Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

“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.’” -St. John 6:14

I’d like to speak to you this morning about miracles.  But before getting to the heart of the sermon I wanted to mention that we are providing a food miracle to two Richmond families in need this next week.  Please drop off contributions of food or money to help our neighbors by Tuesday afternoon.  Several of us are going to drop off your gifts to the families on Wednesday afternoon.  I urge you to be generous particularly as the family of ten lost all of their possessions and home in a fire.

This morning, as we approach Advent, we turn to a Gospel miracle—the feeding miracle of the 5,000. In our culture, we seem to be ambivalent about miracles. We like the nice, cozy image of a miracle—you know, the miracle filtered through the lens of the television. The little girl quietly healed in hospital-seemingly miraculously-although we are treated to the medical folks always there and we know who is really responsible, don’t we?

Or there is the miraculous like the escape from the locked, submerged box—the theatrical offered for our entertainment.  They are presented as something wholly unusual—and always with some human element, some earthly cleverness involved.

Beloved in Christ, miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature. (St. Augustine).  The miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine which was, after all, a very small miracle. God just raises the level of the impossible.

Our Lord’s miracles fall generally into three classes: the raising of the dead, the healing of the sick, and the feeding of the multitude. All these are connected with the gift of life—its bestowal on the dead; its restoration, after impairment, to the sick; its preservation to the hungry. And the powers shown in these three kinds of miracles our Lord has committed to His Church, in the three Sacraments of Baptism, Penance, and the Holy Eucharist.

In Baptism there is the bestowal of spiritual life to the dead soul, that is, to the soul which has only had that moral life common to all humanity, and to which the spiritual life imparted in Baptism is a superadded gift. In Penance the life of grace, which has been forfeited by sin, is restored to the soul. While in the Holy Eucharist the life given in Baptism is preserved and developed by feeding upon Christ.

In the Gospel for today we have an account of the great miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, which finds a place in every Gospel. I was reminded in our pre-Advent retreat of a remarkable passage of Scripture-St. John records that in the synagogue of Capernaum our Lord made this miracle the basis for one of His most solemn discourses, in which He reveals that He is “the bread of life,” “which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world;” that “if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever,” and that the bread which He will give is His Flesh, which He will give for the life of the world.”

This leads to a discussion among His hearers—you can almost hear the pitched back and forth that results in the question, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” to which our Lord replies, not by answering the question directly, but by re­asserting with its absolute necessity. Jesus says to them, “Verily, verily, I say untoyou, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood; ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (St. John 6:53-57).

For us as Christians it is sufficient that our Lord said these words. But, so that we may not only believe but understand them, it we should look at the conditions under which every gift of life is bestowed by God. This is the truly miraculous, constant gift that we take so much for granted.

All life, physical, mental, moral, or spiritual, is the gift of God; but in every case it the gift seems to be conditioned by the use of food. Life in us is an effect, of which God is the con­tinuous Cause; but for its preservation and development a further gift of food is necessary, and this is always something from outside of us, that we take in and use.

In our physical lives we feed upon all of the bounty of the earth—something we will celebrate on Thanksgiving Day.  In mental life we feed upon the stores of knowledge and experience gained by our fellow men and women, and assimilate them by the processes of thought. In our spiritual life (which is the elevation of our moral life to a higher plane), we have something similar; for to sustain it we feed upon the Word of God revealed in Holy Scripture,and  especially upon the Real Presence of Christ given us in the Holy Communion.

In Baptism we became members of Christ and children of God. Then that union with Christ begins, by which the life of grace (Which is the life of God) flows through our soul, and we become “partakers of the Divine nature,” and are made “the sons of God.” But this gift of Divine life needs for its sustenance Divine food, so that when our Lord said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you,” He was not proclaiming something arbitrary,
but revealing a necessary law of our spiritual life, an  analogy to the things that sustain our physical and mental life, but something much, much more—a food and drink that are imaged in the feeding miracle—a miracle that will become the natural course for the Christian.

Our Lord used food at the beginning of His ministry changing water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  We hear of miraculous catches of fish. The previously dead Lazarus eats as a sign of life.  In fact, our Lord takes food after His Resurrection to demonstrate that He is, in fact, alive–risen for us.

God just raised the bar.

Let’s focus in on this. In this world our physical life needs for its support material food. In heaven apparently it will be sustained by feeding upon the tree of life.

Here, in this world, our mental life requires knowledge of truth, a partial knowledge of which greatly intermingled with error, we obtain from human teachers. (I leave it to you all to think about modern education.) We gain our fuller knowledge, without error, from the revealed word of God, but the absolute and perfect knowledge will not be ours until we attain the beatific vision—that time when we shall fully know, or as St. Paul tells us, “Now we see as in a mirror darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall fully know even as also I am fully known.” In the beatific vision we shall see God, and in Him all creatures; so that we shall know all truth of which the human mind is capable.

Not only will our intellect, by the light of glory, drink in this knowledge of absolute truth, but our will will be enabled to love perfectly. We will love perfectly Him Whom we are designed to love, Whom we have desired and learned to love here; but against Whom, on account of our sinful nature, we have so often sinned. This is filling to overflowing.

On the physical level in the Gospel, there is a miracle in the feeding itself-5,000 from a few loaves and fish with food left over at the end of the feast.  The scene is one of a superabundant blessingBa largess that
stands in stark contrast to the images of desolation we hear of in today=s morning prayer reading from the fourth chapter of Jeremiah. If you haven’t yet read that passage, take it up today and read from verse 23 to the end of the chapter.

There is no cornucopia; no overflowing blessing such as that which Christ gives to the faithful on a Galilean hillside.  There is just an image of ruin faced by a disobedient people.  It was an image well familiar to those gathered on that day-an image for us that belongs in other places in the world.

Jesus breaks and distributes the bread as He will at the Last Supper.  In fact, the disciples are commanded to gather up the fragments, just as at the conclusion of the Eucharist.  This drives home the nature of the miracle on the hearts of those who would be disciples an overflowing of God’s grace, and a people filled.

Yet, as is the case with many witnesses to the miracles of God, the people were interested only in the food, not what the miracle indicated (John 6:26).  The witnesses are missing the true identity
of ChristBan identity that they should have recognized in the so familiar story of the Hebrews being fed by God with manna
in their wilderness wandering. No, the focus is on the multiplication of the earthly loaves on earthly food and the people want to follow in a man… a mere prophet.

It is that focus on the food that cannot sustain that cannot truly nourish that is of concern. The people miss the true miracle, they mistake the food that perishes and another that endures.

To be sure, many people expend much time, energy, and money for food which soon perishes.  But, there are entire ministries, and I use the term very loosely, that are devoted to the superficial aspects of God’s blessing.  These “Gospel of Wealth” operations focus solely on the loaves and fishes blessings, but not the end in themselves.  The
material things that some obsess over, are a means to sustain us for the real food, the genuine sustenance.

Jesus would have people direct their lives toward the food which endures, the food that lay hidden to those on the shore at Galilee that day. It is the Word of God by which man truly lives ( Matthew 4:4) Job treasured it more than earthly food, (Job 23:12)  David valued it more than gold and fine food (Psalm 19:10;119:72,103,11) The prophet Jeremiah found it to be the rejoicing of his heart. (Jeremiah 15:16). It causes us to be reborn and endures forever. (1 Peter 1:22-25)

Here is the opportunity for the miraculous bounty-superabundance of life.  By giving ourselves to him wholly, by offering to be the loaves and the fishes in our witness and work for Christ we will be used to multiply His work in the world, bringing others to be filled.  By partaking of the right food, prayer, study and regular participation in His Holy Sacrament, we seek to become like the Lord more and more, always abounding, always growing in grace and knowledge and love of him.

For Jesus alone is the true bread of life, the living water, who truly satisfies. He alone provides the hope of eternal life (John 6:40) He alone offers the abundant life even now (John 10:11).

And so, this day, ask yourself, for what “food” do I labor? Is it the nourishment that only God can give us?  Or, does your focus in life drifting toward that which is purely temporal? Let’s ask ourselves the honest question, Are we striving for that which cannot truly satisfy or be a cause of thanksgiving?”

Consider what Isaiah wrote 700 years before Christ came (Isaiah 55:1-4), these words may serve as the invitation Jesus offers to all:

Every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?

This, however, depends upon our feeding upon the Word of God and upon the Sacrament now. How diligent should we be in our study of God’s revelation, how careful our preparation for feeding upon the the Real Presence in the Holy Communion, that we may indeed have life…and have it more abundantly.  (St. John 10:10)  Amen.

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