THE OVERFLOWING PROVISION

Sermon delivered on the Eighth Sunday After Trinity the 26th July 2015 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: 2 Kings 4: 42-44     Ephesians 3: 14-21     S. John 6: 1-21

Ephes 3: 16. S. Paul prayed to the Father "That according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."


Today's Gospel reading is St. John's account of those events in S. Mark chapter 6 that the lectionary provision missed out last week. So today we have heard S. John's account of the Feeding of the 5000 and of Jesus' walking on the lake.

The Feeding of the 5000 is an event that is told about in all four of the Gospels, and we might wonder why this should be the only miracle that all four Evangelists describe. It is not a typical sign, in that it seems to us that the multiplication of matter, in this case bread and fish, is an intervention in the laws of nature that goes far beyond the more frequent miracles, or "signs" as St. John prefers to say, of the healing of sickness. We might want to consider, though, that this is not necessarily the actual case, because if and when sickness is healed we are largely unaware of what the actual bodily and cellular changes are that take place.

So we need not conclude, in many cases of healing, how much of an intervention in the normal course of things there may have been, and for the most part it is unhelpful and presumptuous to try to do that, but it must be said that there is very considerable acceptance on the part of medical personnel today, and considerable statistical evidence to support it, that the exercise of faith and prayer makes a great and positive difference to the healing process. If this is so, then changes at some level known to God and most often not known to man, must be occurring that are consequent to the exercise of faith in Him and prayer.

Though some will still scoff at the idea, if you extend the same logic to the biblical accounts of calming a storm, walking on water and multiplying food, what is being testified to is the occurrence of changes in the normal or expected course of events due to divine agency or intervention. If we accept this, we should recognise too that in most cases we know little about the nature of the changes that occurr, just as in the case of medical healing. Those of us who were here in Cayman when Hurricane Gilbert came over in 1988 will remember how mountainous Jamaica got such a pounding that we feared low-lying Grand Cayman might be virtually wiped out. Many people submitted the storm in believing prayer to the hands of Almighty God, and the Church’s Intercessions too included the matter. In the event, the effect of the storm on Grand Cayman, although some damage occurred, was extraordinarily gentle. Explanations were offered, such as that just as the storm was passing Grand Cayman the eye broke into two parts, and this temporarily disorganised the system until it passed us, when the storm just as suddenly reorganised itself again. The official meteorological explanation at first merely said, "Somehow, Grand Cayman was spared the full effect of the hurricane." We may not to this day know the nature of the changes that took place that enabled our good fortune. It must also be said that we were well looked after in the more severe event of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, for all its pounding and the far greater loss that many people experienced. Many of us including myself were ready to believe at the time that the government was covering up the reality that many people’s lives had been lost. In fact all the perilous violence of the storm occasioned circumstantially the loss of just two lives. Such good fortune might be attributable to our greater state of preparedness than that of other countries, and yet all the same we were extremely unprepared for the level of furore that actually took place.

I suppose, then, that it can be said that the account of the Feeding of the 5000 is in all four of the Gospels to make the point very forcibly that this Jesus is indeed the divine Son, who has indeed the power of God to make changes in our lives and in our circumstances that might ordinarily seem to be right out of the question. The same, of course, is true when someone is healed consequent to prayer and faith, but perhaps it does not come over to us quite so forcibly in that context. This conclusion about the purpose of the miracle would be supported by our Old Testament account of an another unusual multiplication of food taking place in the presence and at the word of the prophet Elisha. St. John reports that the sign done by Jesus caused such a messianic stir among the people that, given the opportunity, they would have taken Him by force to make Him king. How very human it is to attempt to use the power and gifts of God for one’s own purposes rather than His! We might conclude that it is no wonder that there is a certain "shyness" or reserve in God and in His Son Jesus, when it comes to revealing divine powers to mankind. For we are so prone to making missteps in such matters.

The active Lordship of God over natural events can have profound implications for the way we view the character of the things we call natural in the first place. In the 19th and 20th century science was routinely considered to be the alternative answer, and for many, the more reliable one, to the religious account about the way things are. But as more is discovered about the intricacies of human and animal life, about the earth’s place in a universe of powerful and dangerous events and forces, and about the extraordinary unlikeliness of what appears to be a fine-tuning of what we regard as the natural order to make human life possible and to make the universe even observable and discoverable by us, so the more does it appear to any honest observer that firstly, things - and particularly we ourselves - were actively designed to be the way they are, and could not have just happened so, and secondly, that in spite of our grave irresponsibility in many areas, we are being actively looked after and cared for. Having been closed by the barren philosophy of dead uniformitarianism, the book of nature as a revelation of an intervening and rescuing Presence is beginning, though in the face of considerable opposition, to be opened once again. And if we turn to the accounts of our Lord’s signs in the Gospel today, we might just hear Him saying to us, “I told you so.”

The words of our text from St. Paul's prayer in Ephesians to God, "That according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith," are easily enough said, but do we realise their weight? It is, in part, a prayer that the divine power of changing events and circumstances that the Evangelists testify of Christ will, in a measure at least, be shared by us. Our walk in Christ and our prayers are to take a share in God's mighty purpose. Let us then so walk and let us then so pray. When Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks and distributed, it was truly a eucharist, an act of thanksgiving. May we too, then, give thanks for God's bountiful provision, and let it overflow from what it makes of us to all that is around us.