Homily: The Awesome Power of God
2 Kings 4:42-44 Ephesians 4:1-6 John 6:1-15 The Message
It’s tempting to read this story from the Gospel of John as one more example of Jesus’ compassion, with the feeling of communion added in, when Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, and distributes it to the hungry crowd. We would be missing so much, however. Yes, there is compassion and communion in these stories, but there is so much more.
While Jesus’ heart is touched by the hunger of the crowd, John is teaching us about what seems to be his favorite subject: the power of God in Jesus, and who this Jesus is. Of course, we learn who Jesus is by what he does (isn’t that true of everyone – don’t actions speak even louder than words?), but John’s powerful discourses by Jesus are not free-floating. The words Jesus said connect to these stories about what Jesus did.
And so we have the disciples, overwhelmed by the crowd, computing the cost of feeding so many people. “Impossible!” they say, but we know that all things are possible with God, of course, especially with Jesus, who redefines what is possible. God’s power, after all, is “far more than all we can ask or imagine,” as we read in Ephesians, our second reading.
Ironically, the longing of the people for freedom leads them, alas, to set their sights too short. It’s certainly understandable, and only human, that they would see Jesus as a miracle-worker and even as a potential king. They hold onto the promise of Deuteronomy, the promise of a prophet like Moses who will be raised up by God to lead them. Is it any wonder then that they see a good candidate for king in this man of power? Even the desire for a king, however, is too small a dream and falls far short of God’s dream for the people.
But Jesus is even greater than that prophet they had been waiting for all these centuries, even greater than “a wonder-worker” who will fulfill their every need and desire. Jesus wants to give us what we don’t even realize we need, at least not consciously; he knows what we need, deep down in our innermost, authentic human selves. Have we actually asked for too little, when God can give us so much more? Can we see beyond our immediate wants and expectations? How else will we begin to see where God is leading us?
But let’s really apply John’s teaching about the power of God to the life of our community, St. James Parish. What are our expectations for our shared life, and do they need to be transformed? What hope do we have in spite of our obvious shortages of money and our shrinking membership? Do we worry about whether we are being true to the gospel, speaking courageously, and acting boldly on behalf of all those who suffer? Or are we worried about whether our church will be able to pay its bills? This is an especially pressing question at times such as these, when our resources are especially scarce, when the temptation to concentrate on survival and maintenance might distract us from our true mission.
After many years as pastor, I understand that these questions are not necessarily and completely opposed to each other. We want our parish to survive, so that it can minister to those in need and speak a prophetic word in a world that has often wandered from compassion and justice to hoarding and aggressively defensive self-interest. It’s understandable that we worry about shrinking membership and resources in the face of such great needs.
But we need to focus not just on the ‘reasonable’, not just on ‘basic needs’, but on ‘multiplying resources’, so that we might experience a revelation of amazing grace. There are those words again: grace, and amazing, both of which belong in a discussion of miracles and wonders. Have you ever witnessed such sharing, such wonders, such grace, like today’s Gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves? Generosity itself is a miracle to me, and it expresses a power – God’s power – to completely transform lives. And I don’t mean the lives of those who receive as much as those who give. Katherine Matthews Huey