Proper 13A Sermon Notes (2020)

SERMON NOTES — August 2, 2020

Opening Story about the Sea of Galilee

  • Fortunate to make a trip to the Holy Land in 2000 — this is the story of a big surprise on that trip
  • Landed in Tel Aviv; traveled north up the coast of Israel to Haifa, then began going inland to Nazareth before making our way further east toward the Sea of Galilee
  • Personal note: what came as a big surprise to me relates to the fact that I’m somewhat of a geography geek, a map nerd: I know things like the fact that the lowest point on earth is the Dead Sea in southern Israel
  • What I had never realized in all my readings of the Bible is that the Jordan River connects the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee — they form a basin far below sea level
  • The Dead Sea is 1300 feet below sea level, but the Sea of Galilee is only 600 feet above that, still 700 feet below sea level
  • So when our tour bus approached the Sea of Galilee I was shocked that our first look at it was from a rim looking well over a thousand feet below us. Here is what it looked like:

  • As the bus descended into this trough below sea level, the climate changed to more desert-like, the temperature rising more than 10 degrees
  • And so one of the strong themes on the next couple days in that area was: never leave the bus to walk around in this climate without water and something to eat — like a granola bar or small snack

An Alternate Way to See the Miracle of Feeding the Multitude

  • This miracle is sometimes referred to as the “Multiplying of Loaves,” but I’d like to suggest another way of imagining this miracle
  • Today’s Gospel takes place in that trough around the Sea of Galilee
  • Based on being in the Holy Land, and experiencing the climate around the Sea, we might ask: if modern tourists are cautioned by locals never to wander off without food and water, why would a crowd of thousands who followed Jesus that day have wandered away from home to a “deserted place” (literally, “desert”?) with no food and water? When the disciples say, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish,” does that really mean that no one in that crowd had any food? Was there truly a scarcity of food? Or was scarcity only an assumed perception?
  • I’d like to suggest at least two reasons why there was plenty of food in the deserted place that day but people were at first reluctant to get it out and share:
    • One is that Jews keep kosher laws which not only involve what you eat but even more importantly who you eat with — eating with strangers might mean that you are eating with someone unclean who will make you unclean (think of how the Jewish leaders criticized Jesus for eating with the wrong people); because their experience of someone being unclean embraced both illness and morality, it was like living in a pandemic all the time!
    • Another is that human beings are mired in fear about scarcity — what unrest and potential conflict arises when there is not enough
  • Jesus does not seemed moved by either of these fears; in taking the meager resources given to him and blessing them he shows faith in abundance — that his heavenly Father has created a world where there is an abundance for all, if only we learn to work together and share
  • So I propose calling this event the “Miracle of Opening the Human Heart to Abundance” — Jesus’s Spirit went out to the crowd that day and opened their hearts in ways that caused them to see each other as family, not strangers, and to trust in abundance, not scarcity
  • With their hearts open, they found that there really was plenty of food to go around — twelve baskets left over, in fact (remember that number twelve for our Gospel in two weeks)

Fresh Views of the Gospel — A New Way of Being Human

  • In this changing world and changing church, I believe there is an opportunity for refreshing the message of the Church
  • The Gospel that I grew up with centers on forgiveness to clear the way for faith in Jesus that grants one eternal life in heaven — going to heaven when we die
  • We certainly don’t want that Gospel message of great comfort to go away — but we might say that it is just the icing on the cake of the full Gospel message: that Jesus came to give us a new Way of being human to live into — that starts in this life!
  • It involves things like having faith in God’s abundant power of life instead of fearing scarcity of things — and since it involves our whole lives, it means to shape things like our politics and economics
  • Example: as the first stimulus packages for helping people through the pandemic run out, what if our politics and economics are shaped by faith in abundance rather than fear of scarcity? Living in the most wealthy nation in human history, a miracle of multiplying wealth or food is not needed; we need the tougher miracle of opening our hearts to abundance and solidarity
  • And Jesus needs us to help work this miracle in others — that we follow his lead of not fearing scarcity or solidarity with strangers
  • So we end today’s worship celebration by remembering Jesus’s main way of being present with us in Holy Communion as our weekly call to faith in abundance
  • Jesus says to us, “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you. How can I do this? Because I live in faith to God’s abundant power of life for the whole human family! Fed with the spirit of my presence, live lives that make this miracle available to others!”

Paul Nuechterlein
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
Racine, WI

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