Saturday, July 30, 2011

Augustine, feed me!

What do you do? It’s often one of the first things we ask people when we meet them. It helps us to identify them along with asking them their their name. I am trying to meet as many of you as I can in the first few weeks that I am here, so I can identify you and build a relationship with you.

What about Jesus? People identify him as all sorts of different things: prophet, teacher, good man. But only Christians identify him as the Son of God. And if he is, then he’s very important. Because it’s easy to ignore a great teacher – you can take or leave his teaching. Or a prophet – you can interpret his prophecies in different ways. But if Jesus was the Son of God then he can’t be ignored.

The feeding of the 5,000 is an incredibly famous story. It’s very important – the only one of Jesus’ miracles to feature in all four gospels. The reason it features so prominently is because it tells us who Jesus is.

We need to set the story in context: Jesus has been teaching about what having God in control of our lives is like in parables about the Kingdom of God and healing the sick. We then have the story of the death of John the Baptist. And then we get this morning’s Gospel reading which I believe friends, clearly shows us who Jesus is and the implications for each one of us.

In Mark’s version of this story, the crowd is described as like sheep without a shepherd – directionless, clueless, helpless, vulnerable. So often in life we can feel like this too.

Jesus is like a shepherd. It’s the shepherd’s responsibility to provide food and protection. In Jesus we find everything we need. We can rely on him. We want to be self-sufficient, but Jesus says actually we do need him, and he is everything you need.

A shepherd doesn’t look after one sheep on its own but a flock. Our society has privatized morality and religious belief and says ‘if you want to follow Jesus, great go ahead, I’ll believe what I like.’

Sometimes people say that it’s possible to have a Christian faith without going to church. Well, on one level it is, but the Bible doesn’t give us a picture of God’s people worshipping him each on their own. It gives us a picture of the church: God’s people worshipping him & being cared for by Him together, like sheep with a shepherd.  Jesus is a shepherd, we should follow him and rely on him.

What did Jesus do when he saw the huge crowd and had compassion on them? He actively demonstrated the love and presence of God amongst people - he cured the sick.

Jesus is compassionate. He calls His church to love others - to demonstrate the presence and love of God. Jesus reminds that the greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are and to love others as we love ourselves.

Time and again we are called by Jesus to love others but to allow our love to go the extra mile - not just to those we like or who are like us - but beyond those boundary lines, to love and forgive our enemies, those who persecute or deride us, those who sit on the outside and on the margins of our society or social grouping, those whose very existence challenge our values, codes or beliefs.

In fact we are called to live out that love that called creation into being and called Jesus the Son to come and demonstrate the length, breadth, depth and height of that love in word and action in his life, death and resurrection.

Jesus’ love shows compassion - a deep understanding of what it means to be human. An empathy that puts Him firmly in our shoes. Sometime people wonder where God is today in the face of disaster and personal crisis, and yet Jesus lives the love and presence of a God who knows us intimately as we are made in His image and He loves us no matter who we are, where we are or what we do in or with our lives.

The key to understanding this story is that Jesus is indeed a leader and lover of people but so what? But the most dynamic and charismatic people, the most self giving of people are simply not able to divide five loaves and two fish and feed so many. Some people have suggested that once the bread started to be passed around, people got their packed lunches out. So it was a Mini Babybel here, a Geo bar there, here, have half a banana… No! All four accounts make it clear that this was a case of divine intervention. They all ate and were satisfied.  I can only conclude this is God’s work.

5000 people are fed - so what. So Jesus is God - ta da! But that’s not the end of it.  They are fed, but notice what Jesus says to his closest friends when they ask him what to do with this this hungry crowd - hungry physically and spiritually, you give them something to eat. There is an expectation from Jesus that the disciples will respond. Is this Jesus being facetious and awkward? I think not.

Many people are still looking to make sense of their lives. They have huge questions about it’s purpose and plan and they fill the holes that those questions generate with stuff - success, money, gadgets, sex, celebrity living. St Augustine described it well when he said ‘our hearts are restless til they find their rest in thee.’ He knew well that only a relationship with a compassionate God could satisfy.

The crowd that Jesus fed with bread and fish were hungry, but for more than food. To their longing, Jesus offers the disciples - you give them something to eat. But how can we Lord? We aren’t equipped. We don’t have the words. We’re scared. We’re not ordained - just the sentiments of Jesus’ first disciples. The crowd are looking for ultimate answers, for deep longings to be satisfied and Jesus offerers them us.

The story reminds us that God can use ordinary things like bread or fish to demonstrate his extraordinary compassion and love. He offers us to a searching world because the people searching for meaning in life are just like you and me, they are you and me. We can only offer them what we ourselves have received. Jesus has takes each one of us, and like bread and fish, blesses us filling us with his very self each time we encounter him in Word and Sacrament and then shares us, ordinary people filled with the extraordinary life of God, with the world. He offers us not to give glib answers, but lives lived in relationship with Jesus the compassionate shepherd, the Son of the Living God. Amen.

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