August 2, 2020 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost – Sermon by The Rt. Rev. Donald Phillips

   by Yanna Courtney

Let us pray.  Gracious and loving God, we give you thanks for your presence in this time and place, and within each one of us.  Help us now to open our minds, our hearts, our whole lives, to receive the gift of your living word for us this day.  And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.  Amen

In this morning’s Collect Prayer, which highlights Jesus Christ, we said these words, “He fed the hungry with the bread of his life and the word of his Kingdom.”  And we then asked God to “sustain us by your true and living bread.”, – an obvious reference to Jesus Christ. 

The prayer at the Offering, which we will say in a few minutes, we ask God to “feed us continually with that bread which satisfies all hunger.”  And finally, near the end of the service, we will pray, “May we who have tasted the bread of life live with you forever.”

In the Gospel reading that you have just heard we read about Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000 men and additional women and children from 5 loaves of bread – with leftovers.

So I want to talk to you this morning about bread.  And just to help focus you a little bit on that, I thought I would bring a loaf … which we’ll put here on the Table (places loaf of bread on Altar) and you can gaze at that any time that it feels right to do so. 

Now starting with that Gospel reading – the Feeding of the 5,000 – unfortunately in our rationalistic age, we easily get hung up on if or how Jesus did this miracle.  One explanation, which was, regretfully, popular about 50 years ago, was that Jesus’ teaching was so moving that it touched the hearts of those present in such a way that they pulled out their lunch-boxes and shared them with one another.  That explanation is almost an insult to Jesus Christ and to the 1st century Gospel writers.   How the miracle happened is secondary.  Why it happened and what it means are what’s important.

Now this story stands against a backdrop of several stories from the Hebrew scriptures, and it’s helpful to call those to mind as we interpret this Feeding of the 5,000.  The first is from the book of Exodus – when Moses leads the people of Israel, by God’s command, out of their slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land.  But they spend 40 years in the wilderness on the way, and God miraculously provides the manna from heaven – the bread – to sustain God’s people on their journey from Egypt.    There are also feeding miracles associated with the power of God in some of the great prophets.   Elijah is able to sustain a supply of flour in a widow’s jar so that the widow and her son may have bread for many days.  Elisha feeds 100 men with a modest amount of bread, and some leftover. 

So these miraculous feedings are a sign of God’s power and provision. The sign, of course, of Jesus’ miracle far supersedes that of Elijah or Elisha.  In the Gospel story the crowds have come to listen to Jesus all day long.  And apparently they have no food – it’s a deserted place – so there is no where to quickly gather something to eat, and the disciples are genuinely concerned.  Jesus, initially, tests his disciples with this.  But they don’t rise to the occasion.  The disciples express their concern about the huge crowds and their inability to feed themselves.  Jesus says, “They need not go away – you give them something to eat.”  But ultimately, Jesus feeds them and they have more than enough. 

So on one level, the feeding miracle validates Jesus as a special prophet sent from God – from the same lineage as Elijah and Elisha – but more powerful than those Old Testament examples.  This passage in Matthew is immediately followed by the account of Jesus walking on the water and it ends with Jesus climbing into the board, calming the storm, and the disciples saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  So in some sense, this Jesus of Nazareth shows himself as being divine – as being connected to God.

But the reference to ‘bread’ in the New Testament is not just about physical bread.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”  And in that Gospel passage, Jesus makes it clear that it is the life-giving teaching, wisdom, ‘way’ of God that is the life-giving bread that God provides.  And Jesus, himself, is the accessible source – he is that bread. 

Jesus confirms that understanding earlier in the Gospel message when he is initially tempted by Satan when he is fasting for 40 days in the wilderness and is very hungry.  And Satan tells him to turn some of the stones into bread for himself.  And Jesus refuses, saying, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth God.”, which is clearly, the true life-giving bread.

So it is God’s word, God’s will, God’s wisdom, God’s purposes for each of our lives and for our collective life as a congregation – that is the bread that will give us life.  We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Sure – it refers to our physical needs – but also much more!  Give us, and help us to receive, what we need to live today well – as  you intend us to live – the wisdom, discipline, empathy, compassion, patience, and love that we need for this day.

And God can and will do it – not always in the way that we expect but ultimately what we need in order to be who we need to be!  The challenge for us is to authentically open every area of our lives to receive the gift of Jesus Christ – the living bread – every challenge, every disappointment, every failure, every success, every relationship – so that God’s sustenance can be active in our whole lives. 

Be conscious, for the remainder of this worship service, to every reference to ‘bread.’  It isn’t just a reference to the bread of Holy Communion, but rather to the living Christ who promises to come to us – of which one way is in/through the bread of Holy Communion. 

Most of us are privileged to receive, and expect to receive, regular meals to meet our physical needs everyday.  Likewise, the Risen Christ has made us privileged to receive, and expects us to be open to receive, regular “meals” to meet our total life needs everyday.   So this loaf of bread which I’ve placed here on the altar symbolizes more than just food for our bodies – even more than the sacramental bread of Holy Communion.  It symbolizes God’s life-giving and life-sustaining gift of Jesus Christ – for us and for the whole world. 

Open yourself wide, and receive this day your daily bread!  Amen.