Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pentecost 9, 2015: Living lives of faith

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11-1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Our gospel from John offers us two stories, rich with symbolism, about living lives of faith: the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on the water. These stories connect to two foundational stories in the Old Testament.

The first is the story of Moses who led the people in their exile in the wilderness where they ate the food of angels: manna – enough to satisfy them every day – but not a morsel extra. In this story, God commanded the people not save any manna for tomorrow. They were to eat until they were satisfied and leave the rest. This story is about learning to trust that their needs would be met by the abundance of God’s love and provision.

The second is the story of Elisha who fed 100 people with 10 barley loaves and some grain. Elisha’s men doubted how such a small amount of food could feed so many people, but Elisha told them that Yahweh had promised there would be enough and even some left over – and there was.

In the gospel story, there were even more people to feed and less food to give them. Jesus tested his disciples, who would have known the stories of Moses and Elisha. Rather than trusting God, the disciples tried to figure out how they could feed the crowds, only to realize that they couldn’t.

Jesus wasn’t mad at them for failing in their faith. This test was his gift to them to free them from the limits of their faith.

Taking the offering of insufficient food, Jesus blessed it, and gave it to his disciples to give to the people. Do you hear the Eucharistic language in this?

John tells us that everyone who ate was satisfied. Clearly they weren’t using those little wafers we use for Holy Eucharist.

When the people had eaten and were satisfied, the disciples gathered up what was left-over and it filled 12 baskets. As you know, the number 12 is a symbolic number in the Bible which refers to the 12 tribes of Israel – the people of God. They gathered up 12 baskets. In the gospel story, the image is of containers holding new people of God - people whom God brought to be fed.

I imagine some of Jesus’ long-time followers were unhappy about including everyone gathered on the grass. Some of them probably weren’t worthy of the resources they were using up, yet Jesus fed them all.

At Redeemer, we are being given the gift of confronting these same fears today. How blessed we are that God is choosing to test us, just as the disciples were tested, to free us from the limits of our faith. Like the disciples, we have tried to figure out how to serve from an insufficiency of resources. Like the disciples, we realize that we can’t, but God can in ways that go beyond our imagination; and we know this because we’ve been through this before. When we started the Shepherd’s Table in 2010, our Food Pantry, which already existed, had already been serving about 10-14 families a week. Those numbers immediately doubled and kept growing. It was getting hard to keep up with the demand for food.

One member serving in the ministry wanted to limit the number of people we served and reserve some food in the pantry for the following week. The majority of volunteers (myself included) were convinced that we should give all we had each week and trust God to renew our supply.

We worried about having enough – we still do – but God has shown that our need will be supplied when we make room in our hearts for that to happen. Ask a Shepherd’s Table volunteer to tell you how often we have experienced this kind of divine intervention in this ministry. It’s inspiring.

Back to the gospel… After feeding the crowds, Jesus withdrew by himself to the mountain. “Mountain” is Bible-talk for the prayerful place where God’s will is revealed. Think: Moses and Mt. Horeb where God made the first covenant with the people.

Jesus must have stayed in prayer for a very long time because the disciples finally decided to leave for home without him. They got about halfway across the lake and the wind picked up, making their journey difficult and dangerous.

Do you hear the symbols in this part of the story? The disciples are together on a vessel in the Sea of Galilee. Water represents Baptism, birth into new life in Christ.

John says it was dark, and he’s speaking of spiritual darkness not just the absence of day light. The disciples, who have witnessed and participated in Jesus’ many miracles, most recently the feeding of the 5,000 (really 15-20,000 if you count the women and children present too), are now journeying intentionally into the waters of new life where they find themselves in darkness and troubled.

John describes this trouble as a wild wind, which is also symbolic for the Holy Spirit of God, blowing where it wills, stirring up the water, making it rough. Like the creation story in Genesis, where God calmed the chaos waters of the earth, in John’s gospel story, Jesus, the Incarnate God, calms the chaos waters in hearts of his followers; and he does it by speaking a powerful phrase: “It is I” he says, (in Greek, ego eimi – which means I AM). I AM is here – don’t be afraid.

I AM is how God self-identifies in Scripture: first to Abraham saying, “I AM the Lord (Gen 15:7), I am God Almighty” (Gen 17:1); to Jacob saying, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father;” (Gen 28:13); and to Moses saying, “I AM who I AM” (Ex 3:14). Tell them I AM sent you.

Many of us here have experienced great spiritual awakenings, deeply moving prayer experiences, mystical encounters with God. As your rector, I’ve had the privilege of sharing those stories and processing those experiences with you. It’s inspiring and transforming every time.

Yet, it’s true that when we draw near to the presence of God we realize how great and almighty God truly is and how small and powerless we truly are. Whenever our hubris gives way to true humility the experience is, at first, terrifying. Terrifying because the illusion that we have control of and power over our lives crumbles. Terrifying because we realize that we have been standing in the place of God in our lives and ministries and how very foolish and dangerous that is. Terrifying because what we were so sure we knew about God, ourselves, our church, our future, are washed away in the power of the presence of the living God.

That’s when Jesus comes to us and calms the fearful storms in our hearts saying “It is I” (ego eimi), don’t be afraid.”

Like the disciples, the minute we invite Jesus into our vessel, we find that we’ve arrived at the place we were trying to go. We’re standing on dry land, in the presence of our Savior, who grounds us and roots us in love.

It’s comforting (isn’t it?) that the apostles, who actually saw Jesus perform his many miracles, were still prone to moments of spiritual darkness. My guess is, that happens when our deepest fears rise up: like the fear of not having enough, which may actually be the fear of not feeling beloved enough for God to provide what we need.

Our vessel, our church, is currently in the middle of rough waters. The wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing and our journey feels difficult and dangerous. Some of us may even be terrified.

We can take heart, though because we are grounded and rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. Like the disciples, we’re a faithful group, beloved of God, but we aren’t immune from moments of spiritual darkness and trouble – and thanks be to God for that – because those moments are a gift. They invite us to believe and invite Christ back into our vessel. Once we do that, God can take our insufficiencies and work miracles with them.

I close with a portion of the prayer of St. Brendan, adapted from the 1st person (I) to the 3rd person (we). Let us pray.
“Lord, we will trust You.

Help us to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.

Give us the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, we trust You
to be stronger than each storm within us.

We will trust in the darkness and know
that our times, even now, are in Your hand.

We will believe You for our future,
chapter by chapter, until all the story is written.

Strengthen us with your blessing
and appoint to us the task.

Teach us to live with eternity in view.
Tune our spirit to the music of heaven.

Feed us,and somehow,
make our obedience count for You.”


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