“He may strengthen you.” We’ve been following the Gospel account of St Mark for a while now, the account of the strong Jesus who defeats demons and casts out sickness, the strong powerful Lion of Judah, the one who sent out the disciples with power over and against demons to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s victory. But today and for the next few weeks we’re meditating on John chapter 6, the feeding of the 5000 and Christ’s teaching of that crowd. Two things, to eat and to hear, to eat food and to hear the Word of God. Food to strengthen the body and God’s Word to bring strength and life to the soul.
And today, the fourth Sunday of July; if you didn’t know, because I didn’t; is National Bible Sunday, another opportunity to celebrate the wonderful gift of God in providing and preserving His Word written down for us. Yes, there’s many different versions, different flavours, and I’m sure we all have preferences, yet most all of them have a place. Much like bread.
And in this wonderful gift of God’s Word, we hear of 5000 men and more women and children, likely over 10000 people eating their fill with more left over. All that from 5 barley loaves, not wheat or rye but barley, and also two small fish. It was a miraculous feast in that field near the sea. However, it was not the first time God provided like this for His people, as we heard from 2 Kings (4:42-44) He had multiplied bread before to give life to His people suffering in a famine. And that was not the first time He strengthened His people with bread, the Passover festival mentioned in today’s Gospel reading, remembers the Exodus from Egypt, when God brought His people through the desert fed with the manna, bread from heaven. The Lord quelled their hunger, providing so they would not starve to death. And for us, we all know that pain of hunger, that desire to fill our bellies, the empty, sinking feeling that drives us … to go to the kitchen and open the fridge to check if you want to cook those sausages or if that raw broccoli look tasty yet. Here in Australia, we are blessed that we do not suffer famine, like so many others; yet still you know that bread, that food, gives you strength and sustains your life.
And yet you also know that everyone who eats bread, eventually looses their strength and dies. Yes, bread is good, strengthening and sustaining life, Jesus Himself blesses it and shares it out; and yet filling your belly does not defeat death. But here today we receive something that does.
In these books, thick, skinny, large-print and small; these books hold the very Word of God, the Words that spoke life into creation, that freed God’s people from Egyptian slavery, that fed and sustained the people of old. God’s Word is here with us now, we’ve heard it read from the bible, heard our forgiveness proclaimed, given, again, we have this opportunity to meditate on it, how God’s Word gives everlasting life as bread sustains this body, and we will share in God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, in His Holy Communion. Yes, we are called to feed the hungry, but more than that to receive God’s Life-giving Word, to chew on it, meditate on it, incorporate it into our thinking, into our lives, our inner-being, and strengthened by it to bring God’s love and life to those around you. After all, those 5000 men as well as the women and children who ate bread on that field all eventually died; and yet all those who receive God’s Word, consume it, incorporate it, let it become part of themselves, those who eat God’s Word, the tough parts, the bitter, the salty, the sweet, they will live forever in Christ Jesus, the Word of God.
And so, I pray with Paul for you, that out of Our Heavenly Father’s glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Holy Spirit opening your ears to hear His Holy Word and guiding you into all truth in your inner being.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Word of God. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham