You can join this week’s worship serviceby visiting: https://youtu.be/qLDW7m-PqP4
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and prayers for this week.
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: John 6: 1-21
Music: Like a Rock; Christ Has No Body Now But Yours
In John, it’s called the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and represents an early and powerful sign of Jesus’ ministry. There were thousands of people following him and they had no food. Jesus got the disciples to gather up whatever they could find and then, blessing it, he fed the entire crowd with just a few fish and loaves.
And although Jesus left the crowds after this and goes elsewhere, they followed, looking for him. When they finally found him, they were indignant that he wasn’t where they expected him to be. “Rabbi,” they say, “when did you come here?” Sensing their mood, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” In other words, you call me rabbi, but you’re not really looking for spiritual teaching. You just want the food.
At first this sounds a bit harsh. Many of the people who followed him were poor, and he had just demonstrated that he could feed them. Feeding and healing were a very important part of what Jesus did to reveal the love of God. In our house, we have a saying that “baking is love”; the gift of food is one of the languages we use to show people we care about them.
And that’s pretty consistent with the practices of our church, in which a casserole is a visible sign of support and thoughtfulness.
Which is why I don’t think Jesus was telling his followers that their desire for more food was wrong. Rather he was saying that his work was part of something larger. In the words of the old saying, he wasn’t there to feed them for a day with a fish; he was there to teach them to fish so that they could feed each other.
In addition to actually healing and feeding people, Jesus was trying to spiritually heal and feed people. As in our sacrament of communion, the bread was a symbol of this deeper truth, an icon, or window onto our life in God. He was replacing self-satisfaction with helping others; self-concern with care for others; and immediacy with purpose. And these, not as virtuous actions, good deeds, but as a way of living.
I remember once taking Margaret home from dance lessons. Having seen the Highland Dancing competitions at July 1stcelebrations in Pugwash, she determined that was the kind of dancing she wanted to learn. I asked her how the practice was and she said, “Good,” she said, but I detected a little disappointment in her voice. “Are you still enjoying dance?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said, “but I’m getting a little bored.” When I asked her why she told me that they had only learned one new thing, and that the rest of the time all they did was what they had done before. This was week four.
So, I said, “You know Mummy and I have been singing for almost 40 years and we still go to practices and do a lot of the same things over and over again. That’s how you get really good at something, by practicing.” To which Margaret replied, “Daddy, can we put on some music please?” Conversation: over.
When Jesus talks about a spiritual food, a “food that endures for eternal life,” he isn’t talking about a one-time gift, but more of a practice, a way of being in the world, an approach to life. In the same way that a marriage isn’t forged just with wedding vows, or a career built simply by getting a job, we are always being shaped: trial and error; success and failure; joy and grief; laughter and tears.
And underneath this roller-coaster of experience there is, and has to be, a certain bedrock of understanding – an enduring truth that sustains us when we’re hungry and reminds us to be grateful when we are fed. My friend refers to this deeper truth as the drone note underneath the melody of our lives.
It can be hard to hear it, or even to listen for it, because there is no shortage of ways to avoid it. Things that are meant to enhance the joy of life – food and alcohol, television and entertainment, travel and hobbies – these can become ways to escape, to feel better in an instant or avoid wrestling with what truly ails us. And when life is good, why would we continue the search?
One reason might be that, even if life is good for us, it isn’t for all. During COVID, we’ve seen a huge, scary and seemingly overwhelming challenge met with persistence, compassion and courage. We’ve also seen that we have incredible advantages that most of the world doesn’t, and that even people within our own country don’t share.
I mention this not to be a wet blanket on our joyful summer reunions, but to remember that even when things are great for us – even when we have been fed and healed, so to speak – there are many others still waiting for that fish and loaf, still waiting for the loving word and caring touch.
We also know from experience that we never reach a stage in life of ease and perfection – we are always balancing gains and sacrifices, hard graft and enjoyment, fulfillment and disappointment. We’re experiencing that right now on a larger scale. How long will COVID be a part of our lives? Will climate change ever be reversed? Will the Leafs ever win the Cup?
What we hear today from Jesus is not a rebuke – you’re only worried about food and I’m worried about your spirit. Rather, he is offering an approach to life in all its peaks and valleys, fat years and lean years, joy and sorrow.
In his book Consolations, the author and poet David Whyte describes this approach to life, or practice, as Gratitude. Gratitude, we writes, “…is not a passive response to something we have been given (but) arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us… a privilege; that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing.”
It’s possible to look at a loaf of bread and see a simple bit of food, part of a meal. It’s also possible to taste that loaf and to be thankful for the hands that turn flour and yeast into something delicious and sustaining, and for the wonder of a world in which something so simple and pleasing is possible.
It’s possible to look at another person and to see them as an other, someone different from me, unknowable and strange. It’s also possible to realize that, behind those eyes, there is someone who laughs and worries, lives and loves, and is hungry for connection just like me.
Imagine, then, what we might come to know about ourselves, about others, and about this life together, if we simply share a loaf of bread. When we do, Jesus asks us his same question: is it just about the bread, or are you prepared for what the bread points to? And in our answer, we draw closer to God, each other, and our true selves. Amen.
Holy God, Giver of Life and Source of Love, we give you thanks for the gifts of this season: for life at a different pace, for sun and sand, visits with friends and family, for time to rest, reflect and replenish. We thank you for these gifts.
Today, as we reflect on what it means to feed and heal each other, to foster the connection you seek with each of us and among us, we give thanks for the work undertaken by so many as your church. We give thanks for our own United Church, as we enter into new partnerships with other churches and engage a new structure we hope will help meet the demands of our time.
The work to do is considerable, O God, and the needs are many. We pray for your wisdom and guidance, for your light and life in all we do. Help us to follow you, Holy One, in paths of peace, justice and a voice for all.
We pray for our community of faith and for our wider community; for the brokenness we know about, and those we cannot see. Guide our hands and hearts to reach out – not out of a sense of obligation, but out of the joy of sharing life – that we might practice and experience your peace.
We pray for those who are ill in body or in spirit. For those in hospital and care home, at home and in transition to care. We pray for our families and friends. We pray for those who mourn this day
And we pray for ourselves, God of Mercy and of Hope; that you would grant us trust to know that you are always at work in us and others by your Spirit. Give us courage to consider the parts of our lives that need tending to, and to rejoice in the parts of our lives that give us life.
We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.