Sermon preached by
Mrs Kate White
The context and lead- up in John's Gospel
- John 2: water to wine at wedding in Cana;
- John 4: healing of the official's son;
- John 5: healing at the pool of Bethesda;
- here in John 6: feeding of 5000 and walking on the water.
This is a catalogue of miracles, a miracle fest. However the message of gospel writer goes beyond telling us of some pretty strange individual happenings. It's much more. Such is the quantity of miracle stories in this and the other gospels, that we stop reading about individual miraculous events and instead realise we're reading about a rich seam of the miraculous as a huge part of who Jesus is.
We realise as we read one story after the other that we're being told, not so much about what Jesus is DOING, rather about who Jesus IS. The realm of the miraculous is part of him, and in turn part of God, not an add on activity for days which would otherwise be less than full. Miracles are not a clever hobby for Jesus, they are part of his persona and tell us a lot about God the Son and God the father. Could preach whole sermon on definitions of the miraculous, and on the Church's understanding of the meaning of miracles. You'll be relieved to know I don't intend to do that! I'll cut to the chase by putting my cards on the table and explaining my own rationale for addressing the miracles:
As I've already suggested, I place the emphasis at the beginning not on individual specific miracles, but on an overall context of the miraculous. This frees me from the trappings of the accuracy of description and historical account.
- Did the miracles happen exactly as we read of them in the gospels? I find it doesn't really matter
- Were there actually 5 loaves and two fish, or 3 loaves and 4 fish? It doesn't matter.
Actually, coming as I do from Poole, Dorset, and being brought up on large amounts of locally caught fresh fish, I have no problem at all in believing that 2 fish could feed 5000 people, they certainly seemed to go a long way in our house! The details are not so important; my own approach sees first of all an overall context and setting where miraculous things happened when Jesus was around. So what should our reaction be to the miracle stories?
Well, we can certainly be amazed. Both of the stories we've heard today are amazing—a mass feeding, and then Jesus walks on the water. They're not run-of-the-mill. They wowed the crowds then and they should wow us now. BUT we should not be surprised by them. For what we are reading about is our God in action, and we should already be clear that our God is a big God who operates in dimensions we cannot fathom. With God all things are possible. He is infinite, not containable, not entirely explainable. He cannot be contained in books or in clever minds full of knowledge. We should not second-guess him, and we shouldn't try to limit him.
This miraculous seam which runs through Jesus' ministry is entirely consistent with what we know of God the Father as a powerful God who cares about bringing fullness of life to people. We should not be surprised when God the Son does something amazing. So what should we do when we read again one of these well-known miracle stories? This is where the feeding of the 5000, perhaps more than any other miracle, helps us. Because we see in this story a challenge. We see here people and God doing good things together, the key word being "together". People produced the food, God, in Jesus, multiplied it and made special things happen. If you were to represent this as a mathematical formula it would look something like:
God + Humans = amazing things!!
Miracles are rather like windows onto the relationship between God and people. They show us that God's will is health and fullness of life for all. The people were hungry and then they were fed. But they were fed as a consequence of superb team work, God and people pulling together. When this happens anything is possible, but only if we accept that we're not the audience for miracles, we're the players. If God is Alex Ferguson (and there's a sermon there somewhere!), then we are not the fans in the Old Trafford stand. Rather we are the David Beckhams and the Ryan Giggs of the operation. We are making it happen, not watching it happen. We could spend our whole lives looking for signs and miracles because they reassure us there is a God. Let's not do that. Instead let's spend our whole lives looking for OUR miracle, the one we play a part in, together with God. Where and when is your miracle? Have you had it yet? Not the one done to you, but rather the one you did. Let's not forget that Jesus strongly rebuked those who spent all their time looking for a sign. If this was the way of Christian faith then God would be reduced to the level of supernatural conjuror, and we would be reduced to passive observers not active players. That's not how it is. Let's go and look for our miracle ? it might not be on the scale of feeding 5000 people, or walking on water - but somewhere out there is our moment, our opportunity as individuals, as St Mark's Church, to get out of the stands and onto the pitch. God has a miracle in mind for us—let's go and find it.
Bible Notes and Readings for 30th July 2000