2 Samuel 11:1-15+Psalm 14(Ephesians 3:14-21)+John 6:1-21
Fifteen years or so ago, the then-bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania was giving his annual convention address at the cathedral in Philadelphia, and he was trying to make, I suppose, a memorable point. At some point in his sermon, he picked up a bucket of water and hurled the water down the center aisle, splashing water all over the limestone flooring and spattering those seated a little too close to the aisle. It was very effective in the moment, and I certainly have never forgotten it. The problem is, I can’t remember what his point was. Neither can anyone else I’ve checked in with who was there that day.
A sermon illustration, no matter how good in the moment, is of little use if people only remember the story and not the point of the story.
Jesus understood this.
While Jesus’s parables about lost sheep and a farmer scattering seeds might make little sense to us who are so far removed from agricultural life, we remember that he told these stories as a way of explaining who God is and what God’s reign is like; stories of a God who never gives up seeking us out; a God who scatters goodness around extravagantly without regard to who is and is not worthy of it.
The feeding of the 5,000 is not a parable. It is an event that shows up in all four gospel narratives, and as I have told you before, such multiple attestation gives a lot of weight to whether or not it actually happened.
Over the next several Sundays, we take a break from Mark’s gospel and shift to John’s 6th chapter, popularly known as the bread discourse. It’s all about bread, both the kind that is made with wheat and water and the kind that is the body of Christ, the meal that we share each week at this table.
Our story begins in familiar territory with the disciples. In this case, Philip, failing to understand who Jesus is. Where would we get enough food for all these people? Tell them to go away. We then get a reminder that God, who may be all-powerful, does not work alone. Other than casting the stars into the heavens and pulling dry land out of the murky chaos, God has always relied on human agency to do her work, whether it was Noah building an ark or Moses using his voice against pharaoh or David bringing the ark into Jerusalem. God has chosen us as partners in the miraculous. Today, it’s a small boy whose mother just happened to pack him a good lunch that morning. This miracle may show up in all the gospels, but only in John do we hear about this boy and his five loaves and two fish. It was probably a feast for a boy but would have been meager rations even if just shared among the disciples. And yet, Jesus can take that small offering and spread a banquet for thousands. If that is not a lesson in giving what we have to offer to God’s work, I don’t know what is.
Our journey through the David saga takes an ugly turn today. For so long, this episode with Bathsheba has cast her in a negative light – a temptress, a seductress, a stalker even if you watch the 1951 film version with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. Make no mistake: Bathsheba was a victim, raped by a man who believed he could do whatever he wanted and get away with it, up to and including having her husband murdered to cover up his crime. It is a story as old as time, the ability of power and privilege and patriarchy to corrupt, leaving nothing but victims in its wake. Victims that included the child born of this assault.
But God loved David. God did not abandon David. David is remembered as the great king of Israel, even though he did this and many other horrible things. How could God be so forgiving?
Isn’t that what we believe to be the nature of God? God loves. God forgives. Over and over again. I don’t think anyone sitting here has conspired to murder to cover up a sexual assault, but all of us “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If God can forgive David, surely you can’t doubt that God could forgive us, too?
After the 5,000 are fed and the basketsful of leftovers have been gathered, Jesus runs away because he, unlike David, does not wish to be made king. He knows that his kingdom is not of this world. Maybe he even knows that such earthly power might corrupt even him. Whichever it is, he runs away, up to the mountain alone, to be with God, if only for a little while.
But the disciples run into trouble out on the sea, and so Jesus must go to them, joining them in the boat and getting them safely to shore.
“It is I; do not be afraid,” he says (John 6:20).
Jesus has now set the scene, performed the signs and wonders of a miraculous feeding and walking on water, and in the coming weeks, he will make the connection between eating physical bread and himself as bread of life, of trusting without fear, that God will raise them up. A sermon illustration in the flesh.
For the months and months of pandemic when we were not gathering in person and not receiving the bread of life, we hungered, as those who came to Jesus hungered. They thought they were hungry for bread, but Jesus satisfied their hunger with so much more.
Jesus makes that same offer to us here. Our physical hunger will certainly not be satisfied with a slim wafer, a morsel of bread. But everything we need to sustain us in a life of faith, we will find right here, gathered together, offering what we have no matter how insignificant it might seem. Bring all you have and all you are to this table. Miracles have been done with less.