This is the sermon manuscript from the sermon preached on August 28/29. The accompanying Gospel story is John 6:1-21. This was the final sermon I preached on internship and with this sermon another chapter of my life came to a close. I would like to thank the people of Trinity Lutheran for their love and support over my year of internship!
Dear friends, we are part of a love story. We are part of the greatest love story that is still being written, the love story that was started by God. We explored this love story in a sermon way back last October. As I reflect upon the last year of my life, this story is at the heart of my journey of faith. We are all part of the greatest love story that is still being written.
So let’s step back for a moment to that sermon from October. We were in the Gospel of Matthew and on that day we heard about a lawyer who stepped out of the crowd to challenge Jesus. The Pharisees send out their best, a scholar of the Law, to trap Jesus. “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” Out of 613 laws in the books of Moses, which one is the most important? To which Jesus replies; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first. And the second is like it; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Jesus sums up the whole Law in two simple statements; “Love God. Love God’s people.”
It all starts with the word love. And the love that Jesus is talking about isn’t just any old love. Jesus is not talking about a love that is self-motivated. Jesus is not talking about a love that is self-interested. Jesus is talking about a love that takes a high level of interest in the life of another. Jesus is talking about agape. Agape is not just a word, it’s way of life. Agape literally means “a relatively high level of interest in the well-being of another.” Agape is not just about feelings, it’s about taking interest in the life of another, the wholeness of another, the completeness of another. Agape is about meeting the needs of those we meet. And while this word does not appear in our story today, the practice of agape is stitched into every line.
Today we meet Jesus on mountain side next to the Sea of Galilee as he is surrounded by a rather large crowd. What follows in John’s Gospel is what has become known to us as the feeding of the five thousand. It is a beautiful story and it is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. We could talk for days about what this story means. But for a moment, let’s just take a look at Jesus. What does Jesus see?
Jesus sees a sea of people. 5000 thousand people John tells us, but perhaps there were more. Scholars debate about the real total. When you add the women and children that may have been there, the number could be as high as 20,000 people, some have proposed. But whatever the number, Jesus has quite a crowd in front of him.
And anywhere you have a large crowd gathered, there are going to be those who are hungry and this crowd is no different. Actually this crowd is filled with really hungry people. You see, this crowd consists of the poor and the hungry and the oppressed. The peasant farmers who cannot produce enough for their families because of drought and Roman taxes. The beggars, the homeless, and the day laborers. The outcasts of society. This crowd is filled with people who may not have had a full meal in days, who have been following Jesus because they saw the signs he had been doing for the sick. They want in on the power that Jesus displays. They have come for healing and to maybe get a new shot at life. This is the crowd that Jesus sees when he looks around. This is a crowd filled with people that have been cast away by the world. It is a dismal scene. But remember, this is a love story. So what does Jesus do? He feeds them. Jesus chooses to reach out to them. Jesus chooses to live out agape. Jesus chooses to love.
The scene plays out like some great heavenly banquet and Jesus serves as both the host and the servant. Five loaves of bread and two fish come from a little boy. Just five little barley loaves and two small fish. But in God’s kingdom this is enough. In the act of hosting, Jesus takes the bread and gives thanks. In the act of serving, Jesus breaks the bread and passes it around. And everyone eats their fill. Everyone has enough. Not a person is left hungry. No one is excluded because of who they are. All have a place at the table. This is the radical hospitality of God. This is the power of agape. This is the power of God’s love.
This is the love story that you and I have been born into. This is the love story that we continue to write as we follow Jesus in a life that takes interest in the well being of others. This is the love story that gives life to our world. By the grace of God we get to participate in this love story with our lives. But how? How do we get to continue this story?
Let’s think about the story again for one moment. What does Jesus use to display the power of God’s love? Barley loaves and small fish. In other words, ordinary things. Items that were found in the lunch box of a little boy. God’s love breaks into our world through ordinary things like bread and fish. Or water and words. Or bread and wine. This great love story that we are a part of is written through ordinary things paired with the extraordinary love of God.
Last week in New Orleans I got to witness the love story continue through our youth. On Thursday we had the opportunity to practice justice and we thought that we would be helping to clear housing lots that had been overgrown since Katrina. But it seems that the weather had other ideas, our project sat under six inches of water, and to be honest we were disappointed. But then God showed up. As we sat in the fellowship hall God showed up in ordinary things. A couple of youth helped to serve a meal to some kids who were staying at the church. The rest of us were asked to cut up bread for the next few meals. Then we all gathered around and heard the stories of a man who had been in New Orleans since the shadow of the storm we learned how much the city had come back, and how much work was still left to be done. Through ordinary things like food carts and bread knives and words we got to witness how God’s love was breaking into our lives. We witnessed the love story being written. I want to tell you that our youth are not finished writing this love story. They are filled with the Spirit and are loving like Jesus. I dare say that they are ready to write new chapters that will help to change our world.
And then there are you my friends, you have been writing a new chapter to this love story all year long. I have seen God’s love in this place. I have seen God’s love in you. When Katie and I arrived we witnessed God’s love story unfolding as you pounded us with food and ordinary things that helped us to get started here in Bradenton. I watch God’s love story unfold in your excitement and in your energy. Through your words of support, through your deep care for the vicar program, the love story is being written. I watched as new pages to the love story were written as your hands reached out to the needy members of our community over and over again through ordinary things like food and clothes to Our Daily Bread and the One Stop Center. Through the money and time you have given to the PACE school for Girls and the Learning to Fish Recovery Program. God’s love story is being written in bold letters by you dear people!
And now we come to the hard part of today, the goodbye. I want to say thank you for letting me walk with you along the way for a year. Thank you for sharing your time. Thank you for sharing your faith. And thank you for sharing your love with me. Together we have written another chapter to the greatest love story that is still being written. In a moment we will gather around the table one more time together to be filled with ordinary things, bread and wine, paired with the extraordinary love of God. We when come away from the table today we will be filled and refreshed and hopefully changed through the love of Jesus. I know that you have changed me, honed my gifts for ministry and challenged me in ways I could not have imagined a year ago. Dear friends this year has been a beautiful chapter to the love story and as we come away from the table today this chapter will come to a close, but that doesn’t mean the story is over. Tomorrow will dawn bright and new with a fresh page waiting to be filled with the story of God’s love. Write the love story friends. And may God bless you as you do!