The Rev. Randy Knutson
Sunday, July 26, 2015
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 12
Listen to this…Sermon 2015 07 26 Pentecost IX RAK
“The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.” Ps. 145:16,17
We have a wonderful collection of texts today that speak to us about some central themes and especially about the Power of the Word of God… over Bread, over our food, over us.
First, I have to draw your attention to the fact that, for the next few weeks, we have left the Gospel of Mark and have passages instead from the Gospel of John; specifically Chapter 6. Now some find this chapter and repeated focus on Jesus as the Bread of Life challenging for its lack of changing themes. They also don’t like the constant return to parts of this popular part of John’s Gospel. But, as a newer preacher, I’m happy to have this opportunity to explore these pas-sages together and happy to say that Andee Zetterbaum will be preaching one Sunday, too, to bring in some new ideas. I’m also glad for this chance to preach on this chapter of John, because it speaks to our dependence on God for some of our basic needs and our need to learn to trust God for this same reason.
In both our Old Testament and Gospel readings, first Elijah and then Jesus are in situa-tions where they do not have enough food. They are presented with an impossible situation of too many people and not enough food and yet they trust in God and it works out. First, however, I have to point out something interesting: barley loaves! Now why is that? Both passages are making sure we understand this detail. This is not the bread we might normally think about, but barley loaves? Why, we don’t know, but we do know this. Barley as a grain, now and in Biblical times, was reserved for animal feed, cattle, and poor people. Barley loaves are not the A, B or C grade food we might be looking for, but what you must eat when that is what you can get or afford. Barley, unlike Wheat, was not highly prized and yet, over time, we have discovered that Barley, with its bran and in it’s wholeness is actually something we should eat now and then, even if we do not prefer its taste. Barley is also harvested earlier than wheat and Passover, mentioned in our Gospel, is usually around the time of the Barley harvest. So we may guess that these Barley loaves presented to Elijah, 20 in all, and to Jesus, 5 from a small boy, came from people with very limited means, but it was what they could offer. Yet God uses this gift to do remarkable things and we marvel at it still these many years later.
We also marvel that in both cases, as this gift was shared, there was food left over, as a Testament to God’s work, God’s Abundance, people’s thanksgiving and trust. In the Gospel, it was twelve baskets, a symbol and holy sign of the twelve tribes, the twelve apostles or perhaps just a number of great abundance. So we can trust in an abundant response from God and from us, all together, when we respond in God’s name.
I know there is so much going on, and I’m thankful for the way our Bishop, David Rice, is pointing our ministry outward, as a diocese and also challenging each parish to respond as they can. At St. John’s I think we are more aware and responding to those in need around us, who rely on and live in the land of Barley loaves, perhaps more than we have in recent memory. We have completed our first Human Trafficking event and, I understand, we look for a return of the Yellow Blessing Bags, but I also have to lift up a quiet ministry St. John’s has already been doing: our Food Basket collection. I want to encourage you today to not forget this ministry and the way you have blessed the Salvation Army, Uptown Thrift and 2nd Step with the food you have given. Again, you have responded in abundance and with love to those for whom food is scarce.
I have to speak to the last part of our Gospel, too; John’s version of Jesus walking on water and his interaction with the disciples. This account is briefer than others, but unique in some important ways. It is dark and the disciples, on their own, go out on the Sea of Galilee, returning to home base for them and for Jesus: Capernaum. They had rowed three or four miles, with rough seas and winds, when they see Jesus out on the water, coming near the boat and they are terrified. They do not cry out, but he calls to them “It is I; do not be afraid”. What we miss here is that “It is I” is the same phrase Moses encountered at the Burning Bush, as God identifies him-self, now in Greek: “ego eimi” – I am that I am. Jesus identifies himself with God, claiming in their presence that he comes from God and has the same identifier as God: as we will hear in John’s Gospel later, “I and the Father are One”. With this also comes words of comfort and fellowship with God, when we might feel fear instead: “Do not be afraid.” This might be our reaction in the face of such an event any of us would have in a moment of awe and wonder of God; feeling overwhelmed and fearful. How to proceed? They took Jesus into the boat and, stealing a phrase from Mark, “‘Immediately’ the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” They learned the power of trusting in Jesus and trusting in God, even when they could not know or could not understand what was happening; and, in this case, they immediately saw the result.
We have had many ups and downs in our life, but one of the times I know God was leading us, without our knowing it, was our move to Lodi more than twenty years ago.
We had worked ten years at Trinity Lutheran Church, Robin’s home church, and it felt like it had been a long time. Ten years was a long time to be anchored in one place and perhaps it was time to move on. (Did I mention we have been here at St. John’s for 15 years?) But we felt nervous in this moving, away from Grandparents and many friends. The Kids where at school age and Robin’s family were educators with deep connections to Fresno Unified School District, so we where leaving a known situation for an unknown one. Still we heard Lodi would a a safer, quieter place to raise a family. Lodi a safer, quieter place to raise a family. We were also looking forward to some different challenges at work, at church. We felt there was a chance to use some gifts leading others that we had not yet done.
What we couldn’t know is that, Jonas, who was three, would soon be diagnosed with autism. Despite education connections in Fresno, the program we eventually chose here in Lodi to help Jonas did not exist at that time in Fresno. Only in LA, at UCLA, where Dr. Ivar Lovaas had created it and the replication site in Modesto/Stockton area that Jonas would be a client of. God helped guide us to Lodi, not only for a job change, but to help us find the right program for Jonas to get the help he needed, even when we did not know he needed it.
But we really prayed about this move a lot and felt God calling us forward, even into an unknown situation. We needed to trust, even when we did not know what the result would be; where we were headed. We needed to be open to Jesus call and God’s presence, even when we did not have all the answers. We needed, also, to find ways to be in the that presence, through the fellowship of those around us. Through worship, prayer, scripture and just being open to God’s ability to speak in the silence and through others.
So whether it be on the stormy sea or on the hill, when others needed food, we need be open to the God’s word, to trust God coming to us through Jesus, saying: “It is I; do not be afraid.”