Sermons That Work

They Did Not Understand…, Proper 12 (B) – 2000

July 30, 2000


“They did not understand about the loaves.” The Gospel narrative that we heard today is the conclusion to the story that began with last Sunday’s Gospel. In that narrative, Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. Immediately following the miracle of the loaves, Jesus dismissed the crowd who had just been fed, sent the disciples back across the Sea of Galilee, and sought solitude on the mountain for the purpose of prayer. It would appear that St. Mark intended the story about Jesus walking on the water to point out the fact that the disciples did not have a clue about the significance of the miracle of the loaves. He states that “they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” This phrase about hardened hearts is used many times in Scripture to describe a lack of faith. The blindness of those whose hearts are hardened is not a malicious blindness, but rather, due to a lack of sight that has not yet been awakened by faith. In today’s story, the disciples had witnessed the miracle of the loaves with little more, if any, understanding than the crowd that was fed. So Jesus walking on the water did not help them to a better understanding about the loaves, it merely added to their astonishment. They did not understand about Jesus. They did not understand about his purpose and mission. They did not even understand about Jesus’ influence over the powers of nature. They were not seeing with the eyes of faith. Miracles do not direct and determine faith, but rather are defined and determined by faith. God could perform all sorts and types of miracles before a person with a hardened heart, that is, a person of no faith, to no avail. But the person of faith can see miracles in even the most common and ordinary of things: a prayer answered, a comforting word, a sunset. Only after a person begins to respond to that spark of faith implanted by the Holy Spirit do miracles and God’s other actions in our lives, whether extraordinary or ordinary, begin to have meaning and purpose. Only then can we begin to understand. The loaves represent Jesus as the sustainer of life, that is, Jesus’ presence in the life of the Christian. This spiritual life which Jesus sustains is not only our personal spiritual lives, but also, our spiritual lives interwoven, connected, joined together with each other in the Body of Christ, the church. Jesus not only sustains us in a spiritual relationship with him, but also with each other. Through Jesus we are also a presence to each other. In the reading from Ephesians, St. Paul discusses four aspects of this spiritual life. The first addressed is the manner in which we are to live our Christian lives on a daily basis. He enjoins the people of God to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul has in mind what he wrote in the first chapter. We have been called to the Christian life because God chose us to live with God forever (1:4), as God’s adopted sons and daughters through Jesus Christ (1:5), because we are the beneficiaries of the life-giving death of Jesus Christ (1:7). Because of this God fills us with God’s presence through grace(1:8), and makes known to us the mystery of God’s will through Jesus Christ (1:9). And through our response in faith to God’s free gift we have been sealed with the mark of the Holy Spirit as God’s own (1:13). How is this call to lead the Christian life exemplified? It is a life witnessed by humility, with gentleness, with patience. It is a life which is exemplified by an understanding and support of one another in love, and a life which never ceases to seek ways to continue that unity in the Body of Christ through the peace given by the Holy Spirit. Then St. Paul goes on to define the unity of the Spirit: one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is parent of all and in all and through all. As Christians, do we really understand about the loaves? As a group of people joined together in one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one hope in our calling, do we reflect what St. Paul teaches as the meaning of the calling to which we have been called? In other words, how much do we reflect the understanding about the loaves? Are we praying that we remain open to the influence of the Spirit in our collective life, “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Are we praying for each other? Are we praying not only our friends and the people we like but also people who are different from us, perhaps people we do not care for? Are we gathering with brothers and sisters to witness to the love of Christ in our lives, to seek support and comfort and fellowship? Have we perhaps found ourselves, at times, isolating, separating self from the body. But then how can we reflect the presence of Christ in our lives if we are unwilling to be Christ’s presence to others? How can we witness to the saving presence of Christ in us if we separate ourselves from the Body of Christ? In the second and third aspects of this Christian life to which we have been called, St. Paul teaches that Christian unity is not to be confused with uniformity, for the members of the Body have been endowed with various gifts which leads to a diversity in the one Body. As members of the Anglican Communion we should delight in this for we love diversity in the Body of Christ. We do not have to think alike, to think exactly the same, to do things in exactly the same way. It is this diversity of gifts expressed in the various ministries of the people of God that reflects the faith of the Christian community sustained by Christ, and stimulates its growth. It is not just the faith of the individual which benefits, but also the faith of the people of God. There is no life without growth, and growth is enhanced by a willingness to change–not change for the sake of change, but rather, change for the sake of growth. The fourth aspect is that the Body of Christ is built up as we, its members, attain unity in Christ founded on our common faith in him. St. Paul states that we are joined together, as with ligaments, for the purpose of growing up into the Body of Christ; and it is through the diversity of the Body’s parts that the Body is able to build itself up in love. Sometimes we struggle with this. Perhaps at times we find ourselves trying to protect and preserve that which we as individuals consider to be the indispensable and absolute expression of the Body of Christ. In other words, there is the temptation to become confused about what is best for the church. St. Paul writes that we are called to speak the truth in love; but we cannot speak the truth in love unless we understand about the loaves. Without the understanding about the loaves, the recognition of absolute truth, that is, God’s truth, and the boundaries of my individual understanding of God’s truth become hazy and confused. There is always the tendency for us to confuse individual truth with absolute truth and to come to the conclusion that my truth and God’s truth are one and the same. When Christians think like this there is a hardness of heart, for they confuse their personal understanding of faith with God’s absolute truth. If we understand that the church, as the Body of Christ, is the sustainer of our individual and collective Christian lives; if we understand about the call to live our lives witnessed by humility, gentleness, patience, accepting one another with love; if we understand about the diversity of gifts as an expression of the Body of Christ and that even in our diversity there is a unity in the Spirit; then we understand about the loaves. If we understand about the loaves, we have a wonderful opportunity to remain open to the influence and grace of the Spirit as we continue on our journey of growth into the Body of Christ. Amen.

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