Sermon for August 2nd/3rd, 2008
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Hilary’s Church, Fort Myers, FL
13When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."
16Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
17"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.
18"Bring them here to me," he said. 19And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
“Now when Jesus heard what had happened”. What had he heard? He’d heard of the political execution of his cousin John the Baptist. He’d also heard that King Herod was showing an increasing interest in him.
So he withdrew to a quiet place by himself. To mourn for John the Baptist? Perhaps. To ask himself “do I really want to go through with this, my mission? Maybe.
But he needed to be alone. Those of you who are parents, and more especially mothers, and those of you who are schoolteachers or social workers will know the feeling. As a mother might think, but never say “sometimes I simply want to get away from my children and be alone”.
But as children find it hard to give their parents some “peace and quiet”, so do the crowds. They sniff out Jesus’ location, knowing that their very presence will evince his compassion. Which of course it does. He heals their sick. The disciples, ever practical, and perhaps jealous of all the attention Jesus is giving the crowds, want to send the crowds back to their homes.
Jesus, as he might say to us when we are faced with some dreadful human issue – war, disease, hunger, homelessness - says to the disciples “you do something about it”. Rolling their eyes in sceptical amusement the disciples reply: “all we have is five loaves and two fish”. “Bring them here to me” says Jesus. And with prayer and blessing Jesus is able to feed the multitude, with more than enough left over for the birds.
“Little is much when God is in it” as some later preacher said.
When we dig a little deeper into the story, we find four important verbs. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it”. He took, he blessed, be broke, he gave.
Where else in the Gospels do we find those four verbs, one after another? It is of course in the Upper Room in what we call the Last Supper. There the fourfold action is repeated in what we call the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or the Eucharist.
And so I believe that the miracle is a miracle of grace. It is about feeding the poor. It is about the Eucharist. But it is chiefly about grace.
About this grace in the feeding of the multitude, and in the Eucharist we must say: There is always more than enough grace for everyone. More than enough.
We, of course, are the ones who wish to hoard grace, and dole it out, spoonful by spoonful to those whom we believe are worthy. Somehow we have allowed ourselves to live in a theology of shortage and not a theology of abundance. So we, and by this “we” I mean especially Church leaders, who operate as though there were a limited store of grace, of which they are the guardians. We have confused grace with the dole.
Church leaders like it that way, for if they are the keepers of the treasury of grace, they consequently have great power and authority. I believe that the greatest “problem” which the Church faces is not the place of women in the ordained ministry, nor is it the question of how and why we welcome gay and lesbian people.
It is the abuse of priestly and episcopal authority. The terrible flaw in the just ended Lambeth Conference of Bishop is just that – they are all Bishops, and they take themselves too seriously.
For in the end, all God’s people have but one authority, and that is the authority to serve! The disciples were told to distribute the bread, they were told to serve.
In the feeding of the multitudes, Jesus stepped in to the task of which the preacher of Isaiah had spoken. “Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price”. Bread, fish, wine and water – these are all symbols of boundless grace. Christians are not purveyors of bottled water. They are those who point the way to the fresh and abundant springs.
Grace is abundant. There is more than enough. So I end by singing a hymn written by a friend of mine the Revd. J. Mary Luti. You have the words before you, so join in as you become familiar with the tune
If there were a fountain (J. Mary Luti)
If there were a fountain of blue water bright from a cleft in a rock underground;
if streams from the fountain poured sapphire delight on the waterless earth all around;
if pools of refreshment could slake all your thirst, and a hope hold you up when you sink;
if there were no fear of the deep and the worst, would you come, would you bathe, would you drink?
If there were a table in beauty arrayed in a house full of song old and new;
if ev’ry good pleasure were lavishly laid for delight, for contentment, for you;
if places were set for the least and the small, and the feasting were ample and fine;
and, oh, if the feasting cost nothing at all would you come, would you sit, would you dine?
If there were a God who is welcoming fire and impatiently eager to save;
if there were a God who awakens desire and bestows all the love you can crave;
if God were a gathering God, and a balm for the homeless who aimlessly roam;
if God were a house, in the center a calm, would you come, would you finally come home?
More tomorrow about my visit to Fort Myers.