Bread of life, part one, by Pastor Noel

July 28 & 29, 2018        Proper 12, B


      So, this is a gospel reading that can get me in trouble! I once had a woman ask me why I didn’t preach on what the story says.

      To her, the story says that Jesus made those five loaves and two fish multiply into a pile of food. That may well be what happened, but that isn’t what the words say. Please read it over and see for yourself. (you can wait until later….)

      This story is in all four gospels, and in two of them is it recorded twice—once for each side of the lake.  One side of the lake is Jewish, the other Gentile, so this story shows God caring for everyone.      

      The number of fish is five or seven, and the number of people is different, too. Obviously, this was an important story of Jesus’ ministry.

      This story, often called “the multiplication of the loaves” — see how we can get ideas stuck in our minds? — is always combined, as we have it today, with a story of Jesus’ power over the sea.

      Last week our gospel story from Mark had a big hole in the middle. We read vv 30-34 and then skipped to v 53. What got left out was this story. Today, instead of going back and reading this in Mark, we get John’s gospel.

      We begin several weeks of reading from John about Jesus being the Bread of Life. Physical bread, such as what we’ll receive in Communion, and spiritual bread that nourishes us as we follow Jesus.

      Before I started really looking at the Bible, I had no idea how different the 4 gospels are. You may not have any idea, either, but it does make a difference which gospel voice we are hearing.

      In John’s version, Jesus has always been, and has always been God. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God. And the word was God.”

      In John’s gospel Jesus doesn’t perform miracles, he does “signs.” Seven signs, and that is what they are called. They point, not to supernatural powers, but to God’s kingdom present here, now.

      Of course, Jesus, being God, does have what we would call supernatural powers, but that is not what John wants us to know about him, or about God’s kingdom.

      All the “feeding the multitude” stories are about God’s generosity. God’s abundance for us. They are about salvation—not about being saved from hell and going to heaven, but about being saved from depending on our own abundance and relying on God’s.

      They are about seeing God’s abundance even when it looks pretty thin—as when all we think we have is 5 loaves and 2 fish.

They are about compassion, sharing. They are not about God doing things for us, but about doing good things for each other.

      These stories are reminders of salvation in an earlier time—when Moses, trusting God, led the Israelites from slavery to freedom. When it seemed as if they were doomed before they started, God gave Moses power over the sea and they were saved.

      When they were in the desert and it seemed as if they would starve, God sent manna—bread from heaven to feed them.

      And they learned to live lightly with God’s abundance—if they hoarded the manna because they feared scarcity later, the saved up manna was no good. It was rotten. 

      God’s generosity flows freely for all of us all the time. When we try to grab it for ourselves, when we don’t let it nourish and feed others, it is like that hoarded manna. It is no good, rotten.

      The stories we heard today in John’s gospel are parables. They tell us “the Kingdom of God is like” something. The story of feeding the multitude tells us the kingdom is sharing the abundance of God’s love for us. 

      The story of Jesus having power over the sea harkens back to creation. It reminds us of the Book of Genesis, when God tamed the waters at creation, and gave them their proper places. It reminds us about the power God gave Moses at the Red Sea.

      These are acted out parables—Jesus isn’t telling us a story, he is living the story to show us.

      Jesus and the disciples have gone to “the other side” of the lake. To foreign, unknown, enemy territory.

      The people on the other side were not Jews, not familiar family and friends, but “other.” They were gentiles. Jews and gentiles did not mix.

      God’s abundance is for everyone, not just for those we are OK with, but for everyone.

      In case we miss the other clues about Jesus as Moses, John tells us that this happened as the Passover was near. At Passover, God told Moses to  feed the Israelites and lead them to freedom. 

      God is also, of course, with these gentiles, who would not have known about Passover. Abundance, generosity.

      And we have the story about Elisha feeding a crowd with not much food and having some left over. God’s grace for us is unlimited. It’s not like pie where there are a set number of pieces. Abundant, never ending, always more than enough. That’s what the gospel is telling us, too.

      As Jesus prepares to feed this crowd, he takes the meagre handful of bread and fish, and he  blesses and gives them to the people.

      Listen to the Eucharistic Prayer when we get to it. The presider acts out what Jesus did—we hear that he “took, blessed, broke, and gave” the bread.

      St. Paul tells us that this happened at what we call the Last Supper, but it happened here in this deserted place in all six stories about feeding the multitude.  Abundance, generosity.

      This worship that we do here reminds us of the Passover and the Last Supper. We call it Eucharist, or “thanksgiving.”

      We come to God empty. No matter if we are peasant or king we come to God empty.

      We put up our hands like beggars, reaching toward the God who is always there to feed us, and we are fed.  Abundance, generosity.

      We give ourselves to God, and God fills us with Jesus in the bread and wine that God has blessed to be the Body and Blood of Christ.

      Peasant or king we all receive the same bread and wine and are filled with the same Jesus  who is God with us and God within us.

      And when this time of thanksgiving is over and we go back out into the world, God is still with us. When life is like the raging waters, God can calm them, calm us, and give us peace.

      If you can’t understand this story, fear not.

      The disciples didn’t understand that Jesus was showing them a new way to be with God.

      So they got into the boat and went away. And it was dark. For John, dark means away from God.

      Away from God can mean rough times—like the disciples in the boat in a rough sea.

      When Jesus came walking to them his greeting was not just “It is I” but “I AM.” The words God gave Moses when he asked for a name. Did the disciples understand then? Not completely!

      Calm in turbulent lives, caring for everyone, having enough—and some to share. I hope that we understand.

      That is the kingdom of God that we live in. Our lives are acted out parables, “the kingdom of God is like”… how we show God’s generosity and abundance to others.

      Our lives are signs that can point others to God’s kingdom as we live and show God’s generosity and abundance.     May it always be so.




The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details