Sunday, 29 July 2018

Man cannot live on bread alone.

Sunday: the 29th July: Trinity 9: (Proper 12)
2 Kings 4:42 - 44. The context for this piece is a man bringing food from a place of plenty to a place suffering from famine. The Barley harvest in Palestine is the earliest (Late March/early April). There is no explicit miracle, but it is definitely implied.  
Ephesians 3:14 - 21. The intensely personal nature of this prayer carries on the theme of connectedness that underpinned the feast of Mary Magdalene last week. This intensely moving and powerful prayer prays that we be filled with the Holy Spirit to realise the ongoing work of being transformed into the likeness of God. 
John 6: 1-21. The feeding of the 5000 is one of the best-known stories in the New Testament. The significance of this "sign" for John is made clear when he writes, "The Passover was near"(verse 4), another meal of profound religious significance. The other sign is a walking on the water incident. Indeed, this indicates Jesus' divinity, but this happened in response to the fact that they wanted to "make him King by force" (verse 15) and he was escaping from the crowd. Jesus was indeed divine, but the nature of his kingship was yet to be revealed.

Let us start with that powerful and moving prayer that stands at the heart of our readings this morning.

I have heard some people say over the years that they don’t like St. Paul or the Pauline tradition for this or that reason. Perhaps he does speak in often very long sentences and getting to grips with his deep theology is indeed taxing for anyone who has ever undertaken any Bible study but he is also responsible to some of the finest and most profound prayers and theology I have ever encountered.

But think of 1 Corinthians 13, mainstay of a million weddings, some parts of Romans, particularly chapter 8 and today this wonderful prayer from Ephesians.

When the undivided church put together the canon that is the New Testament, they intuited, recognised, that while this at one level is just a letter to a church in Ephesus, on another level it is divinely inspired and is a letter that can be addressed to anyone across time and space who calls themselves a Christian.

This is a prayer made for us.

In saying that scripture is divinely inspired we are saying that the very Spirit of God is recognisable, palpable, can be almost taken hold of physically, and can spiritually feed us.

Remember what Jesus said in Matthew, reiterating what had been written originally in Deuteronomy.

So let’s feast on this prayer which continues this intensely personal understanding of God. Let us feed on it.

Through God, every family is named which means that there is an intimate and profound connection between God and the human family, and in fact the writer extends the scope of family to include families “in heaven” as well as on earth.

So, the writer says, no matter what other connectedness exists between you and your fellow man, they only exist by virtue of our primary connection to God and it is on that basis that the writer articulates a prayer on our behalf.

So, he prays for us all that we be strengthened in our inner beings by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is God’s active living presence on earth, and he prays that through God’s Spirit we have the power to comprehend the height, length and breadth of God’s love for us in Christ to the extent that we are full to the brim of God’s spirit.

Completely sated. At one with God, so we spiritually hunger no more.

It is with that at the forefront of our minds that we approach the two feeding signs this morning. One from the new and the other from the old Testaments.

They are both physical demonstrations of that prayer. In Biblical theology, the physical and the spiritual are close. The Bible understands the human being as a psychosomatic unity, Body and Spirit as one, and not as separate entities.

In the story from Kings, the context is actually famine relief, while in the feeding of the 5000 People are met and fed, and can eat no more, and there are still 12 basketfuls of food left over.

The spiritual message is that Whatever your spiritual need, God can fulfil it without ever found wanting.

Along with the Last Supper this is a story that underpins and amplifies our understanding of our Eucharist this morning.

Eucharist is a Greek word that means “Thanksgiving”

We also know it as Holy Communion; communion between ourselves as God’s human family and with God Himself.

Some call it the Lord’s supper which reminds us that it is in fact a meal. A highly choreographed and sanitised meal, but basically a meal of bread and wine, which takes us back to the Last Supper and the feeding of the 5000.

Which takes us to the nature of a sacrament itself. At Sunday school you probably learned that a sacrament is an earthly thing with a spiritual meaning.

Well I don’t think I can better that. When we come to the altar rail, we eat bread and drink wine, but spiritually we come to meet with Jesus, who is doing the feeding, and are spiritually filled with the Spirit of God the Father. Don’t forget we are a physical/spiritual unity.

And when you have communed and been filled, we go out again to the world.

As well as Eucharist, Holy Communion and the Lord’s supper there is another name used for what we are doing more associated with catholic usage; Mass.

This term is derived from the Latin ita miss est. which means “Go, the dismissal is made” and is a sending out in the world, overflowing with God’s word.

Mass is therefore, some might say ironically, the most evangelical term we have for this sacrament.

Because of the extraordinary nature of the feeding of the 5000, some wanted to make him king by force, so Jesus had to retreat to get away from them. Why? Because their understanding was partial and earth bound and would have entailed them believing that Jesus was a great king (in the traditional sense) who would fight and eject the Romans.

But the true nature of the Messiah had yet to be revealed. Jesus was Lord and king as the walking on the water revealed, but the fullness of understanding that Paul’s prayer prays for, had yet to be played out in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus, that ultimate sacrament, the word made flesh.

“Man cannot live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”


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