Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2018 Lectionary B, Proper 12
ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY IN RICHMOND HILL, GEORGIA
The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Rector Scripture: John 6:1-21
Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:30
More than meets the eye
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, send now the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds that we might know, see, and believe in Jesus who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever. Amen.
Can we imagine? Can we see it—no squinting necessary? Jesus had left behind Him a thriving, writhing mess of individuals gloriously healed. The hollering and the hooping must have been out of this world. Certainly, He had caught everyone’s attention. The crowd swelled behind him as if He were Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail of bread crumbs. The anticipation of catching up with Him must have been gut busting. Imagine your spouse or child, once dying of cancer, now restored, renewed, alive. There was no train, plane or automobile. We would have to run as fast as we could to catch up with this miracle man, Jesus. Hope, health, and salvation were just ahead of us. The brass ring of all brass rings was in sight. The mortgage would be paid off. Touch me Lord that I might be healed. Hospitals are closed. Doctors are put out of business. There is more money in our pockets unless we happen to be in the healthcare business.
Jesus goes up to the mountain. The imagery, the recall is unmistakable. Yes, Moses went up to the mountain to meet and talk with God. Now, God Himself, Jesus, ascends to the top of the mountain to meet and talk with His disciples. John expects us to remember that earlier mountain. “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently” (Exodus 19:18). From Mount Sinai Moses had received the Law. Before the giving of the Law, the Israelites had escaped from Egyptian slavery. On the night prior to their departure they had celebrated the Passover. John tells us in this morning’s gospel, “Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.” We’ve been alerted. High cosmic drama is coming together.
Jesus looks up. Interestingly, John tells us that He looks up, not down, but up. God in Jesus is on our level—approachable, accessible. And, looking up He sees this great throng of people surging toward Him. “Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” We are not told why He turns to Philip. Was he the disciples’ quartermaster or the company cook? Philip has seemingly been asked the impossible—to feed five thousand people. Was Jesus joking? If you have ever been in sales, then you know your sales manager establishes your sales quota for the year. Imagine him raising that quota 2,000 per cent. Talk about turning pale. Philip’s acid reflux was on fire.
Then, we heard that: “(Jesus) said this to test him.” Not funny, was it Philip—God testing you? Maybe, we recall another time of testing, remembering that the Greek word, πειραζω, not only means to test but to tempt. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:1-3). Are we seeing a re-write of this earlier time of Jesus being tested in this morning’s gospel? Jesus, though, knew what He was going to do about all those hungry people.
“Make the people sit down,” He said. Sure, if you are going to eat, you sit down. John’s gospel, though, doesn’t leave it there. He includes this: “Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.” A great deal of grass! Hmm. Remind us of anything from a certain psalm? “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures” – a great deal of grass.
The 23rd Psalm is also prophetic. You see, John’s gospel is recapitulating the whole of what we like to call the Old Testament through the life of Jesus. John has made no bones about this from the very opening of his gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word (Jesus is the Word) was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3).
Staying with the 23rd Psalm, what else do we hear in verse 5? “My cup overflows.” And, what do we hear in this morning’s gospel? “[F]rom the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.” Wouldn’t we call that overflowing?
Let’s pause a moment to think about these few fish and loaves becoming so many, feeding so many. Yes, that is miraculous, but do we see the other miracle occurring here? It is the miracle of time or should I say no time. Instantaneously Jesus created all those fish and loaves. Instantaneously, He had turned water into wine. How long does it take to make wine, grow the grapes and ferment them? How long does it take to grow the wheat, harvest, and bake the bread? How long does it take for the fish egg to become a grown fish, big enough to eat? Do you see what I am saying here? Jesus not only has control over the physical, material world. He has control over time itself, and how long did it take Him to create the universe? Defer to science if you like, but science can only see through its tiny little microscope.
You see, though incarnated into time, Jesus was not, and is not limited by time. Think about that for a moment. How much of our suffering, misery, failures in relationships or losses are defined by time? Most, if not all are. Jesus, though, is not bound by time; neither are we bound by those losses and failures in our lives because we have Jesus. As Sam, in the Lord of the Rings, asks, “In the end will all that is sad become untrue?” Yes, in the end all that is sad will become untrue.
Jesus demonstrates this again and again. What do you think His healings were about? They were the reversal of what time had wrought—sickness, disease. What do you think His feeding of the five thousand was about? Reversing hunger brought on by the passing of time without having eaten. What do you think the resurrection is about? Need I say it? With the passage of time we all die, do we not? Jesus, though, has come to reverse that. This is what is known as redemption, meaning to bring something back. Except with Jesus that redemption, that bringing something back, is eternally so, and not for a mere season. Indeed we read in the Book of Revelation, “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (21:4).
Think for a moment of one singular event in your life that is sad; I mean very sad. Are you there? Perhaps, at some level it is always there—the loss, the grief. You just can’t put it away. Maybe it gnaws at you. Guess what. It is going to become untrue. Imagine. It is going to become untrue. Can we believe it? The power of Jesus really is extraordinary. Oh, I know that some of us are reluctant to believe it. Inwardly, we are rolling our eyes, saying something like baloney or even stronger. Can such really be believed? If so, then the hope we have in Jesus really is mind blowing, yes, extraordinary. Dare we believe that in the end all that is sad will become untrue because, because we have Jesus in our lives? Let’s not harden our hearts; don’t do it. Instead, have faith.
Guess what else. When the time comes that all that is sad becomes untrue, neither will we have to feel bad about ourselves anymore. Do you hear me? Whatever we have done to others or even ourselves will be redeemed, overturned, and somehow made right. St. Paul affirms this when in Romans 8:1 he says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” You know, we are told all the time that God loves us, but what does that look like? Well, that is exactly what I have been trying to explain. If Jesus can turn water into wine and a few fish and loaves into untold bounty, then what can He do with those things that have hurt us so? Hurt is a deficiency, is it not—a deficiency of love, opportunity, self-respect. And Jesus has no trouble turning deficiencies into wine, into bounty—our cups overflowing.
Though we never heard when Jesus came down from the mountain, we have now heard that He withdrew again to the mountain; this time by himself. It surely sounds like an escape on His part. “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” We might again be reminded of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. “[T]he devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’” (Matthew 4: 8-10). Jesus never came into the world to be king, at least as we understand being king. Again, He refused the devil’s temptation.
Having split the scene, Jesus leaves the disciples by themselves. “When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” The disciples are now on their own. Sounds familiar, does it not? We’ve been there. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit are with us, blessing us in so many ways. We have felt and enjoyed their presence when suddenly, poof they are gone, as if they were never there. Oh sure, we may hang on for a time to the memories of the wonderful things they did in our lives, but now have they deserted us? Life becomes hard again. We struggle. We are confused. Our efforts are in vain. Why have you left us Lord?
This is where we find the disciples after Jesus retreated to the mountain. Life for them has become challenging again if not impossible. What did we hear in the gospel? “When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.” Notice some of the imagery here. It was evening. It was now dark. In other words, not only had the sun gone down on the disciples, but they also found themselves in that emotional, intellectual, and spiritual place of darkness. It is that same dark we have found ourselves in when we have not known what is going on or what to do. We say, “Oh, he or she is in the dark.”
Why did Jesus leave them? Why Lord did you leave me? Notice though, what John tells us. “Jesus had not yet come to them.” Is this a faith statement? If it is, then why might Jesus have deserted them and yes, us as well? What was His motive? Let’s quickly re-visit what Jesus has done so far and what that says about Him. Obviously, He healed a bunch of people. He also fed a bunch of people. In that miracle we further observed that Jesus was not limited by time; ultimately neither are we when we have Him. What does this suggest about Him and who He is? Well, the people said, “”This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” Is that the answer? Does that explain who this Jesus is? Who did the disciples believe Jesus is?
As we heard, “When [the disciples] had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” These few verses really are remarkable. The title of this sermon, “More than meets the eye”, is singularly appropriate here. Jesus is walking on water, but is that all there is to it? Actually, it is probably a trick statement because what is really happening here is that Jesus is defying gravity unless we are to believe He had no weight. Who can defy gravity?
There is, however even more here than meets the eye in these verses. Listen, again. “Then they wanted to take [Jesus] into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” What happened when Jesus got into the boat? “Immediately the boat reached the land.” Immediately! In other words, not only was Jesus not limited by time or gravity, neither was He limited by space. It’s a shame Einstein didn’t know Jesus. What would Albert have done with his theory of relativity then? Who then is this Jesus that heals, feeds thousands, and is not limited by time, gravity, or space? Who is He?
John told us at the very beginning of his gospel who this Jesus is. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (1:1-2). John though did not expect us to take his words at face value. No, he let the life and ministry of Jesus prove that He is God. He was with the Father at the beginning of creation and all things came into being through Jesus. Was it, is it any wonder that He can heal, feed thousands, defy time, gravity, and space. Heck, He created all of that. What then are we to take away from this morning’s gospel? Well, Jesus isn’t just theory He is fact. He still heals and does the miraculous. He is not limited by time, gravity, or space. This means that there is no part or place in our lives that He cannot touch and restore—no part or place. We also saw that there are times when Jesus seems to remove Himself from our lives, just as He did with the disciples. Had they done something wrong? We are not told that they had, though they could have.
Regardless, the point of Jesus’ absence was to further reveal to the disciples in His return something even more, even greater, not only greater about Him, but also greater about what He might do in their lives, in our lives. That means a lot, does it not? Whatever may be wrong, whatever our suffering, loss, or pain, if we look to Jesus He will defy time, space, and gravity to make it right and to redeem it. Is that too much to hope for? No! When we recognize Jesus for who He is—God Himself—we not only have hope, we also have promise. Is this an overnight thing? Probably not! Rather, it is a progressive thing. What does that look like? I think we know.
We are living with Jesus in our lives, and, ‘poof!’ He suddenly seems to disappear. Then just as suddenly He reappears, revealing more of Himself. In that revelation He not only brings us more love and more wholeness, He also brings us greater understanding of Him, as well as of ourselves. Does that mean all will be made right for us this side of eternity? By no means! Rather, we are to remember that with Jesus there is always more there than meets the eye. As John tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness (even our darkness), has not overcome it.” Have we invited Jesus, the light, into our lives? Maybe, now would be a good time to do so.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.