Today I’d like to look at today’s Gospel lesson, the aftermath of the feeding of the multitude with bread and fish … I want to look at this story from the perspective of identity and transition.
It’s often, and somewhat truly, said that you can know a person by what she does…
That is—how you see her live her life.
There’s a conversation between Jesus and Peter in John’s Gospel I’d like us to think about.
The Risen Jesus is having breakfast with some of his disciples, loaves and fishes again, and Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these others.” Peter response, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus asks him three times “Do you love me?” (He says this to the man who had denied him three times, remember.)
And always Peter says, “You know that I love you.”
Then Jesus says, “Feed my lambs, Feed my sheep” ….”Feed my sheep.” And then, as he had at the beginning of their relationship, he says, “Follow me.”
Now, if you think about it, this exchange has everything to do with us, in this place and at this time in our life as a congregation.
In the first place, we need to ask, “Do we love God, as we experience God in Jesus?”
Do we? I hope so – because that is the heart of the Gospel, God’s love for us and our response to God.
And further, “Can we love our neighbor as God/Christ loves us?”
Can we? What does it mean?
You know … the very center of all that is in our lives – our strength, our power, our hope, our life itself – is located in what can be called our “love affair with God”.
The most important thing for you and me is to be with God – and to allow God to be with us, through the way we know God in the person of Jesus Christ.
He repeats it over and over, “Do you love me?”…so that we might respond, in words … and by who we are … and by what we do with our lives.
We can demonstrate, we can show, our love for the Lord by being faithful to his command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
He didn’t say LIKE your neighbor … he says treat others as you want and need them to treat you. Simple, isn’t it.
He says, “Feed my sheep.” Feed them. Be a person of compassion. Feed them, as we are fed by Jesus – in the communion, in all our blessings – in the giving of ourselves as best we can when the summons comes.
I heard the story of the little boy who couldn’t stand the hot food at his school cafeteria. Didn’t eat it. Was hungry at the end of the day.
One day they served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – he was delighted, and said, “Finally, we got some home cooked food!”
Feeding others with our home-cooked food …with the Bread of Life….
There are so many hungry in the world … most of us have plenty to eat, but that’s not true of millions, even in the United States.
That kind of hunger may be the cause of many of the troubles of the world.
So providing food to those needing it can be an expression of true compassion, even as it was when Jesus fed the hungry multitude, out of compassion.
That’s important. Feeding the hungry, providing whatever they need …
Physical sustenance … but also knowledge – mind sustenance…and helping ensure health – bodily sustenance of another sort …. A sense of worthiness – emotional sustenance.
These are all ways in which we, as the body of Christ, can carry out his commandments, simply (if you think about it) do what he did!
But remember Jesus also told the tempter Satan in the wilderness “People shall not live by bread alone!” We need food for the Spirit as much as for the body.
People need Soul Sustenance. We do, and so does everybody we encounter – even the sheep who sometimes appear in Wolf’s Clothing .. a threat, but beloved of God as much as any.
Yes, we need the Bread of Life .. the Bread that lives … and so do all those we encounter on our daily walk through live.
Who is the Bread of Life? Who? Jesus Christ.
And who is the Body of Christ? We are!
I promise you that each of us will have at many opportunities this very week in, some concrete way, to feed at least one hungry person … one Soul.
I promise you that, so long as you are open to the possibility, each one of us will encounter someone who is hungry for the Word of God, the active, compassionate love of God in this needful world,
IF we but take the time to translate that compassion into action.
This is our mission.
And I believe it’s that mission that this Church, St. Paul’s, a parish in transition … and the struggling, sometimes appearing lost Episcopal Church ..
And yes, the Methodist Church, and Roman Catholic Church, and all the Churches who seem sometimes so lost on their pilgrimage.
We are called, now, to be disciples of Christ, to be evangelists of God’s love for God’s people – first of all by simply showing Christ’s compassion, and sharing Christ’s actions of healing and feeding and loving, as Christ did, in listening, being with those who need us, and in action.
That’s who we are called to be.
I read the other day that for us to be who we are called to be, we need to understand that the false split between the “spiritual” and the “material” is put to the lie in our Gospel story of the feeding of the multitude.
People who seek to be “spiritual” without compassion that is carried out into action in this “material” world are not paying attention.
The two aren’t split, as the feeding of the multitude makes clear.
As the writer said, Christianity is not so much about “saving souls” as about the putting right of ourselves, our souls and bodies … and the world.
When we feed those in need, in heart and soul and body, we are being sacramental, spiritual, and when we receive communion and when we pray, we are being material. “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Material and spiritual – all one.
Right now, at a time of significant transitions and the seeds of renewal all about, I believe the Church has the opportunity to encounter the Risen Lord, here and now,
With a new Christ-filled leader of our national Episcopal Church,
as we plan together for a reshaped and re-formed Diocese of Easton,
as this parish seeks and finds vision in places you are only beginning to discover,
and in our lives together, as the People of God.
The Risen Christ says, “If you seek to love me as I love you, feed my sheep … feed them.”
If we can do that, the problems of transition, the problems of discerning our way forward ,,,, these all will be overcome,
Because we are living out our identity --
the Body of Christ, bringing the Bread of Life to the world.
(The Rev.) Stephan Klingelhofer