that in this Gospel account, Jesus doesn’t need to be told that this crowd is hungry. He sees the large crowd and knows what must be done. We don’t hear of the disciples wanting to send the people away as we do in other gospels, but we do hear their fear of not having enough.

Somehow there is enough. With joy the people exclaim to one another, “this is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”[1] Soon, the crowd is on the verge of taking Jesus by force to make him king, but Jesus knows that his lot in life is not to be a political ruler and he will have none of it. He withdraws again to the mountain to be alone.

But even in his desire to be alone, his disciples follow him and experience yet another miracle of seeing Jesus walking on the sea.

Our modern minds have a hard time believing in the miraculous. We like rational explanations for things. Miracles aren’t really miracles – we always try to find a reason to explain them away. Years ago, I recall reading one account and the author said maybe there was a big stash of fish and bread hidden behind a tree or a bush; or maybe the disciples in the boat only dreamed that Jesus was walking towards them across the water.

We ask ourselves are these things possible?

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anyone walk across water, but I can say that I’ve seen 5,000 fed quite literally and it was indeed quite miraculous.

Some of you know that the church I came from in New Jersey was a small mission parish. The parish was unable to financially sustain itself, but somehow every day it served anywhere from 100 to 150 meals, sometimes 175. Every day. Breakfast and lunch. Believe me when I tell you it was miraculous.

On several occasions scheduled meal teams couldn’t come and the priest-in-charge who was going to have cook, not something you really want to see. Yes, I had the local pizza shop on speed dial, but you can only do that so often. One time, several Mormon missionaries showed up; another day one of the guests at the soup kitchen, someone who struggled mightily with addiction, stepped forward – he was literally a world class chef and had worked in restaurants across New York. He made five-star food appear that day with what we had in the freezers. These two stories aren’t so unlike what has been happening in today’s gospel.

Understand that Jesus has been in Jerusalem where distrust of him by religious leaders has been growing in intensity. Now he is back in Galilee. Great numbers of people follow him wherever he goes, impressed by his power to heal the sick.

I think these miracles stories are more than just “miracle” stories; in the 1st century and in the 21st century they still give us an idea, an understanding of what God is like.

As I said, Jesus and the disciples are being followed by a large crowd of people. There was such a great need and desire for healing, that it was hard for Jesus to get even a little bit of solitude or time for his personal prayer. This was not going to be a time of retreat for Jesus or his disciples. The people in the crowd had seen the signs Jesus was doing for the sick. And, I believe that the need the people in Galilee had was not only for physical healing, but they needed the love that Jesus brought. The love was so great that they wanted Jesus to be their king.

But think of how the disciples at first reacted. They didn’t really have a clue. Philip reacted as a certain priest in charge first reacted. “Can’t possibly do it with what little we have.” And then the Mormon missionaries show up, or the chef extraordinaire comes forward. Just as Jesus took charge, there are others who come forward when we least expect them and most need them.

They come forward in the abundance of God.

Jesus feeds them all with those five loaves and two fish. And then, when everyone had eaten their fill, Jesus insists that they gather up the leftovers, the fragments, the crumbs. And there was enough left over to fill 12 baskets. Talk about abundance.

Abundance is a theme throughout the fourth gospel.  In the first chapter, John speaks about Jesus as the Word from whose fullness we have all received grace upon grace. Then consider the first sign Jesus did in his ministry – turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The result is an abundance, not only of wine, but good wine.

At a well in Samaria, Jesus tells a woman about living water gushing up and offering her eternal life. Once more, here is a story of abundance.

What if we live our lives believing in abundance, particularly the abundance of God’s gifts to us, even amidst stormy seas. Because you and I will no doubt sail in stormy waters at some point in our lives. The last year of pandemic has certainly been a stormy time and it looks like we are not out of it yet.

I take comfort in knowing that just as Jesus knew the crowd needed to be fed, God knows what we need. God’s abundance is not just about money and material possessions. Of course, we can’t discount their importance, but God’s abundance appears over and over again, sometimes in the most incredible of places. If you’re on Facebook, pop on over to the Grandparents as Parents page and look at the incredible yard sale hosted these past two days and see the faces of sheer joy, joy in the abundance of God.

In our journey, there will be times of frustration, anger, pain, and suffering. Jesus never promised us smooth sailing. But he tells the disciples, “It is I, do not be afraid.” There is Jesus. Do not be afraid. This account never says the waves were calmed, and it never says that Jesus got into the boat.

Can we allow ourselves to follow Jesus? To not be afraid?

It says that they “wanted to take him into the boat and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” Isn’t that what faith in Jesus is about? Accepting his abundance. And, perhaps abundance has nothing to do with what we have or what goes on in the world around us, but is the perspective that comes when we realize that God is present in our lives. Maybe faith is about realizing that with only five barley loaves and two fish, there is always more.

[1] John 6:14, New Revised Standard Version, “NRSV”

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