Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 6, 2017

2017.08.06 “All Will Eat and Be Filled” – Matthew 14: 13 – 21

Central United Methodist Church
All Will Eat and Be Filled
Rev. David L. Haley
Matthew 14: 13 – 21
August 6th, 2017

Bread and Fish

Now when Jesus heard about the execution of John the Baptist, 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. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When 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.”  Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then 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. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.Matthew 14: 13 – 21, from The New Revised Standard Version

 

If there are any words there stand out in this story of Jesus feeding the multitudes, it is these: “All ate and were filled.”

Throughout the history of the Church to this day, there has been a profound connection between spirituality and eating. Not only in the symbolic feast we celebrate every Sunday in Holy Communion, but in the enjoyment of food with each other.

In fact, when I read these words, I had flashbacks of feasts I have known within the fellowship of the church.

When I began my ministry in the early ‘70’s, I imitated the itinerant ministry of Jesus and did some rural church circuits. In the south, they had the tradition of yearly summer “revivals”; in which few people got revived, but a lot of people ate a lot of food, and I was one of them. Part of the tradition was that each night you preached, a different family would have you over for dinner before the service. Given that many of them were farmers, you would not believe the feasts that they served. Killing the livestock, stripping the garden of vegetables, making more kinds of pie than any one person could or should reasonably eat. And after that – they still expected you to preach! I can still remember the sight of those loaded tables, recall the taste of the food, and remember the warm hospitality of those families.

And what can we say of church potlucks? To paraphrase (I think) Will Rogers, “I’ve never met a potluck I didn’t like. I can’t remember any church potluck I’ve attended in 45 years at which anyone went hungry. Here at Central, as you know, our potlucks are not just abundant, they are international. Sometimes you can tell what congregation has worshiped in the building last by the way the building smells, all of it good. (BTW, the next one is September 10th.) So these words from today’s Gospel resound, do they not? “All ate, and were filled.”

So profound has the connection between spirituality and eating been, that for all four Gospels, there was one story about Jesus that stood out: the miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, not even counting women and children. It is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels, and remains a crowd favorite to this day.

Why do you think this would be?

Was it because they were there, like I was at those farmhouse dinners so many years ago? No, because the Gospels weren’t written until some 50 years after Jesus. They were telling the stories of Jesus they inherited, and this one was a favorite.

Was it because it involved a miracle? If so, they gave us precious little information about what happened – to the point of disinterest – about how Jesus fed 5,000+ people with five loaves and two fish, assuming they didn’t get very tiny pieces. Even then, there were 12 baskets full left over, to take the Jerusalem Food Depository, I imagine.

Was it the language they used to tell the story, reminding them how Christ still fed them (and us) in Holy Communion? “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, gave them to the disciples, and the ushers (I mean, disciples) gave them to the crowds.” Sound familiar?

Was it because this scene provided such a compelling portrait of Jesus: filled not with disdain but compassion for people, healing those who were ill (free healthcare!), providing those who were hungry with food to eat. Just as God in the Old Testament provided manna for the children of Israel in the wilderness; once again, in Jesus, God was back, providing for God’s children, not with adequacy but abundance: “All ate and were filled.”

Apart from it’s comforting spiritual message of how God provides for our needs, is that all this story says? In addition to being inspiring, what does this story ask of us?

After all – in this story – it wasn’t only their spiritual needs Jesus met, it was their physical needs. Jesus didn’t pass out Bibles, he healed those who were sick and fed those who were hungry, which – in this case – was all of them. In fact, Plan A was Jesus instructing his disciples: “You give them something to eat.” When that didn’t work out, Plan B was that Jesus performed a miracle, but it was still his disciples who distributed the gifts.

It’s not only God, it’s not only Jesus, pulling bread out of a hat in the wilderness; in God’s kingdom we are recruited into a partnership to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to shelter the refugee, to do the work of God in the world. How Christians can read the Gospels and NOT get this is a mystery to me. Or maybe that is the problem: they are not reading the Gospels.

What I do understand is this: like Jesus’ first disciples, we often feel overwhelmed by the need. Fives loaves and two fishes are hardly enough to feed the twelve, much less 5,000+ people. Except now, the number of people is at 7.5 billion, of whom about 800 million, or roughly one in nine, are hungry. In some places, like North Africa, people are literally starving. What can any one of us do in the face of such need? We take what we have, we do what we can. Like working at food pantries or food depositories or soup kitchens to feed the hungry. Like putting together yard sales – as Mariano is doing – to raise money to feed the refugees from Marawi City in the Philippines, threatened by ISIS.

Even so, thoughtful Christians will know that such efforts – as useful as they are – must be supplemented by the need to shape public policy, to feed the hungry and care for those who are ill, and need affordable access to health care.

We may love this story that begins with Jesus healing the sick, but how is it that we remain the only industrialized country in the world without universal access to healthcare? Because of this, we are closer to this scene in the Gospels than we imagine.

For example, have you heard about Remote Area Medical? Remote Area Medical is the brainchild of Stan Brock, 81, a British cowboy who in the 1950s managed one of the world’s biggest ranches, overseeing 50,000 cattle in Guyana in South America. When Brock was badly injured by a wild horse, he was told it would be a 26-day hike to the nearest doctor. When he recovered, he decided to come up with a way to provide health care to deprived areas, places like the Amazon, Haiti and Uganda.

Then one day he got a call from Sneedville, Tenn., where the hospital had closed and the dentist moved out. “Can you come here?” So Brock loaded a dental chair on the back of a pickup truck and brought in a dentist as well, and 150 people lined up, desperate for oral care.

The result is that while it continues international work, Remote Area Medical also treats people in the world’s most prosperous country, right here in the U.S. Just a few weeks back, they held a health fare in Wise, VA., and 2,300 men and women showed up, some camping out for three days beforehand to make sure they would get in to get treated. (Nicholas Kristof, “No Insurance, But for Three Days, Health Care is Within Reach,” the New York Times, July 27, 2017)

Crowds in the wilderness? It is still happening; where is Jesus when you need him? Except – while we still need Jesus – he now needs us. He is still saying to us his disciples, overwhelmed though we may be: “YOU give them something to eat; YOU take care of them.” Not having Jesus’ wonder working power, it will take that special combination of creativity and compassion, that is the gift of God’s Spirit.

For example, in the May 2008, New Yorker magazine, novelist Ian Frazier told the story of Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City. Church of the Holy Apostles is a landmark, with a arched ceiling and gorgeous stained-glass windows. Over the years, the Episcopal congregation dwindled in size as the neighborhood changed, until the 200 members could no longer afford to pay the bills to keep it going. A rector suggested that “if Holy Apostles is going out of business, it might as well do some good before it does.”

So in 1982 the church launched a free-lunch program. Thirty-five people showed up. The program grew and attracted people and outside support. In a few years, the congregation was serving 900 lunches daily and bursting the seams of its mission house.

In 1990, during roof repairs to the main sanctuary, a fire broke out that caused major damage. During insurance-covered restoration and renovation, while the pews were out, members came up with an idea: Why not leave the pews out and use the worship space, empty and unused Monday through Friday, for the lunch program?

Church of the Holy Apostles

Church of the Holy Apostles New York, NY

To this day the church serves 1,200 meals a day. Volunteers do most of the work. They take the tables down on Friday afternoon and set up folding chairs for the weekend. The multi-million dollar budget comes from businesses, foundations, the city — and the 200 members – who, instead of closing down a church, are part of a vital and compelling community of faith.

Frazier asked Elizabeth Maxwell of the Holy Apostles staff about the religious motivation behind the program. She said:

“Well, we do this because Jesus said to feed the hungry. There’s no more to it than that. Jesus told us to take care of the poor and the hungry and those in prison . . . In all the intricacies of scriptural interpretation, that message — feed the hungry — couldn’t be more clear. Those of us who worship at Holy Apostles feel we have a Sunday-Monday connection. The bread and wine of the Eucharist that we share with one another on Sunday become the food we share with our neighbors during the week. We believe that our job as Christians is to meet Jesus in the world. We meet him, unnamed and unrecognized, in the guests who come to the soup kitchen every day.” (Ian Frazier, “Hungry Minds,” The New Yorker, May 26, 2008.)

No wonder we love this story, because while Jesus may have fed 5,000+ people that day, through this story and its inspiration in the lives of people like us ever since, Jesus is feeding more people than ever – including us – in both soul and body.

As for all those wonderful meals eaten in churches; may the best one may be yet to come, when – in the words of the Gospel – “all will eat and be filled.” Amen.

 

 

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