NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON
11:00 AM., Sunday, March 14, 2010
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Small Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave. (Toronto)
1st Lesson: Galatians 4:26 – 5:1
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, “Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. “
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. ‘
So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Gospel: John 6: 5 – 14
When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.
Philip answered him, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. “
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, “There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?”
And Jesus said, “Make the men sit down.”
Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.”
Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.
Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.”
SERMON PROPER BEGINS
We are in Lent, a time in the church calendar traditionally associated with restraint and self-denial. We are encouraged to fast, to reflect on our shortcomings, to look at the life of Christ and examine ourselves in light of his living example.
It might seem, from tradition, that our faith is a restraining one, a faith defined by self-denial and introspection. And yet in today’s epistle, where we are reminded that we are free people, and in today’s gospel, where Christ feeds the multitude rather than preaching on the virtues of fasting and denial, we are told of a faith that is liberating, outgoing and compassionate.
It is hard to be free when there are substantive restrictions on our freedom. Worry about where our next meal is coming from; wondering about access to a doctor; fear of walking along the sidewalk; worry about someone you care about—feeling free is hard. And yet we are called to be a free people, people offered a real relationship with the divine who in returns is present in all our moments of decision, every time we are called upon to exercise our freedom.
We may not know what the right decision should be, but we are free to make them. If we need evidence of the correctness of our decision we find it in the world around us—when we and others have less restrictions on our ability to life in harmony within ourselves, our community, our shared creation. The more that hunger doesn’t have a role in our decision making; the more that fear doesn’t have a role in our decision making, the more that hatred doesn’t have a role in our decision making the freer we are. The more our decisions make it possible for others to be free from darkness that distorts decision making the freer others become, the freer the world we live within becomes and the easier it is for us to live our own lives as free and conscious followers of Christ.
We are offered a vision of heaven, a place of beauty and plenty and free from suffering. And we are called to build this heaven here on earth, preparing for the ever imminent coming of God among us by weaving together the shalom kingdom today, at this time and in this place.
If, ultimately, we were not free then the Lenten journey, Christ’s passion and resurrection makes little sense. Jesus did not have to feed the hungry, heal the blind, call for practical compassion. He was given the choice of power over all of creation or walking with humanity and sharing in our burdens. Jesus rejected the temptation to govern and chose freely to share with us the joys and sorrows of a free existence, the possibilities of love and the consequences of advocating a life of compassion and commitment.
Along the way Jesus tried to open eyes and hearts, not by force or coercion but by example and precept.
We see in today’s Gospel Jesus challenging his disciples, and particularly Philip, to deal with a practical problem—feeding 5,000 hungry people who had invited themselves to follow him into the wilderness. In a place where there wasn’t a supermarket or food court, hungry and tired people were growing restless. Jesus asked for advise from his disciples, who had no ready solution. Andrew was approached by a young person who had enough for a meal for a few people. And, while his disciples expressed doubt, Jesus gave thanks for what they had and asked to have it shared out. There was suddenly enough food for everyone, with lots left over. Whether the miracle was people following the child’s and Jesus’ examples by sharing what they had or was a physical miracle that created fish and bread out of the elements of creation, Jesus’ decision to have thousands of people sit down to rest and be fed was a conscious decision. He could have decided differently—perhaps not based the shared meal on the gift offered to him; perhaps encourage the strangers to move on; perhaps talk about the virtues of fasting as a spiritual discipline. Jesus didn’t—he chose to care for those in need; share out what was freely offered to him; took time to talk with his friends about how the problem could be solved—a problem he didn’t cause but could help alleviate.
Once the multitude was fed and rested they could each choose what to do—go home; spent the night where they were; follow Jesus in his personal pilgrimage. They couldn’t make such decisions when tired and hungry. They weren’t free to make a good decision until their immediate physical needs were met.
As followers of Jesus we are urged to follow his example. We are free people encouraged to help people be free from the burdens that stop them from being truly free, truly human. This is something we can only do if we freely chose to attempt it. We don’t last on the front lines of compassion if we feel coerced to be there. But as free people we can help the hungry loose their chain of hunger; as free people we can work hard to ensure that there will be an end to violence in our homes; as free people we can learn to trust one another, weave together a small glimpse of heaven that heals the tensions that leads to battlefields.
About 2,000 years ago a small group of people challenged the entire world by saying that feeding the poor was a sacrament, that God was for everyone, that love of neighbour was the true essence of being within creation. They chose to embrace the possibility of a free relationship with God and one another and sent out ripples that continue to the current moment. From sanctuaries for abused women to the gates of The School of the Americas to digging wells to healing circles to communities such as the Catholic Worker, in movements such as Christian Peacemakers, in meals-on-wheels programmes and wherever people come together to build a better world for others the ripples from the hillside in Galilee continue.
Sometimes we break the laws of our society to accomplish this—risking fines to feed the hungry in a park; risking jail to provide sanctuary to the illegal refugee in our lands; sometimes we are honoured by all for living in community with the most vulnerable. The freedom we embrace permits us to embrace the real challenge of removing all the barriers between people and freedom. This was the gift offered to all of humanity at creation and embraced freely by Jesus on the road to Calvary and beyond. When we look at the cross we see freedom in action; when we remember the open tomb we see liberation.