A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, July 15, 2018
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett
The Epistle, Romans 6:19-23 – The Gospel, St. Mark 8:1-9
I. The Gospel and the Eucharistic pattern
We think of the feeding of the five thousand as a miracle—and it is that. But it also a pattern for the life of faith—a pattern for what we can call a Eucharistic life. When we follow the example of Jesus in the feeding miracle as a habit or pattern of life, we experience continuing the miracle of God’s provision.
The gospel story takes place in a remote setting in Israel, but it portrays a typical crisis. There are too many needs and not enough resources. In the gospel, there were 4000 mouths and only a few loaves and fishes. In our lives, there are too many things to do and not enough time; there are too many financial needs and not enough money; there is too much work and not enough laborers.
Apart from God our response to need follows a characteristic pattern. First, we get anxious about the problem; then we develop a plan to solve it; then we anxiously pursue our plan. Prayer typically comes in at this point. We ask God to help us with our plan, the plan that results from anxiety rather than faith. We work hard and pray hard and hope that we will get what we want for our efforts. We often achieve just enough of the illusion of success to tempt us to continue to try to control life this way.
Jesus established a new pattern. The first thing Jesus did was to take the inadequate supply of food and give thanks to God for it. Rather than complaining about what he did not have or becoming anxious, Jesus took what he had and offered in to God in thanksgiving. Then he went about the business of feeding the people—and there was enough to meet the need and more.
II. How we follow this pattern.
The Greek word for giving thanks is Eucharist. We follow the Eucharistic pattern of Jesus when we begin by giving thanks. We begin by taking everything that God has given us, as inadequate as it seems for the needs before us, and we offer it back to God in thanksgiving. Today is the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, the beginning of our time. We begin by giving thanks. We offer the Eucharist. We offer ourselves and all we are and have to God. Our inadequate offering is made acceptable because it is united with and consecrated by the offering of Jesus. By ourselves we do not have enough, but in Christ we have all that we need.
We receive back from God the Bread of Life. Our inadequate offering becomes sufficient food to meet the needs of our lives. An exchange, a trade, takes place in the Eucharist. We offer to God all the unmanageable stuff of our lives. We give it to God because he is God and he alone can change our inadequate supply in his abundance. We receive back a sense of vocation and ministry. We receive the wisdom to know what can do and the grace to do it. As we faithfully do the work God has given us, God provides for us.
This is the pattern Jesus alludes to in Matthew 6:
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you (Matt. 6:31-33).
This is the pattern St. Paul describes in Philippians 4:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7).
Jesus gave God thanks for the inadequate supply of food first, then he went about the business of the feeding the people. This teaches us to give thanks to God and offer everything to God first, and then to focus on doing God’s will in our lives each day. As we do this, God will provide for us and give us his peace.
III. The need to learn this pattern by practice.
We learn this pattern by practice. We can experience God’s provision and peace in one circumstance, but then easily digress back into the pattern of the world when we face our next challenge. God’s provision and peace can easily be replaced by new anxiety and need. We live our faith by a Rule or pattern of prayer. Our Rule of prayer teaches us to live by the Eucharistic pattern by teaching us to offer life to God again and again in thanksgiving. We need to practice letting God be God and practice focusing on our own faithfulness rather than worrying about the results. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” because we are forgetful people. We gather in church to remember and practice.
The discipline of offering prayer to God each day—what we call the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer—are the way we extend the Eucharistic pattern into our daily lives. We begin each day by offering the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. We begin each day by offering our anxieties to God and recommitting ourselves to focusing on the work we are called to do rather than the problem or the needed results. We return to our prayer each day to remember again and to practice again the discipline of a Eucharistic life.
The goal is to remember God always, to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). However, the ability to pray without ceasing is built on the foundation of our habits of prayer. Skill is developed by habitual practice. A golfer who does not practice may hit some good shots, but he won’t hit them as consistently as he would if he practiced. A musician who does not practice may have a moment of brilliance, but he will not be as consistently good as he would be if he practiced. Prayer works the same way. As we persevere in our habits and practices of prayer over long seasons of time, we develop habitual competence—we learn to “pray without ceasing.” The Eucharistic pattern becomes the default setting.
Many Christians do not experience the miracle of God’s provision and God’s peace because their faith is not embodied in daily practices of prayer and thanksgiving that produce the fruit of faith and peace over time. They live according to the anxious pattern of the world and run to God only for occasional help when their plan isn’t working. Consequently, they experience the anxiety and neediness of the world more than God’s provision and God’s peace.
The feeding miracle teaches us the simple—but hard to learn—pattern of faith. Begin by giving thanks. Begin each week and each day in prayer by offering our lives to God in thanksgiving. Give thanks for what seems like inadequate resources and provision. Give thanks for the life God has given us and for the presence of Christ with us in all things. In response to our prayer, God will give us the wisdom and grace we need to do the good works he has prepared for us to walk in today. God will provide for us and give us his peace. We will experience God’s continuous miracle of feeding and faithfulness.