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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bread from Heaven

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2012
“Bread from Heaven”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
March 18h, 2012


Good Morning and May God Bless all of you! I hope that you are having a blessed Lent, as we prepare for the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We have a wonderful reading from the Gospel of John to consider today. It is no doubt, one of the best known of Christ’s miracles and one that confronts us completely with the enormity of Christ’s Kingship. In so doing, it also points clearly to Christ’s tripartite role as Prophet, Priest, and King. As we explore this passage, we also learn more about our role as humble penitents preparing for Christ’s Resurrection in our hearts and souls at Easter.

The portion of the Book of John from Ch. 2:1 through Ch. 12:50 has been called the “Book of Signs.” Christ performs seven signs that clearly demonstrate both His divinity and His unique relationship to God the Father. Up to the point of the feeding of the five thousand, he had performed three signs: the changing of water into wine, the healing of the nobleman’s son, and the curing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. Each of these signs clearly point to His Lordship over natural events, as well as the universality of his healing message, as clearly shown by the nobleman’s seeking him out, despite the vast differences in their social standings. The message is plain: Christ’s healing is meant for all, rich and poor.

Now, we come to the grandest miracle in all in pure scope and size. Christ sees the multitude coming to him, numbering in the thousands. He purposefully asks Philip: What should they do? How were they going to feed this vast crowd?
Philip puzzles over this for a while before admitting that "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little." Christ has the answer and proceeds to the solution, performing one of the most noted events of all time.

There are at least three ways to view what happened on that grassy plain. One view, albeit humanistic, is that a miracle occurred in the hearts of those listening to Christ. That is, the “selfish” shared their provisions with the needy, and all were fed. Perhaps, but this is not the view of faith. Another view is that this feeding should be seen as a precursor to the Holy Eucharist, where each participant receives a tiny bit. This view is contrived and does not do justice to the plain sense of Scripture, because the passage clearly says that Christ gave to the disciples and they distributed to the people, “as much as they would.” The Scriptures clearly said the people were “filled”, not tantalized with a mere morsel. So we, sensibly discard this view.

The third and last view of this passage is that Christ performed a genuine miracle. Christ, as God, took the gifts of his own bounty, offered to him in the form of five loaves and two small fish, and multiplied them beyond all measure. He didn’t, as a shaman or a magician might do, create an illusion that bread and fish appear, but actually multiplied them. The disciples distributed an immense amount of food, completely satisfying the multitude. As such, this is the fourth great sign of the Book of Signs.

It is at this point in our contemplation of this amazing happening that two great insights should become apparent to us. The first is very obvious, but is also very profound. The first insight is simply the contrast betwen Philip’s perplexity with our Lord’s serenity. That is, Philip saw thousands of hungry people coming to them and no solution in sight. Our Lord saw a large flock of needy sheep, in need of a shepherd, looking to Him for instruction and sustenance. Our Lord chose this instance to not only perform an act of mercy and pastoral care, but also chose this circumstance in which to manifest his glory.

Here then, is the simple and profound truth: how often do we, in our human finitude, see an overwhelming situation and grasp helplessly for a solution; whereas God, in His Omnipotence and eternal Wisdom, has already prepared a solution? It’s been said that God has a solution prepared for the faithful even before they see a problem. That is simply God being God.

The other point we might consider is the very act of the sign itself. Obviously, it demonstrates clearly and without equivocation Christ’s absolute Kingship over all Creation. That is a given. As the fourth sign in the Book of Signs, it is the greatest so far in magnitude and sheer scale. There can be no doubt who is the performer of the great sign; this miracle is for those who see with the eyes of faith. It is undeniable. As such, it is also the only miracle, with the exception of the Resurrection, that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. That in itself is a testament to its significance.

There is an obvious parallel with today’s O.T. reading from Exodus. Recall that God fed the Israelites with manna, which was literally bread from heaven. This bread fell from heaven at night or in the very early morning, where it was gathered by the children of Israel. Each person was to gather for his or her own household the exact amount to be eaten. It could not be stored or kept overnight, lest it breed worms and decompose. It was a sign to the Israelites that God loved and cared for his people.

Now we have Jesus taking, blessing, breaking and distributing to his disciples. They in turn, fed the multitude with the sanctified bread from Christ. This is a perfect prefiguring of the Holy Eucharist. Christ takes the bread, which both the results of God’s bounty and man’s labor, and gives it to this appointed disciples, who then feed the people. Just as He told us in John 6:51: "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh." Here as the book of Hebrews tells us, is the Great High Priest, Jesus, giving the bread of heaven to mankind to facilitate their life of grace and their eternal salvation.

Furthermore, to drive home the difference between this bread and the bread from Exodus, Christ reminds us in John 6:32-33: ”Jesus therefore said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." In other words, the bread of the book of Exodus was meant to feed their bodies and to sustain them in the temporal realm. It was not meant to last forever, and indeed it ceased when the Jews entered the Promised Land. Christ’s bread, that of the Holy Eucharist, is meant to feed our bodies and souls unto eternity.

Yet, there is another great spiritual truth for us today that tells us unmistakably about God’s magnificence and Man’s blindness. This great truth is that Christ, in performing these mighty signs in John, did exactly what was demanded of Him by the Scribes and Pharisees in virtually every confrontation he had with them. Recall that these self-important and pompous men demanded that Jesus give them a sign from Heaven in order to prove his Lordship. Christ ignored these requests from the Pharisees, knowing their source and motivation. He knew that even if He were to bring down fire from Heaven, similar to Isaiah, it would have no impact, or even be turned against him, as in the case where he was accused of casting out demons by the chief of demons. Thus, he refused to honor their spurious request, instead choosing to reveal himself to the unlettered masses, or to specific private individuals. Why? It is very simple. The Scribes and Pharisees were not called to hear the message.

Their hearing would not be mixed with faith. In short, it would not matter what Christ said or did, because these men, with a couple of notable exceptions, were not able to believe.

Contrast that to those whom Christ did reveal Himself. These blessed sheep were called to hear Christ and to acknowledge His Reality. Perhaps not all of them were prepare to call Him God or even Messiah, but many of them were. Many of them, such as Mary Magdalene, were able to see Jesus as the Christ, as are we. Somehow, through the mystery and magnificence of God’s Grace, we are called, here, to receive this message of hope and salvation. In the case of today’s Gospel, it was a message of bread, miracles and signs. For us, today, in modern day America, it is a message of hope, love and salvation. That is, we hope, or look forward to receiving, the confirming truth of Christ’s Kingship in our hearts. We pray that we love Him as much as He loves us, and that this love be translated into eternal life with Him. We pray that we experience the salvation that His love calls us into.

Beloved in Christ, if you grasp one message from today’s Gospel, it is that of love. God wants one thing from us, this Lent and for evermore. He wants our love. He does not need it, being totally self-sufficient and self-consistent, but he wants it. If only in the deep recesses of our souls and hearts, we can love Him more than we love ourselves, we will begin to satisfy God with our love. That is what He wants because that is exactly what he did for us on Calvary. He loved us to the exclusion of everything else, even to life itself. He loved us with a love that is unnamable, indescribable and eternal. He loves us a love that is ever-present, dynamic and eternal. He loves us. Not only did Christ show this by providing earthly sustenance to a hungry crowd, but he also allowed this same crowd to witness His Glory. This is very same glory He denied to the Pharisees and Scribes. This is the same Glory He reveals to us Christians through his Holy Word and Sacrament of the altar.

Let this knowledge be a light in your Lenten Journey. Let it fill your heart with joy.
For reasons only known to God, he has chosen us to receive the most glorious of all messages. The message is this: Christ is King and Lord. Christ is God Almighty, who loves us with an everlasting, durable and wonderful love that is meant for us and for us alone. Not for the high and mighty, not for rich and pompous, but for us simple Christians. Thus, Christ want you to recognize one thing this Lent: He loves you!!

As we prepare to meet our Lord in the Glorious Sacrament of the Eucharist, let us remember this one thing. Remember it and give everlasting thanks and praise to the One who does one thing: He loves you…

To His everlasting glory, let us give thanks to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, now and forever.

AMEN.

Monday, March 12, 2012

“Bread from Heaven"

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2012

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
March 18th, 2012


Good Morning and May God Bless all of you! I hope that you are having a blessed Lent, as we prepare for the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We have a wonderful reading from the Gospel of John to consider today. It is no doubt, one of the best known of Christ’s miracles and one that confronts us completely with the enormity of Christ’s Kingship. In so doing, it also points clearly to Christ’s tripartite role as Prophet, Priest, and King. As we explore this passage, we also learn more about our role as humble penitents preparing for Christ’s Resurrection in our hearts and souls at Easter.

The portion of the Book of John from Ch. 2:1 through Ch. 12:50 has been called the “Book of Signs.” Christ performs seven signs that clearly demonstrate both His divinity and His unique relationship to God the Father. Up to the point of the feeding of the five thousand, he had performed three signs: the changing of water into wine, the healing of the nobleman’s son, and the curing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. Each of these signs clearly point to His Lordship over natural events, as well as the universality of his healing message, as clearly shown by the nobleman’s seeking him out, despite the vast differences in their social standings. The message is plain: Christ’s healing is meant for all, rich and poor.

Now, we come to the grandest miracle in all in pure scope and size. Christ sees the multitude coming to him, numbering in the thousands. He purposefully asks Philip: What should they do? How were they going to feed this vast crowd?
Philip puzzles over this for a while before admitting that "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little." Christ has the answer and proceeds to the solution, performing one of the most noted events of all time.

There are at least three ways to view what happened on that grassy plain. One view, albeit humanistic, is that a miracle occurred in the hearts of those listening to Christ. That is, the “selfish” shared their provisions with the needy, and all were fed. Perhaps. Another view is that this feeding should be seen as a precursor to the Holy Eucharist, where each participant receives a tiny bit. This view is contrived and does not do justice to the plain sense of Scripture, because the passage clearly says that Christ gave to the disciples and they distributed to the people, “as much as they would.” The Scriptures clearly said the people were “filled”, not tantalized with a mere morsel. So we, sensibly, discard this view.

The third and last view of this passage is that Christ performed a genuine miracle. Christ, as God, took the gifts of his own bounty, offered to him in the form of five loaves and two small fish, and multiplied them beyond all measure. He didn’t, as a shaman or a magician might do, create an illusion that bread and fish appear, but actually multiplied them. The disciples distributed an immense amount of food, completely satisfying the multitude. As such, this is the fourth great sign of the Book of Signs.

It is at this point in our contemplation of this amazing happening that two great insights should become apparent to us. The first is very obvious, but is also very profound. The first insight is simply the contrast of Philip’s perplexity with our Lord’s serenity. That is, Philip saw thousands of hungry people coming to them and no solution in sight. Our Lord saw a large flock of needy sheep, in need of a shepherd, looking to Him for instruction and sustenance.
Our Lord chose this instance to not only perform an act of mercy and pastoral care, but also chose this circumstance in which to manifest his glory.

Here then, is the simple and profound truth: how often do we, in our human finitude, see an overwhelming situation and grasp helplessly for a solution; whereas God, in His Omnipotence and eternal Wisdom, has already prepared a solution? It’s been said that God has a solution prepared for the faithful even before they see a problem. That is simply God being God.

The other point we might consider is the very act of the sign itself. Obviously, it demonstrates clearly and without equivocation Christ’s absolute Kingship over all Creation. That is a given. As the fourth sign in the Book of Signs, it is the greatest so far in magnitude and sheer scale. There can be doubt who is the performer of the great sign; this miracle is for those who see with the eyes of faith. It is undeniable. As such, it is also the only miracle, with the exception of the Resurrection, that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. That in itself is a testament to its significance.

There is an obvious parallel with the O.T. reading from Exodus. Recall that God fed the Israelites with manna, which was literally bread from heaven. This bread fell from heaven at night or in the very early morning, where it was gathered by the children of Israel. Each person was to gather for his or her own household the exact amount to be eaten. It could not be stored or kept overnight, lest it breed worms and decompose.
It was a sign to the Israelites that God loved and cared for his people.

Now we have Jesus taking, blessing, breaking and distributing to his disciples. They in turn, fed the multitude with the sanctified bread from Christ. This is a perfect prefigurement of the Holy Eucharist. Christ takes the bread, which both the results of God’s bounty and man’s labor, and gives it to this appointed disciples, who then feed the people. Just as He told us in John 6:51: "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh." Here as the book of Hebrews tells us, is the Great High Priest, Jesus, giving the bread of heaven to mankind to facilitate their life of grace and their eternal salvation.

Furthermore, to drive home the difference between this bread and the bread from Exodus, Christ reminds us in John 6:32-33: ”Jesus therefore said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." In other words, the bread of the book of Exodus was meant to feed their bodies and to sustain them in the temporal realm. It was not meant to last forever, and indeed ceased the when the Jews entered the Promised Land. Christ’s bread, that of the Holy Eucharist, is meant to feed our souls and bodies unto eternity.

Yet, there is another great spiritual truth for us today that tells us unmistakably about God’s magnificence and Man’s blindness. This great truth is that Christ, in performing these mighty signs in John, did exactly what was demanded of Him by the Scribes and Pharisees in virtually every confrontation he had with them. Recall that these self-important and pompous men demanded that Jesus give them a sign from Heaven in order to prove his Lordship. Christ ignored these requests from the Pharisees, knowing their source and motivation. He knew that even if He were to bring down fire from Heaven, similar to Isaiah, it would have no impact, or even be turned against him, as in the case where he was accused of casting out demons by the chief of demons, Beelzebub. Thus, he refused to honor their spurious request, instead choosing to reveal himself to the unlettered masses, or to specific private individuals. Why? It is very simple. The Scribes and Pharisees were not called to hear the message.
Their hearing would not be mixed with faith. In short, it would not matter what Christ said or did, because these men, with a couple of notable exceptions, were not able to believe.

Contrast that to those whom Christ did reveal Himself. These blessed sheep were called to hear Christ and to acknowledge His Reality. Perhaps not all of them were prepare to call Him God or even Messiah, but many of them were. Many of them, such as Mary Magdalene, were able to see Jesus as the Christ, as are we. Somehow, through the mystery and magnificence of God’s Grace, we are called, here, to receive this message of hope and salvation. In the case of today’s Gospel, it was a message of bread, miracles and signs. For us, today, in modern day America, it is a message of hope, love and salvation. That is, we hope, or look forward to receiving the confirming truth of Christ’s Kingship in our hearts. We pray that we love Him as much as He loves us, and finally that this love be translated into eternal life with Him. We pray that we experience the salvation that His love calls us into.

Beloved in Christ, if you grasp one message from today’s Gospel, it is that of love. God wants one thing from us, this Lent and for evermore. He wants our love. He does not need it, being totally self-sufficient and self-consistent, but he wants it. If only in the deep recesses of our souls and hearts, we can love Him more than we love our self, we will begin to satisfy God with our love. That is what He wants because that is exactly what he did for us on Calvary. He loved us to the exclusion of everything else, even to life itself. He loved us with a love that is unnamable, indescribable and eternal. He loves us a love that is ever-present, dynamic and eternal. He loves us. Not only did Christ show this by providing earthly sustenance to a hungry crowd, but he also allowed this same crowd to witness His Glory. This is very same glory He denied to the Pharisees and Scribes. This is the same Glory He reveals to us Christians through his Holy Word and Sacrament of the altar.

Let this knowledge be a light in your Lenten Journey. Let it fill your heart with joy.
For reasons only known to God, he has chosen us to receive the most glorious of all messages. The message is this: Christ is King and Lord. Christ is God Almighty, who loves us with an everlasting, durable and wonderful love that is meant for us and for us alone. Not for the high and mighty, not for rich and pompous, but for us simple Christians. Thus, Christ want you to recognize one thing this Lent: He loves you!!

As we prepare to meet our Lord in the Glorious Sacrament of the Eucharist, let us remember this one thing. Remember it and give everlasting thanks and praise to the One who does one thing: He loves you…

To His everlasting glory, let us give thanks to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, now and forever.

AMEN.