Preaching Series on the Stained Glass Windows – #5 19 August 2018
(Psalm 136:1-26 Matthew 14:13-21)
“God Sustaining God’s People!”
There are very few episodes from Jesus’ ministry that appear in all four Gospels. The most striking story that does appear is the feeding of the 5,000. This is the only miracle that all four Evangelists write about. Matthew and Mark even include second instances of this story, so Jesus’ miraculous feeding of a crowd appears six times in the four Gospels. No other story is recorded that often, not Jesus’ birth, not his death, not even his Resurrection.
So what makes this story so popular and so important to the early Christian church? I might suggest that there are two reasons why this narrative resonated so strongly with early Christians: 1.) it spoke to their experience of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) and, 2.) it resembled their own care for the poor.
Let’s look at the window.
As the children already have reminded us, we see three main symbols in this window: a basket of bread, three fish, and the Cross.
The symbols of bread and fish invite us into the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. We are being invited into a deeper understanding of Holy Communion. The beauty of this story is that everyone was fed, there was room for everyone, and there was more than enough food—twelve baskets left over. In Matthew’s account, we do not know anyone’s name; we don’t know anything about any of them. All we know is that in the blessing by Jesus everyone was fed. There is an abundance of God’s love!
Jesus’ most consistent social action was eating in new ways and with new people, encountering those who were oppressed or excluded from the social oreder of the day. A great number of Jesus’ healing and exorcisms take place while he is entering or leaving a house for a meal. In this process he redefines power and the Kingdom of God. This became the life of the early Church—to care for those on the margins and edges of society at that time. We are fed at the table of Holy Communion so we can go out to feed others.
Jesus is criticized for socializing with tax collectors and sinners. He is reprimanded for eating too much! He is judged for eating with lepers, for welcoming a woman with a bad reputation. He always seemed to break the rules by making a bigger table. The size of the table in this feeding story from Matthew is 5000 men, besides women and children, could easily been 10,000 people!
Psalm 136 reminds us of God’s “steadfast love,” mentioned 13 times in these 13 verses. In every single verse we are reminded of God’s covenant loyalty, God’s true love and mercy for all of God’s people. We celebrate that God gives food to all people, that Yahweh’s grace is ever present. And our response is gratitude, thanksgiving for all that God has done for us! “O give thanks to God,” we hear over and over and over again!
On Wednesday morning I visited a family in New Oxford to talk about First Communion. There are two small boys in the family, and I had visited a year ago for the older boy so I was now there to talk with the younger one. I always use the book, entitled, “A Place for You”, the premise being there is a place for everyone at the table of Holy Communion.
We were doing really well, and then as children can be, the focus and attention began to go elsewhere, specifically to a toy robot that ended up on the kitchen table. I’m usually pretty good at knowing when children have reached their attention-limit, and soon we were playing with the toy robot. And then I then learned we could teach the robot to talk.
So there we were, one minute talking about Holy Communion and the next minute playing with this talking robot. So I decided, wouldn’t it be neat if we could teach the robot to say, “God loves you!”
And I thought, what a perfect First Communion visit with a small child, as we talked about receiving Holy Communion for the first time and how important it is to remember God’s love for us, and then trying to make this robot say “God loves you!”
Fast forward to later in the day. After a full day of visits and being with people, late Wednesday afternoon I went to SpiriTrust to take Holy Communion to a woman who had recently been discharged from the hospital and had asked to receive Holy Communion. When I arrived at her room, we talked for a while, and then we prayed together. When she received the bread and wine, she sat back in her chair closed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. I immediately thought something had happened to her, and then she whispered, “I feel Jesus so very close to my heart!” It was in that moment that I knew Jesus was right there with us.
Two experiences of Holy Communion this past Wednesday—both very different—one a young child, his attention span really very good, but after awhile he was ready to go outside and ride his bike. The other, an older woman, a little weak from illness, but with the deep desire to receive the Eucharist. One experience teaching a toy robot to say, “God loves you!” The other, witnessing a person being held in the love of God.
At first glance, these two stories may seem to have very little to do with this fifth window. But take a closer look! See the cross as a symbol of God’s love! See the overflowing basket of bread and the fish as the excess of God’s attention to our needs! Hear the invitation to make this story our experience of Holy Communion as well as our desire to feed those for whom hunger is a way of life!
There is a profound reason why the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is the most recorded story from the ministry of Jesus. This fifth window is inviting us into the overflowing and amazingly abundant love of God!
Thanks be to God! Amen.