John 6:1-21 7/29/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

When they “redid” our Lectionary some years ago, they tried to establish themes for each Sunday, and then select readings around those themes. Cramner had done this, to a great degree, in his Lectionary of 1559. But in that Lectionary, all of the readings repeated every year. And that carried through until our present 1979 Prayer Book. With the 1979 Prayer Book, they changed to a 3 year cycle, where readings repeated every 3 years. Well, after a few decades of using the 1979 Lectionary, it became pretty clear that the weekly themes needed to be “refocused”, and today’s readings are a good example of that effort.

We seem to have two general themes this morning. One is the theme of feeding, and one is the theme of God providing for God’s chosen people. In our Old Testament Reading from, 2nd Kings, Elisha the Prophet is given an offering of food that he directs be given to the people who are starving. And we get an Old Testament version of the “Feeding of the 5,000”, which is now usually called “The Feeding of the Multitude.”

This is not just a coincidence. All of the Gospel Writers were trying to link Jesus to the prophets, and picking up this well known Old Testament story from 2nd Kings, would have done just that. And, since Elisha had replicated so many of Moses’ acts, it even links to Moses and the Exodus, when God fed the Israelites Manna. There is this constant theme of “feeding” throughout the whole Bible.

And we need to remember that the Holy Land is a really harsh land. It doesn’t produce food easily, and until recently with modern irrigation and Kibbutz farming, the land could not sustain very many people. Hunger, and sometimes famine, were the norm in that land. Hunger and famine are major elements in the history of the Jewish people. And in Jesus’ time, it was even worse because the Roman Army was eating almost all the food that the land could produce. The people really were starving, and all of the Gospel writers try to show Jesus as having compassion for the starving masses.

Well, the theme carried through to our Psalm: “…you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.”

Our 2nd Reading from Ephesians, focuses a little more on “spiritual feeding”: “I pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.”

And then, of course, our Gospel passage from John, “The Feeding of the Multitudes.” Now, this is John’s version, and John was writing late – about 120 ad – and probably up around what is now Turkey. The writer of John is taking his material from the earlier Gospels, and reapplying it in his own Gospel, again, trying to write theology – not history. And he ties it to the story of Jesus walking on water – coming across the water to tend to his disciples, who are caught in a storm. John tells it much more simply than the other Gospel writers. We don’t have Peter trying to join him on the water, and although they are terrified, we don’t get them thinking he’s a ghost. But the writer puts it here to show Jesus caring for his friends, getting them from the storm to the shore and safety.

Well, “the feeding theme” carries right on down to us today. Through history, the Christian Church has seen part of its ministry to be a “feeding ministry.” Medieval monasteries grew food and distributed it, and promised travelers a meal. Modern churches have food pantries, or give out food vouchers. There are soup kitchens and feeding programs provided by churches in every city. Many churches feed after their services. There are many traditions around “feeding.”

And in a strange way, it comes down to us in the Eucharist, as well. And that picks up the theme from Ephesians – that we also need to be fed spiritually. That little bit of bread, and that little bit of wine that we get at communion, isn’t going to keep a person alive if he is physically starving, but it can offer tremendous spiritual sustenance. And sometimes we’re well fed physically, but starving spiritually.

I’ve been very blessed in my life in that I’ve never gone to bed hungry because there was no food. But, there have been times when I’ve gone to bed spiritually hungry, and that is a painful experience. And somehow, I’ve found that little piece of bread, and that little dip of wine can satisfy that hunger. It’s a mystery. I can’t explain how it works. But on a couple of occasions in my life, I’ve thought, “If I can just get to communion, it will be all right” – and it has been. Somehow, communion can clear my head, help me focus, help me make sense out of what’s happening, help me get in touch with God. Spiritual hunger has to be fed, just like physical hunger. And the church tries to meet that need.

When Jesus looked up and saw the crowd coming to him, my guess is that he saw a crowd that was spiritually hungry, as well as physically hungry. And with his few loaves and fishes, he was able to feed the spiritually hunger, and, we are told, mysteriously, the physical hunger. That was Eucharist.

There’s not much I miss from the old Prayer Book, but I do miss what were called “The Words of Invitation”: “Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy laden and I will refresh you.” It is Matthew 11:28, and can still be found in Rite I on page 332. I think of those words, often. Sometimes we are in travail, and sometimes we are heavy laden, and for me in those moments, I’m one of the 5,000 and I need to be fed. And it is Eucharist that feeds me.

I’m always having people tell me that they can worship God just fine somewhere else. I want to say, “That’s good. But the day will come, when you get older and spiritually tired, that you will hunger for the church. You will crave spiritual food. And you will find it at church.”

That’s our mission. That’s our ministry.


Posted August 1, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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