9th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 13:
The Feeding of the Thousands
Morning Prayer with Sacrament Reserved
O ye who thirst, come to the waters…
You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Invitatory and Psalter
V. O Lord, open thou our lips,
R. And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
V. Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Alleluia
Jubilate Psalm 100
1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; *
serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know this: The LORD himself is God; he himself has made us; we are his *;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
8.The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9.The LORD is loving to everyone *
and his compassion is over all his works.
14.The LORD is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.
15.The LORD upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
16.The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, *
and you give them their food in due season.
17.You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
18.The LORD is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.
19.The LORD is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.
20.He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
he hears their cry and helps them.
21.The LORD preserves all those who love him, *
but he destroys all the wicked.
The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.
The First Lesson: Isaiah 55:1-5
1Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: O Day of Radiant Gladness Hymnal 1982 #48
O day of radiant gladness,
O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness,
most beautiful, most bright;
this day the high and lowly,
through ages joined in tune,
sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy,’
to the great God Triune.
This day at the creation,
the light first had its birth;
this day for our salvation
Christ rose from depths of earth;
this day our Lord victorious
the Spirit sent from heaven,
and thus this day most glorious
a triple light was given.
This day, God’s people meeting,
his Holy Scripture hear;
his living presence greeting,
through Bread and Wine made near.
We journey on, believing,
renewed with heavenly might,
from grace more grace receiving
on this blest day of light.
That light our hope sustaining,
we walk the pilgrim way,
at length our rest attaining,
our endless Sabbath day.
We sing to thee our praises,
O Father, Spirit, Son;
the Church her voice upraises
to thee, blest Three in One.
The Second Lesson: Romans 9:1-5
1I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit — 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Father we thank thee Hymnal 1982 #302
Father, we thank thee who hast planted
thy holy Name within our hearts.
Knowledge and faith and life immortal
Jesus thy Son to us imparts.
Thou, Lord, didst make all for thy pleasure,
didst give us food for all our days,
giving in Christ the Bread eternal;
thine is the power, be thine the praise.
Watch o’er thy Church, O Lord, in mercy,
save it from evil, guard it still,
perfect it in thy love, unite it,
cleansed and conformed unto thy will.
As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
was in this broken bread made one,
so from all lands thy Church be gathered
into thy kingdom by thy Son.
The Gospel Lesson: Matthew 14:13-21
13Now 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. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When 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.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then 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. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Christ.
Sermon: The Man in the Boat
You can sympathize with him, with Jesus, the Man in the Boat. He’d just given the biggest and most important speech of his life, the summation and elaboration of his main insights and teachings. We’ve been for weeks now listening to parts of them in each of our most recent Sunday services, and have had much to say about each part. We call the collective teachings the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain, since he gave it more than once – and each time, it was a big deal. Look at all the people who came to listen – each time. He didn’t speak from notes, either; this was off the cuff or at least well memorized, like a standup routine with ad-libs and asides, or a soloist playing a concerto with a new, partially improvised cadenza. For all that, though, somebody must’ve noted down what he said somehow, so clearly and in such detail does it come down to us. The sayings of Jesus, and these are chief among them, had to come from somewhere.
The man in the boat knew exactly where: from God, and from his own mind, which was made (like the rest of him and us) in God’s image. He knew that mind well, and knew it as being at one with the mind of God, which must’ve been a trip to actually realize. But he was just a man, after all, still human, and needed his rest in order to remain faithful to that mind, and to what it asked of him. That’s how he got to be the Man in the Boat: take to the sea the better to see the people, and then let the wind and waves carry you to a place apart. Rest there, recuperate, rejuvenate, and be restored. After giving the people his teaching, Jesus hightailed, or high-sailed it, to the middle of nowhere in order to recharge his batteries and re-center his thoughts. He thought, one imagines, ‘I’ve given them the best that I have, and a lot to think and write and talk and pray about. That should hold them for a while.’
But it didn’t.
They were needy. So they followed him. They didn’t know that he was needy, too. Perhaps they wouldn’t have cared if they did. When we have a need, it can be like that: we ask only ‘who or what will meet this need of mine’ not ‘what will meeting this need of mine cost them’.
They weren’t, at the beginning of all this, actually hungry. There’s no sense in the gospel that Jesus was going about amongst people suffering a famine. Though not unknown in the Roman Empire, and in Judea in particular (see Acts 11:28), they were considerably rarer than in later and earlier times. Jesus’s life seems to have been relatively free of them – as it was of epidemics and pandemics, though people of faith have for centuries responded well, for the most part, to these.
People, often inspired by their faith, can be at their best when things are at their worst. They can do unto others only as they’d have done unto themselves, feeding the hungry from their own meagre stores, tending the sick even when they are infectious and there is no known cure for the infection, sharing a cup of cold water even with these little ones. While the faithfulness of Christians enduring persecution stands out more prominently in our minds, their (and we hope, our) faithfulness during existential crises like the one we’re going through now is what’s actually grown the church more. It has helped it make the world more like the world God made good than it otherwise would’ve been. For that we can be grateful, and pray for the grace to do likewise in our own day.
I see our church family and community demonstrate that grace every day that: working to reduce hunger, to combat the effects of the pandemic, to resist despair, to wear our masks and keep our social distance, to wait patiently and advocate passionately, to be the best church we can as the times and conditions allow, and never losing sight of the one who said elsewhere, “Peace I give you, my own peace I leave with you” and, largely for that reason, “Do not be afraid.”
But back to the Man in the Boat. He needed some down time, some alone time – who doesn’t? – but the people had needs. They used their very big people-brains to seek the one who could meet those needs – and, as far as they knew, only he could do it. They were ill, and wanted to be well. They were sick at heart or troubled in mind, and wanted not to be. Their limbs were palsied or their eyes and ears not working, their hearts broken and perhaps also their spirits. Jesus could heal them, they had heard. Some had seen it done. Some had had it done to them. Look, look, they must’ve said, he’s getting away. We’d better figure out where he’s going and get there soon or else he might not help us, save us, heal us today.
So they tracked him down, walked to where they figured he was sailing to. He got there, saw their needs, and had compassion upon them. He healed them. He didn’t quiz them on what they remembered from his big, important speech. He didn’t test them on their knowledge of the parable of the sower or of the pearl of great price, the haul of dubious fish, the various statements of who is blessed, and why. He simply did what they needed him to do.
Then he realized that they had a need they had not yet recognized. They were hungry. Not famine-hungry, but we skipped lunch and now it’s dinnertime hungry, though for food-insecure communities, that can be much more of a problem than it is for me. In their eagerness to be where he was, they’d come far from the villages and towns, and no-one had stopped for provisions – not that there was anywhere to stop to do so.
Jesus’s disciples, enacting what would instantly become a Metaphor for What Christian Leaders Are Not To Do, tried to get him to send them away, fend for themselves, find their own food, not look to them or to him to help them; “ask not what your savior can do for you; ask what you can do for your savior.” You can imagine the disciples saying, ‘We didn’t ask them to come all this way, and nor did Jesus. They need to head back home. We have nothing for them.’
The Man in the Boat didn’t do that, not at all.
Instead, instead of giving in, instead of making people fend for themselves in the wild when they’d come in good faith seeking his help, Jesus tells his disciples to feed them. ‘With what?’ they, not unreasonably, ask. ‘With what looks like it’s not enough,’ he said. ‘But here, hold my beer. I got this.’
All of a sudden, five loaves of bread and two fish become enough food to feed 15,000 people, with twelve baskets’-worth left over. ‘Oh, man,’ one imagines they said, ‘Jesus is magic and can do anything.’
But that isn’t the point.
The compassion is. The self-denying compassion that had Jesus put other people’s needs ahead of his own. The tough-love compassion that had Jesus tell the disciples to help people instead of scold them, send them away, and tell them to fend for themselves. The self-giving compassion that inspired Jesus to do precisely what he told the devil he’d never do for himself: turn stones into bread, or air into bread, since that’s what multiplying loaves without grain, yeast, salt or water would physically consist of. The forward-thinking compassion that enabled Jesus to see what people needed before they did, and then to make sure he met those needs in ways that honored their humanity and enhanced their dignity.
Oh, and salvation, too. The bread of life inexhaustible and eternal. The body broken and blood shed for all of us. The sacrifice on Calvary. The cross, the crown, the empty tomb. Bread of the world, in mercy broken. But however much it nourishes our souls, it does little for the body.
Let us be thankful that the Eucharist is based on a meal of bread and wine, not loaves and fishes.
I don’t know where the power of God comes from to do things like this. Apparently no-one else does, either, since no disciple ever makes a meal for a few suddenly feed thousands. Over-the-top tales like this of things that couldn’t happen that way but that make us feel bad that we can’t replicate them always sting a little to tell or to preach about. We can make this story into a metaphor about seeing abundance where there is scarcity, but it isn’t: it’s about making abundance out of nothing, when what there is is scarcity. While it may be wise to see the water glass half-full and not half-empty, or to see opportunities whether others see only dangers, that is not what this gospel is about. It’s about compassion, in all the colors of the rainbow, and how to show it, and when.
How: with whatever you have.
When: when people need it.
Mahatma Gandhi once, or perhaps more often, famously said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appears to them except in the form of bread.” Another version, at least in my head, says, “To the hungry, any actual God would show up as food.” A God who cannot, or will not, meet people’s most basic needs, and then help them to meet them themselves, is not much use as a God – much as any government or economic system that cannot meet people’s basic needs and then help them meet them themselves is not much use at all.
“That to secure these rights [“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”] governments are instituted among men” – we would say, “people” – so goes at one point the US Declaration of Independence. If the government can’t do that, it says, people have the right and duty to replace it with one that will. Take that and apply it as best you may to current conditions, remembering who said it, and when, and why, and that the misdeeds of a tyrant and his minions were at the root of it, Also, take it and apply it to our concepts and imaginations of God. If the God we imagine, or are taught to believe in or follow, cannot show up to the hungry as food, we would most likely to well to replace it with one that will.
This insight was key to how people of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have imagined their religion vis a vis idolatrous and false gods, which is how they often saw, and see, the gods of pretty much everyone they encountered – including, all-too often, each other’s. We can trouble ourselves about that later, but it is well to note that each of these religions holds that there is one God, creator and redeemer, compassionate and merciful, just and full of power. Each calls this God, in its own languages, “God.”
Holding up a false god in the true God’s place is also how many in these faiths imagine their religion vis a vis modern analogues of idols and false divinities, such as the unlimited pursuit of power or wealth, the power and prestige of one’s political or ethnic tribe, the pursuit of pleasure or ease, the adhesion to inequities and inequalities, the clinging to self-serving lies, the blind following of this or that Leader, the subordination of one’s will to that of a collective or an institution, the love of violence, the love of inflicting pain, the love of charisma and deceit, the refusal to stand with truth against error, or the despair that these things can end. None of those has a name that flows as trippingly off the tongue as “Odin” or “Ishtar,” insofar as those gods were false, but each can readily do what an idol does: capture our attention and devotion, warp our sensibilities, distract our attentions, and ruin our lives. Only the pursuit of love, justice, compassion, and equality under the aegis of a God who shows up to the hungry as food and to the thirsty as water can save us from this deep error and this corrosive sin.
How we might best establish such love, justice, compassion and equality in the world as it is I must leave to your collective wisdom. All I can say to end this is that the Man in the Boat would have us do no less. He could enact compassion by the wave of a hand, and the will of a heart, full of God. We may have to do it in our times at the protest line, the bread line, the communion line, the pulpit, the lectern, the computer desk, and the voting booth. May such grace be given to us to do what we can to do likewise in these times that need it more than they ever have in our lifetimes. Amen.
A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)
Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.
A Collect for 9th Pentecost (Proper 13)
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Collect for Grace
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Collect for Guidance
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Prayer after St. Alphonsus
O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.
Hymn: Guide me, O thou great Jehovah Hymnal 1982 #690
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
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.
Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fire and 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.
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.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Hymn: Spirit of the Living God Daniel Iverson, alt.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
About Episcopal Worship and this Service
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost focuses on the feeding of the thousands with very little, by the mysterious, but boundless, power and generosity of Jesus, acting in compassion. It reminds us that when we act in compassion, we can do far more, and with far less, than when we do not. May this service be a blessing to you.
Christian worship is designed to have the congregation gather for prayer, lessons, the Eucharist, and song. In times of contagion and quarantine, the community may not gather or share the Eucharist. We have adapted this service to the conditions of the time, celebrating Morning Prayer in the Presence of the Reserved Sacrament, honoring God with our daily office prayers, thanksgivings, lessons, canticles, and hymns.
We give thanks this morning for our reader, Creamilda Yoda, for our organist and music director, Beresford Coker; and for our video compiler and editor, Gabriel Wilkins.
Resources (available for free online)
Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
Enriching Our Worship 2, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 Sermon text © 2020 Christopher Wilkins. All rights reserved.
 For those who wish to hear a fitting musical interlude after the sermon, I recommend pausing the video recording at this point, and following this link to a lovely recording by Alessandro Marcello of J.S. Bach’s Adagio, BWV 974: https://youtu.be/29CVZ570r5o.