July 25, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth. Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven and share this bread with all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Psalm 14

1Fools say in their hearts, “There | is no God.”
  They are corrupt, every deed is vile; there is no one who does | any good.
2The Lord looks down from heaven up- | on us all,
  to see if there is anyone who is wise, who seeks | after God.
3They have all proved faithless; all alike | have turned bad;
  there is none who does good; | no, not one.
4Have they no knowledge, all those | evildoers
  who eat up my people like bread and do not call up- | on the Lord? R
5See how they trem- | ble with fear,
  because God is in the company | of the righteous.
6Your aim is to confound the plans of | the afflicted,
  but the Lord| is their refuge.
7Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come | out of Zion!
  When the Lord restores the fortunes of the people, Jacob will rejoice and Israel | will be glad. 

Ephesians 3:14-21

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I 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, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
  20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

John 6:1-21

1Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
  15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

  16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The feeding of the multitude is such a gift of a scripture passage to preach on the Sunday after Peace Camp week. This is a community program Trinity has helped put on since I think 2017. Learning Peace: A Camp for Kids is a four-day camp, 9am-3pm, held at the Hispanic Cultural Center for youth ages 6-13. Morning classes this year centered on conflict resolution, mindfulness, and connecting with nature. In the afternoons we have special cultural interactive performances, play for peace games, and crafts. This year we had just under 60 kids each day.

It is week full of the abundance captured in today’s scripture passage. I always wonder if we will have enough—enough food, enough volunteers, enough activities, enough patience, enough compassion, enough determination, enough energy, enough time, enough empathy, enough organization. I never worry much because we have been through the event several times and the leadership team has built a lot of trust. Even this year, when our coordinator needed to step back for personal reasons, all the pieces got picked up. It is the week each year when I exercise plenty of human agency while simultaneously trusting the Holy Spirit to show up and provide.

Even though there were moments this year when I grumbled, I still felt some of the awe I assume the crowd experienced on the hillside in Galilee when the preacher, healer, miracle worker Jesus fed them all with a little bread and fish. 

This telling of the story, told by the evangelist John, is especially powerful. This is the only miracle story told in all four gospels. That should be a clue to any reader of its importance. That Jesus has compassion, that God is a God of abundance, that caring for physical bodies is important are all part of this significant story and all tell us crucial things about God in Jesus Christ. 

But just as important to the parts of the story found in all four gospels are the details that are only part of John’s telling. I have tended to not dwell on textual differences when preaching, thinking it distracts from the good news. But this morning is the exception because John’s unique details are so important to the life of faith, to discipleship today. 

In John’s telling, and only in John’s telling, it is Jesus himself who distributes the food. He does not delegate or equip his disciples for the task. He gives the food away himself. Why is this significant? Because the Last Supper in John does not include an actual supper. It includes the all-important foot washing, which we remember and reenact each Maundy Thursday.

In John’s gospel, the feeding of the multitude is the Lord’s Supper moment. This is the moment when Jesus gives himself away. Jesus is intimate with the people. And he gives himself away, not in an upper room with his disciples, but in the everyday stuff of life. Remember that—he is with the crowd. He is in the midst of conversations, hunger, friendships, family drama, even the bugs and leaves and grass of the natural world.

And, in John’s telling Jesus does not use any kind of bread. He uses Barley Bread. This was the bread commonly available to the poor. One scholar wrote that it might also recall the Old Testament story of Ruth, who returns to Naomi during the barley harvest. In rabbinic interpretations, Boaz’s gift to Ruth anticipates the messianic banquet for the poor.

So, in those times when you have wondered if God is with you in the everyday, the times when we sense the Holy Spirit working but can hardly believe it, we can trust that God is in fact with us. That time this week when I was at first so tired and the next day so grateful for the kids and adults God had put in my life through Peace Camp, I thought about the story in John 6. Yes, this is our God’s M.O., God’s method of operation, to show up in the regular stuff. Furthermore, God will always care for the poor and ostracized. Ours is a God with Barley Bread.

And this brings me to what may be most wonderful and remarkable about this miracle story. One of my favorite theologians claims that “what is truly amazing is not that a seeming human could multiply loaves and fishes in so astounding a manner but that this human being could represent, but his words and deeds, such a sign of hope and healing that hundreds of needy people would follow him about and feel that their hunger for ‘the bread of life’ had been [satisfied].” Continuing to the next story, “What is truly awe-inspiring is not that someone could walk on the surface of the water without sinking, but that his presence among ordinary, insecure, and timid persons could calm their anxieties and cause them to walk where they feared to walk before.”

This is not to take away any of the awe and wonder from this most powerful and beautiful story. Nor is it meant to take away awe and wonder from the ways each of us has experienced the power of God through the Holy Spirit working through our lives. Whether we call them God-sightings, theophanies (a Greek term for the appearance of a deity), experiences of the divine, or Holy Spirit moments, I hope you are having them. God shows up in the ordinary all the time. We only have to have our senses alert, to practice each day being aware of God’s presence. 

We might imagine that feeding of the multitude as this beautiful peaceful pastoral scene. And many artists have taken their turns portraying the event. But these were hungry people, probably oppressed by the Roman Empire, almost surely seeking hope. Then here comes this Jesus and he not only gives them actual barley bread. He gives them himself. He gives them, we might assume, a sense of belonging, identity as followers of him. He also gives them hope.

Healing, perhaps a more wholistic and this-world word for salvation, forgiveness and hope are the gifts received even today in the Lord’s Supper. It does not matter if you participate in the Lord’s Supper in the outdoor chapel at Luther Heights, in the living room of one of our homebound members, at your kitchen table during online worship, at the campfire during the church campout, or in this sanctuary. Jesus gives himself away once again, meeting you wherever you are, when the words are said, “broken for you” and “shed for you.” Healing and forgiveness are as real today as on that hillside thousands of years ago.

But again, the remarkable thing about this story is that Jesus’ takes the meal, what I clearly see as him instituting the Lord’s Supper, to the hillside, full of grass, caterpillars, physical and spiritual hunger, messy and thriving relationships. It is this event, this powerful story, that gives me permission to speak quite frankly about the holiness of so many of our other meals—soup suppers during Advent or Lent, potlucks, meal trains for people who or grieving or sick, the women’s luncheon, or family dinners in each of your homes. Yes, Jesus is there too, during the every-day. There, too, he is giving us hope and healing, filling us with the bread of life, himself. 

Please do not ask me to explain in this sermon how the Holy Spirit does this work. The “how” is fun to talk about, but what is important is the “why.” Why did Jesus give himself away in barley bread? Why does Jesus give himself away in bread and wine at this table? Why does the Holy Spirit show up in all the ordinary meals and encounters of life? Because…God’s love is everlasting and as abundant as during that miracle of feeding the multitude. And God will use any and every opportunity to make sure we know we are beloved and are part of the kingdom of God.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Rooted in Christ and sustained by the Spirit, we offer our prayers for the church, the world, and all of creation.

A brief silence.We pray for the church. Bless the ministries of our neighboring congregations (especially). Empower churches throughout the world and encourage missionaries who accompany global neighbors. Kindle in us a spirit of collaboration, that all people may know your loving works. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We pray for creation. Send rain to lands experiencing drought and come to the aid of those enduring sweltering heat. Nurture wheat and barley crops grown for the nourishment of your people and conserve aquatic habitats and fish populations. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We pray for those who govern. Cast out arrogance, selfishness, and corruption and instruct those who lead to practice compassion and humility. Inspire them with a vision of the common good and a commitment to ensure that all who hunger are fed. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We pray for those bowed down by heavy burdens: those who are unemployed or underemployed, those unable to find affordable housing, and those without health insurance. Console those who grieve and hear the cries of those who call to you for healing (especially). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We pray for this assembly. Deepen our resolve to use what we have to serve those in need. When we worry that we do not have enough resources for ministry, assure us of your abundance. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.We give thanks for those who have died. As you sustained them through all their days, so dwell in our hearts, that we may have the power to comprehend, with (the apostle James, name/s, and) all the saints, the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We lift these and all our prayers to you, O God, confident in the promise of your saving love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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