Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

Let us pray: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

When we are very, very young, we begin to learn things about this world into which we have been born. We can't help it. We get all sorts of clues from those who surround us, those big people who take care of us and seem to understand so much about this strange and mystifying place where we live.

 

One of the bit of crucial knowledge that we learn very quickly is that things – material things – are very important. The big people of the world, the important people in our tiny lives, have lots of them. We come to realize that we don't have many of these material items and, at a certain point in our development, we grab as many "things" as we can. Every child goes through the phase where it holds onto a toy or a blanket or a piece of clothing with great desperation. Any attempt to remove the item from a child's will produce wails of anger and frustration. The big people of the world know that the temporary removal of a toy or blanket or item of clothing won't hurt the child. But just try convincing the child of that fact. Material things are vital. Material things have power. And, even more, those who have material things have much power. The child learns this and internalizes it. Tantrums can surely follow when the items of power are removed.

 

All of us go through such phases in our development. We can't help it; we are human. Fortunately, almost all of us have forgotten those times when we wished to hold onto a cherished toy until the tears and wailing came onto us. Most of us have mercifully forgotten such moments. For those rare few of us who may remember, those ancient thoughts may produce embarrassment. "How childish," we might berate ourselves. But it is really nothing more than a sign of our material, emotional and – yes – spiritual development. We know this. So does God. But it is still nice to know that we have grown beyond such simple possessiveness. We have, haven't we?

 

Today, we hear of the great feeding of the five thousand, the powerful story of the feeding of God's people. We know this story so well that the mention of "five thousand" in a Christian context brings knowledge of this Scriptural passage. What images come to us when we think of that day when Jesus, crossing over the Sea of Galilee, went up into a mountain? Those of us who are very visual will likely see pictures in our mind's eye of Jesus and His many followers. Perhaps we will watch as the disciples wonder what to do with all who have followed them. Those with good imaginations, or who have studied the Ignatian Exercises, will see the young lad bring forth his loaves and fishes. Those of us who are very analytical in nature will begin to discern the theological issues presented in this early communion service. We may also be simply amazed by the power of God, who demonstrates His love for His people by feeding them on a mountain in ancient Judea. All of these perspectives are valid; all of them give insight into the love of God. All of them offer a part of the story.

 

But something else happened on that mountainside once long ago. On that particular day, God revealed something essential about His purpose in the world.

 

The Passover was nigh. The followers of Jesus were Jews like Him. They would observe the Passover. They would have enough food for the faithful Jews; they would have enough food for themselves. But what about the others?

 

Jesus asked Philip a very particular question: "Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?" Jesus expresses concern for all who have followed Him. But Philip sees only the limited amount of food and can't imagine that such food can feed so many. There is only a tiny bit of money, a tiny amount of food.

 

We know what happens. Jesus takes the bread and the fishes, blesses and distributes the food. All are fed. Not only are they fed, but twelve full baskets remain. Twelve baskets. Yes, the symbolism of those twelve baskets cannot have been lost on the disciples. They would recognize instantly that those baskets represented the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. The message is this: share God and you will have abundance. Share the joy of your life with God and all will be fed, spiritually and materially.

 

We don't really know what went on in Philip's mind on that day. But he may well have thought that God had come only to he and the other disciples. After all, they were Jews, people of the covenant. God had made a promise to them, God had travelled with them for centuries, loving and protecting them, reminding them of their responsibilities to God and criticizing them when necessary. It was logical to think that they had God all to themselves. And as they prepared for the Passover feast, they would naturally think that God would be with them alone.

 

But it wasn't to be. God invited all. Every person who had followed Him over the Sea of Tiberias and into the mountains was invited to the Passover feast where Jesus blessed a tiny amount of food and made the spiritual nourishment that could feed all people.

 

Perhaps the lesson to the disciples was that they could not hold onto God, as if He were some possession. God is indeed powerful. Perhaps, they thought, if we could hold onto Him, we too will be very powerful. They learned that day that true power comes from God's love and true human power comes from recognizing God's love and sharing that love with others. It is a lesson that all of God's people need to learn. The true church of Jesus Christ is not a temporal structure that worships like an exclusive club. The true church of Jesus Christ teaches that all of God's people may receive the lasting spiritual food that comes only from Him. true power comes from God's love and true human power comes from recognizing God's love and sharing that love with others.

It is what Jesus taught on that day. It is what Jesus teaches us now. true power comes from God's love and true human power comes from recognizing God's love and sharing that love with others.

 

Let us pray: O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again in power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.