Armadale Uniting Church

Sunday - 2 August 2020

Pentecost 9

Breaking bread …….
Custom, miracle, ritual, mystery

Service led by Ian Thomas

Welcome and Grace

Opening Scripture

And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life….
Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever
John 6:35 and 6:58

Hymn The God of Abram praise` (TiS 123)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_k0WbiQXiHw

The Choir at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine leads hymns from home for online services during the coronavirus pandemic.

1 The God of Abraham praise
who reigns enthroned above,
ancient of everlasting days,
and God of love:
The Lord, the great I AM
by earth and heaven confessed!
We bow and bless the sacred name
for ever blest.

2 The God of Abraham praise,
whose all-sufficient grace
shall guide us all our happy days
in all our ways.
He calls us each a friend,
he calls himself our God;
and he shall save us to the end
through Jesus' blood.

3 He by Himself has sworn,
we on his oath depend:
we shall, on eagles' wings upborne,
to heaven ascend:
we shall behold his face,
we shall his power adore,
and sing the wonders of his grace
for evermore.

4 The God who reigns on high
the great archangels sing,
and "Holy, holy, holy,' cry,
'almighty King!'
who was and is the same
and evermore shall be,
the Lord, our Father, great I AM
eternally.

5 Before the Saviour's face
the ransomed nations bow,
all praising his almighty grace,
for ever new.
He shows his wounds of love,
they kindle to a flame
and sound through all the worlds above
the slaughtered Lamb.

6 The whole triumphant host
gives thanks to God on high;
'Hail, Father, Son and Spirit blest!'
they ever cry.
Hail, Abraham's God and ours!
with heaven our songs we raise:
all might and majesty are yours,
and endless praise.

Prayer

Readings (Cheryl and Stephen)

Genesis 32: 22-31 - Jacob Wrestles at Peniel

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”  So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man[a] said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip.

Psalm 17: 1-7; 15

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

Matthew 14:13-21 - Feeding the Five Thousand

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Hymn TIS 569 - Guide me O thou great Jehovah
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5NOVcefEYU

1 Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand:
bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore,
feed me now and evermore.

2 Open now the crystal fountain
whence the living waters flow:
let the fiery, cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through:
strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield,
be thou still my strength and shield.

3 When I tread the verge of Jordan
bid my anxious fears subside:
death of death, and hell's destruction,
land me safe on Canaan's side:
songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee,
I will ever give to thee.

Reflection – Breaking Bread – The Custom, the Miracle, the Ritual, the Mystery

Apart from their merits as dramatic evidence of the divine nature of Jesus, and the demonstration his Kingdom centred character in action, the accounts of the miracle of the feeding of 5000 men in the four gospels, bring us face to face with the intricate mystery and symbolism of bread that underpins the doctrines of our Christian religion.

Bread - essentially a kneaded mixture of flour from milled grain or other edible starch and water -has been a staple man-made food for probably all cultures for at least all of recorded history. Bruce Pascoe (2018) in his book Dark Emu cites archaeological evidence that suggests Australian aborigines made bread from ground native grass seeds as early as 65000 years ago.

Bread (see a short version at https://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bread-symbolism) occupies an important part of the social, economic and political development of the human race. In agrarian based cultures grain was treated as a gift from God (or whatever Gods they believed had some influence on its production). Thereby, supplication to ensure a good harvest, and thanksgiving for the harvest, became part of the economic and political drivers, and hence power – of that activity. Modern technological, manufacturing and service based economies have a slang description for money as “bread”, underlying its importance and power in our lives

For those of us in the Judeo-Christian culture, bread symbolizes God’s generosity through the abundance of creation, and for the provision of food we need when we are hungry. It symbolizes liberation because it provides a means to escape from captivity and sin and it represents the ultimate gift of sacrificial love -eternal life in God’s kingdom because of Jesus Christ – the “bread of life” (John 6:35 and 6:48) and “the bread who came down from heaven” (John 6:41).

Customs

In Jewish culture the sharing meals is a very important part of family and community life. (There are 18 reports of meals involving Jesus in the Gospels – 10 of them in Luke). It is common for such meals to include bread and wine. At the beginning of a shared meal the blessing - "Blessed are You, O LORD our God, King of the Universe, Who has brought forth bread from the earth" is said by the host as he breaks the bread and shares it with those present. It is the blessing which is referred to as "the breaking of bread". The one who says the blessing over the bread is referred to as the one who "breaks bread”. The term “breaking bread” is only ever used in the context of a shared meal.

Ritual

At Passover the family meal (usually on the first or second night of the eight day commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt) follows a seder – or order of fifteen quite intricate steps and at an appointed time (Step 8) there is a blessing and breaking of matzah – an unleavened bread, and later (Step 13) a blessing involving the drinking of the third of four glasses of wine.

(A brief description of what the Passover is all about can be found at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Passover

The steps in the Passover seder can be seen at https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-a-passover-seder-2076456 and the reason why unleavened bread is served at the Passover is explained at https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-terms/why-is-leavened-bread-forbidden-during-passover.html and answers a question raised in the service last Sunday).

The miracles

We turn now to a major story in the Jesus narrative involving bread. We know it is important because it was recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-13), and, in fact, along with the resurrection story, these are the only two of the thirty-seven miracles of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels. And as I mention in the notes for today’s worship it is instructive to read all four gospel accounts to obtain a more complete picture of the event. it is also often very informative to read passages before and after a particular passage to gain further insight.

(Can I suggest the following -:

    • For Matthew’s account also read Matthew 14:1-12 relating the death of John the Baptist; and also Matthew 15:32-39 an account of another similar miracle - the Feeding of 4000 and the subsequent discussion about yeast.
    • For Mark’s account also read Mark 6:1-29 covering his rejection at Nazareth; the sending out of the twelve disciples and the death of John the Baptist, and also Mark 8:1-21 the feeding of the 4000 and subsequent conversation with the disciples.
    • For Luke’s account also read Luke 9:1-9 and Luke 9:18-20; covering the sending out of the twelve disciples, the intrigue around the murder of John the Baptist and Peter’s declaration about Jesus.
    • For John’s account also read John 6:16-24 covering the aftermath of the feeding of 5000, and John 6:25-71 the discourse on Jesus as the Bread of Life).

Each gospel writer views the feeding of the 5000 from a different perspective, there are minor differences in detail, but all versions are coherent and view the event as a miracle proclaiming the divine nature of Jesus and the extraordinary personal characteristics he displayed during the event.

Matthew’s gospel is written from the perspective of an urban Jewish Christian, well versed in Jewish Law and tradition, who was unequivocal in his assertion that Jesus is the Messiah the Jews were longing for, and focussed on what life in the Kingdom of God is like for a true believer both in the present and in a future life after death.

For example - The following extract from an article by Daniel del Nido of Columbia University gives a broader understanding of where Matthew is coming from.

Debates concerning Jewish identity following the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Second Temple in 70 CE at the hands of the Romans form the backdrop of Matthew’s assertions of the Jewish character of Jesus’ life and teachings.  Without the centralizing forces of temple worship and its priestly hierarchy, various groups claimed the mantle of authentic inheritors of the Jewish traditions. The author of Matthew, whose erudition and deep knowledge of both the Hebrew Bible and of scribal forms of argumentation make his status as a Jewish leader probable, was a strong proponent of the idea that Jesus was in fact the Jewish messiah. The group(s) supporting this view, known in scholarship as Jewish Christians, believed that Jesus fulfilled the predictions of the prophets and correctly interpreted the Mosaic law. Accordingly, they gave Jesus the title Christos, a Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiach meaning “anointed one.”

These assertions of Jesus’ identity as the messiah were vigorously opposed by other groups also claiming to faithfully represent the traditions of Israel.  Matthew’s strong polemics against the Pharisees in particular suggest increasing levels of hostility between them. For one thing, Jesus’ claims that love adequately summarizes the law stand in tension with the Pharisees’ belief that the will of God can only be known through detailed interpretation of the Mosaic Law.  For the Pharisees, obedience to God was achieved through the articulation of rules that clarify the Torah’s commandments.  This body of law, subsidiary to the “written Torah,” became known as the “oral Torah” and was eventually collected into a work called the Mishnah, the core of the Talmud.  Matthew’s strong words against the Pharisees likely constitute an aggressive defense against accusations that Jesus’ message relaxes and even betrays Israel’s heritage.  Such accusations would have carried great weight in the period after 70 CE.  Mistrust of religious authorities ran high among Jewish sects as blame for the fall of Jerusalem was debated.  Jesus’ insistence that he fulfills rather than abolishes the law, then, likely responds to charges that his message of love incurred God’s wrath by lowering moral rigor and adherence to the law.  Some scholars even suggest that Matthew’s community withdrew or was expelled from the synagogue over these accusations and counter-accusations.  Whether or not this is in fact true, Matthew treats the Pharisees as Jesus’ main opponents throughout his narrative, calling them hypocrites and warning that only righteousness exceeding theirs will earn a place in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

Focus on opponents outside of Matthew’s community should not, however, distract from attention to divisions within the community. Jesus’ warnings against “false prophets” and those who call upon God without carrying out God’s will suggest that some under Matthew’s leadership hoped for liberation from the Mosaic Law in its entirety (Matthew 7:15-23).  Whether this group included Jewish Christians whose attitude towards the law was less strict than Matthew’s, or whether they were Gentiles who rejected the law (it is almost certain that Matthew’s community included a number of Gentiles), is impossible to determine.  In either case, Matthew’s worries about the detrimental impact this group might have on others’ faith suggests that Jesus’ insistence upon adherence to the law in Matthew responds both to the Pharisees and to this internal division.

The destruction of the Temple also provides insight into the political and economic context of Matthew’s writing.  Though Matthew does not risk open denunciation of the Roman Empire, subtle criticisms of Roman rule are present throughout his gospel.  The “kingdom of heaven” whose coming Jesus proclaims is this-worldly and stands in stark contrast with the existing regime (Matthew 4:17).  Jesus’ status as messiah also carries political overtones: an entire tradition of apocalyptic thought stretching back to the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BCE) promises a “savior” who will liberate Israel from foreign rule and Hellenistic culture and restore its heritage. (The book of the prophet Daniel in the Hebrew Bible is an excellent example of Jewish apocalypticism.)  Even Jesus’ death by crucifixion, a punishment typically reserved for political rebellion, suggests the threat he presents to the Roman authorities. 

The social stakes of Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as not only a religious but also a political savior are made clear in the Beatitudes.  The poor farmers and fishermen Jesus associates with would have formed the majority of Roman society of the time, standing near the bottom of a vast hierarchical ladder (still lower are the beggars, prostitutes and lepers Jesus assists) that defined Roman social order. Jesus’ assurances that the kingdom of heaven is for the meek and poor of spirit, then, strongly indicate his preference for the lower elements of Roman society.  The kingdom of heaven inverts the traditional Roman hierarchy: the poor and oppressed will receive their due reward and those who seek justice will find it, while the powerful will be brought down

Mark as an acolyte of Peter wrote his gospel, mainly for gentile and Roman believers, focussing on Jesus as servant King, and that despite our sin and failure Jesus will complete his work in and through us.

Luke, as a gentile and companion of Paul writes his gospel to show that salvation is available for everyone, tells lots of wonderful stories and focusses heavily on hospitality (he records ten meals involving Jesus) and inclusion as a way of practising the gospel daily.

John, starts from the premise that from the beginning of time, Jesus was co-existent with God, and his whole gospel used carefully chosen events (seven miracles and related I am statements) that exactly fit the criteria for Jesus to be named the Messiah. For him, our goal is to know Jesus and in that light we attain eternal life through him.

The gospels were written at least 30 years after the resurrection, John’s maybe 50 or 60 years later. In the interim, there had been many groups of Jesus followers established mostly in urban settings, and the letters from the apostles and Paul in particular to some of these groups were extremely influential in how people behaved and what they believed. Relations between these Jewish Christian groups and the Jewish religious hierarchy and the Roman occupying forces were problematic at best, and indeed in about 70AD the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. All of these Gospels will have been written from the knowledge of what happened in those intervening years and the specific practices and beliefs that became ascendant in their communities, so it is not surprising that events are recorded with some predictive overtones.

Nevertheless the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 unfolds in something like the following sequence. It occurred on a spring afternoon (note the green grass in an otherwise quite desolate desert place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee – (John 6:10, Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:32) – probably around the time of the Feast of the Passover, just 12 months before the tumultuous events in Jerusalem. Approximately six months later a second mass feeding of 4000 – occurs on a secluded hilltop somewhere near the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 15:32-39: Mark 8:1-21)

Those events in Jerusalem included -: the Passover Seder meal, (Matthew 26:17-30) the arrest, (Matthew 26:47-56) trials and humiliation, (Matthew 26:57 – 27:31) crucifixion,(Matthew 27:32-56) resurrection (Matthew 28) and ascension (Luke 24:50-53: Acts 1:6-11) and finally Pentecost (Acts 2).

While going about his ministry, Jesus Christ received some terrible news. John the Baptist, his friend, kinsman, and the prophet who proclaimed him as the Messiah, had been beheaded by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea. (Mark 6:30-32)

Jesus’ 12 disciples had just returned from a missionary journey he had sent them on (Mark 6:7-13). After they told him all they had done and taught, he took them with him in a boat on the Sea of Galilee to a remote place, for rest and prayer. (Mark 6:31-32) and to avoid the vast crowds following him. Jesus has become immensely popular because of his teaching and healing activities, and the promise of liberation as dwellers in the Kingdom. When they saw where Jesus was headed the crowd ran around the lake to see him, bringing their sick friends and relatives. When the boat landed, they were waiting for him.

The fact that many in the crowd of “lost sheep” (Mark 6:34) are activists seeking a leader for their causes to rid the area of the Roman occupying force hardly goes unnoticed. The Jewish authorities are uneasy about this popularity because it paints them in a bad light and is a threat to their authority. They use the ruse of portraying Jesus as a terrorist who is plotting the overthrow of the Roman occupation. An irony is that this story takes place in the shadow of the regional headquarters of the Jewish hierarchy (Herod Antipas is the local leader – tetrarch - in the Galilee region), and the Roman encampment of the occupying forces in Galilee adds a political edge to the proceedings. That Jesus carefully avoids being embroiled in this push to make him their warrior king is also important (Matthew 14:22-23: Matthew 15:39; mark 8:9-10; John 6:14-15).

In spite of his weariness and personal sorrow Jesus sees these people and has compassion on them. He teaches them about the Kingdom of God, he heals those who were sick, he spends time with them. It is exhausting work. (Mark 6:34; Luke 9:11). (A quick calculation says that giving just 10 seconds of personal time to each person equates to 12 hours of intense activity, let alone the physical strain of addressing such a large number for any length of time).

Late in the afternoon, looking at the crowd, which numbered about 5,000 men, not counting women and children, Jesus asked his disciple Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (John 6:5,) Jesus knew what he was going to do, but he asked Philip to test him. Philip replied that even eight months' wages would not be enough to give each person even one bite of bread. (Mark 6:37)

Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, had more faith in Jesus. He brought forward a young boy who had five small loaves of barley bread and two small fish. Even so, Andrew wondered how that could help. (John 6:8-9)

Jesus ordered the crowd to sit down in groups of fifty. (Luke 9:14; Mark 6:39-40) He took the five loaves, looked up to heaven, gave thanks to God his Father, broke them and passed the pieces to his disciples to be distributed. He did the same with the two fish. (Mark 6:41; Matthew 14:19).

Everyone—5000 men, plus women and children, totaling as many as 15 – 20000 people—ate as much as they wanted! Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes so there was more than enough. Then he told his disciples to gather the leftovers so nothing was wasted. They collected enough to fill 12 baskets. (Matthew 14:20; John 6:12-13).

The crowd was so overwhelmed by this miracle that they understood Jesus was the prophet who had been promised. Knowing they would want to force him to become their king, Jesus fled from them. (John 6:14-15)

Was this a Passover meal? - no. Was this a specific religious ritual? – no. No matter how you analyse it, dissect it, rationalise it -It was literally a miraculous feat of hospitality, generosity and compassion to a large crowd of needy people.

There are other events where Jesus “breaks bread” – for example, the later feeding of the 4000, the meal with the disciples after the journey on the Emaus road. One commentator notes that the evidence (in most of these events) indicates that in the New Testament the expression “the breaking of bread” or “broke bread” refers to the usual Jewish practice of prayer with which a hunger-satisfying meal commenced, and are not specifically pointing to the Lord’s Supper.

When we look at the miracle of the feeding of the 4000 we find two interesting side issues. Firstly, shortly after the miracle, a group of Pharisees in an attempt to entrap Jesus demand he performs a miracle to show God’s approval – obviously not satisfied with what had just happened. Jesus refuses and immediately gets in a boat and goes across the Sea of Galilee. Once on the boat, the disciples had forgotten to bring bread, Jesus admonishes them because they still did not understand the meaning of the miracles they had witnessed and warned them that the bread is not the problem – it is the yeast of the Pharisees teaching of the word that they should be worried about. (Mark 8:11-21; Matthew 16:1-12). And then in answer to Jesus’ question – “Who do you say I am?” -Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-30).

After the feeding of the 5000, Jesus goes up the hill to pray while the disciples go back across the sea in their boat. That night Jesus walks on water (another miracle that is a criterion for messiahship). Then follows a lengthy discourse in the temple in which Jesus declares -“I am the bread of life” and “I am the bread come down from heaven” - and explains the connectivity between him and those who follow him –“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him”. This profound, mystifying and controversial and caused much grumbling and many to cease following him. (John 6:16-71).

A new ritual

Fast forward to the Passover meal in Jerusalem – The Last Supper. We have a traditional Passover seder with Jesus and his disciples, but with two significant differences. Firstly, there appears to be an absence of the traditional lamb dish (symbolically pointing to Jesus becoming the sacrificial lamb) and secondly at the blessing of the breaking of the unleavened matzah bread – Jesus pulls out the already broken piece of bread hidden in the dish and proclaims – “this is my body which is given for you”. Then later in the meal he takes the cup of wine and says –“This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood,” and “to do this in memory of me” – thus changing the focus from what is past to what is the future. (Luke 22:9-20: Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26).

It is clear that post resurrection and ascension the disciples followed this practice and as they spread across the Roman Empire and established communities of believers. Over time they adapted the memorial meal. It appears that some practices became a bit lax and the point of the meal was being lost. Paul gave a lengthy set of instructions to the Corinthians about how to celebrate the meal (1 Corinthians 10 and 11).

When we put all this material together there is a clear connection between the two different occasions when Jesus performed the miracle of feeding a multitude and the ritual of the Eucharist we observe in worship today. The connection is tenuous and beset with serious theological politics. The ritual has undergone many changes and controversies. (Seehttps://denvercatholic.org/the-eucharist-throughout-history-a-timeline/ .)

but the essential feature of blessing and sharing the bread and the wine remain.

The mystery

The mystery of the Eucharist is tied up with the symbolism of bread, and how in the sharing of this simple meal of bread and wine the connectivity between us and the triune God plays out, and how the covenant works in our lives now and in all eternity.

Prayer and the Lord`s Prayer (Bill Rush)

Holy God, giver of all good gifts,

We pray for this wonderful and bountiful world which is marred by division, conflict, and fear. Give wisdom to those who have the great responsibility of leadership in these times. Help them to make decisions that will lead to peace and enable us all to grow in goodness, honesty and kindness.

We pray for your Church as it faces uncertain times and for Christians who are suffering because they name Jesus as the world’s true king. Be with the members of our own Synod and Presbytery as they seek to provide wise advice for the churches under their care. Bless us, people of the Armadale Uniting Church, and be with any among us who are sick, anxious or troubled.

Help us to recognise when we are using your good gifts unwisely, when they have become a threat to our relationship to you and our true humanity.

Loving God, we pray for all in need, for those affected by the virus, for those working on the frontline, for the staff and residents of aged care facilities, for the grieving, for the unemployed, for those struggling with debt and those whose businesses are collapsing, for the homeless and poorly housed, for those whose relationships are strained, for the lonely and afraid.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Giver of all good gifts, we thank you for Jesus, the Bread of Life, who gives us true nourishment and growth. Increase our love for him and help us to receive with joy the food he offers. Bless us all in the coming week and keep us, our families and our friends, safe in his presence.

Lord, hear our prayers, for the sake of your Son, who taught us to pray:

Our Father …

Hymn `Break Thou the Bread of Life dear Lord to me (TiS 429)
(2 versions)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAigUNye_jI

1 Break now the bread of life,
dear Lord, to me,
as once you broke the loaves
beside the sea:
beyond the sacred page
I seek you, Lord,
my spirit longs for you,
O living Word.

2 Bless your own truth, dear Lord,
to me, to me
as when you blessed the bread
by Galilee;
then shall all bondage cease,
all shackles fall,
and I shall find my peace,
my all in all.

Blessing

May we go in peace united by the love of God, the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, may we carry God’s Wisdom, speak forth God’s Word, and embody God’s Presence wherever we are. In the name of Christ. Amen