A Sermon preached by Fr Peter Wolton at St George's and St John the Baptist Churches on 26 July 2015
The Gospel writers see the miracles as clear evidence that Jesus was the son of God and the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. To understand the meaning of the Feeding of the 5000, we need to remind ourselves of manna given in the desert. Moses, the giver of the Law said “God fed the Israelites with manna in the desert to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
And as we heard in our first reading today, the prophet Elisha, anointed by Elijah as his successor, had been given twenty loaves to feed 100 men and told them. “Thus said the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.””
I have no doubt with the Feeding of the 5000, Jesus wrought a creative act, going one better than Moses and Elisha. As William Temple, the former Archbishop of Canterbury writes, “If the Lord was indeed incarnate, the story presents no insuperable difficulties.”
The link between the feeding of the 5000 and the Eucharist would have been very clear to the early Christians as would the meaning of the first miracle, at Cana of Galilee, turning water into wine.
A common theme for the recipients of the healing miracles or witnesses of the creative miracles, is having faith and letting go.
Today, I could share with you some of the wonderful theological writing about the two miracles in today’s Gospel.
But I am not going to, but rather focus on two things:
· FIRST, Having faith and letting go, because if we can do this, it changes our lives
· SECOND, the verse 15 that comes between the miracles, about Jesus withdrawing because they wish to make him king. The reaction of the crowd is the sort of reaction we also can feel within, and it prevents our lives from being as God would wish.
St. Philip in today’s Gospel demonstrates that he had yet to understand the true nature of the incarnate God in the person of Jesus. When he was asked by our Lord “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” he gave the response of a good accountant with a considered answer based on calculations of quantities and cost. “Six month’s wages would not be enough to feed this lot…”
Having faith and letting go is something we all need to do more of. We also need to be alert to lessons or parables from our experience of everyday life which can be a great boost to our faith. Someone who was a master of this was Henri Nouwen, the Dutch born Roman Catholic monk who became a Professor of Divinity at Harvard.
He loved circuses and watched "The Flying Rodleighs,” South African trapeze artists in Germany. He recalled “I will never forget how enraptured I became when I first saw the Rodleighs move through the air, flying and catching as elegant dancers. The next day, I returned to the circus to see them again and introduced myself to them as one of their great fans. They invited me to attend their practice sessions, gave me free tickets, asked me to dinner, and suggested I travel with them for a week in the near future. I did, and we became good friends.
"One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, 'As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.' 'How does it work?' I asked. 'The secret,' Rodleigh said, 'is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.'
“‘You do nothing!' I said, surprised. 'Nothing,' Rodleigh repeated. 'The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It's Joe's task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe's wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.'
"When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction, the words of Jesus flashed through my mind: 'Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.' [Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say,] 'Don't be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don't try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.'
For me, Father Peter, the analogy of the “flyer” and the “catcher” has much to do with the Feeding of the 5000 and the verse about the crowd seeking to make Jesus King.
'The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher.” The worst thing that could happen to Jesus was that the crowd should try to make him king. The consequences could be and indeed at a future Passover would be, disastrous. Trying to make him King is what Archbishop William Temple calls “natural religion, when we are impelled by our natural impulses and which tries to use God for our purposes.“ If we are not careful, much of our prayer is like that, battering at the doors of heaven, demanding audience for our proposals, asking God to do this and that.” The Archbishop advised “Faith consists in leaving Him to take His own way.”
Recognising the will of God and leaving Him to take His own way.
In the Newsletter, I have a good example of this, the following true story.
In early 1945 an army chaplain responsible for Jerusalem and much of the Middle East had to go to Cairo for ten days. He was away for two Sundays. He left the Commanding Officer in charge of services. He had forgotten that on the Tuesday, a service of Confirmation had been arranged long ago at St. George’s Cathedral.
What I am now about to share with you was told by Bishop Stephen Platten last month on our Ordination retreat ahead of our group of Deacons being priested.
The CO was astonished when on the Monday the Bishop’s secretary telephoned to confirm details of the morrow’s service and to ask for names of the candidates.
“Well what did you do?” said the Chaplain. “Surely you just sent him away explaining that there had been a terrible mistake?”
“Not at all, “said the CO, “you can’t send a Bishop away. No. no. I ordered six men to step forward to be confirmed.”
The priest was deeply angered by the CO’s actions. This is appalling. They had no training. You have made a mockery of the sacrament of confirmation.”
In a frosty atmosphere, the CO said that what had to be done had been done and given the circumstances he felt a different approach was merited.
"The consequence was......"
The consequence was that fifteen years later, the chaplain received a letter from a man saying that he was going to be ordained at the coming Petertide and asked that the chaplain to pray for him. “I am,” the letter said, “one of those six candidates who was confirmed in Jerusalem that time when you could not be with us.”
The chaplain, by then retired, was by now a man of great humility and replied. “I am delighted to receive your news and of course I will pray for you. You will be interested to know that out of the six candidates you were confirmed with on that day, you are the fourth to be ordained.”
To both priests and God’s people:
We are but vessels.
Let the Lord work in his own way.