Year B Proper 12, 25 July 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (Live and Online)
“Let God Be God”
Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
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.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
Who do we think we are? Really! Who do we think we are? Sometimes I am aghast at the hubris of how important, or powerful, or strong we think we are. When we stare at the cosmos, the crises, or death in the face, we are too quickly reminded of our fragility and impermanence. And what hope do we have? As the Psalmist penned (100:2 BCP, p. 729):
Know this: The LORD himself is God; *
he himself has made us, and we are his;
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
The people in the Bible are just like us. In fact, the more I read the Gospels, and the rest of Scripture, the more I feel and see that the people are real just like you and me, and that no one, unless they are telling the absolute truth, would allow themselves to be depicted in such a way as the disciples and our Bible heroes do. They are glaringly obvious that they are not who they could be, who they should be, but in their weakness they are strong, pointing to the one in who they believe.
I know we try to be strong. I know most of you are trying to be holy. I was leading a retreat a few weeks ago, and someone asked me what I thought was wrong with the Church. Not this particular church, but the Church in general and the Church in the United States in particular. I surprised them with my answer. I simply stated, “We no longer pray for rain.”
Now I was not talking about water, per se, but the idea that goes with it. That we are reliant on God for everything. I heard one theologian describe American Christianity as Functional Atheism. We talk about God a lot. But do we talk to God? Do we give space for God to speak?
This morning we see a lot of folks a lot like us. People who are doing good, but they are trying to do good without bringing God into the picture, without expecting God to show up. And when we forget to give things to God, we wonder why we don’t see miracles. When we give our gifts, no matter how meager, God shows up in ways we do not expect. Whether its 5 loaves and two fish, or our last hope when the storms of life are raging?
How might we approach worship, if we gave it up to God, we expected God to show up?
How might we serve in our clinic, or in our Sunday School or Youth Group, or Kitchen, if we expected God to show up?
How might you give to the Church if you expected God to show up and do great things?
How might you pray if you expected God to show up and actually give what you truly need and really want?
When we lived in a time when we depended on God for everything, people prayed for rain, and nourishment, and healing, and hope, expecting God to show up. This morning I started by saying we try to be strong, and some of us try to be holy. But if you go back and look at the Collect for this week, Proper 12, what did we say?
O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
Increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may so pass through things temporal,
that we lose not the things eternal...
Friends, that prayer is a prayer of those who want God to show up.
When did we move beyond that? When did we stop leaving space for God to do what only God can do?
I am not saying that we should “put the Lord our God to the test.” Far from it. The Bible says not to. But the Bible also shows us, particularly in today’s readings, that God can show up, and when God does we should not be surprised. Don’t plan on it. Don’t dictate the details. But also, do not be surprised when it happens.
I am often taken aback when these little moments happen. I am moved to faith repeatedly, and often given a space to tell the stories. Too often to my wife, or a book group, or the Vestry some account of when God showed up. My joke line I use often is, “Makes you think there might be a God!” I have to stop using that. I say it because of my discomfort. I say it because I was AGAIN reminded that God is going to do things beyond my explanation, beyond my belief at times. And when that happens, I need to not be surprised. I should swap out, “Makes you think there might be a God!” for “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Friends, when the disciples looked down and saw how little they had, they did not see with the eyes of faith. They looked down with pragmatic eyes, they looked at how little they had. They were so forlorn that they had to show Jesus how little they had. A boy’s lunch of five small pieces of bread and two dried fish.
You might look at where things are, and say, “Your faith will only get you so far.” True. But God is bigger than your problems. God is bigger than your meager gift. God is bigger than your faith, or your pragmatism, or your cynicism. God is with us, and for us, and that twinkle in the eye is God wanting to say, “Sit down and watch this!”
The disciples saw how little. Jesus saw how much.
When the prophet saw what they had in our Kings readings, the prophet saw how much they had.
As we come out of COVID, and the economy is questionable, and the variants and their outcomes are rising again, and our leaders spend more time bickering than leading, I need to remind myself that I need to give it over to God.
The theologian and Hebrew Scriptures scholar Walter Brueggemann, penned this prayer for
"The Giver of Bread and Fish"
"We do 'thoughts and prayers' easily and glibly;
we do 'thoughts' without thinking;
we do "prayers' with out praying.
We commit that glib act
because it is what we know how to
do with an anemic god, or
because we are embarrassed to do
because it is convenient and costs us
Now, however, we are driven to un-
thinkable thoughts, about
all that is ending, and
all this we have lost, and
all that leaves us with a sinking
Now, however, we are driven, some
of us, to unutterable prayers.
We are driven to such prayer
by awareness that our usual reliabilities are gone.
We are driven to you, the abiding
when other helpers fail and comforts flee.
Thus we are bold to pray:
We are bold to ask, because it will be
So we pray for the end of the virus,
for the health of the neighborhood,
for recovery of the economy.
We are bold to seek, because you will be
We seek your mercy and your goodness
and your generosity,
so let yourself be found by us.
We are bold to knock, because it will be
We know many doors slammed shut,
doors of health and safety and comfort and fun.
Open to us the door of life, and
love and peace and joy.
Here we are in your presence:
We ask for bread:
the bread of life,
the bread of abundance,
the bread of neighborly sharing.
Do not give us a stone or a crumb.
We ask for fish:
the fish of a good diet,
the fish of your abundant waters,
the fish that signs the gospel.
Do not give us a snake or the hiss of
We dare to pray, not because we are
at our wits end,
but because you are at the center of
Our hope is in no other save in thee
So hear, heal, save, restore!
Be the God you have promised to be.
From "Virus as a Summons to Faith" by Walter Brueggemann
We need to do what we can. We need to give what we can. We need to believe. And let God do what only God can do. Lord, we believe, help our disbelief!
I close today with the words that St. Paul uses to close today’s reading from Ephesians:
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.