After the feast …

Sermon, July 31, 2011, Pilgrim United Church of Christ, Durham, North Carolina.

When I read the texts for this week, I confess my immediate thought was, “I can’t preach these texts to Pilgrim.”

Here’s a church that every few months feeds a couple of hundred people through the Community Kitchen. Over the summer you’re feeding a slew of kids through the Summer Lunch program. And every week after the service some of you head off to the parlor and have communion.

Clearly, this church is already at the banquet described in Isaiah, where all are welcome, no matter how poor, and no one can buy their way in, no matter how rich.

So, how ‘bout if we listen to these texts together. Maybe we will hear in these stories what our own next calling is.

Will you pray with me?

Gracious God, you have set a feast before us, in the words and stories and experiences of this day and this hour. Bless the feast to the nourishment of our souls, and bless us to be strengthened by it.

Amen

It’s a familiar story, the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Even if you didn’t get it in Vacation Bible School as a kid, you’ve probably heard it since then. I’m sure someone has used it in the last few weeks to talk about the national debt.

But I love to second-guess familiar stories. Here are the questions that were coming up for me this time through.

What was the miracle?

Who was it for?

And what about after the feast?

First, the miracle. There’s actually a bunch of miracles packed into this story … for instance, it wants to slide right by but notice there in the first verse of the gospel reading, it says “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”

Heard this, it says. Heard what?

If you look back, you see Jesus has just heard about John the Baptist’s death, beheaded at the whim of women in Herod’s court. John’s followers retrieve his body, bury him, and head straight for Jesus to tell him what happened.

Well, you can tell from his reaction, Jesus is just hammered by the news. He goes to find a quiet place by himself … to pray, to grieve.

But then the folks in those parts heard about John and they came looking for Jesus, their one port in the storm, and even in the midst of his own grief, Jesus can’t help but be moved by the people in their distress, and need.

So, there’s one miracle for you. Broken-hearted by the loss of his cousin, the one who baptized him and believed in him maybe even before Jesus believed in himself, and still, Jesus is full of compassion, the scripture says. He moves into the crowd, healing the sick in body, sick in spirit, sick at heart …

But the story goes rushing on … clearly we haven’t gotten to the main event yet.

Late in the day, the disciples come to Jesus and tell him, “Hey, it’s getting late. Send these folks on their way, so they can head into the villages and get something to eat.”

Hmm. I can just see Jesus, can’t you? Standing there, with people still milling around him, quiet women nearby, tired children. He looks at the disciples.

Maybe he’s remembering Psalm 145, another of our texts for today. The middle of it sounds like a prayer to God:

The eyes of all look to you
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand to all
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Maybe Jesus is remembering the scroll of Isaiah, where it’s written:

Ho, 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.

Because that’s exactly what he says to the disciples.

They don’t need to go away.
You give them something to eat.

The disciples immediately protest. “We don’t have anything here … except two fishes and five loaves.”

Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.”

So, the disciples bring what they have. And Jesus takes the fish and bread, and blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to the disciples.

Who give it to the people … who are all fed … with baskets of food left over. Some kind of miracle, to be sure.

We could stop right here, with really good news. Are you hungry? You need not go away. God invites us to eat what is good, and delight ourselves.

But, as wonderful as this is, I don’t think it’s the whole story.

After all, if feeding hungry people was the only point of Jesus’ ministry, then why did he tell Satan

One does not live by bread alone
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Let’s take a closer look, in slow-mo. That moment after the disciples say, “We’ve only got two fishes and five loaves!”

You know. Our dinner. Just enough. Barely.

Right about here, if I was tweeting this story, the hashtag would read “epic fail.”

But it gets better … let’s read between the lines. Jesus says, “Bring it, y’all. That little bit of food, you bring it here and see what God can do with it.”

And that’s the nature of what Jesus does, right? Tells us to bring our little bit of food, or faith, or time, or talent, or treasure – whatever our little bit is that we think is not enough because we are all caught up in this economy of scarcity, Jesus tells us to bring it, as our act of faith in a God who can do abundantly far more than we could ever ask or imagine.

So, we bring our little bit. And look what Jesus does. He blesses it. The Greek word is eucharisteo – “I give thanks.” Jesus gives thanks for and asks God’s blessing on our little bit.

And then … he breaks it. That’s right. After you give your little bit to God? It will be broken. Changed somehow, like the grain and the grape, like the body and the blood, into something that gives sustenance, something that is life.

And then? Your little bit, blessed and broken, Jesus hands it back to you, transformed by Jesus’ gratitude and God’s grace into something more, something you can give away, something that becomes abundance as you put it into your neighbor’s hands.

A miracle, that happens over and over again: love becomes food … and food becomes love.

Now the words that were said of God are said of God’s people:

The eyes of all look to you
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand to all
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

This, too, is good news. That Jesus will take our little bit, our scarcity, and make much of it – plenty, in fact. Plentiful abundance. We who have been filled … become able to feed others. And want … to feed all.

Do we have time for one more? Is there yet a little more light to break from this text? I think so. I am still wondering, what about after the feast?

Let’s zoom in, and take it frame by frame.

Because here, my friends, here is where an intimate little miracle happens, one that has lasted 2000 years, a miracle that may even be the heart of the story.

When you come near enough to another human being to place a piece of bread in her hand, to give her the cup to drink, to look into her eyes and see God’s own light shining from her soul … you see, and are seen. You touch, and are touched. You feed another … and are fed. Not only do your bread and wine become part of her, at the cellular level, but her hunger and her humanity become part of you, at the soul level.

In that moment, if God’s plan works, the contagion of compassion will have done its job, and we will never be the same.

When we learn that there are hungry children in Durham, and across this nation, and around the world, we will say, what is the nature of our city, our country, our world, that this can be so?

This must change.

When we hear the words “food insecurity” we will realize hunger has been hidden behind a euphemism, and we will ask why is it necessary to hide our common human need?

This must change.

When we understand the structures of our society ensure that some are hungry and some are not, we will say about these structures,

This must change.

We think we cannot do it. We think we do not have enough, and that we cannot be enough. But Jesus knows different, and tells us so.

Are you hungry? Good news … Come to the feast. God invites you to eat what is good, and delight in what is good for you.

Are you filled? Good news … As Jesus was, so can we be, blessed and broken, shared and sharing with a hungry world.

Are you sharing God’s feast, and heartbroken at the hunger around you? Good news … It is time – and past time – for the house of hunger to be torn down, so that no one wakes to the rumble of its terrible walls. And you can be part of the demolition crew.

Bring your little bit … after the feast we will find that together we are more than enough.

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