Sunday, August 3, 2014

Jesus's All You Can Eat Buffet - Mt 14:13-21

This morning’s sermon is about the transformative power of the miracle of compassion….
entitled, “Jesus’s All you can eat buffet.”  

I don’t frequent all you can eat buffetts often; but, for whatever reason, this week, I ate at two all you can eat places--Stevie B’s all you can eat pizza, and the chinese buffet on 441 at the bottom of the hill!  I like to eat so if any of you want to go out sometime, just give me a call, I’m happy to join you.  

Subconsciously, I think eating at the all you can eat places this week may have been inspired by our story from Matthew….the crowds eat all they can eat... so much food there are 12 baskets of leftovers….All from five loaves and two fish.
I always have questions when I encounter these amazing event of scripture, today’s are rather straightforward:
How did this happen?
What does this miracle say about who God is?
And what does this mass feeding frenzy of 2000 years ago mean for me, for us, today?

This is a quite familiar passage from Matthew, I heard from my daughter Ruby Gene it was reenacted by some people in the congregation during VBS…
I believe Jesus is here, maybe we should get some insight from him….

Matthew says, a crowd gathers in a deserted place seeking Jesus, who has emerged as a powerful preacher, and healer..
They are seeking a better life, seeking hope and peace,
and the scene is framed in the language of compassion as
Jesus, greets the crowd and has compassion.
But when it gets late, the disciples probably hungry and a bit grumpy,
do any of you get this way when you’re hungry?
I do…
The hungry grumpy disciples want to send the crowd away,
“send them away..let them fend for themselves…besides, what can we do?”
there isn’t enough
I can relate to the disciples..
So often, I see the needs of the world, and I get stuck in that same place...what can I do? there isn’t enough...Let them fend for themselves...

But, Jesus responds to their concern:
“There is no need to dismiss them.
You give them something to eat.”

Jesus doesn’t say, I will give them something to eat…
he doesn’t just manifest a miracle, voila, food for everyone, let’s eat!!
He doesn’t suggest they order Jimmy Johns...or whatever ancient palestinian equivalent there would have been for fast delivery.
He says, “You, disciples, you give them something to eat.”


And the miracle happens when they obey,
their hearts are converted,
they act in compassion,
They move from seeing with eyes of scarcity
To seeing with eyes of abundance
and they offer what they have
—only 5 loaves and 2 fish—
a ridiculous offering by any account,
it will never go around to feed 5000!

But, to the great surprise of everyone, all were were fed,
all were full,
and there was an abundance.
Truly a miracle.  

What does this say about God?
Most in this country are quite well fed.  
Few of us have to go hungry at night…
We finish our meals and if offered more food,
we say,  “Uff, no thank you, I’m stuffed.”

Food is left over; often thrown out or composted in the very least…

This is not the way it is for most people in the world,
and to eat and be stuffed with plenty of leftovers would certainly have been an infrequent experience in the time of Jesus for the peasants who gathered to be with him.

So what’s going on? Interestingly, just before this feeding of the masses, Matthew tells of another type of banquet taking place.
It’s in King Herod’s palace, where there is an abundance of food, opulent wealth…
and at this, Herod’s birthday party, the decision is made to take the life of John the Baptist in a gruesome fashion.

Time and again throughout history, we see when those in power, when empire can convince the masses there isn’t enough, they are better able to keep the masses in repressive situations, so that power can be easily exerted.

But, if Galilean peasants hanging out with Jesus and his disciples are being fed so much that there are leftovers….!
Jesus becomes dangerous to those in power….

If the people realize they have the power within the community to care for one another,
and in boldness act with compassion,
they may discover there is an abundance for everyone...
This story of of the feeding of 5000 is a powerful display of the reality that God--Emmanuel--is with the huddled hungry masses, while at the same time challenging oppressive forces...

It was an event that left a lasting impression on the first century christian community.
This miracle of feeding of the masses is the only miracle, other than Jesus’ resurrection, told in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Each gospel tells the story slightly differently.
One variation in John’s version of the story is that when the disciples worry about what they will feed the crowd,
it is a boy who offers the five loaves and two fish.

I love that it is a child, one who doesn’t know any better.
One who isn’t concerned about if there will be enough,
one who acts illogically and was probably laughed at…
A child who gives…
and as a result of the child’s action…all are fed.
The actions of children can inspire us and challenge us in our discipleship.

The church elders suggested we put in the bulletin a story about actions of children…
Children who became scared,
scared because of the pervasive violence in their neighborhoods, thanks in no small part to the use of illegal drugs in our country.
Children who fled their homelands in Central America,
many in search of  one or both of their parents,
parents who had come to this country to try to better provide for these very children…

Children who trusted strange smugglers who might later abuse them;
Children who climbed the top of trains to ride for hundreds of miles
Children who walked treacherous miles trying to cross,
finally making it to or across the border,
but before they could successfully find a parent,
were detained,
and now thousands of children sleep on floors, huddle in detention centers, and are being transported from one location to another

Children who sometimes meet angry yelling masses of adults who protest their presence

Children whose search results in finally quickly being deported.  

Policy makers worked hard to expedite their deportation rather than giving them due process, which might actually have granted them refugee status and asylum for just a few years, due to the situations they are fleeing in their homelands….

Thousands of children…
is there room for them?
Can we feed them?
Will they drain resources?
Will they be a danger to our society?

“Send them away,” the disciples said.
Jesus said, “they need not be sent give them something to eat.”

I am just beginning my journey with this community of faith here at Commerce Presbyterian Church,
or CPC as the kids are calling it these days…

I was listening to a weekly podcast from Day1, which interviews and plays sermons from preachers in the southeast.  
The host began the interview asking the guest preacher:
“How would you describe your congregation and some of the ways they are working together for the kingdom of God?”

I wondered: were I asked such a question, after serving here long enough to know, how might I respond?
If I could simply say, “CPC is a hopeful congregation that inspires its people to understand and act with compassion in their community and in the world,” that would be a wonderful response...
At the risk of gaining a quick reputation as a long winded preacher,
I’d like to close with a story I love that tells of the miracle of compassion if I may…

While grew up in Georgia,
because I served a in ministries in New Mexico and in latin america for 10 years, many of the stories I will share in our life together will be from those experiences, and so we return again to the border...
People have been traveling great distances in the region we know as the southwest and mexico since before the time of the Spanish who arrived to that region in the 16th century.  Borders have been drawn and redrawn, and yet people have crossed back and forth that land.  
It is only in recent history that significant barriers to crossing were erected in some of the major crossing points,
intentionally forcing migrants into more dangerous areas--dry deserts where food and water came, for the most part, only from what they could carry.
As a result many have died in the desert from exposure and dehydration.
As a response to such cruel policy, groups of people, calling themselves names like, Samaritans, and No More Deaths, began to spring up like water in the desert providing makeshift shelter, food, and of course water to aid those on their journeys.  
A friend working with an aid group told me a story of a remarkable encounter that took place one day between aid workers and traveling migrants.
The aid workers were making their way through the harsh exposed land on foot looking for people in need, carrying food and water with them.
They would periodically shout what they usually shout:  “comida, agua:” food, water
In this way they identify themselves as a peaceful presence.  
Comida Agua, Food Water” they would shout.
Before long they came across a migrant group: women, children, men, tattered clothes and battered backpack backs, sun scorched lips and burning feet.
Comida, Agua! Food Water, the aid group shouted, as they made their way toward the traveling group, the group saw them and stopped and huddled together, having some sort of conversation.
The aid group got closer to the migrant group: comida, agua, food water,
and one from the migrant group came out to meet them.
They greeted one another and then the migrant said to the aid workers,
“We’ve been traveling for days, we have very little food left and we’re almost out of water, but what little we have, we will share with you.” (as told by Brandon Wert)
I have to wonder as I consider this miraculous feeding of the 5000.
Which is a greater miracle?
That Jesus can defy the laws of physics and somehow make manifest an abundance of food out of very little?  
Or that people’s hearts are converted from once thinking there is a scarcity, there isn’t enough to go around, I better hold onto what is mine,
into seeing with the eyes of Jesus,
or the eyes of a child,
or the eyes of a migrant,
That out of what little one may have, one can give
through which God can do amazing things.  

All can have a taste and be filled at Jesus’ all you can eat banquet:

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.

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
   listen, so that you may live.

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