In early childhood education, there is a song for everything. Need some motivation for clean-up? There’s a song for that. Need something to help ease the transition from one activity to the next? There’s a song for that. Need something to remind you that you are loved? There’s a song for that, too. Having spent several years in early childhood education, I got very good at making up songs on the spot; I can make up a song about almost anything and it’s a skill that has stayed with me. It was an important skill to learn when I was teaching, because while I could give an instruction in a normal speaking voice, if I sang it, it was more effective. Something happens to us when we sing; it does something different to our brain. Most of us can recall some song from our childhood with surprising accuracy. Songs stay with us; songs stay with us even when they are not technically songs.
It is not hard to imagine a prayer that sings. Perhaps one of the reasons that you are here today in the Episcopal Church is the lyrical nature of the prayers found in our Prayer Book. Some of my favorite prayers are prayers that sing. And just like songs that stick with us, prayers that sing get into our bones in a different way than prayers that may be theologically sound, but lack the ability to float up to the heavens. Prayers that sing help us remember the closeness of God, and that God is with us in every situation.
Our Epistle lesson today is a prayer that sings. It’s a prayer by the author of Ephesians, who holds the people of that community close at heart. It is a prayer that floats and lilts with the skill of someone who is both deeply immersed in a life of faith and work and also highly invested in the growth of the community at Ephesus. It’s a prayer that can easily settle into our hearts and minds where it can sit and stay a while until we truly believe what the prayers offers. It’s a prayer that asks God to let the community be rooted and grounded in love. It’s a prayer that sings about the vastness of God’s love through Christ. It’s a prayer that affirms that we are finite, flawed humans but that when God is at work within us, we will be able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine. It’s a prayer that hopes for the community to be filled with all the fullness of God.
What a beautiful prayer. I can’t imagine a more beautiful wish for people of God than to be filled with the fullness of God. In the wide variety of life that each of us experience every day, it could be hard to imagine what this might look like; what does it look like to be filled with the fullness of God, not in some sort of ethereal, metaphorical way, but in a real, concrete way? I think our gospel passage might give us a picture into what it might be to be filled with the fullness of God.
The gospel passage today is two miracles that probably are familiar to most of us; the feeding of the 5,000, the only miracle that appears in all four gospels and Jesus’ walking on water; they set us out for the next five weeks walking through John 6, wherein which we will hear again and again about bread. But here we have the miracle of the multiplying of the five loaves and two fish and of Jesus walking on water. The miracles are so well known and important that it might be hard to hear them with fresh ears or to imagine the scene playing out and actually paying attention to the details. When we look at these two miracles through the lens of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians, though, I wonder if our attention might shift from how the miracles happen to those they happened to; what were the disciples thinking in the moment when Jesus walked on water or when they were faced with the conundrum of how to take care of the crowds of people – how did they know the fullness of God in those moments?
When the disciples were in the boat, the began out on their journey and the storm came and they were terrified in the dark, stormy sea. In their fear and in their terror, they come to know God and are filled with all fullness of God when they see Christ walking on water toward them. No doubt they were still scared, because a person walking on water might be just a terrifying sight as a giant storm on the sea at night, but in their fear they came to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge and they were filled with the fullness of God.
And before they got into the boat, the disciples faced crowds of people; people who no doubt were worried about their lives. These crowds of people did not seek Jesus and his disciples out for no reason, but they came because they were hurting and hungry. They worried about their physical bodies, of this I am sure, but I’m also sure that they were probably worried about other things as well; they came seeking the Christ because they knew that he would heal their bodies and feed their souls. They came to know the fullness of God in the love of Christ found in the breaking of the bread.
And those crowds looked to those disciples, in all of their need and all of their worry, and the disciples must have looked back and felt overwhelmed. You can almost hear the panic when Philip answered Jesus’ question about how they going to feed the people when he exclaims that even half a year’s work would earn enough to feed the crowd of people. The disciples probably felt insufficient in the face of such a large task; they probably felt overwhelmed by the task set ahead of them. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never faced a crowd of 5,000 hungry, hurting people, but I can imagine how the disciples might have felt. I can imagine it because this is how I feel when I remember that Puerto Rico has been without full power for almost a year. I, too, feel insufficient and overwhelmed when I see reports that the water crisis in Flint, MI still is still ongoing. I feel overwhelmed when I read that there are still hundreds of young children separated from the families at the border. I feel insufficient when I think about the fact that almost 30% of the population of Bowling Green lives in poverty; I feel overwhelmed when I consider all the needs that are present in our community alone and how we might meet them. There is so much need in this world and in our community, and I often feel insufficient to take up the work to share God’s abundance with people who are hurting and hungry. In those times where I can empathize with the disciples and the weight that they feel at the task of caring for God’s people, I lean on the knowledge and love of Christ. In those times, I remember this prayer of Paul’s and pray for to be filled with the fullness of God’s love, and I try to remember that through us God can do more than we can ask or imagine. God’s abundance feed the 5,000 and God’s grace, love, and care can meet the needs that we are faced with today.
Nothing in our world is unilateral, serving only one purpose, and Jesus’ miracles are the same. It was not just the miracle of Jesus walking on water, it was the miracle of the terror of the disciples being calmed when all around points to the necessity of a life of fear. It was not just the miracle of feeing thousands of hungry people with a small portion of food, it was the miracle of meeting people’s needs and calming their worry. It was not just the miracle of the bread being broken and shared with the multitudes, it was the miracle of God’s grace finding its fullness when the disciples felt inadequate and insufficient. The miracles in our gospel passage today help show us how we might live into that big song of a prayer that we hear in our epistle passage today.
What would it mean for you in your life if you were filled with the fullness of God? How might your life be different this upcoming week if you leaned into the prayer that Paul prays for the church at Ephesus? Which big things would you bring to God in your own prayers? When you leave this church building, remember that you are the church. In your daily life, pray for the big things and the small things. Trust in the abundance of God’s love found in and through Jesus Christ. Know deep within your soul the fullness of God. Know deep within your soul the fullness of God when you are scared or worried or feel insufficient. Trust and know that as you encounter all the vast needs of our community and our world and our own worry that we will not be able to do enough, that God is at work within us and is able to accomplish far more than can ask or imagine.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY for Proper 12B, July 29, 2018 on John 6:1-21 and Ephesians 3:14-21.