9 Pentecost B—7/26/15
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Pr. Scott Kramer
A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days with my family. From Iowa, from Texas, from Colorado, from Washington we gathered in Oregon for rest, relaxation and sightseeing. These family reunions at their best are a time of renewing our relationships. We remember who we are by telling stories from the past, breaking bread and spending time together.
Holy Communion is our weekly family reunion. It is our practice of coming together and remembering who we are. The Holy Spirit gathers us to hear the old stories of our faith, to break bread together, and to remember our common calling and common purpose.
Holy Communion is not about duty, empty tradition, or a private experience of God. It connects us with the communion of saints in all times and all places. It’s big! It’s public! Most of all, it is an answer to Jesus’ call to love one another.
Today’s reading from John is the story of Jesus feeding five thousand people. No caterer. No budget.
Listen carefully to what happened. Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to his disciples… That should sound familiar, because when we gather for communion each week we remember that In the night in which he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples…
In the feeding of the five thousand, in the practice of Holy Communion, we find a pattern for what love looks like. First, love recognizes God’s abundance. Secondly, it gives thanks for that abundance. Thirdly, out of gratitude it gives all that it has.
The story of Jesus feeding five thousand people is not a story about what God can do for us if we only believe hard enough. It is a love story, about what God has already done for us, and how we can learn more deeply from Christ’s example to love one another.
In last Saturday’s Seattle Times was an article by a local Christian named John Locatelli. It’s titled, How Christians Learn to Love. The author writes: The church is not the building, the rules it writes down nor even the Bible, but rather [the church is] the members in it and how they treat themselves and others.
Locatelli invites us to go back in history to remember that Christian beliefs have not remained static but at their best evolve. Many Christians, for example, once thought that human slavery was not only acceptable but God’s will. Many Christians used to think that racism and discrimination were not only acceptable but God’s will. Many Christians used to believe that women should not speak in church, own property, or vote. Christians used to believe that the Earth was only six thousand years old.
And for all of these beliefs—in fact, any belief you can imagine–a person can easily find support in the Bible! And we have often not gotten it right. A “bottom line” question that tests the integrity of our beliefs is this: To what extent do our beliefs and practices reflect the love of Jesus Christ expressed through us for all people?
How Christians Learn to Love. Some of the old issues we still haven’t gotten right—racism, for example. But to the old arguments we add current disagreements on the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians in the church. Disagreements on climate change. But whether it’s sexuality or stewardship of the earth, Christians are still likely to go to the Bible—if we turn to it at all!–and choose those passages that support what we already believe. It’s a false use of scripture called “proof-texting”: Cherry-picking the Bible for passages that back up what we already believe, rather than allowing the Bible to judge our assumptions and habits of belief, leading us to a deeper understanding and practice of love.
Jesus quoted scripture, too. But when he did he kept it simple: All the law and the prophets are summed up in one commandment: You shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength—and your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus did not feed five thousand people to fulfill any commandment, except the law of love. First, he recognized in five loaves and two fish all that God given him. The first response of his disciples was predictable—(“We don’t have enough!”)–but Jesus saw in these simple things the power and love of God. This led him to a deep gratitude, and gratitude led him to give all he had, which led to a result far beyond what maybe even he anticipated.
Recognizing God’s abundant love. Gratitude for God’s abundant love. Giving everything away out of gratitude for God’s abundant love. He could have said, “That’s a start—let’s keep these loaves and fishes until we have enough for all!” But he didn’t; he gave it all away. This is what the practice of love looks like, affirmed through the communion meal we share together each week.
But what does it look like to “give away everything?” We immediately think of money or possessions, and we know that–short of death–none of us will do that. But what if giving away everything means giving up our ideas of what we think is possible?
A few minutes ago we heard these words: I pray that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love…Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.
Think of that. Our beliefs tend to be rooted in what we think is practical or “sensible,” or whatever protects our self-interest. But the author of Ephesians speaks of being “rooted in love.” When we let go of what we believe is possible, God is able to do what we can’t even ask or imagine. The alternative to belief in what we think is possible is rooted and grounded in the law of love.
Without being rooted and grounded in love Christians would still be trading slaves. Christians would still believe that the white race is superior. Without the renewing of our hearts and minds we would still think that men are superior to women. And today new challenges force us to consider what other areas of our minds are still subject to human rules and traditions and customs, instead of the gospel law of love.
Dear friends in Christ, the love of Jesus is not a sentimental love. It’s not a private matter. The love of Christ is a matter of life and death for all whom Jesus has called beloved. Our beliefs are revealed to the world through our attitudes and actions toward others.
Each week we gather here at Sunday worship for a family reunion. At our best we remember who we are by hearing the old stories and breaking bread together. Confession and the assurance of God’s forgiveness lead us to gratitude. Gratitude leads us to give all that we have, including our beliefs and habits, to the one who can do far more than we can ask or imagine, both for us and for the world God loves!