Sunday, 26 July 2009

Not my best sermon

I was not pleased with my sermon today. It did not "hang together" in the way I'd hoped.

But I was flattered by one All Angels' parishioner who asked me to blog it, so here it is!

Sermon for July 26th 2009. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea Church, Longboat Key, FL

2 Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

We have been galloping through Mark’s gospel this summer. We’ve had to gallop, for that’s what Mark does. He writes with breathless excitement.

“Immediately” is one of his favourite words. The crowds are almost always “amazed” at what Jesus did. They frequently “marvel”. Mark would do well on “Twitter”.

But last week we left out a whole chunk of the sixth chapter of Mark. We read verses 30-34, then we leap-frogged across two stories, and read a bit from the end of the chapter.

Now this week we leave Mark’s breathless narrative to read those two stories which we missed, but now reading them from John. They are miracle stories.

We know that John is not interested in miracles for miracles’ sake. In his gospel the miracles are always “signs” of something much greater.

Miracles in and of themselves can be troublesome. I am thinking of the spectacular miracles of which we read in the Bible and other places. 5000 plus fed from 5 loaves and two fishes – sight restored to the blind – water in to wine &c, &c

I am not referring those odd happenstances which we call miraculous, e.g. “it was a miracle that the brick which fell from a building site did not land on her head”. (That was not a miracle; it was simply a bit of good fortune.)

Let’s think about something spectacular.

Your favourite great-aunt dies at the age of 83. You love her dearly, and so you pray, and she is raised from the dead. What would you do with a miracle like that? How would you deal with the press, the T.V. cameras, and the gawkers? How would you deal with your great-aunt who might not be pleased that she’d been resurrected!? Would you build a shrine and charge for admission? Would you write a book, make a movie; go on all the talk shows? Might you reach the point at which you said “I wish this miracle had not happened”?

Or would you say “this miracle points to the amazing grace of God, grace for which I am deeply grateful”. Period.

So there is the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. It is a miracle of compassion and grace. It’s a miracle which energizes those of us who believe that Christian faith calls us to feed the hungry.

It may also be a story about the Eucharist. Mark’s version makes this clearer. Mark relates that Jesus “took, blessed, broke and gave the bread”. “Taking, blessing, breaking and giving” are the four verbs which we use in the Eucharist.

Maybe John and Mark are trying to tell us that the bread is broken not just for the religious elite, but for the masses.

If this is the case, then our sharing in the bread of life at the Eucharist is hollow if we do not share our every day breads with the hungry.

I’ll leave that thought with you, even as I also wrestle with it. (I like my abundance of food, and I am not at all sure that I want to share all of it widely).

In John’s Gospel the miracle first leads the people to recognize Jesus as a prophet. Then they want to make him King. Jesus withdraws from both possibilities.

Here I have to make some guesses.

I will suppose that Jesus did not wish to be branded as a prophet, for prophets sometimes attract followers who love to be part of this or that trendy movement. A following based on stardom or popularity is not what Jesus had in mind.

And I will suppose that Jesus knew well the perils of Kingship. As a King he’d have to raise an army, impose taxes, and deal with all the intrigues and plotting which are endemic to a Royal household.

But beyond these two guesses, it is clear Jesus has his eyes on a different prize. He is not interested in a purely local or nationalistic following. As he enters more fully into God’s mission he begins to understand that the love and grace of God is universal.

That is why most of his miracles have to do with people who had been excluded by powerful religious leaders, e.g. the blind, the lame, the leper, the hemorrhaging woman, a 12 year old girl.

The miracle is chiefly so that they would know themselves to be included in God’s care.

Later in John’s Gospel, in a reflection on the feeding miracle, John puts these words on to Jesus’ lips “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world”. And it is in John that Jesus says “I am the light of the world”.

Jesus is teaching that the mission of God is towards and for all people. That is the deeper reason for the miracles.

Our temptation is to say that “charity begins at home”, or “we should take care of our own first”.

Attractive as that sounds its effect is to reduce Jesus to being a local prophet, or a nationalist leader.

In breaking bread together each week we take into ourselves the true miracle. It is that in God’s economy there is abundance for all, and even after that there is some left over!

The big question is this: “Who do we choose to exclude”?

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