August 13, 2017 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
There once was a man who got a new hunting dog. He was very excited about his new dog and couldn’t wait for duck hunting season to arrive. The first morning of duck hunting the man and his new dog were sitting in his blind and along flies a duck. The man shoots and the duck falls into the lake.
The hunter sent his dog and it proceeds to walk on the water, pick up the duck, and bring it back. The man was stunned. He shot another duck and it fell into the lake and again the dog walked on the water and brought it back.
Not wanting to be thought a fool, the man told no one about this, but the next day he asked his neighbor to come out and hunt with him. As before, the man shot a duck that fell into the lake and the dog walked on the water to get it. His neighbor didn’t say a word. Several more ducks were shot and retrieved by the dog that could walk on water. Each time, the owner said nothing and the neighbor said nothing. Finally, unable to contain himself the dog’s owner asked his neighbor, “Do you notice anything strange about my new dog?” “Sure do,” his neighbor replied, “Your dog doesn’t know how to swim.”
A dog walking on water . . . Peter, in today’s Gospel, walking on water, an impossible thing, walking on water, (unless it’s January in Minnesota). Peter was able to do an impossible thing until he became afraid.
When I was a boy you could almost walk on the water of the Fox River in Green Bay, and the mouth of the bay, because the water was so polluted. Think PCB’s and PCP’s and all sorts of junk tossed in by industries and people. Then the environmental folks and government folks and local people affected by this pollution decided to do something that seemed impossible, clean up the river and the bay. Out of this the Clean Water Act was born, people worked hard, industries and individuals changed their practices and today the water is clean enough to swim in. Clean enough to eat the fish caught in the water.
I am sure there were many who said it couldn’t be done, or that the paper companies would go under, but they didn’t give in to fear and they did what seemed impossible. Thirty years ago, a hole in the earth’s ozone layer was growing and a group of scientists and policymakers met in Montreal to figure out how to solve it. It probably seemed impossible, to fix a hole in the earth’s atmosphere, but the Montreal Protocol, restricting the use of harmful gases like CFC’s led to the rebuilding of the ozone layer; it’s starting to heal as the result of wise collective human action accomplishing a seemingly impossible thing. As with the cleaning up of lakes and rivers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, there were certainly people who said it couldn’t be done, who tried using fear to derail the efforts.
Peter believed he could do the impossible, that he could walk on water, and he stepped out of the boat and did it until he became afraid. Once he stopped focusing on the good, the destination, the dream, once he stopped focusing on Jesus and instead turned his attention to the headwinds and chaos around him, once he became afraid, he began to sink.
Fear of the unknown, fear of ridicule, fear of failure, fear of change, all keep us from doing what seems impossible. What impossible thing are we being called to do? End homelessness and hunger in our community? Heal the planet from climate change? Provide decent healthcare for all? End violence and racism like that in Charlottesville, VA in all its ugly forms? Take the first steps in recovery? Reconcile with someone in your family? Learn to love yourself as God loves you?
Peter’s stepping out into the seemingly impossible so long ago reminds us that we can do difficult, even impossible things, with God’s help if we stay focused on the One who is always inviting us into deeper relationship and if we do not allow fear to swallow us up.
August 6, 2017 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
“All who hunger”
Are you hungry: Well, you’re probably going to be when I’m done because the Bible has an awful lot to say about food. Food is in the Bible from the very beginning. In the creation story in Genesis God plants the Garden of Eden and gives Adam and Eve the plants and the trees for food. God gives food from the very beginning of time.
Food was an important part of hospitality in the ancient world. When strangers show up at Abraham and Sarah’s door in Genesis 18, the first thing Abraham does is ask Sarah to make some bread for their guests. They were hungry, you have to feed them.
There are the stories of how drought led to famine and starvation because the people did not have bread. Joseph, of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, is sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers. He has dreams that famine is coming to the land and he warns Pharaoh who orders the Egyptians to store grain for the upcoming drought. Joseph’s brothers then come to Egypt to buy some of that grain so they can have bread, so they will live. Bread of Life.
In a similar way Elijah in 1Kings 17 meets the Widow of Zarephath whose jar is running out of meal and whose jug has little oil. Elijah asks her to trust God and make him a little bread to eat and her jar never runs out, her jug is never dry.
So many stories about food in the Bible. Even a passing glance at Leviticus reveals lists and lists of clean and unclean foods. Religious rules dictated what one could eat and not eat, who you could have at your table, and who was forbidden to come to your table.
In the system of temple sacrifice where animal and grain offerings were given to God, once those sacrifices were made, the food did not go to waste. It was used by those who offered the sacrifice and any they could not use was given to the poor. Food was not to be wasted.
Psalm 34 tells us to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord;” taste God’s goodness. God is food. Isaiah paints a beautiful vision of the heavenly banquet feast, “A feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” Yum. Heaven is a feast.
Manna in the wilderness fed the people Israel; food fell from heaven to save them. It was the bread of heaven. It was God giving life to God’s people in the manna, in the bread.
Then comes Jesus. Jesus taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Give us enough food each day, we pray. Jesus was born in Bethlehem which means “House of Bread.” Laid in a manger, laid in a food trough, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life, they who come to me will never hunger.” And, at the Last Supper he picks up bread and says, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.”
There are four hundred and sixty-six references to bread in the Bible, four hundred and sixty-six! None is more important than the one we find in today’s Gospel, a story that appears in each of the four Gospels, the multiplication of the loaves. Five loaves and two fish become enough for fifty thousand men, plus women and children, with twelve baskets left over, to boot.
This miraculous feeding story stands in a long line of feeding stories throughout the Bible and it has several things to teach us about God and about us. It shows us that God takes what we are willing to offer and turns it into enough, into abundance even. Five loaves and two fish, a simple, humble offering is enough in God’s hands.
The multiplication story shows that Jesus breaks down divisions and feeds all who come to Him. It was the outcast and the sick who pursued Jesus into that deserted place. It was the people on the margins who were fed that day. The only requirement to receive the bread was to be hungry, just like our table here today. All are welcome to this table, the only thing required is to be hungry for communion with God and each other.
The story of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand is clearly a foreshadowing of Jesus giving Himself to us in the Eucharist at this table and as we are fed here, we are called to go forth and feed a hungry world with the compassion, love and mercy of Christ.
The Gospel makes it clear that Jesus gave the bread to the disciples who then gave it to the crowds. In the same way, as we are fed at this table today, we are called to feed others. I began with the question, are you hungry? God has been coming to God’s people as food, as bread, since the beginning of time and throughout salvation history.
God comes to us, this day, as the bread of life and the cup of salvation. May we be fed and then go forth to feed a hungry world. Amen.