Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – August 3, 2014
The lessons we heard this morning are two of my favorites. The first lesson from Isaiah, is one of the scripture lessons that is suggested for burial services.
When I have anything to say about it, it’s the one we read. In it, we get a word-picture of what God has planned for ALL people – the outcast, the stranger, those with and those without resources. It’s a feast, this plan of God – a feast of rich foods and well-aged wines. This is a life of abundance – not just enough to get by on. It is a vision of a life lived fully, joyfully. And this life is based on a covenant – a promise from the living God.
This life is so great that people from all over will be intrigued, enticed to learn more. It is a life that begs the attention of those who observe it and perhaps engenders some envy.
This picture reminds me of the times I’ve ridden my bike through Calf Pasture Beach on the Fourth of July. Every square foot of grass and sand covered in blankets or chairs – babies and old ladies gingerly dipping toes in the water, the smell from the grills – Island spices, hot dogs and burgers, a well-marbled steak.
God’s dream, God’s promise found repeatedly in the Hebrew scriptures, God’s promise for all the people is this: there is and there will always be enough – not just of the necessities – but of the delights!
The Gospel lesson, paired with the reading from Isaiah certainly seems like at least a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy.
This familiar story of the feeding of a large crowd is one of six such stories recorded in the Gospels. They differ in some respects – the number of those fed, the amount of food offered and leftover – but are similar in more ways than they differ.
In this account from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus had gone off alone, in a boat, to a deserted place. He had just heard the news of his cousin John’s murder. Jesus’ humanity seems so real here to me. Distraught, grief-stricken, exhausted – Jesus needed time to himself – time to think, time to rest and regroup – time to grieve.
The deserted place he wandered off to did not remain deserted for very long, however. Crowds followed him on foot from the surrounding towns and were there on the beach waiting for him as he entered the shallow water, threw his feet over the side of the boat and waded to shore.
Instead of being irritated, (can’t I have a few hours to myself?!?) Jesus had compassion on all those who were refusing to leave him alone – here’s where his divine nature kicks in!
The Greek word used here, translated as “compassion” is derived from the ritual sacrifices that were part of Hebrew worship. It is from the same root of the word used when the heart was literally ripped out of the sacrificial animal. Here, in a clever twist, Matthew seems to say that Jesus’ compassion for the crowds was an intentional “heart-going-out” on his part. Instead of the heart being ripped out of the sacrificial victim, compassion means that one (in this case, Jesus) is willingly, intentionally giving one’s own heart to the victim.
Jesus saw the crowd and had compassion on them and then Jesus did what Jesus always did. He addressed the real life issues of the people by healing those who needed healing.
But when the sun got low in the sky, everyone got hungry – and it sounds like they may have gotten a little grumpy as well, “send them away,” the disciples suggest, “it’s late, they’re hungry, they should find a place that’s still open and buy their own food.”
But Jesus answers, “No; you give them something to eat.”
Wouldn’t you know… just when you think the Son of God has it handled – has everything under control, he turns to people like us.
“You feed them.”
I don’t know about you, but my initial response to this is, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Me?
An out-of-town pastor drove his car into a ditch in a desolated area. Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big strong horse, named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Martha, pull!” Buddy didn’t move.
Then the farmer hollered, “Pull, Peter, pull!” Buddy didn’t respond.
Once more the farmer commanded, “Pull, Jezebel, pull!”
Then the farmer nonchalantly said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!” And the horse easily
dragged the car out of the ditch.
The pastor was most appreciative and very curious. He asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times.
The farmer said, “Oh, Buddy is blind and if he thought he was the only one
pulling, he wouldn’t even try.”
You feed them, Jesus said – but not to one individual. The task of feeding the multitudes is a job for all of us. Together.
Whatever I have, whatever you have, whatever we have, when we give it to God, it will be enough.
Jesus’ friends gave what they had – some bread, a few fish.
Jesus took it, gave thanks for it and broke it. And then he gave it back to them. He gave them the responsibility for its distribution.
So, let’s recap – From the very beginning, according to Isaiah, God made some promises. One day, all will eat – all will feast on rich foods and aged wine. One day, the sadness and shame that so often accompanies human experience will be turned to joy. One day, death will be no more.
Jesus, to a great extent, fulfilled these promises: he fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He offered forgiveness and new life. In his resurrection, death was defeated.
Jesus rarely worked alone. It’s not that he couldn’t have – it’s more like he preferred not to. He seems always to have preferred to share both the responsibility and the joy of addressing and meeting need.
God made and continues to make some pretty amazing promises. Jesus has and continues to fulfill them. And we are invited to participate in the fulfillment of God’s promises as well. Amazing, isn’t it?
Amazing? Perhaps “overwhelming” might be a better word to describe our response to this reality. Three times over the course of this past week I’ve had people tell me they have simply quit listening to the news. The world seems to have spun out of control – the continuing conflict and rising death tolls in the Middle East – the murder and rape that continues in Syria, the mutilation of women and young girls, the constant stream of children running for their lives, fleeing crime and corruption in Central America looking to us for safety, natural disasters in every corner.
Yes, it can be overwhelming. The needs of the world are so great. We feel so small, so impotent when simply considering them, let alone doing anything to address them.
As God’s people, as Christ’s body in the world, I believe it is our responsibility to stay engaged – to hold out hope and work together as best we can to do what Jesus did – to heal and to feed – so that the “one day” promises of God will be closer to fulfillment because we have offered what we have and who we are; God has taken that offering – blessed it and broken it – and given it back to us for distribution.
In a few minutes, we will celebrate and participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. God will be at work feeding us through bread and wine made by human hands. Many of us will gather in the side aisles to pray for and experience healing. That’s what we do here.
And then we will go out – and as we so often pray – we will go out as changed people. We will have shared the living bread and we will not be the same.
God will ask much of us, expect much from us, enable much by us, an encourage many through us so that we may live in a way that glorifies God – both as inhabitants of the earth and as citizens of the commonwealth of heaven.