Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6:1-21
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – July 29, 2018
“You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. … You are near to all who call upon you, to all who call upon you faithfully.” Satisfaction. Abundance. Presence. These are the themes we hear throughout these texts. Taking a page out of the last night’s wonderful concert by String Theory, these are the improvisations on a theme – the riffs played over the melody of God’s love poured out for all humanity.
In Ephesians, the author prays that we might be filled up with the abundance of God. “I pray that, … he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
What an incredible prayer! That through the Spirit we might have Christ dwelling in our hearts. That we would be rooted and grounded in love instead of selfishness, pride, fear, or anything else we allow to have power over us. That we would fully grasp with believers in all times and places the enormity of Christ’s love so that we can recognize the fullness of God within us.
We would do well to pray this prayer for others and for ourselves. Because this is not something we learn overnight. All of us are on a journey. Over time, we grow in understanding of God’s love and, as that happens, we also grow in our capacity to share Christ’s love with others.
I love the phrase “rooted and grounded” because it immediately makes me think of mighty trees, starting small and reaching with their leafy branches into the sky. Interestingly enough, trees communicate with each other and share resources through their root systems. If one tree is being attacked by insects or blight, it can send signals to other trees so that they can raise their defenses. Dying trees deposit resources helpful in aiding the growth of young trees. A forest is a community rooted and grounded. And we are similar to those trees. We, too, share our abundance with others so they can grow and thrive, have resources for difficult situations, and so that the community as a whole can flourish.
All of this is only possible because we are rooted and grounded not in ourselves, but in Christ. It is only through Christ’s amazingly abundant love that we love. And it is the love that surpasses all knowledge. The love of God is not head knowledge, but heart knowledge.
This became clear again to me this past week. I was praying silently about people and situations that were on my heart. I knew that a lot of these things I couldn’t fix, but experience had taught me enough to know in my head that God was still at work. So I found myself thinking about how everything was in Jesus’ hands. I found three simple words forming the basis of my prayer: “everything is yours.” But as I was repeating and meditating on these simple words, I heard a surprising answer: “I am yours.” I sat in a kind of stunned awe. I knew this in my head, that Jesus had given us everything – his love, his very life on the cross, and new life through him. But those three simple words I heard in response drove it home to my heart again.
In that moment, there was a sense of being filled with all the abundant fullness of God – the joy, peace, hope, and love of Christ. One of my favorite hymns is “The Church’s One Foundation.” In that hymn, the lyrics say the church has “mystic sweet communion with Jesus Christ her Lord.” In that moment, I felt like I had a taste of that.
I think about that taste of God’s love and I think about those people listening to Jesus all day, being fed by his presence and his words. I think about the fact that Jesus knows how he is going to feed them – exactly what he is going to do, not only to care for them spiritually, but to feed them physically.
Jesus teaches the people and feeds them real soul food before he feeds them with bread and fish. Because our worship should always be directed toward God, the giver, not what we’re given. Note that Jesus runs away when they try to make him king because he doesn’t want them relying on signs and wonders. He wants them instead to rely on him – the giver of all good things. Jesus, the bread of life, is their fulfillment and abundance. He is our fulfillment and our abundance.
But we also have a role in all of this. Jesus used the simple offering of a boy in the crowd to feed those in need. And in the end people received not only as much as they needed, but as much as they wanted and even then there was plenty left. That’s God’s abundance.
And even more than that we hear, “When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’” The crowds – the multitudes – are completely satisfied. Their every need has been met, both through hearing Jesus’ words and in being fed physically. But it’s fascinating that Jesus tells the disciples to gather the fragments of bread and fish that nothing may be lost. In Jesus’ kingdom, nothing goes to waste. Nothing is disposable. Nothing is worthless. No one is disposable. No one is worthless. No one is not enough.
Because in God’s kingdom, things and people have inherent worth. They are redeemed. They are transformed. They are made new. In the words of Ephesians, Jesus is at work in us and is able to “accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” And in case these words sound familiar, they have been our blessing throughout Ordinary Time.
We may feel fragmented. We may feel broken. We may feel completely incapable of fulfilling a need. But there is a power at work in us that has an abundance – that has a means of rooting and grounding us in God in ways we never thought possible. There is a power at work in us that can do more than we can even imagine. Some of us may have pretty vivid imaginations, but God’s power – the same imaginative power that sculpted the world and brought forth beautiful plants and animals and complex life – that creative power is at work in us.
The fragments are collected so that nothing is lost – the broken bits and pieces of our lives are gathered and held in God’s hands. They are used and redeemed, and made into something beautiful.
We are loved so we can love. We are fed so that we, too, can feed people not only with the good news of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness for them, but so we can attend to their very real physical needs: hunger, lack of housing, poverty, lack of medical care, food desserts where nutritious food is in short supply, addiction, and threats to their well-being and safety.
We are never fed just to sit around with full bellies. We are fed and strengthened, nourished by God’s grace so that we can share it with others. There is a world hungry to hear that they are loved and cherished. We need to hear it over and over and others do, too.
We may feel shattered or broken, but God collects those fragments and uses them so that nothing is lost. We have everything we need. It’s already been given to us. It is that incredible power of God at work in us for the sake of the world.
I’ll close with part of a blessing adapted by Michael Coffey:
“Carry with you the living bread that you were given here,
as a treasure in your hands and in your heart,
and share it again and again.
It will suffice forever,
as long as you continue to break it.
Thanks be to God for sending us out.
Thanks be to God for welcoming us here always.”