Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Sunday Next Before Advent, 2012
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

 

Let us pray: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Three days ago, we celebrated our national holiday of Thanksgiving. Usually, we celebrate this particular day over a meal. People often travel great distances to be together with family and friends. This week-end - and the several days before it - is the most intense time of travel in the long calendar of the year. Maybe you saw the images of cars backed up on the highways or long lines at airport terminals. People endure such delays for things that are important. They want to be with the people they know and love.

 

And then, there is the food. Last Thursday, we hosted several friends and family members at our home. There was lots of food. Turkey, of course. But there were many side dishes, too. I didn't know how many side dishes there were until I was confronted with clean-up time. As we packed away the leftovers, I discovered the remains of two dishes I hadn't seen before. “Where did these come from?” I asked Ljuba. “They were on the table,” she said. “Well I never got any,” I said. “You were at the wrong end of the table,” my son offered. “Yeah, but aren't people supposed to pass the food around?” Ljuba and the kids looked at me. “Are you still hungry?” my daughter asked. I cast about for some way to get out of this one. I looked at the clock in desperation. 8:30. Praise God! “It's kick-off time I said,” and slunk off to watch the game. Sure, I could hear the jokes at my benefit coming from upstairs, things like: “hey, Colin did YOU see the TURKEY?” Nobody passed any to ME.” Well, let them have their fun, I thought, there's a game on.” And in a few minutes, the New England Patriots had begun to work their particular magic. But I had to admit; I was stuffed.

 

Because it was Thursday, an internal clock went off and I began to think about Sunday's sermon. I opened the prayer book. There it was; the feeding of the five thousand. How ironic; here I was, absolutely stuffed reading about hungry people following Jesus. I almost wished that they would stop by the house and relieve us from the food (including two phantom side dishes) we would have in the refrigerator for days to come. Yes, days to come. But, eventually, that food would be gone. It is perishable food. However much there is, it would all be gone within a very short time. Food is like that – at least temporal food. You have to eat it within a certain time or it simply cannot be used.

 

People followed Jesus because it was important. They wanted to be with Jesus. They left their temporal cares behind. Just like those millions of Thanksgiving travelers, they wanted to be with those who were important to them. They traveled with family members, with friends and also with strangers who had heard God's message. They all had one goal in their hearts and minds: to be with Jesus and to share his life.

 

Did they realize that they might grow hungry and need food to sustain them on their journey? Were they risk-takers, unconcerned for the necessities of life, but ready to take a chance? We might wonder about these people. Who would place themselves in a position like this? Except that they were following God. Those five thousand followed the source of all good gifts, the source of all they would ever need.

 

Jesus looks at the great crowd that has followed Him. He knows why they are there. He knows their need. He recognizes their hunger. And He asks Phillip: “whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” This is not a trick question; Jesus has a very specific purpose in asking it. Jesus here is the teacher. But Phillip misunderstands the question; he takes a quick inventory of the apostolic accounts and reports accurately: two hundred pennyworth of bread simply isn't enough. Even if everyone has only a little.

 

The other disciples try to help out. They point out that there is a young lad with five barley loaves and two small fishes. It is something. But we can imagine the disciples thinking to themselves that all this doesn't amount to very much. All the pennyworth of bread, barley loaves and fishes can't feed the multitude. It simply won't happen. The disciples see this clearly. They see the lack of food. They know there is no way to feed those who have followed Jesus. There is simply not enough.

 

But, as the disciples watch in wonder, Jesus feeds them all. Yes, it is a miracle. There is enough for all to eat their fill. No one goes away hungry.

 

If it were only this, it would be remarkable. But it is much more than the multiplication of food. It is about the food that God brings to us when we follow Him. What was the food that God gave to the five thousand on that particular day so long ago? It was not the perishable food that would keep people alive for a few days. Rather, it was the imperishable food of eternal life; food that would sustain life for all time.

 

We might watch as Phillip and Andrew and the other disciples distribute this food to the hungry pilgrims. Watch how they receive this food, how it feeds them and makes them strong in the spirit of God. We see Phillip and Andrew grow in awareness of God's purpose in their lives. We see the people sitting and eating of the true bread of life and witness to the transformation that this food makes in their lives.

 

And after all had eaten, there were twelve baskets left over. Yes, the message from God, received once by the twelve tribes of Israel, must be given to all people. There will always be enough. Because this food is from God.

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen