NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST July 25, 2021
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3: 14-21; Saint John 6: 1-21
In nomine Jesu!
Grace and peace to you from God – Father, ☩ Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Once upon a time in a city far, far away I served with a colleague who subscribed to and always lived by the maxim: Expect the worst – prepare for the worst – and you’ll never be disappointed. Some of us might also subscribe to that maxim. Whether we do or not, the Good News is this: Today and for the next four Sundays, people who do subscribe to this show up for us in the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and in the readings from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel; and God and Jesus address them all. This is especially important for our congregation, filled with type A personalities who, at this time of our life together want an answer to one question: What’s the plan. As the members of our staff, the congregation council, and those who have worked with me in the past and are worshiping with us remotely now have quickly learned, planning is one of my passions. So, over these next five weeks I hope we will be listening carefully as John’s Jesus addresses us inveterate planners and shapes the way we plan.
But first, a word about the sixth chapter of John, our Gospel for today and the next four weeks. The theme of this chapter, introduced today as Jesus feeds “about five thousand” with a boy’s five loaves and two fish is, in John’s Jesus; own words, “I am the Bread of life;” a sentence you will hear every Sunday for the next four Sundays. For us “liturgical nerds,” this is the Ur-text, the foundation for all Eucharistic theology. Today John signals this, first when he sets this “when the Passover was near” and then, when he describes Jesus’ actions with the bread and fish – taking, giving thanks, breaking, and distributing – with the exact words we will hear Pastor Liebster speak today when she stands at this table. Ultimately, John wants us to understand that when it comes to God’s bounty – God’s love and God’s grace – there is always enough and a little bit more. And our response to that is fearlessly joy-filled thanksgiving. We’ll hear more about this from the next four preachers, so let’s get back to us and especially the Scripture’s inveterate planners, all of whom are of a “plan for the worst” mindset.
Let’s start with Elisha and his servant. They’ve got more food and fewer people to feed than Jesus and the disciples – only a hundred people and the man from Baal-shalisah’s “twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain.” What this snippet of Elisha’s story doesn’t tell us, however, is that matters are in fact much worse; Elisha, his servant, the man from Baal-shalisha, those hundred people and all of Israel have been experiencing a famine for a very long time.
So, the servant’s question, “how can I set this before a hundred people” is, at the very least, practical. Run out of food, especially miraculous food, and you run the risk a riot. The servant is simply planning for the worst. As one of our former Presidents, a guy from Texas used to say, “Not goin’ do it; wouldn’t be prudent.” Elisha, and God, respectfully disagree; and the hundred are not just fed, they’re satisfied.
Fast forward 800 years later to the crowd with Jesus and the disciples on that Sea of Galilee hillside. The disciples are, once again, simply being prudent. They plan to send the crowd, unsatisfied, away, and have dinner with Jesus alone. Moreover, Philip, the team economist, has done the calculations and concluded, “we just can’t afford this.” These guys also are planning for the worst.
Jesus is unimpressed. (You know the rest of the story.) Jesus’ does his Eucharistic thing – he takes, gives thanks, breaks, and distributes the loaves and fishes. Everyone is satisfied and there’s a whole lot left to share, probably by the crowd with their loved ones when they finally arrive home.
What’s the point, for them and for us?
It’s certainly not that Jesus – and Elisha for that matter – can do miracles and we can’t. to all kinds of misuse of the Scriptures, including skepticism about these things ever happening and the persistent explanation that with the boy’s generous offer of his lunch, Jesus shamed everyone else into sharing theirs. The Bible and Jesus never use tactics like that.
No. The real purpose of these narratives, and of the ones we will experience for the next four weeks, is to remind us, first and foremost, that God is trustworthy, and to invite us to trust God’s trustworthiness as we plan and when we act; and most important of all, to plan and act from a foundation of thanksgiving and with a joyful and fearless heart. And in case, like the disciples, we didn’t understand this about the bread, John throws in the story about the storm, and the boat, and Jesus’ walking on the water to drive home the point: God is faithful. Have faith. Live thankfully and fearlessly.
Which brings us to this table. The means of grace. The gift of the Spirit. The bread of life. A foretaste of the feast to come, to be sure, but also a paradigm for daily life.
What’s our plan? We don’t yet know. But thanks be to God, we do know who to trust, where to stand, and how to make them. Faithfully, fearlessly, with joy and thanksgiving, together with the communion of saints on earth and in heaven. When we do that, we’ll never be disappointed.
Amandus J. Derr
Interim Senior Pastor
Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church