A Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 26, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
But what are they among so many people?
One thing I’ve noticed over the past several weeks as we have read through the Gospel of Mark is how everything in Jesus’ ministry revolves around healing. There are stories of Jesus healing people embedded in other stories of him healing other people. Jesus sent out his disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons. And even when he was back at home and couldn’t do signs of power, he healed a few sick people.
So maybe that’s just the Gospel of Mark’s thing? It is true that each Gospel has a different perspective, and in Mark, the earliest of the Gospels, Jesus the Son of God, casts out demons and heals the sick. Today, for some reason, the lectionary shifts from the Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John. So we have a different perspective. So how does this lesson in the Gospel of John begin? “A large crowd kept following him, because of the signs that he was doing for the sick.” Jesus heals, in all the Gospels.
You know when you hear it said, “Jesus saves?” What it means is that Jesus heals. He heals the injuries and illness of individuals and of groups of people, even our society. Some think that it means that he swoops people out of this world into someplace else, but that is not what salvation means, it means healing. And those demons he casts out—those are the injuries and illness that no one wants to take responsibility for—illnesses of our whole systems, and they take on a life of their own.
So we are in the Gospel of John and a huge group of people comes around the lake to catch up with Jesus, looking for healing. Jesus is standing there, up on the hillside next to Philip. I think we sometimes get too serious and somber when we read the stories, just because they are in the Bible. Jesus is standing there on the hill and he sees, from quite a way off, this big group of people coming. He knows that what they want is healing—it’s not like they’re coming for a dinner party. But it’s a BIG GROUP. So he nudges Philip, and he says, “How are you going to feed all these people?” And Philip’s eyes get big, and he imagines the cost. He freezes. He says “Two hundred denarii. That wouldn’t even be enough to buy bread for this group.” He’s thinking of a pile of silver coins bigger than he would likely ever see—the whole payroll for a week’s wages for a large crew of workers. It never occurred to him to send them over to Trinity Church after Sunday service.
Andrew says, “Here’s what we have, but what is that among so many people?” The disciples are all overcome by the size of the problem. They want a solution to the whole problem, and they see it as a problem that they need to solve out of their resources. Jesus says: “Have them all sit down.” It turns out there was a lot of grass there—they could all sit down in relative comfort.
Then Jesus took the loaves and he gave thanks. Jesus took what they had and he gave thanks, he gave thanks to God for those loaves and those fish, not for the ones that they didn’t have or wished they might have. Jesus gave thanks.
We miss that so often, that in his life Jesus gave thanks, that thanksgiving is what defines us as God’s people. That is what this service, the Eucharist, means. In thanksgiving, Jesus began to distribute the bread and the fish to the people. Now the story we read is a miracle. But the thing is, Jesus wasn’t focusing on the problem of the five thousand, he focused on thanksgiving, and on giving, giving the bread and the fish to those who were there in front of him. In this sign, Jesus is generous and God is generous and feeds everyone.
We turn to Jesus for healing, as did his disciples, as did all of those people in that crowd. Out of God’s superabundant generosity Jesus healed them all with food for their bodies.
But this group saw it as something different. They saw that he made all this food and it looked like power to them—they wanted to make him king. People want to take the gift of healing and turn it into power. We tend to think if we have enough power, we can do away with the need for healing, that we will be smart enough and good enough—we forget about all those times when we are neither kind, nor thankful. As the people grabbed at him, trying to institutionalize his power and make him king … Jesus slipped away. That was not what the bread or the fish or any of the healing was about.
But how does this story end today? The disciples get in the boat again, and they are in the storm again. And they are very afraid, again. And they saw Jesus walking on the water, and he said, “It is I, do not be afraid.” And they wanted to grab him into the boat, but right then they found they had reached solid land.
Dear friends. Let us be thankful, let us be generous, let us be unafraid, let us be steadfast. Let us gather in thanksgiving at the Lord’s table.