Thursday, July 22, 2021

9th Pentecost, 2021-B: Divine provision

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21 

En el nombre del Dios qué es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

 In my work facilitating with churches, there are two realities my partner, Martin, and I remind churches of: 1) Baptism: God is always with us; and 2) Communion: the abundance of grace, wisdom, insight, and joy that results from intentionally connecting ourselves to God. 

While providing a means for discerning and clarifying a church’s divine purpose and listening for the ways God is guiding them to live that out, I spend a lot of time reminding the faithful to get out of their heads and into their hearts. 

If we could think our way through life, we wouldn’t need faith or God. But we can’t. With all of our gifts of intellect and experience, we must, in all humility, remember that “our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, nor our ways God’s ways” to paraphrase the prophet, Isaiah. (55:8)

Our goal, then, as people of God, is always to have our heads, that is, our thoughts, connected to our hearts, where God is continually speaking to us, individually and as a church community. This is the gift of our Baptism, and what the epistle writer refers to as being “rooted and grounded in love.” It is in this state we can “know the love of Christ that surpasses [mere human] knowledge.”

I have the privilege of witnessing how often churches are surprised by how much grace, mercy, and faithfulness God is always offering, even in what seems like the worst of earthly circumstances. When we make space for God in all of our planning and doing as individuals and as a church, God works in us, and we “accomplish abundantly far more” than we could ever have asked or imagined.

God loves us so much more than we can fathom – all of us, all of humanity – and is ready to provide all we need to establish peace, harmony, and unity on the earth, as it is in heaven. This is affirmed for us in today’s gospel story of the lavishness of divine provision: the feeding of the five thousand.

This story harkens back to 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 leftover – and there was.

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

Jesus wasn’t disappointed with them for resorting to their default – their own thoughts. This test was his gift to them to free them from the limits their thinking put on their faith. If we allow it, this story frees us too.

Taking the offering of insufficient earthly 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. :)  In fact, the bread in this Communion was barley loaf – the food of the poor.

When the people had eaten and were satisfied, the disciples gathered up what was leftover, and it filled 12 baskets. As you know, the number 12 is symbolic and refers to the 12 tribes of Israel – the people of God.
The image is of containers (baskets) holding new people - people whom God brought to be fed – and it included women and children, sinners, and maybe even some Gentiles.

I imagine some present would have been unhappy about including everyone gathered on the grass. Some of them probably wouldn’t have been deemed worthy of the resources they were using up, yet Jesus fed them all - an important lesson for our time.

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.

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 symbolism? 

The community of disciples are on a vessel in the Sea of Galilee. John says it was dark, and he’s speaking of spiritual darkness not just the absence of daylight. John describes a wild wind, which is 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 how God self-identifies in Scripture: to Abraham saying, “I AM the Lord (Gen 15:7), 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. Tell them I AM sent you." (Ex 3:14) In this gospel, Jesus is claiming his divine identity saying, I AM here – don’t be afraid.

Yet, it’s true that when we draw near to the presence of God and our hubris gives way to true humility the experience is, at first, terrifying, just as it was for the disciples. It’s terrifying because the illusion that we have control of and power over our lives, crumbles. It’s 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. It’s terrifying because what we were so sure we knew about God, ourselves, our church, our future, is 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 “I Am here” (ego eimi). Don’t be afraid.”

Like the disciples, the minute we invite Jesus into our vessel, whether that vessel is ourselves or our church, 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 that the apostles, who actually saw Jesus perform his many miracles, were still prone to moments of spiritual darkness. Those moments are to be embraced, not avoided or feared because it is in the dark spaces that God seeds and roots new life in us.

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 remind us that we believe that God is always with us and that God can take our insufficiencies and work miracles with them.

Let us pray… God of love and mercy, we seek your presence; not because you are ever absent from us but because we are often absent from you. Open our eyes to the reality of your presence in and among us, that we may enjoy the abundance of grace, wisdom, insight, and joy you continually offer us. In true humility, we offer our hearts and minds to be connected in you, so that in every moment we may know you, feel you, hear you, and heed you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

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