It felt so great to be back in the pulpit yesterday after nine weeks! I preached on the feeding of the multitude, filled the altar with bread and we feasted on it afterwards. Here’s my sermon! Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 6, 2017
The Invitation To Eat
When I told Bruce I was preaching on the loaves and fishes story for my first Sunday back, he suggested putting two pieces of wonder bread on the communion table and seeing if we could make that last for everyone.
And if I did not think the Deacons would be concerned I had completely lost my mind while I was on maternity leave, I might have actually tried it.
But perhaps we will save that experiment for another week.
The loaves and fishes story – the feeding of the multitude, as it is commonly referred to as – appears several times in the bible in various forms. The feeding of the 5,000 appears in all four gospels and the feeding of the 4,000 appears in Matthew and Mark. This morning we heard the feeding of 5,000 as recorded in Matthew.
The basic concept of all of six of these narratives is the same. There were a lot of hungry people, but not a lot of food to feed them. And yet, Jesus performed a miracle, using the small morsels of food he had to feed everybody that has gathered. No one went hungry and there was even food leftover.
I love this story. This theology – the theology of abundance – gets played out every time a church luncheon or supper is held. We never think there is going to be enough food and yet the refrigerator always seems to be stuffed with leftovers at the end of the night and everyone goes home full.
But, even more than that, the timing of the miracle is what I think is really important in this particular account of the story. In the Gospel of Matthew, immediately preceding the feeding of the multitude, Jesus had returned to Nazareth, only to be rejected in the synagogue. Then John the Baptist was beheaded. The disciples told Jesus what had happened to John the Baptist and according to scripture:
When Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
So we do not know what, exactly, Jesus was thinking here. All we know is that he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But I can only imagine he was upset – both from being rejected in the synagogue and by the news John the Baptist had been killed – and he withdrew to the deserted place so he could be by himself and find sabbath. Can you blame him? We have all probably been there at some point in our lives – something bad happens and we just want to be alone so we can regroup.
But Jesus did not actually get to be alone. Do you know what happened when he left to be by himself? Everybody followed him! I kind of feel bad for him, actually, because let’s be real – I am not sure I would be the best version of myself if I wanted to be left alone and an entire crowd of people followed me.
But Jesus, of course, handled it with God-sized grace and not only did not turn the crowd away, but he had compassion on them and healed them.
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
As nighttime approached, the disciples went up to Jesus and told him to send everyone away so they could go to the villages and buy themselves some food. They were in a remote village and with only fives loaves of bread and two fish; they barely had enough food to feed themselves, let alone the crowd of people that had followed Jesus. But Jesus told them not to send the crowds away.
And then Jesus said something that I think is pivotal to this whole narrative.
They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
You give them something to eat.
Jesus did not want to send the crowd away. Jesus wanted to feed them.
When faced with the uncertainty of the circumstances that surrounded him, Jesus did not want this community of people who had gathered to leave. He wanted to share a meal with them.
Which reminds me of just how important the act of sitting down to a meal together is.
I think Jesus was onto something here.
Here’s the thing – the disciples wanted the people to leave. It had been a tumultuous couple of days, things were unsettled and Jesus had left, presumably, to be by himself. But Jesus knew it was more important that, in the face of challenging times, they all stand together in community. Jesus knew they could not fix what had happened to John the Baptist or change the minds of those who were rejecting him, but they could gather around a table and break bread together. Jesus knew that perhaps they could not solve all of the problems they faced, but they could find unity in a common meal and that could and would make all the difference.
Maybe the miracle was not that Jesus made five loaves and two fish feed five thousand people, but that Jesus invited them to eat with him in the first place.
There are a lot of unsettling things happening in our lives right now. Honestly, one of the nice parts of maternity leave was being so completely absorbed in the world of taking care of a newborn that I was totally oblivious to anything else that was happening around me. And while that might have kept me blissfully ignorant for awhile, I know I cannot live like that forever. Because people – people that I love – struggle in real and hard ways. Things feel chaotic in our country. People face devastating tragedies all around the world. And, as much as I want to, I cannot ignore these things.
The hard part is that I cannot fix it – most of it, anyway. But this story reminds me that even when I am faced with uncertainty, tragedies and challenges I cannot change, I can gather around a table and share a meal with the people around me.
Then [Jesus] 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.
I realize this is a story and not a commandment, but if what if we read it as a commandment? What if we reflect on this story and take it as a charge to gather together and share meals together?
A few weeks ago, one of those Facebook memories popped up and it was a picture of my mom and me at the airport in Hungary. We were with a couple from Tel Aviv that we had met in Hévíc, which is a town about 3 hours southwest of Budapest. We were all flying out the same day and my mom and I invited them to forgo their planned voyage by train back to Budapest and join us in our rental car.
I have talked about this couple before – about a year ago, actually. In a sermon on faith and accountability, I talked about their Shabbat dinners and my craving for that type of community meal. I shared with you how they both encouraged me to seek community around a table in the form of Sunday night dinners and then – through the magic of Facebook messenger – held me accountable to my promise to try to make these dinners happen when we all got home.
A year later, my Sunday night dinners are not necessarily a regular occurrence, but I am grateful to have tried and for every dinner I have shared with the people I love. Because these dinners have filled me with gratitude and created wonderful memories; I have tried new recipes, driven carefully around corners as to not tip over my crockpot in the backseat on the way to dinner and been grateful to show up and be fed by someone else at the end of a long weekend. I have laughed, cried and sometimes rolled my eyes. I have snuck seconds of dessert and passed on limoncello, hoping no one would notice and suspect I was pregnant. I avoided politics like it was the plague, asked an endless stream of questions and occasionally broke out in showtunes. I saw grace come alive, over and over and over again, around a table whose simple purpose was to feed the people who gathered around it.
This same grace first came alive when Jesus blessed and broke the loaves of bread that fed 5,000 people that day. And it comes alive every time we do so in his name.
Which leads me to my point. I had an idea! I said that perhaps the miracle of this story was not that Jesus managed to feed five thousand people with fives loaves of bread and two fish, but that he invited them to share a meal in the first place. And I wonder if we can create that same miracle here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church.
Friends, what if we made a commitment to use the grace that was given to us in the creation of the potluck to share a meal together on a more regular basis? What if we tried to schedule some sort of Sunday night dinner here at the church? I have not really thought through any of the details yet – I know we have things like busy lives and Patriots schedules to work around on Sunday evenings – but I think it could be really life giving and gratitude inspiring.
I think, in light of all the craziness that is happening around us, sometimes it is important to just be together. I think sharing meals together would give the members our growing community the opportunity to get to know one another a little bit better, to celebrate our church and community and to live out this commandment of Jesus to “give them something to eat.”
So let us think about this, pray about this and let God lead us in a beautiful direction. Let us be inspired by the miracle of the loaves and fishes and believe in the possibility that this miracle could happen in our community. Let us come together and break bread around a table of faith and friendship. And let us experience that same grace that a crowd of 5,000 did with Jesus when he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke five loaves of bread.
Rehoboth Congregational Church, it is so wonderful to be back with you all this morning. I have missed you all very much. As Bruce and I experience this transition in our lives and prepare to raise our son in this world, I have never been more convicted that the church needs to be strong. I am very much looking forward to continuing our ministry together and strengthening our church in the village.
And I know every time we heed Jesus’ commandment to invite one another to break bread together, we will be that much more RCCSTRONG.
Thanks be to God!