“An Abundance of Left-Overs”
Rev. Dr. Frederick A. Young
Pastor of Youth, Education and Outreach
Prayer: Generous and Compassionate God, melt us, mold us, fill us, use us. Amen.
As summer continues to surround us with its warmth and beauty, its carefree gentle breezes as well as powerful burst of electricity and rushing water, the reality the busyness of the fall can bring has begun to cloud over our “to do lists” and back yard picnics. Summer celebrations and gatherings are indeed a time of lavish abundance, plenty of food and drink, and warm hospitality. Both the Isaiah and Matthew texts speak of the Divine’s ability to make from nothing, a feast with plenty of leftovers… a reality that no money in the world can buy.
Many meetings and conversations here at Christ Church have turned toward abundance and the proper use of our own. Should we continue to hold on to what we have been so graciously given, or should we share our wealth with others, gifts given today out of the generosity of past generations who sat in the seats we currently occupy? Is our church’s Endowment Fund a blessing or a curse? Tough questions. Perhaps not so hard to answer when considering today’s scripture lessons.
The disciples were willing to send thousands of people away to find their own supper, a task next to impossible considering most had no money, not to mention they were out in the middle of nowhere. Jesus said to them, “No, You Feed Them!” And then, our Teacher, took meager gifts and provided enough for all to be filled. No one went away wanting.
It is important to mention what transpired before this scene. Matthew’s text begins with “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Jesus had just learned that King Herod, murdered his cousin, John the Baptist; ironically, at a feast celebrating the King’s birthday. Upon hearing this news, Jesus retreated. So what compelled him to leave the solitude? Compassion. Not just, love, but Divine unconditional love. The Gospel of Matthew opens claiming that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us,” so the compassion, which drew Jesus from his seclusion, is the very same character of God, whose presence Jesus bears.
So, out of compassion, Jesus healed the sick, tended to their needs and simply shared his presence. When evening approached, he feed them… all the while knowing that Herod, surrounded by riches and the wealthy, arranged the head of a great man on a platter overflowing with more food than he had to feed thousands. Matthew is indicating by these conflicting scenes just what kind of God Jesus represents. Jesus used the disciples, ordinary people like us, to tend to the needs of thousands of men, women and children and in so doing, depicts what happens when you move from a worldview of scarcity to one of abundance; “Thank you God, for these loaves and fishes.” All ate and were filled!
Recently, I have been having trouble sleeping. Mainly a result of not being able to turn off my thoughts when my head hits the pillow. These past few months have been a whirlwind to say the least. When I go to bed, I am physically exhausted, but my mind is wide-awake. It is hard to turn off the events of the day, the conversations had, the work to completed, the hope of tomorrow’s accomplishments.
I can understand the need for a retreat away from it all, and just as much can see how compassion can lead to continued presence and service. I find myself asking, “What do I hunger for?” Even though I have gained weight over the past year, I am still not satisfied. Not filled. But remaining in this community of faith helps me to stay connected with Jesus and with all of you as we work together to help with the needs of others. This feeds me. I hope it feeds you too. However, I am still going to ask, “What do You hunger for?” Are we present at the banquet for the powerful that results in death or sitting on the picnic blanket for the needy that results in overflowing abundance?
In her piece entitled, Blessed, Broken and Given for Service, our Penn Central Conference minister, The Rev. Dr. Monica Dawkins-Smith laments:
Like the disciples, we want unmet needs to go away but Jesus tends to draw near to them. When Jesus looked at the crowd he responded with compassion, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." Jesus changed the focus from what the disciples wanted to do, to what he wanted them to do.
Food, and sharing our food, are powerful in many ways. Nourishing our bodies as well as spirits. At the core of hospitality lies in sharing what little we have with another. Whether it be food, or shelter or simply our companionship. A sense of community nourishes us in many ways. Jesus is there, meeting our most basic human needs, our deepest hungers. Pastor Monica continues…
When Jesus gave bread to the disciples to feed the crowd, it was a foreshadowing of what can happen when we participate. As followers of Jesus, we too are called into active ministry to meet human needs. May it be so.
Today we can remember the story of the Israelites feasting on manna from heaven, and we continue to gather around the table and remember what Jesus did with the bread on that hillside, as well as on boats, walking by the sea, and sitting with children. The words, take, bless, break and give are simple but powerful and apply to our lives just as they apply to the bread we share with one another.
Most church communities would say that their church “needs” more money, more members, and more people willing to help. Christ Church is no different. As we continue to talk about our own Journey to Generosity and what that looks like for us, we continue to wrestle with similar concerns. But our culture here is beginning to shift from an attitude of need into a broader scope of generosity. How we might be able to offer more mission and outreach. How we might be able to invite more by assuring everyone can access all areas of our church in spite of their own personal or physical needs. We are in conversation about how we can open our doors even wider to include all of God’s children.
My friends, the only way we can see all these things through to fruition is by taking up Jesus’ assumption that beyond a shadow of a doubt… wherever there is plenty of God there will be plenty of everything else. Still abundance is there, and somewhere, so is the generosity.
One thing is for sure, all we have to do is compare the story of two very different meals. One, a Birthday Party thrown by the birthday boy himself, a feast for his cronies, ending with a murder. The other, on a hillside where many gathered not expecting food, but encouragement and hope. A meal with different hungers fed and a much different experience of power and community. What is that draws people to Herod, and what attracts them into the company of Jesus? The answer to this question can change the world, even today.
You all should have been given a sheet of paper with an image of loaves and fishes. I would like for you to take this home with you. As
you go about your week, consider all of the ways you witness God using you or someone else to care for the needs of another. Bring these images back with you next week, and place them in the baskets provided during our time of offering.
Our summer time gatherings do indeed provide us with an abundance of food and people to share it with. How will you make sure that others know they too are welcome around the table? What will you do for yourself to ensure that you too are fed? How can we take these two very different stories about food and turn them both into sustenance for all? Amen.