John 6:1-21, Ephesians 3:14-21
We have heard two passages in which God is proclaimed/worshiped/shows up. Between the passages in Ephesians and John the John 6 feels more manageable. It feels less abstract and more understandable. Sure there are unusual events–the multiplication of bread and walking on water but I can picture these. Start with 1 bread get 10 breads—not typical but still countable and able to be touched. Jesus walked on water—which is admittedly strange—but water is still understandable. His getting across the water is a reasonably comprehensible need.
Though we cannot walk on water we can feel it and struggle against it as we cross on boat or while walking through muddy shallows. Such was our experience during our family vacation this past week. My family “vacations” in a very particular way. For many people vacation means rest, perhaps relaxation. For most people my family’s vacations would be more like a pre-season training camp for a High School sports team. As the week wears on the team get more and more sore and more and more tired. Though less focused, this is how our vacations might appear. It was commented to my dad when he was noting his aches a few days in that “It’s not a good vacation unless you are sore.” He had even made an unsuccessful attempt at starting to do a little running in order to train for the vacation–which is again is not unlike the smarter players before pre-season training.
This year we were camping in a forest by Moomaw Lake about an hour west of Staunton Virginia. We always camp for vacation and since the mid-90s have used my Dad’s van he uses for his carpentry work. The seats are put back in. Food packed in all sorts coolers and totes. Tents and other critical things such as sleeping bags, an ax and unicycles in the back. Bikes on the back and usually on the front as well. Canoes on the roof. This year with all three of the Hosler sons married we needed plenty of boats. A sleek Icelandic kayak and wood strip canoe built by Philip the middle child, followed by “regular” store bought canoe, followed by a rather old and ponderous aluminum canoe borrowed from a neighbor. This order of listing was not only by impressiveness but also indicates speed–with the kayak easily outstripping the others and the borrowed aluminum canoe trailing like some sort of stout and stable but slow barge. In these, particularly the slow one, we crossed the water—becoming sore and tired. We also hiked and unsurprisingly become hungry.
In the Gospel passage we see unexpected but still somehow understandable things. We see the experience of water (disciples rowing), of walking, of hunger. We see God made manifest in these normal things of life. In John we see Jesus in action. After teaching and healing it says Jesus went around to the other side of the lake, or over the lake, it doesn’t say—around the lake and up a mountain. To this location the crowds followed him. Though it was soon a religious holiday—Passover—the crowds followed Jesus out of town and up a hill. This was apparently fairly isolated. There was no food. So Jesus, being Jesus and caring for people, challenged his disciples by asking them to provide food. One disciple—Andrew—said here’s a boy with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Jesus then multiplies it, feeds them, and then realizes they may try to make him king—which prompts him to flee. It says “He withdrew again and went up the mountain by himself.” Interestingly his disciples leave him. It doesn’t say if they let him know they were leaving by boat but they left. A storm came. And he met them as they rowed—walking on the water and entering the boat saying, “don’t be afraid.” Immediately they arrive at the other side.
We can relate to being hungry, being afraid, and being near water but not walking on top of it. The next passage in Ephesians, however, is much more complicated. For me at least, the first read made sense. This passage was meant to be read aloud to a congregation (much like we did this morning)—and in this context the passage feels good. If you go back and re-read and read slowly, however, all sorts of questions arise. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense but that it starts sounding surprising and begging for explanation. How does this relate to that?
This impression is understandable. The passage is doxology—a sort of song of praise. It is not a piece of technical theology or philosophy. Because of this we need to recognize the limits and purpose of the language and style. While we affirm this as true it is an exclamation of praise and not a series of narrow definitions to be expanded endlessly. While theologians and biblical scholars gain material from this it is not written for those who professionally read scriptures but to a specific set of communities. It is meant to be read in a congregation and build up the community’s faith.
While meant to bring praise there is benefit from slowing down and attending more closely to pieces of the passage and phrases within. I would invite you to find this passage in a Bible to follow more closely. I’m going to invite you to make observations or raise questions. You don’t need to answer and I won’t necessarily answer your question. This will be a shortened lectio divina.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
[During the sermon we spent several minutes of sharing as a congregation and then read the passage a second time.]
Both of these come from and to a variation of the same–expression of praise and wonder at what God has done and continues to do.
Now of course our vacation was in fact a vacation. It is a change of pace from our typical lives. My phone and email weren’t even functioning. It was a time to spend with family. While we worked hard to paddle across lakes we were frequently distracted by attempts to climb to the very point of the canoe or by interesting rocks along the shoreline. We considered crawling into holes in the bank and bent down to wonder at tiny brightly colored mushrooms along the path. We discussed theology and the discernment of call with our seminarian sister-in-law amidst considerations of boat construction. While exerting energy we experienced—at least in small part—God’s presence.
The wonderment and amazement of God is found in these texts. In the concrete but no less fabulous multiplication of food and treading the surface of the sea and in the singing of prayer and praise punctuated by thought nearly impossible to untangle. It is in this and in the tangible experience of water walked on and hunger sated that we exclaim and see “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
This is a faint hint of the length and height and breadth of the love of God in our lives.
May our eyes be open to see it. Amen