9th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 7/26/15)
first reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
second reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
gospel reading: John 6:1-21
Miracles are awesome things. To benefit from something completely unexpected, to witness or be the beneficiary of an unexplained blessing is an awesome thing.
I wish we could see more miracles. I wish we could see better the miracles that are taking place all around us every day. Miracles are awesome. Feeding 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish certainly constitutes a miracle. But the miracle is NOT the point.
In fact, St. John makes this abundantly clear. When the crowd wanted to make the miracle the point, Jesus left them. He withdrew. Went away. Got lost.
The crowd saw the miracle and wanted to make Jesus a king. It’s understandable. We do it too. We encounter a person who we perceive as having great power, especially great power to “get things done” and we want to put them in charge.
We all get caught up in signs and wonders. The crowd, which probably included some VERY hungry people, wanted to exalt Jesus for what he had done for them. We often want to elevate people who have done or will do good things for us.
But we need to pay attention here, because the crowd was WRONG. They want to crown Jesus a king because he performed a great miracle. They completely miss the point. The outward miracle is NOT the point. The outward sign was really nothing.
The miracle, or sign, was only a guidepost to seeing Jesus’ true purpose – to love us and save us from our sins.
Jesus never called himself a king, at least not a king of “this world.” Kings send soldiers into battle to die for them. Jesus put HIMSELF on the front line in the battle and HE died so that WE could live.
When Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, Jesus would only answer, “If you say so.” Jesus was no king. He called himself a shepherd – the GOOD shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
The point is not to be an earthly king for those people – or for us. Jesus doesn’t want to be a political leader, or the ruler of any political party or nation. And we need to listen. Those who would like to think of America as a “Christian nation” especially need to listen.
Forget the fact that our own founding fathers never intended us to be a “Christian nation” – we see in our gospel for today that JESUS doesn’t intend that and wouldn’t like it either. When the crowd was going to try to force that on him, what did he do? He withdrew from them. Like I said before, he got lost. Made himself scarce.
On of my seminary professors, the late Dr. Robert Kysar, stated in his commentary on John,
“The intent to make Jesus king is an ill-founded enthusiasm of the moment… Jesus will have none of this and flees from the crowd. This kind of political kingship stands in contrast to the true kingship of Jesus.”**
Unfortunately the people, including Jesus’ own disciples, wouldn’t understand this until well after the fact. Until after Jesus had been put to death and rose again.
So what then is the point? The point is – the sign, the miracle, is a guidepost, NOT the destination.
Jesus doesn’t want to be king of the Jews or the Gentiles, or America, or Germany, or Nigeria or any other nation we could name.
- The point is – Jesus wants to be king in our HEARTS.
- The point is Jesus wants us to know God’s love.
- The point is that our sins starve us and we can do nothing to fill our souls.
- The point is that we can bring nothing to the table – we come to God as beggars with empty arms.
But at Jesus’ table of grace we are fed till we are overflowing, not just with loaves and fish, but with his body and blood – his very life.
Making him a king for the miracle of the feeding would have actually belittled who he was, and IS. He is not a miracle worker. He is the Savior.
Jesus couldn’t care less about the “faith” or religion of a nation. Political structures of any kind are meaningless to the creator of heaven and earth. What Jesus does care about is the faith of YOU and ME.
What does it matter if we are a “Christian nation,” or have a national religion, if we as individual Christians stand by while people are abused, murdered, oppressed and hungry? Jesus has no aspirations to rule America. What he wants is to rule ME, and YOU.
What Jesus wants is to be SO infused in our hearts, minds and souls that everything we say and do becomes a reflection of his love to others. What Jesus wants is for us to turn to him, with our empty hearts, arms and bellies, and be made full with HIM.
What Jesus wants is what our writer from Ephesians wants,
“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. That (we) may have the power to comprehend… what is the breadth and length and height and depth… to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Filling bellies is a neat miracle. But being filled with the love of God, being rooted in God’s love – THAT is the best miracle of all.
It may not be as flashy, but it takes us from hell to heaven, from lost to saved, from wandering to ROOTED – rooted forever in the love of God that knows no breadth or length or height or depth. Wow.
THAT is THE miracle. THAT is the destination. Thanks be to God!
**Robert Kysar, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: John. Minneapolis, MN, Augsburg Publishing House, p. 92-93.