A MIRACULOUS FEAST - SERMON ON JOHN 6:24-35 - FR. TONY MOON, SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY
August 01, 2021
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We were dressed to the “nines” and happy to be invited to a celebration dinner that I had not imagined. Before we even saw the food, it was the food service that was remarkable. The wait staff of eight strode in single file to each round table of eight. Each plate was held high by a white-gloved hand jetting from a black tuxedo, while the left arm was neatly folded behind each back. They walked as a unit—all in step, circling the round table. And when they came to a stop, in the well-trained unison of a 21-gun salute, the waiters extended their arms, and gently settled a plate before each delighted guest. And then with a sharp bow and one step back, the waiters made an about face and just as quickly exited, leaving the guests to focus on the meal before them.
And, what a meal it was! The courses kept coming, the waiters delivering them in a style to which we surprisingly became accustomed. Although the foods were described on the menu card near my plate, their names were beyond my comprehension, and they were created in ways and of things beyond my knowledge. It was a magnificent feast—a once in a lifetime event. It was one for the books. It was what dining memories are made of. Satisfied was what I could have felt, if I’d not also felt just a little too full. “I don’t think I’ll eat for days,” traced through my mind as I exited the large glass doors of the banquet hall.
The next morning, I awoke …hungry… and thinking about what I’d make for breakfast. And then, as thoughts of last night surfaced, I was amazed to think that it was possible to feel hungry after only a few hours. And, these were not even hours spent chopping wood, but only hours spent sleeping.
Well, today’s Gospel features food. In verses prior to today’s Gospel lesson, we read about the feeding of the 5,000, which described a truly miraculous feast! Jesus speaks in today’s lesson about the transient nature of food. Now, whether it’s a quick lunch in the car or a pinnacle feast like the one just described, we always wind up in the same place: Hungry! Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that since we continually have to replenish the nutrients for our bodies. As we find the crowd of 5,000 seeking Jesus out again, Jesus quickly reads their intention. “…you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Parenthetically, ‘And, here you are looking for another lunch!’ And then he encourages them: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
Jesus wasn’t interested in dispensing food again (and again… and again… and again…) Jesus wasn’t interested in only rescuing people on this physical level of need. Granted, Jesus wanted to meet them where they were: in their hunger, in their pain and suffering, in their illness. But Jesus’ vision was much grander than just making things OK on this physical plain. Jesus’ work was more than filling stomachs. Jesus’ work was more than curing physical illness; more than relieving suffering. It even was more than breathing life back into a lifeless body. And yet, who among those 5,000 wouldn’t be happy for another meal? Who among those 5,000 wouldn’t be happy for a cure for their disease? Who wouldn’t be elated to have a love one returned to the living? And for that matter, who among us assembled here this evening, wouldn’t be delighted to have any of these miracles occur on our behalf? Sure, we would! But Jesus was focused on an even higher level. Jesus knew for certain that if we ate, we’d be hungry all over again. Jesus was attempting to re-focus these followers onto a higher plain of fulfillment, one that could allow his followers—including us—to feast at a deeper level, a spiritual level, an eternal level of union with Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit.
These first followers were focused on the physical plain—and after all, it was what was right before them and was easily comprehended by the five senses. And, although we’ve now had generations before us engaging the Christian spiritual life—at least sporadically, and we have books and courses and teachers and preachers… we still are too often asleep to the spiritual realm! We still elevate the physical world over our spiritual lives, our lives with God.
In response to Jesus’ directive that these followers work for food that endures for eternal life, they ask Jesus a very good question, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” In other words, “What is this work?”; “What must we do to live an eternal life with you?” And Jesus replies, “Believe in me.”
“Believe in me.” Is this work? Chopping wood is work. Physical labor is work. Sweating by our brow is work. And, we know, there is intellectual work—reading, learning, writing, research, imagining… this is work. But, “Believe in me”? This, my friends, is work; it is spiritual work. So, let’s think about what spiritual work entails. Spiritual work calls for us to re-orient ourselves from solely what our five senses comprehend, and accept that which is felt, but not physically felt with our hands; seen but not seen with our eyes; heard, but not heard with our ears. This is the work of the inner being connecting with a hidden wholeness.
This work re-orients us from the things of the world, to the things of the Divine—from ego and competition, to spirit and collaboration; from fighting for a place in the world, to accepting that you are already God’s beloved.
This work re-orients us from feeling isolated and alone in the world, to recognizing that God is with us in every step, in every mis-step; in every peak experience, in every mundane and ordinary experience; in every breath we take; in every interaction with each and every person. Who can deny that this re-orientation is work? This is our work.
We might begin in earnest to endeavor to see God in all things, but soon we’re off the trail and judging someone by our standards. Or, if not judging, just simply forgetting that God has any interest in being with us as we pump gas, or buy groceries, or change diapers, or cook dinner. We may leave God parked at Church as drive away to our real lives…with the demands of our real family… who have real problems and issues… Why would God have any interest in being present to any of this? …Why? Because God loves you. Yes, that may sound cliché, but let me encourage you to listen to these words anew: God. loves. you.
We talk about searching for God, but the truth is, God is searching for us more diligently; God will always break into our lives whenever we’ll allow it. God is always trying to interact with us. God loves it when we remember and include God. God holds us as God’s beloved. God holds us all as God’s beloved.
God fed all of the 5,000 with a miracle. God wants to feed us, too. Jesus asked those followers that day to be open to being fed in a different way. This is what I am asking of you, today. Be open to being fed by God with God every minute of every day. God walks every path with us whether we recognize that or not. Let us open ourselves to this constant Companion, and as with any good companion, let us share ourselves, our lives with God. I hope that we can begin today to talk with God as our good Companion, and share every hurt and defeat, every joy and triumph, every mundane and ordinary moment with God. It is through this togetherness, this communion, that our relationship will grow and nourish us. This is the Divine food—the everlasting feast—we need!
Fr. Tony Moon, Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.