The Sunday Sermon: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2020
Scripture: Luke 9:10-17
Something Brand New
Well, believe it or not, it’s the last Sunday in July. In five days the month of August begins. Such a strange spring and summer this year… for reasons known to everyone in the entire world! The end of July and August have always had a very different rhythm for me as a Pastor. They are usually weeks of return, weeks of “finding our way back” to something we are familiar with, weeks of preparing to gear up once again for school, end of summer Team meetings that plan for the return of full ministries and fellowships. But that is so different this year. And, I’m wondering, as we end July and begin August this year, what new directions we will have to find for ourselves as we prepare for what lies ahead as a community.
Pray with me … before we go any further. And listen for the Word of God in our scripture lesson. Read Luke 9:10-17 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
That is one of the most familiar passages in the New Testament. The “miracle” known as the feeding of the five (or four) thousand. It is told in every Gospel narrative – Matthew, Mark, and John, as well, very similar to this one in Luke. The fact that it is also included in the Gospel of John, the “non-synoptic” Gospel, suggests that it is indeed of special importance. All ate and were filled, the passage concludes.
As we step out of July and into August, wondering about the ministry year before us in the midst of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be loosening its grip on our lives, we are reminded to trust in the generosity of God’s gifts, not in the scarcity of our own. I realized this past week that I’ve been waiting since mid-March, making due and getting by, but doing things – like ministering, pastoring, and providing – with a mindset that we just need to “get through” all this and hold on until we can return to normal. As I think about the “return” that normally happens at this time of year, and consider that we are almost certainly going to be “making do and getting by” into the Fall beyond our traditional Rally Day kick-offs, I find myself instructed by this miracle story in new ways.
This miracle story, the feeding of the five thousand or the multitude, as I’ve mentioned, is the only one recounted in all four Gospels. As with all of the “miracle stories” in the bible, our explanations about what “really” happened soon follow.
All of these people were so moved by Jesus’ generosity that they brought forth the food they had hidden for themselves and by sharing there was enough for everyone.
This meal was not a physical one, but a spiritual and symbolic one. Spiritual hunger was satisfied when all received some tiny amount of food.
And there are others, to be sure …
I’ve suggested before with texts like this that, if we’re really going to understand what is being shared in them, our concern shouldn’t be “historical” – did this happen, when and where? It should be theological – what is this story telling us about our God? We get caught up in the word “miracle.” We focus on feasibility and likelihood, and think of “miracles” happening in very specific places and time – this morning, the first century in “a city called Bethsaida.” We make these stories “historical,” in other words, and then wonder why there aren’t any instances of these events today. But miracles do happen today, they are happening today. We’re just looking in the wrong places for the wrong things. Miracles aren’t “magic,” they’re … well miracles.
We look for results, we look for a product, we look at the bread and the fish and wonder how they “multiply” to feed more than they should. We need to widen our view and focus on what is most important. Right before this narrative in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is confounding the powers of this world (Herod is perplexed). Right after this miracle narrative, Peter professes Jesus as God’s anointed, the Messiah. Widen your view, raise your eyes. Don’t look at the fish and the bread, look at the One who offers them, the Christ, God’s anointed one.
“You give them something to eat …,” the anointed One says. “You provide.”
We are God’s anointed, too, you and me. In this story, told by all four of our gospel writers, and in Jesus’ Way, we find our direction. And when we accept our roles as Christ-ones, like the disciples did in this instance, miraculous things happen. All are fed.
Miracles do not create faith, they are perceived by it. Think of “GOD” as Love itself, all we’ve been taught it should be and more, and consider this: If you’re waiting for “a miracle” to truly trust in “God,” you’ll be sorely disappointed. If, however, you trust in this “God,” then you’ll experience miracles every day. The disciples, through their faith – their trust in and fidelity to the Way of God in Jesus – “get it” in this story. That’s the miraculous event: They actually get it! They respond to Jesus’ command and do what they are called to do. And all are fed.
This miracle story undoubtedly reminded early Christians that they, too, were called to be God’s instruments in meeting the needs of others. These stories must continue to direct us today. You give them something to eat. You provide. Miracles need not be found in supernatural events, the multiplication of bread and fish. They are not relics of the past, on the shorelines of ancient seas. They are part of our lives as disciples today, perceived by our faith that is a gift from God.
In the final week of this month, in the month ahead, and I think for the month or more after that, we are going to have to provide brand new ways of discovering and deepening our relationship with the mystery that is our God. I’m not at all sure what those ways are going to look like, but it’s time to stop “making due” and “getting by”, time to stop waiting for life to happen again, time to trust even more fully in the generosity of God’s gifts, not in the scarcity of our own. The end of July and the beginning of August have always been about re-gathering, visioning, planning, and living into “what comes next.” It’s going to be something brand new this year. A miracle is in the making. The Way is before us if we have eyes to see it and hearts to follow. Let’s get ready to begin something brand new this time around.
May it be so. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / July 26, 2020