Philippians 4:1-9

John 6:1-14

On New Year’s Eve, 1892, the Rev. E. N. Raymond arrived at a hotel in Virginia. In this northern frontier town, lumber was booming, and mines were being established where iron had been discovered. The next day, Rev. Raymond watched a poker game at the hotel, then announced an invitation to the players: “I’ve watched you play your game, why don’t you all join me tonight as I play mine?” About 80 men came to the worship service that night.

So Christian ministry began here, not in this building, but in this congregation. We were formally established by the Presbytery of Duluth on April 23, 1893, as the first church in Virginia. We stepped into a gap where the Christian message needed telling, and we’ve been sharing good news from the start – 80 people needed good news even that first night!

Many pastors followed E. N. Raymond and carried on his tradition of ministry here. There was Rev. S. A. Jamieson, who served in Virginia and also founded the congregations in Eveleth and Mountain Iron; the three of us have since merged to become one congregation again. Rev. Gade helped the church rebuild after the fire, and Mrs. Coates presented us with this terrific organ. This is a church with a rich history of service to the community, from neighborhood mission groups to fellowship, meals, and education. These have been Presbyterian trademarks in all three congregations.

These forms of service have a deep history in our tradition. The Presbyterian tradition grew from a rise in knowledge, and we’ve valued education from our beginnings. As churches spread across the United States, the build schools and hospitals, but the Presbyterian emphasis was always on the schools. John Calvin, and John Knox who took Calvin’s ideas to Scotland, valued knowledge. They valued knowledge of the world, knowledge of God, of scripture, of humanity. Rev. Raymond brought knowledge of God here to Virginia – that was his mission.

Of course, knowledge is not all we share. This is a church that knows how to eat, and so we share food. In our heritage, these go hand in hand: the growth of knowledge happened alongside the growth of eating in church. There was a shift in thinking around the time of the Reformation, when Calvin and others remade the Eucharist, our Sacrament of Communion. He was frustrated with the ritual meal that had developed in the church, because he saw a real meal as more symbolic of Communion. So, he insisted on using regular bread, just as Jesus would have used. He even set up tables in the aisles of the church and asked the congregation to sit in chairs at the tables during the sacrament. He insisted that we shared the Eucharist gathered together around tables, not worshiping before an altar. That’s overkill, I think, and a little too literal, but the point remains: Jesus’ life really fed people.

Of course, everything Jesus did was symbolic. Jesus’ story always points beyond itself to God’s reality. But the story is real, too, and God is not just at work beyond us. People follow Jesus into the wilderness, over to the far side of the lake, and they are hungry. Hungry for knowledge, of course, and hungry for healing, but also simply hungry for supper. So Jesus asks his disciples how to feed the people. John tells us that Jesus knows what he’ll do already, but here’s a new lesson for the disciples to learn.

Philip doesn’t know. He just knows that there’s not enough money to do it (there’s never enough money). Andrew has this odd thought, he notices that there’s a child here with a little lunch, but it will never be enough. Jesus, though, tries it. He gives thanks for this gift from a child, and he feeds 5,000 people with it. Of course we know that gifts multiply like that, especially the gifts of children.

Our heritage hasn’t always valued children the way we do now, but ideas change and grow. We’ve always claimed that grace works on us even as children, before we ever know it. More recently, we’ve recognized the importance of inviting children into the whole life of the church – into worship, Communion, and all the activity of the church. That wasn’t obvious at first, but it’s reasonable and fair for us to learn as much from our kids as we expect them to learn from us.

We are reasonable people. As Paul invites us, “Let your fairness – your reasonableness – be seen by all.” Our fair and reasonable life together points to God’s work among us. It’s not that we’ve been perfect from the beginning, but we’re always being reformed in love. That’s the mark of a living church, the ability to change and grow in Christ.

We’ve always been learning new ways and new meanings as we feed the hungers of the world. John Knox reformed Scotland to save the people from idolatry. Rev. Raymond founded this church in Virginia to evangelize the frontier. The Billy Bell Bakery was founded to share work with marginalized members of our community. And we’re serving sandwiches and shortbread today after church because we still get hungry, and it’s still good to eat together.

The church’s place is always at the table, a real table set with real food. Our place is feeding the hungry, teaching the hungry to feed themselves, and sharing friendship with each other and the world. Friendship lets us rejoice in the Lord and charges our work with heaven. Our work is right here, and heaven is right here in it. “The Lord is near!” Christ is near, saying, “Look and see. Here’s a new way to be the church. Here are gifts to be shared, just as there always have been.” What’s new today is exactly what we’ve had from the very beginning of God’s work with us.

Amen.

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