Homily July 29, 2018

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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 17, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 29, 2018

Psalm 145; Ephesians 3:17-19; John 6:1-15


‘Beyond our wants and expectations’

The multiplication of the loaves is the only miracle from Jesus’ public ministry narrated in all four gospels (there are six accounts), and in all four it has eucharistic overtones. But John alone uses the verb eucharisteo, “to give thanks”. I remember, 21 years ago, in my “readiness for ordination” speech at Balmain Uniting Church, citing the German mystic Meister Eckhardt’s conviction that eucharisteo is the most theological word. God be with you

I’d like to begin by thanking our minister in association, along with our elders, for passion and humility – for responding to a call to serve, a call to share, each in their own ways. I’d like to thank our young members, our children’s ministry leaders and musicians. Prayer leaders and candle lighters, singers and readers, working group participants, teachers and curators, shelter volunteers, SSH editors and newsletter editor, librarian, makers, bakers and partakers of bread ...

Sometimes, in busy-ness, we race ahead without an acknowledgement of what we mean to one another.

I’ve mentioned before an enthusiasm for the Spider-Man comic. I have a book called Spider-Man and Philosophy: The Web of Inquiry. In one excellent essay, Taneli Kukkonen writes, with reference to Peter Parker aka Spider-Man: “[L]ove’s debt is felt in the gratitude we feel for the very fact that we get to love, and if this means for us unspeakable agonies and heartrending choices, as lovers we still would not wish for things to be otherwise.”

Our elders and leaders are lovers, then, and yes, superheroes, if by that is meant human beings committed to both social/ecological justice and personal wellbeing. “With great power comes great responsibility,” says Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, wisely.

Today’s homily is a series of thanks.

We give thanks for the witness of John, the poet-evangelist whose gospel invites us to receive a poetic Word, dense and substantial like bread.

John alone locates the event of the multiplication of the loaves at Passover, and portrays Jesus sitting. This recalls Moses at Sinai, and the subsequent discourse (John 6) will deal with the manna in the wilderness and use food as a symbol of good teaching. Only John’s account of this event mentions Philip, who later will bring “Greeks” to Jesus, anticipating the inclusion of non-Jews in the eucharistic banquet.

Only John’s account mentions the “small boy” with five barley loaves and two dried fish (perhaps, fish-weed). In John, Jesus alone distributes the bread, and commands the disciples to gather the fragments/pieces (using a word that becomes a technical term for the eucharistic elements) so that “nothing gets wasted” (literally, so that nothing “perishes”) an allusion to the failure of some to gather all of the manna in the wilderness (whereupon it bred worms and became foul), as well as a symbol of the community to be gathered by Jesus, where none may perish (3:16; 10:28).

We give thanks for the Jewish experience of gracious love, upon which follows the Church’s understanding of God, God’s messiah, the world as God’s beloved. That is not often said with reference to John’s Gospel (John’s community was one, it would seem, embroiled in conflicts with the synagogues of the late first century), which is one good reason for it to be said.

The 12 baskets filled with “leftovers” symbolise the twelve tribes of Israel. The barley bread (bread of the poor) recalls 2 Kings 4:42, wherein the prophet Elisha “miraculously” fed 100 people on barley loaves.

The 12 baskets also symbolise the Church (founded by 12 apostles), called to continue the ministry of the hospitality of God.

Or, as one scholar suggests, we might say that Jesus “will not loose his hold on what is broken and in pieces. How he gathers them up: a sign of the wholeness he can see; a foretaste of the banquet to come” (Jan L. Richardson).

We give thanks for Jesus the Messiah, the Christ (the word means “Anointed” – it’s another word for “King”, for “Ruler”). We give thanks for Jesus the Ruler, who evades our attempts to crown him as anything that is not the will of the One who sent him into the world as the world’s lover and peacemaker.

Note that this also means Jesus resisting our desires for eminence and control. We are loved for who we are, not the king-making, clever-scheming people we often wish ourselves to be. The gospel is about need – common needs – and in many ways calls us beyond our wants and expectations.

Lastly, we give thanks for the great expectations Jesus has for us. Too readily we think in narrow and self-centred terms. Faced with life’s challenges, we are tempted to think (like Peter Parker in very early Spider-Man episodes), “What’s in it for me? What will I get out of it?”

If the small boy in our gospel had had that attitude and not offered his lunch to share, there’d have been no meal, no sign. He shows us what Jesus expects of us. That when we give – and we do have something to give – we receive, we are filled with the fullness of God.

Our vision of ourselves and the way things are is often narrow and self-centred but the vision of Jesus is without limit.

There is an evangelical tendency to reduce the gospel to the personal – Jesus and me. But we are invited into something more wonderful. It’s Jesus, the small boy, the apostles Philip and Andrew, the baker, the fisher, the barley, the fish, Peter Parker and Uncle Ben, numerous biblical scholars and artists, Moses and Elisha, John the evangelist, Meister Eckhardt, Dorothy, elders, members of the congregation, parishioners and me. Five thousand of us, at least.

What do you think it is you have to offer others?

What do you have to offer (mindful and respectful of the offerings of those around you) for the upbuilding of the community? What do we have to offer the world?Amen.


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