The Work of the Church

The Gospel lesson of Matthew 14:14-22 :

And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.

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Who is in this crowd upon whom Jesus has compassion/mercy?  Some who are sick, lost souls, some seeking God, the walking wounded, those who have lost their faith, the downcast and the outcasts.   But also, there were curiosity seekers, non-believers, some who are hostile to Christ – His enemies.  Throughout the Gospel His enemies follow Him everywhere, listening to His words, gathering evidence against Him – but they are in the mix and often very near Christ for they engage Him in conversation.

Christ ministers to all of them.  His grace, love, mercy, compassion is not limited to His disciples, but extends to all whom He sees.  Jesus teaches us by His own example to love and commands us to love one another in the same that that He loves us.  He is moved by compassion when He looks on us.   We have to be aware of how Christ loves us and to see the world through the eyes of Christ.

How are we to judge others?  With compassion.  Any who come to Christ, who seek Christ for any reason are to be welcomed by us and blessed by us.  This is how the Lord Jesus loves us.  He expects us to love as He loves us.  Is it hard? Yes.  Is it impossible?  Hardly.

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When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass.

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And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.

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Jesus does not simply make their hunger go away by divine magic.  Rather, Christ feeds them.  He blesses the only food they had, and feeds 5000 men besides women and children from this food.  The food doesn’t miraculously appear on each plate, but rather the disciples distribute it.  The disciples have to work to make sure the people are fed.  Christ receives from His disciples the food which some people had worked to make possible – bread and fish.  He takes this human made food and blesses it.  There is synergy between the disciples and Christ, working together for the good of all the people.  This is the Church.

Christ entrusts some problems to us His disciples and asks us to deal with the problems.  He doesn’t miraculously make the problems go away.   He says to us: I am not taking hunger away, but I empower you to do the work necessary for these people to feel cared for and to be fed.   The disciples themselves had to provide the food and distribute it.

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We obey Christ not by having problems go away but by dealing with them.  The Gospel lesson began with Jesus seeing the crowd and feeling compassion for them.  The Gospel lesson ends with Jesus feeding them.  It is the work of the Church.

Being of One Mind: Satisfaction Guaranteed

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 30 July 2017

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ….

St. Paul frequently in his Epistles calls the Christians to  prevent divisions within the community and to be of one heart and mind, something we pray for at the Liturgy [“Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess.”  AND  “And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and praise Your all-honorable and majestic Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.”]

When we install a new Parish Council, they take an oath of office that among other things says they promise to work to preserve the unity of the community.  Unity is not given to us automatically by God at our baptisms.  We have to work for , and the leadership of the parish is especially entrusted with this task.

We know it is hard to have a community of people agree on everything, and Christian history shows us how often Christians have failed to maintain the unity of the faith – not only on the local level but sometimes at the level of the entire Church.  Divisions have plagued us Christians, and it is incumbent on each of us to work hard to preserve unity within the Church.  I say this, not because we have any pressing division we are facing, but we all know there are countless issues that we disagree on, some very minor, but still it is a task, and no easy one to maintain unity.

Jesus prayed:  “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will* believe in Me through their word;“that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:“I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  (John 17:20-23)

Paul’s wish that we be of one mind, without disunity, is telling us to fulfill Christ’s prayer for us.

In an unusual way, the oneness of heart and mind has a segue with today’s Gospel lesson.

Gospel: Matthew 14:14-22
And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were satisfied, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.

In the rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, Judas sings about Jesus:

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.

One can wonder why Jesus came when He did, 2000 years ago.  We think we would like to walk with Him and hear him today, thinking then we would know for sure if He was true or not, unlike those Palestinian backwater rubes who were easily taken in by “miracles.”

But if Jesus came today and wanted to assemble 5000 men besides women and children, it would be no easy task to arrange.  There would be permits which would be needed, and sanitation and security.  There would have to be plans for emergencies, first aid stations, water bottles, bathrooms, and the authorities wouldn’t allow that many people to assemble with no food in sight.  What kind of parking area would be needed for the cars for all those people?

And then when Jesus promised to feed everyone, and all He gave was bread, there would be mass complaining.  Some would say they are on special diets – high protein, low carb, glutton free, there would be complaints about allergies.  Some would want something with the bread, not bread alone.  Butter and jelly, or perhaps meat and cheese for sandwiches.  And condiments.  Humans can’t live on bread alone!  That is not a balanced diet.  There would be a lot of unhappy people who would not be happy that all they were given is some bread.

Maybe the biggest miracle that Jesus did comes in the line, “So they all ate and were satisfied“.  Amazing, He satisfied 5000 men plus women and children.  Everyone was satisfied, and all they got was bread. [though the Gospel passage mentions the disciples also had fish, it only mentions Christ blessing and distributing the loaves, the fish aren’t mentioned as being distributed].

We can imagine what would happen if at our Fellowship Hour, all we had to offer was bread!  People would demand at least donuts!  And coffee!

But in the Gospel lesson, they are satisfied with bread.  Maybe that is why Christ came 2000 years ago.  He looked into the future, into the 21st Century and realized no one today would consider being offered only bread – after being with Christ all day out in the open, exposed to the weather –  as that wonderful.  Perhaps He looked into our century and realized all He would get is complaints.

Back then, they stayed with Christ all day and witnessed healing miracles, and then Jesus fed them bread.  What happened next?  He told them goodbye – go home!  If they thought that something powerful was going to happen to the world right then and there – the Kingdom of Heaven or the New Jerusalem – Jesus disabused them of those ideas.  He dismissed them.  He didn’t encourage them to stay, didn’t offer an encore.  He didn’t encourage that some kind of shrine be built there.  He moved on.

He wanted them to look beyond the bread they received, to think about the Kingdom, not about making Him king.  The miracle was to be a sign of that greater reality, God’s Kingdom.   Jesus left that spot because the Kingdom wasn’t there and He wanted everyone to look not for some benefit in this world but to look beyond this world.

In our church we have many icons of saints, but if we read there lives we will see precious few of them looked to Jesus for the bread of this world.  They all were looking for something else, something more.  The Myrrhbearing Women go to the tomb, not looking for bread in this world, but looking for Christ.  It is Christ whom the saints were seeking, and it Christ whom they realized they needed.

If we listen to the Gospel of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, and all we get out of it is that we wish we could see a miracle, or we wish we could get some free bread, then we miss the entire lesson of the Gospel, for we miss seeing Christ.  None of those who ate that bread that day were so satisfied that they never hungered again.  That bread fed them for a day, not for a lifetime, not for eternity.

Christ, however, does offer us bread that feeds us for eternity – His own Body and Blood which we receive in the consecrated Eucharistic Bread and Wine. We need to seek Christ like the saints, not mere bread like the crowd. In this, we need to be of one heart and mind.

Christ & the Crowd: You Feed Them

8th Sunday after Pentecost   2009     GOSPEL:   Matthew 14:14-22

CommunionApostlesAt that time when Jesus went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

Christ & the Crowd
Christ & the Crowd

This Gospel Lesson (Matthew 14:14-22) is a timely lesson for Christians today, for indeed we are exactly like the disciples in vs. 22 whom Christ has made to get into the boat and He has sent us “to the other side.”   For we often sense that all the miracles and glorious things of God happened “over there” and “back then” while all we can do is tell people of the glorious and miraculous signs that Jesus did “over there.”   

 Why doesn’t He still do these things now?  Why doesn’t He feed the 5000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread – homeless shelters and soup kitchens could use that kind of help today.  Then they wouldn’t have to rely on donations, the generosity of the weary or grudging public, or on taxes which they hate paying even if the money goes for charity and works of compassion.

 Chrysostom in the 4th Century in one of his sermons apparently faced a similar question, to which he said that in the days of old as recorded in Scriptures they needed miracles and signs because they didn’t have a clear knowledge of God.  But he says to his flock that now “ordinary things shout aloud and declare the Lord.”   

Hubble He points to anything that happens on a daily basis as being parts of the marvels and miracles of God for those who have eyes to see.   Following Chrysostom’s logic, we today might point to the works and discoveries of science as revealing to us the marvelous universe of the Creator God.  Just think about the photos of the Hubble Space Telescope revealing the mysteries of the vastness of a 14 billion year old universe.   Or the discoveries of DNA and what that has revealed about the marvels of the unfolding of life on earth.  Macroscopically and microscopically science reveals to us the marvels of the universe which we do not see revealed in our Scriptures.   As the Akathist Hymn, “Glory to God for All Things,” has it, scientists are the new prophets of God revealing what God is doing in the universe.

 So we stand on “the other side” not just of the Sea of Galilee, but across an ocean, and on the other side of history, where we can tell people about what Christ did “back then” and “over there” and marvel and give thanks.  However Christ has stayed on the other side, and left us to be the heralds of His Kingdom, before He comes to join us.

 Some will say but Christ and the Holy Spirit are still active in the world, and miracles happen daily as attested by saints and countless Christians.  But the claims of God’s actions in the lives of believers is met with total skepticism by those who do not know God – the miracles seem lame, lacking real evidence, anecdotal, and not ending the real problems of the world which continue unabated except for what science does to deal with them.

The miracles of Christ as reported in the Gospel were all signs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  They were intended to make people aware of this other reality, a life beyond this life and a Kingdom not of this world.   Jesus did not feed 5000 daily.  He did not open a free restaurant and distribute food to the hungry every day.  In the Gospels there are only two references to Him performing such a miracle.  This would tend to indicate that though He had miraculous – divine!- power, He used that power judiciously.   He was not mostly a miracle worker as such miracles were done sparingly.   They were used to give people a foretaste of “something other,” of heaven breaking into this world, of God’s Kingdom touching this earth, but not yet fully revealed.   He was, however, the one in whom the the Kingdom of God had been united to the people of earth.

The crowds were satisfied with what Jesus gave them – the bread and the fish, at least.   Would they have been so satisfied if all He gave them was a promise of a Kingdom which was not yet but was to come?  

They did crucify Him in the end.  A king with no army to conquer the world wasn’t all that attractive to them, as Isaiah had predicted (Isaiah 53).  The bread and fish satisfied for a day, but when it wasn’t given to them daily, they had little use for the impoverished itinerant preacher of love and an upside down kingdom.   Maybe that is why the disciples wanted Christ to send the crowds away – they wanted the Kingdom and its marvels, but they were uneasy about the crowd (for whom Jesus had only compassion) and how easily the crowd’s mood does change.  It’s as easy for the crowd to crown as it is to crucify their king.   Many an American politician has experienced that.

Disciples2We who have been sent “to the other side” without the miraculous multiplying bread and fish, were sent to be witnesses (Greek: martyrs) of what Christ did long ago.  We know the story.  We know what it reveals.   Are we willing to live accordingly?  Are we willing to take the loaves and fishes, few as they may be, which we have received from God, to share with a hungry world?   Our hands must not just be stretched out to God begging to receive  blessings from Him.  We are to stretch out our hands offering to the world what we have received from God.

The disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away – they barely had enough nourishment, resources for themselves.  Instead Jesus takes from the disciples what resources they did have and says, “the crowd doesn’t need to go away, you feed them.”   Our task as disciples, our test of faith, is to see whether we are so willing to be completely and cheerfully generous with what we have been given to make sure the crowd knows the marvels of God’s love and sees the signs of His Kingdom breaking into their reality today.    Our own hearts must be changed first, before we can expect the crowds to want to follow Christ.

A sequel blog:  Life as a Sojourn on a Stormy Sea

The Kingdom of God is at hand: Jesus reaches out to Peter

Gospel for the 9th Sunday After Pentecost 2008:            (Matthew 14:22-34)

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” [28] And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So    Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to  Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and  beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.

This sermon is a follow up on last Sunday’s sermon, The disciples’ Private Picnic. Last week if you recall Jesus and the disciples were tired and wanted to escape to a deserted place to be by themselves.  The disciples apparently had packed a little picnic with which to surprise Jesus –  5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  But when they got to their wilderness beach retreat the crowds like the paparazzi had guessed where they were headed and beat them to the beach using a land route.  So when Jesus and the disciples come ashore at what they think is going to be a deserted place, a large crowd is waiting for them.

The crowd who crashes their private picnic is not like Aunt Sue , Uncle Jim and your four cousins.   For it is 5000 men who show up besides the women and children!  This is like the first Woodstock, with people coming not for a concert, but to be hear Jesus teach.  In the time of Jesus 5000 men plus women and children would have been an entire fair sized town.

And you remember the disciples’ problem – they eventually get hungry and want Jesus to send the crowd away so that the crowd can go buy food for themselves.  Meanwhile the disciples are hoping to show Jesus their little surprise – they have brought along a little food, just enough for themselves.

Our Lord Jesus has other ideas and tells the disciples to feed the crowd which makes the disciples incredulous, but that is exactly what happens.  Jesus takes the food the disciples brought and by praying over it, miraculously multiplies the food so that everyone has more than enough to eat.  And as it turns out it is the disciples who have to distribute the food to the thousands of people sitting there waiting to be served.  And so the disciples learn a significant lesson about being leaders in the kingdom of God – their role is to serve the people, to feed and nurture and care for the people of God before they feed themselves.

And they see the sign of the kingdom of God, that it is not by their strength and preparation alone that God’s Kingdom breaks into the world.  They realize they also are there to serve their Master.  And they learn humility, and generosity and charity all in one lesson.

At the end of the day, there are 12 baskets full of food leftover – just enough for each disciple to get to take one basketful home with him. They are overwhelmed with the abundance, as if they were in Paradise. 

Jesus sends the disciples off in their boat, stomachs full and now the boat is full too of all of this blessed food.  All in all the day didn’t turn out so bad.  They were fed, it didn’t cost them anything, the crowd was very pleased, and they had plenty of food left for the next day.   The Kingdom of Heaven is a blessing indeed.

Jesus waves to the disciples as they disembark, and he stays behind to dismiss the crowd.  The crowd is an interesting phenomenon itself.  5000 men besides their families came to this wilderness place, all to hear Jesus.  They gave up their day’s work and routine to follow Christ.  This is not insignificant in a subsistence culture where one has to work every day in order to be fed.  But here they give up pursuing the things of this world in order to hear about the Kingdom of God, and for this they are richly rewarded, for Jesus feeds all of them.  And he does it purely to give them a sign, a hint about what the Kingdom of God is really like.

And we know Jesus wasn’t mainly a miracle worker, but the Messiah.  And we know this because if Jesus was mostly a miracle worker and could so easily feed the masses, he could have opened up a wilderness resort restaurant right on that spot and the masses would have come every day to be fed, not 5000 but 500,000. 

But Jesus’ miracle was a sign of the coming Kingdom, a foretaste of God’s blessings.  And certainly in Jesus’ own teachings He makes it clear that people should not seek Him just to have their bellies filled with food, but should look beyond the miracle and the food, to what secret and hidden power the miracle refers:  The Kingdom of God!

Meanwhile the overfed disciples are having a rough time of it at sea, and that is where we return to them.  The wind is blowing hard against them and they can’t make progress toward their destination.  It is now past 3am and they are still at sea, and no doubt feeling a lot less secure about this  Kingdom of God thing, for what good does it do to have 12 baskets full of food if your boat can’t make it to land, or if the weather threatens to swamp the boat?    Worse yet, it is Jesus who sent them off into this storm and He chose not to come with them.  And then suddenly their worst fears are realized, for not only is the weather against them, but suddenly they see a ghost walking on water, a sign of sure doom, death is stalking them.

And the fact that the Messiah provided food for them becomes much less important as they realize that despite the signs of the Kingdom, disaster can still strike, and they are not protected from every single threat the world has to offer.  They are blessed by God’s Kingdom, but still living in this unpredictable, fallen and hostile world.  And in this world they have to work hard to survive – in this world even receiving from God’s hand a banquet does not magically protect  one from danger, nor does it mean that we no longer have to work or worry in this world. The Kingdom of God is real, but so are the problems which come with living in a fallen world. 

And it turns out it is no ghost stalking them, but it is their Lord and Master walking on the stormy, turbulent sea.   He does not stop them from having to work hard, nor from having to worry about threats to their existence.  But he once again in an unpredictable way gives them another sign of the Kingdom of heaven.  That Kingdom is coming but is not here yet, and Peter wishing to experience the blessedness of that Kingdom is not yet ready to live in it as he is far too threatened by this world.

And in this world of the kingdom of God, Peter is saved even if shaken by the events, and the disciples recognize that Christ is somehow bringing that Kingdom to them, as He enters their boat, they realize the kingdom of God is very different than they might have envisioned it.  And the Kingdom of  Heaven is not cheap or to be taken lightly, for it is a matter of life and death.

Even when we experience the Kingdom of God breaking into our lives, and when we are filled with the blessed food – the Holy Body and Blood of our Savior – we are not spared the stormy troubles of life.  And sometimes Jesus sends us into these storms, and we feel left alone, and sometimes in these storms we are confronted by our worst fears – our demons and ghosts which haunt us.  But the blessings of the Kingdom of God are real, as real as the storms of life.  We are promised salvation by the Savior, but we are not told that we will be spared the storms of life.   And sometimes we walk in faith onto the stormy water, but the storm is more real and threatening than the kingdom of God and we begin to sink and we cry to the Savior for help.

Indeed, at every liturgy, when we say the petitions of the litany and cry, “Lord have mercy!”  We are taking on the role of the Apostle Peter in the midst of the storm and asking God’s mercy not just for us in the ship of salvation but for the entire world.