I pray that you may have power, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ

29 July 2018

Thumb pennybird

Preacher | Penny Bird

I pray that you may have power, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ

Sermon 29 July 2018 

8.30 Eucharist and 10 am Morning Worship

2 Kings 4:42-44

Ephesians 3: 14-21

John 6-1-21

“I pray that you may have power, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

writes Paul.

What would God need to do to convince you of his love? What has he done already that has convinced you?

How do you know that someone loves you? How do you show someone you love them? These questions have inspired many novelists and film makers all down the years. There is an interesting recent book about ‘5 Love Languages’. You may know it. It suggests that the five primary love languages are: Words of affirmation; Acts of service; Receiving gifts; Quality time; and Physical touch. I’ll list them again, see if you can think which of those you would most like someone to give you to show you how much they love you. 

Words of affirmation; Acts of service; Gifts; Quality time; and Physical touch.

When you want to show someone how much you love them, do you naturally give them what you would like to receive? Or do you think about what they would most like, what their primary love language is?

Now, what would you say was Jesus’ primary love language? How did he show love – God’s love.

Words of affirmation? Think how often he said to people, ‘Your faith has made you whole’. 

Acts of service? Think of how he washed the disciples’ feet.

Gifts? Think of how Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast at Caana.

Quality time? Think how he invited those he called to spend time with him as they became his disciples.

Physical touch? He did not shrink from touching lepers or even the dead and he affirmed Mary of Bethany when she touched him, anointing his feet with costly perfume. 

Those are just a few examples. You will think of others.

As you would expect he spoke all the love languages people needed to hear. 

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus speaking the love language of gifts as he offers food to the vast crowd food in a desert place, and of quality time and affirmation as he comes to the disciples when they need him on the lake. He longs for people to understand God’s love for them.

Something deeply symbolic is going on here too, which would have had many resonances for the first readers of John’s Gospel as well as for those present when Jesus performed these ‘signs’. John is clear that Jesus’ miracles are signs, which we are meant to interpret, just as we are meant to understand the ‘love languages’. God’s loving faithfulness is clear if we can read the signs, and they also point us to an understanding of who Jesus is. In verse 4 of our Gospel passage John tells us, ‘The Jewish Passover Festival was near’. Uppermost in the minds of the people gathered for the festival was the memory of how Moses had led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and of how God fed them with manna in the desert. They would also have known the Old Testament story of Elisha, which was our first reading. It is a little vignette, a short snippet of story among many, which all show how Elisha had God’s power to meet the needs of the people, in order to show them God’s love. 

Now, in our Gospel story Jesus does something, which reminds people of Moses and Elisha. John is clearly showing us how Jesus stands in the line of direct succession from them. He takes the barley loaves and the fish offered by the boy and blesses them. Then the disciples distribute them among the people and there is more than enough. In verse 14 we read: ‘After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’  The people understand Jesus actions as a ‘sign’.

People nowadays sometimes try to explain the miracle away, saying that when people saw the little boy offering Jesus his food they all took out their own and shared it. This is to miss the point of the story. It is a ‘sign’ and when the people see and understand it they recognise Jesus as their Messiah, so that we read in verse 15: ‘Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.’ They have understood the sign but also misunderstood it. He is Messiah , but not a king as they understand it. Just beyond the end of the passage we read, John writes that the people looked for Jesus again because he had given them food but Jesus said,  ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ John reinforces the meaning of the ‘sign’ when he tells us how Jesus said, ‘ ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

But we must not skip over the second sign which John links so closely with the first. Jesus, having fed the crowd has gone up a mountain to pray. The disciples are far out across the lake in the boat in the middle of a storm when Jesus comes towards them walking on the water. The symbolism of stormy water needs to be understood. In the Jewish mind the sea was a place of chaos and disorder, where evil threatened to overwhelm the unwary. Jesus can walk on the water and bring them ‘immediately’ safe to land when they welcome him into their boat. This is a confirmatory sign that he is indeed not just their king but their God. 

N.T.Wright points out that the petitions of the Lord’s prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ and ‘deliver us from evil’ are illustrated in this story. Jesus has taught his disciples to pray to the Father for these things. Now, he answers those petitions himself. Clearly we are meant to conclude that he is God, showing them God’s loving care.

John follows this story with a long discourse of Jesus on himself as the Bread of Life where he identifies the bread explicitly as his own flesh and blood. God’s love is wide and long and high and deep. It is cross shaped. Jesus showed us his love most clearly by granting the middle petition of the Lord’s prayer, ‘Forgive us our sins’, and he showed us we are forgiven by dying for us on the cross and rising again. When Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’, for John’s readers as for u,s this is clearly reminiscent of the Eucharist, the messianic banquet. Jeffrey John points out that this, and the fact that from at least the early second century bread and fish appear in Christian art as symbols of the Eucharist, suggests that the miracle was understood in this sense probably from the first. 

In his book The meaning in the miracles, which I know some of you have read, Jeffrey John goes on: (p. 68 ff)

“We may therefore say that as Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread for his people it is a foretaste of the Christian Passover, celebrating and making present the redemption won for us in Christ, as the old Passover celebrated and made present the redemption wrought for Israel at the Exodus. As the Passover manna came to be understood by the Jews as a symbol of the Word of God in the Law, or as God’s own Wisdom indwelling us, so in the Eucharist we receive Christ the eternal Word of God, both in Scripture and in the sacrament. Like the Passover, the Eucharist is the Church’s ‘family meal’, which sustains us through the ‘desert’ of earthly life. … It prefigures, but also actualizes, the ‘banquet’ of heaven, symbolizing the mystical union with God and one another which we will fully know there, but of which we also have a foretaste in Holy Communion.’ And Jeffrey John concludes, “ It is the same, continuing miracle, through which the life of God himself is still imparted to us, still superabundant and unfailing, in all times and in all places.”

The superabundance of God’s unfailing love is illustrated by the huge quantities of excellent wine at the wedding feast at Cana, and again here, by there being so much bread left over. St Paul writing to the Ephesians longs for them to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Modern commentators emphasise that our culture feeds on the myth of ‘scarcity’. “There isn’t enough, grab it for yourself while stocks last”; is the sub text of so much advertising.  It has resulted in much of the world’s wealth being in the hands of a very few, while many live in poverty on the verge of starvation. What difference would it make to us if we really knew ourselves loved by a God of superabundant unfailing love? In sending out the 12 to preach the Kingdom Jesus told them ‘Freely you have received; freely give.’ (Matt 10:8) Can we freely receive God’s love and so give it freely? 

In the first letter of John we read, ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ 

What would God need to do to convince you of his love? What has he done already that has convinced you? Which love language do you speak with God?

I invite you to ponder those questions this week.

10 am only: and to think how, when you come to communion, you stretch out empty hands to be filled with Christ himself who meets all your needs. Who may be stretching out empty hands to you? How could you respond with God’s love?

8.30 only: And today as you come to receive communion, notice how you stretch out empty hands to be filled with Christ himself who meets all your needs. Who may be stretching out empty hands to you? How could you respond with God’s love?