05 August, 2009

Homily for Sixth Sunday after Trinity (B)


This is the text of my first ever sermon delivered in the church of St John of Jerusalem, South Hackney. Following the Duke of Wellington's advise on sermon's duration (8 mins) I kept it reasonably short: 7 and a half minutes.
Feedback most appreciated.

"They were terrified, but Jesus said to them: 'It is I, do not be afraid!'"
Last week Fr Andrew introduced a reflection on the feeding of the 5000 and this week the Lectionary presents to us the account of this miracle taken from the Gospel according to John.
Indeed in the next few Sundays we will read the whole of chapter 6. This text is particularly rich in theology and teachings from Jesus so I would invite you to read John chapter 6 in your homes during the week and prepare the soil, so to speak, for the reflections Fr Andrew is going to give us in the next Sundays.
In today’s narrative Jesus feeds a multitude of people by providing for them as much food as they wanted. As we have heard this act finds a parallel in the first reading where Elisha fed 100 men with 20 loaves of barley.
Through his divine powers Jesus saves the day for all the 5000 hungry men sitting on the pastures on a remote side of the lake.
Likewise the disciples are caught in a storm in the middle of the Lake. When night falls the Twelve get on a boat and row towards Capernaum. Some of them probably lived there. Never mind the excitement of the day where they witnessed to a great miracle... it was time for them to get back to their wives or their homes or just simply get on with life. The sea becomes rough and again they find courage and security only when they hear Jesus.

I wonder how many of us today have noticed the carving on the front door of the church or its reproduction of the parish mugs.
Those images depict Jesus walking on the waters and reassuring his disciples by saying: ‘It is I, do not be afraid!’ and thus saving the day for everyone on the boat.
The superficial account of these miracles is all good and fine but is this it?
Is Jesus just the one member of X-men that didn’t make it into the film or even a gifted Baywatch guy from the Roman age? Is this it??

The crowds on the Seashore and His disciples did not understand the meanings of these miracles and on a superficial level neither would we. Jesus’ followers were so caught up by the idea of a man capable of feeding them freely that they did not grasp the deeper meaning of Jesus’ act and words. Indeed, the gospel says: 
“[the people] were about to come and take him by force to make him king”.
The evangelist is at pains to make us understand that through all circumstances Jesus is in charge of whatever happens and not just a fictional hero. In the first scene Jesus is fully aware of what is happening around him. He seems to test Philip and thus cause a stir among the Twelve. “He himself knew what he was going to do...”
Amongst people that are concerned about objects, about food and about their own lives He affirms the key virtue of relying on God. Although expressed through material things, Jesus points to what really matters... believing in God and the one who was sent by Him.

The acts of Jesus in this reading can be understood as a sacrament: a sign of the grace he shares with whoever follows Him. The five loves and two fish are the symbol of our frail existence that through divine intervention can be shared among our families and communities for the common good. Here in this church you have an unusual stained glass window of Florence Nightingale. Her story is a good example of how one seemingly frail life – inspired by God and shared for the welfare of others – brought light into the darkness of the suffering of countless individuals.
When the disciples go down from the mountain to the Sea and start to cross on their boats towards Capernaum they symbolise each one of us in our daily lives, when we seem so detached from God and when Jesus’ words don’t seem to bear any significance for us.
We are restless like the disciples to get somewhere, to do stuff, to get on with our businesses or simply to get home and slam the door on the world outside. We don’t have time to wait for Jesus to come to us and we do it our way.

I know this from personal experience. How many times I thought I knew better than the people in charge of my training! How many times I haven’t been committed to prayer and decided to do without it for a while.
Yet when we are lost, confused, in the midst of trouble or a long way from home Jesus is there. God is with us. He is ready to offer assurance, grace and all we really need for our journey.
I AM, Do not be afraid!
Many people in the Bible have heard the same refrain: Abraham, Zachariah and the BVM to name but a few. ‘Do not be afraid’ is the catch-phrase that accompanies divine revelation and on the waters of the sea Jesus reveals his true self by using also the divine name: ‘I AM’.

The invitation to take courage and not to fear calls us to reflect on the loving nature of God who, according to Paul’s letter, ‘is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine’. A God who is the provider of all things and longs to be in relationship with us if only we can wait on him.

This week I’ve seen an advert on the telly that said: ‘Impatience is a virtue’ Well, is it really?
I learnt from experience that patience and waiting on the Lord are core virtues. Waiting for the Lord, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves is the key to our journey through life.
Jesus is not afraid of confronting a crowd of hungry men, of confronting the rough seas of our lives; He is there to reveal himself as the one in charge and to say to us: I AM. I exist. I am here. Do not be afraid of whatever you are going through.
At that point we won’t fear anymore... remember that as soon as the disciples wished for Jesus to get on board – the boat immediately reached its destination...
How often, like the crowd, do we misunderstand God? How often, like the disciples, do we decide to stop waiting for God and go our own way? And yet God understands us better than we understand ourselves and comes to us even in the midst of the storm.

Let us pray.
O Jesus, living in Mary,
Come and live in your servants,
In the spirit of your holiness,
In the fullness of your might,
In the truth of your virtues,
In the perfection of your ways,
In the communion of your mysteries.
Subdue every hostile power
by your spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.

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