Lectionary Reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 25, 2021*
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” John 6:14
Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries. — Elizabeth Browning
What signs point you to Jesus? If you’re like many people you look for signs that might emerge from a Cecil B. DeMille production–large, grandiose, cinematic visions of the Divine presence. Thunder, raging storms, brilliant sunsets, mighty winds may come to mind. Maybe the signs you envision are rare glimpses into the divine nature such as a baby’s first cry, the dawn breaking at an Easter sunrise service to the sound of trumpets and singing, or standing on a mountaintop gazing into the distant valley below.
The reality of our life on earth is that we don’t spend much time on mountaintops; most of our days are spent traveling the plains and dusty roads of daily routine and responsibility. Where are the signs pointing you to a gracious and loving savior when your house is a wreck and you’re dog tired from a hard day of work or when the bills keep piling higher and you’re burning fossil fuel running a car pool all over town? Where in the world can you see the One who sustains you, who saves you, who never leaves you–not even in the worst and most chaotic train wrecks life can throw at you?
Here’s a hint: think small and simple. Jesus is found in the ordinary and everyday stuff of life. This week’s gospel reading reminds us of that. John points to Jesus in simple signs of bread and water. In these verses Jesus uses a few loaves of bread and a shortcut across the stormy lake to sustain and calm hungry and fearful folk. Yes, bread and water say a lot about Jesus’ identity and presence, not only in the sacraments of baptism and communion but in daily life.
So the next time you feel lost and alone and in need of some direction that will point you to Jesus, remember that you don’t have to look very far. You’ll find signs of God in each raindrop and every tear. You can see God and hear hope in the joyous play of children in a lawn sprinkler on a hot summer day. You may hear signs of Jesus in the gentle lapping of water as you stroll along a lakeshore, or remember a sign of your baptism whenever you fill a glass of water from the tap.
When you are hungry for a sign, take a walk past your local bakery and smell the fresh, yeasty scent of rising dough. Next time you bite into freshly buttered toast, take it as a sign of God’s daily provision and care. And when you gather with your brothers and sisters around Christ’s table for a bit of bread and wine, be assured of the real presence of your Lord.
Miracles and wonders need not happen in the clouds. All creation is sacred and each moment infused with the divine. Bread and water are wonder enough. Look closely and you will see signs of God incarnate at work in the world and at work in you.
Consider a visual display of bread and water. Perhaps you might set up a table somewhere in the worship space with a small fountain and various loaves of bread. Maybe you could find an old bucket and dipper like one might find at a well. Invite worshippers to tear off chunks of bread and drink water. Have a blank wall with butcher paper or poster boards and markers where people can write everyday signs that point them to God.
Consider this quote from a poem by Elizabeth Browning
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Talk about what this might mean in the lives of your youth. What does it mean that to see God one must take “off his shoes” and what might it mean “the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries”?
Take the children on a tour of the sanctuary or church. Ask them to point out objects or signs that remind them of Jesus. Be open to all their ideas. Maybe they will point out the baptismal font, a cross, a Bible, communion, banners, or specific worship furnishings. Tell them that signs of Jesus’ love for and care of them are all around them–not just in the church building. Challenge them to talk with their parents, grandparents, or other special adults about these signs during the week.
Consider using Ephesians 3:18-19 as a prayer reminder for the children all week long. Give them copies of the verses on a piece of card stock or magnet and ask them to think about this prayer every day. Tell them that you will be praying this prayer for them and hoping they will see signs of God’s love in many places and ways.
*This post was originally published on July 29, 2021.