Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

July 31, 2011  Proper 13A by the Rev. Kate Ekrem
Matthew 14:13-21

Sarah Dylan Breuer has observed, "Have you ever wondered why it is that, when we gather as a church to remember Jesus, we do it with a meal? If you think about it, it really could have been anything. We could have built statutes to remember Jesus, or held a dance. We could have made it a poetry reading, a teach-in, a weekly golf tournament -- but we didn't. When we gather as a church, our central act together in remembrance of Jesus is to have a meal."

In seminary I had sort of a left wing professor who said the symbol of Christianity should not be the cross, but the loaves and fishes.
I don't agree with her -- giving up your life in order to save it is actually a pretty important part of Christianity to me - but I thought her choice of a runner up symbol was a good one. Jesus feeds people. It's a key part of his identity, who he is.

So it should be no surprise that the feeding of the 5,000 is one of the very few stories, besides the crucifixions, to appear in all 4 Gospels. Clearly it was very important to the early church, and key to what Jesus was all about. The Hebrew scripture, which Jesus’ early followers knew well, said over and over again, the Kingdom of God is a feast, a banquet. So when Jesus fed 5,000 men (not including uncounted women and children) it meant to them that the Kingdom of God was right there, happening before their eyes.

There are a lot of feast in the Bible. There's actually another one in this chapter of Matthew's Gospel, right before this story, at the palace of King Herod. There the food might be better, with nice dishes and table cloths, and the people were better dressed and probably had better table manners, but the food is served alongside a large portion of intrigue, betrayal, and murder. That was the feast where the daughter of Herodias asked for John the Baptist's head to be served on a platter, to help her mother's machinations to become queen by marrying her own uncle. It's not by accident our Gospel writer put these two feasts back to back, and the contrast between the well-dressed, well-fed courtiers acting brutally to preserve their power and control, and this crowd of peasants desperate for a word of hope and a bite of bread, able to share with others lovingly and unstintingly, could not be greater. Likewise Herod is more interested in the suggestive dancing of his great-niece and saving face than in actually helping the people he rules over, while Jesus acts like a true king, a servant leader taking care of people's needs. The kind of leader who can transform a group of hungry, anxious people into a sharing community. That kind of transformation can happen to us, too, around this altar table.

The disciples are anxious, and probably hungry, too, when Jesus charges them with feeding the people. Maybe they are anxious because they see the situation as a problem to be solved. How are we possibly going to feed these people? These people are in the wrong place, we need to move them to someplace where they can get food, how can we do this logistically? But Jesus doesn't see a problem. He sees an opportunity, a moment to experience God's grace and providence. He tells them, don't get anxious or into problem-solving mode. Just sit still and share. You feed them, even though it's not enough. Be a channel for God's grace, and miracles may happen.

We've certainly been where the disciples are in this story: we have limited resources, and the needs of the world are so great. Today we have a group of people from our community, going to Honduras, to El Hogar Agricultural School. Our resources are limited, we can only bring so many pairs of blue jeans in our suitcases, what difference will it make? What can we do to solve the problems of Central America? Surely there is some larger solution, government policies that need to be changed, or something like that. And that's true. But Jesus says, you feed them. And he takes what the disciples have, and looks to God, and blesses it. And it's enough. It doesn't make sense that it's enough, but it is enough. This story reminds us that by seeing life as full of opportunities for God’s actions, rather than things we need to fix, just being willing to be a channel of God’s grace to others, we make a huge difference. There will be enough blue jeans. And handing them to those boys will mean so much more – to them, to us, to God -- than just a pair of pants.

The story of Herod's feast reminds us of what can happen, how very far away from God we can get, if our lives are around getting or keeping status or power or control. And the feeding of the 5,000 reminds us of what can happen when we are willing to make room for God to work in us and through us.

Those two feasts remind me of the old story of hell being a feasting table, full of wonderful food, but all the utensils are 2 feet long. People sit and stare at the food and are hungry, because they can't reach their own mouth. And heaven is a feasting table, full of wonderful food, and all the utensils are 2 feet long. People enjoy the feast immensely, because they can easily, across the table, feed each other.

At this altar table, we are fed each week, remembering Jesus in this special meal, a meal that reminds us that Jesus feeds us, gives us all we need, including the resources for our work in the world. The bread is broken so it can be shared. And the church also, the Body of Christ, is to be blessed and broken, and shared, so it can feed a hungry world with healing and hope and love and food.

No comments:

Post a Comment