Saturday, July 25, 2009

B, Pentecost 8 Proper 12 - John 6:5b, 10a, 12b, 20b "Seated and Fed"

When Christians from other denominations enter most Lutheran church gatherings, confusion abounds at the point when the hymns or songs are sung. Lutherans sit whereas others usually stand. It often makes regulars and visitors alike ask, "What's going on?"

To sit or to stand! Is it just tradition that determines why we do one or the other, or are there other reasons? Have you ever asked yourself, "why we sit to sing and why some stand"?

For most it's a tradition that's been handed down from generation to generation amongst different denominations. In fact, the tradition often varies amongst congregations in the one denomination. For example in Lutheran churches some stand for the last hymn and some sit as they do for all the other hymns or songs.

However, generally speaking, the LCA (Lutheran Church of Australia) sit to sing hymns. And for us in its congregations most have carried on this tradition as our parents did.

The reason for asking this question leads us into the gospel reading today and invites us to examine one of the postures we take in worship. Namely sitting!

Jesus wanted to feed the crowd which had gathered with him and the disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee. So he said to the disciples have the people sit down on the grass. We know from the text it was near the Passover feast, so it was springtime in Galilee, about March or April, so there was plenty of grass for the five thousand on which to sit.

Two pictures always come flooding to mind when we hear of people sitting on the grass to receive the bread and fish Jesus miraculously distributes amongst the crowd.

The first in John's Gospel account is the picture of manna from heaven in the wilderness. Here Jesus can be seen feeding the followers in the same way the Father did when Moses lead Israel in the Sinai wilderness for forty years.

The second is a parallel to Psalm 23. In Mark's account Jesus sees the people like sheep without a shepherd and mercifully feeds them, but this is not mentioned here in John's account. Nevertheless, Jesus sitting the people down in the green grass conjures up a warm picture drawing us to remember the great "Shepherd Psalm" where we hear, He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. (Psalm 23:2-3a)

Here Jesus sits the crowd of five thousand down and feeds them from the seemingly impossible five loaves and two measly fish. They are seated on a grassy position by the quiet waters of Lake Galilee.

Even more so, after the people are fed there are twelve baskets of leftovers. Just like Psalm 23 God the Son had prepared a table for the crowd, fed them, and their cup overflows with what is left over. Jesus asked these leftovers be gathered which also reminds us of the Israelites in the wilderness where Moses tells the Israelites to gather enough manna to eat. (Exodus 16:16)

But before this miraculous event happened Jesus sits on a mountain with the disciples. This is another picture of seated resting just as the crowded rested and were restored by Jesus' miracle and also the serenity painted in Psalm 23. Here in John, Jesus and the disciples retreat after being overwhelmed by those who witnessed his healings.

Jesus has led his twelve learners to rest, but rest soon turns to test. The crowds find Jesus and converge. Knowing what he was going to do, Jesus puts a question before one of the disciples, Philip, asking, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (John 6:5)

"BREAD! Who said anything about bread?" Jesus' words seem to have come from out of left field. The disciples weren't thinking about food up until this point! And the emerging five thousand were chasing Jesus because of his healing not for a free feed. It seems the only person who had any forethought was a lad with five barley loaves and two fish. Have you ever wondered how that boy must have felt when Andrew first suggested that his five loaves and two fish might be used as food for all?

So having sat with Jesus, resting with Jesus, and seeing the crowd gather around Jesus, the disciples failed dismally in the test Jesus had set before them. We all now know from where the bread came for the crowd to eat; it came from Jesus — the Bread of Life! The five thousand were also seated and once they're sitting they're fed.

After the feeding of the five thousand yet again we find people seated. This time it's in a boat on the lake. The disciples have set sail, without Jesus, bound for Capernaum. A storm blows up, and Jesus approaches the seated sailors, who respond in fear. This is not the reverent fear of a faithful worshipper, but rather the fear of those who hand over their faith and themselves to futility, fruitlessness, and self-centred failure.

They quickly reverted to being believers of death and destruction; which was exactly the opposite of what Jesus came to teach and do. And so Jesus says just a few words, revealing himself to them and the disciples willingly took him into the vessel which immediately got to its destination.

What also stands out in the Gospel reading today is how little John reports Jesus speaking throughout the course of the events! Jesus says four short things (they are underlined in your bulletins). (a) Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat? (John 6:5) (b) Have the people sit down. (John 6:10) (c) Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted. (John 6:12) And, (d) It is I; don't be afraid. (John 6:20)

It appears that we are sitting in the vessel having invited the Father of Peace, the Son of Righteousness, and the Spirit of Holiness into our presence. We sit here and are served by God himself who distributes his holy and powerful word through the meagre human words of this fish and bread servant.

After we have been seated here by God and had our souls restored, we will go out into our crowded daily lives where Jesus will allow us to be tested, "Where shall we buy food for these people to eat?"

But we can learn from the disciples' mistakes and also from our own previous failures knowing it's not about what we do or buy which feeds the lost. Rather, it's he in whom we rest; who feeds us, will also feed them. Are we not carrying the leftovers of Christ with us? In fact they are not left over; they are given to feed whoever we're led to by the Holy Spirit. Christ is with you, he is your Bread of Life in abundance, so others too might be seated and share in the Bread of Life.

This might all seem distant from where we started but it's not. In fact, our tradition determines that we usually sit for our songs, some of the readings from Scripture, and the sermon. But regardless of our standing or sitting, we need to allow ourselves to be willing recipients and carriers of Christ's holy food of faith, and also the physical food we need from day to day.

So, since we sit for songs and hymns, we might as well see we are seated by Christ in pastures of green, forgiven and feed on his word, so our cup overflows. Why? Because this is what our loving Heavenly Shepherd is doing!

We have nothing to fear while we dwell in the house of the Lord — each day as we allow our old sinful nature to be drowned, and forever as we're eternally resurrected to new life seated in eternal fellowship with God. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives!

And because goodness and mercy overflows in us and in our lives there are also plenty out there who don't need to pay for this graciousness of God either. So let's not waste the overabundance with short-sighted negativity, and become fearful of destruction as Jesus faithfully and continually draws near us.

Let's take the opportunities we have to stand, sit, and kneel before the Father from whom this whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name, prayerfully seeking salvation for others through his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, daily deliver us into your holiness from all evil. Continually lead us from fear and temptation that you and your kingdom are not for us, into the assurance of your salvation. Make us willing to forgive those who sin against us in the way your Son Jesus Christ was willing to wear the cross for us. Reveal to us that you are giving the Bread of Heaven to us today. Nourish our bodies with physical food and the food of faith, so we may abundantly share with others what you have give to us — forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Work these things in us with your Holy Spirit, to the glory of your Son, Jesus Christ, and your holy name, in your holy presence forever, Amen.