July 25, 2021
the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
When 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?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”
Jesus 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. Then 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.
When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When 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.”
When 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.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.
But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
| Centering Prayer |
In John’s Gospel, nothing is as it first appears.
There is a small detail,
kind of a hidden Da Vinci style clue,
nestled in our lesson from John.
It is almost like a secret door,
behind which there exists something new, wonderful, and marvelous.
Our Gospel author, John,
goes to great effort to camouflage it in plain sight.
The majority of readers of this text
will carelessly read right through it
and never be the wiser.
The difference is like one who drives to the pyramids,
Gets out of the car,
Snaps a few pictures,
Then drives away …
… the careful, methodical, organized archaeologist,
who spends a lifetime
searching for all the secrets one particular pyramid might hold.
Listen and watch what happens
when the key is revealed:
“Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.”
( – 6:4)
Our Gospel lesson from Saint John this morning,
the first part about feeding a hungry crowd,
the second part about the disciples in a boat in a storm,
is rooted in the Passover story.
This seemingly innocuous phrase
is the key to the entire passage.
A quick Old Testament history lesson:
recall the circumstances of the Passover,
two thousand years before Jesus.
The decedents of Abraham are held in Egyptian captivity.
Moses is sent to save them.
The Lord tells him to identify the house of Hebrew families
by smearing the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorway.
That night the angel of death passed over the Hebrew houses
and visited only the homes of Egyptians,
killing all their children.
The Hebrews are delivered.
Deliverance; the first time.
The Egyptian Pharaoh allows the Hebrews to leave,
but has second thoughts after they are gone.
While in hot pursuit
he believes he has Moses trapped by the Red Sea.
God works through Moses to part the water,
allowing the Hebrews to pass safely to the other side.
When Pharaoh attempts to cross with his army,
the water rushes back in,
drowning all the Egyptians.
The Hebrews are saved.
Deliverance; the second time.
As the Hebrews wander through the Sinai,
they grow feint with hunger and thirst.
Life is on the line.
God sends manna from heaven to eat,
and water from a rock to drink.
They are saved.
Deliverance; the third time.
Water and bread
become very powerful symbols
for deliverance and salvation.
By the bread that God miraculously provided
comes the gift of salvation.
It is more than bread that satisfies hunger.
It is bread that is all about deliverance
from pain, suffering, and death in slavery in a foreign land;
deliverance into a chosen place for a chosen people.
Water, which was at first a barrier,
a trap for the hapless Hebrews,
becomes the means of an all-powerful God
to free them,
to deliver them,
while destroying God’s enemies.
Water and Bread.
Deliverance and Salvation.
Spring forward two thousand years
to Jesus in the Gospel of John.
Here we find hapless Hebrews,
Known now as “Jews”,
gathering in crowds to see and experience Jesus.
He does miracles,
healing the sick,
raising the dead,
casting out demons.
“Certainly,” some members of the crowds think,
“if he can do these things,
perhaps he is the new Abraham,
the new Moses,
or the new Elijah.”
A new prophet!
Or, others may have thought,
Maybe, he is the new David,
one destined to be made king?
If God gives him the power to work miracles,
perhaps God will give him the power to kick Rome out of the land,
take the crown,
and re-establish the kingdom, in all its glory,
the way it was in our glory days,
the way it was in the time of David.
These were the expectations that swelled the size of the crowd around Jesus.
They hung on every word.
They watched for every sign.
Prophet or King?
Either way it worked for them.
Jesus was the one to get the job done.
It was the time of Passover.
Every family would retell the story of Moses,
Deliverance and salvation.
It was Passover.
They were with Jesus.
They were hungry.
They were thinking about where their next meal was coming from.
There is a small boy here with five loaves and two fishes
(in an era before grocery bags,
he must have had his arms full!).
Certainly five loaves of bread and two raw fish is not enough to feed a crowd.
A half year of wages wouldn’t be sufficient to buy everyone lunch.
Jesus sits them down,
breaks the bread
and feeds the crowds.
Jesus feeds the crowds with sufficient quantities
the leftovers fill twelve baskets.
Think forward a few years
to Jesus’ final hours,
to the evening before his crucifixion,
to the upper room.
It was Passover,
they were with Him,
and they were hungry.
Jesus sits them down,
breaks the bread
and feeds his disciples …
naming the bread his “body,”
and the cup his “blood.”
When we consider the Gospel of John,
nothing is as it seems.
Think beyond bread …
to Jesus, the bread of life.
The bread of Passover,
that saved and delivered the Jews from starvation.
The bread brings abundant sustenance
to the crowds high above the Galilean valleys.
The bread is also the bread of Eucharist,
that feeds every hungry soul.
Water and bread are powerful symbols
for deliverance and salvation,
deeply rooted in the Passover narrative.
Water not only delivers our ancestors through the Red Sea,
it also miraculously springs forth
from the rock hit by Moses’ stick,
providing life giving water to the parched and thirsty Jews.
Remember Jesus went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John?
John had been baptizing the crowds
with a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Water symbolically washed every sin away.
The sinless one steps forward to be baptized.
“For what possible purpose?” we ask.
Up from the water Jesus is greeted
with the descent of the Holy Spirit
and the voice of God speaking from a cloud,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus begins his public ministry,
baptized by the water,
blessed by a heavenly Father.
Water marks the transition
from a life living in the world
to a life living for our heavenly Father.
Listen carefully to John’s Gospel,
when we hear in today’s lesson
that the disciples set off in a boat on the Sea of Galilee,
to cross to the other side,
under cover of darkness.
The sea was rough and the wind was blowing.
The disciples were rowing, it says,
and they were growing afraid.
When, lo, they suddenly see … Jesus,
whom they had left behind,
hiding from the Jews
(less they made him king).
They see him
walking on the water towards the boat.
Now there is something you don’t see every day!
They were terrified!
Jesus walking on water.
The storm raging, pitching them about.
Trapped in a seemingly impossible situation.
Facing death by water.
Jesus walks over to them.
“It is I; do not be afraid.” He tells them. ( – 6:20)
With the calming assurance of Jesus
The disciples immediately reached landfall.
They were saved,
Delivered from death,
At the hand,
By the will
of an all-powerful God.
It was God who created the water and the air,
and it is God who is able to reign it in,
in a moment of control,
in order to work His every will and means.
Think forward to the resurrected Jesus,
who, right before his ascension into heaven,
looks to his disciples and instructs them to
“Go into all the world.
Baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Teach them all that I have taught you.
And lo, I will be with you to the end of the age.”
– Matthew 28
The water of Passover deliverance;
Life giving water for wandering Hebrews;
The water of our Lord’s baptism;
The water that is floats the disciples to land;
and the water that is central to Christ’s great commission to His disciples …
This is the very same water
as the water of our Baptism.
There you have it.
Look and see
the wonderful treasure hidden behind
the camouflaged doors of scripture.
Bread and Eucharist.
Water and Baptism.
Signs and symbols of deliverance and salvation.
Our passage for today begs the observant
to explore beneath the surface,
beyond the horizon of two simple miracle narratives.
With the Gospel of John, nothing is as it seems.
When we look beyond the wind tossed sea to see Jesus,
we can begin to unlock the mysterious nature of incarnation.
When we look beneath the obvious connection between bread and hunger,
we reveal the mysterious nature
of God’s sustaining, sufficient grace.
Bread and water.
To the starving,
it may seem as the very least that is necessary to maintain life.
To the faithful,
water and bread are understood
as Baptism and Eucharist,
symbols of deliverance and salvation,
God’s amazing grace
and continued presence of Jesus Christ in the world.
In today’s Gospel,
think beyond the sea.
Imagine more than mere bread.
Give thanks to God.