2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19 ; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
How many of you love food, and how many of you love to cook? My first career was as an Associate Buyer with a national retailer, where I developed product assortments, designed advertising, developed financial plans, and imagined new product ideas for many of those awesome kitchen items, cookware, bakeware, and cutlery that you have in your home. Even now, I love watching cooking shows on Create TV, PBS, and YouTube. I guess some folks might call me a “Foodie”, or maybe I am just a “wanna-be” Sous chef. I enjoy preparing a meal for folks, and I love to see their reaction when they try a dish I have made.
Feeding people, sharing food with others is a way of showing love to other people. My mother made some incredible dishes when I was a kid, and I know each one was filled with hard work and love. If you think about it, food and sharing a meal is a core theme of the narrative of Our Lord’s ministry. Jesus ate meals with all sorts of people, Jesus fed crowds, and Jesus instituted the holy meal we share each week.
“Give us this day our Daily Bread.” The Lord’s Prayer reminds us of our reliance on God’s provision, and the intractable place of food in faith. However, God’s provision for creation does not merely include we good churchgoers. Grace extends beyond and is unfathomable. So, the church from its beginning has wrestled with this question, “Does our being fed, mean we must feed others?” Even his early disciples were unsure about their responsibility to feed others.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus asked Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat.” Post-resurrection at the beachside with his disciples, Jesus had to tell Peter three times to “feed my sheep.” This mission of feeding body and soul was at the heart of the ministry of Christ and thus, it is the work of the church. We are called to continue Christ’s ministry and now more than ever, the world needs the church because, there are many folks who go to bed every night hungry; but moreover, because most folks go to bed each night spiritually hungry.
HUNGER .. REAL HUNGER for JESUS
Have you ever been hungry, I mean really hungry? Not that Snickers chocolate bar “Hangry” we occasionally experience. I mean that real, “I get one meal a day, I have not eaten all day, and I may go to bed empty, kind of hungry?” An article in the “Daily Mail” reports that the average individual American consumes an average of about “3770 calories per day.”(3) We Americans are blessed to have an abundance of food to eat, but like the folks in first century Palestine, nearly 42 million of our sisters and brothers in America, go to bed hungry every night.
The often hunger pains of an empty stomach, combined with a life of hard labor was the life of the average person in Jesus’ time. In first century Palestine, people were able to gather a lot less than 3800 calories each day, and 70% of the calories in their diet came from bread, often eaten in one main meal in the evening. This was the dilemma of Jesus’ feeding miracle as recorded in John’s gospel. A large crowd of 5000 men (plus women and children) was chasing after the Great Healer seeking restoration, but they had not brought food along with them, for the only meal they would eat that day.
They sought Jesus so steadfastly that they forgot about their basic physical needs in order to seek Jesus. Ironically, the disciples who intimately knew the Master’s sustaining grace first hand, when they saw the hungry crowd, just threw up their hands and said, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” The disciples who had received grace so easily, did not understand their responsibility to share it with others, except for one little nameless boy.
William Lamar writes, “A quiet little boy with fish and bread shares with Jesus and something astonishing happens. The whole crowd is blessed. No gift given to the Lord is given in a vacuum. Instead, all gifts given to God bless the entire body of Christ.” (2) Jesus fed the crowd from a small boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish, a meal the boy was willing to share with others, so Jesus could share it with the crowd. Each one of us, must share from the abundance we have, and share in Jesus’ ministry of feeding others, both body and soul. We who are fed by the miraculous meal of bread and wine, Body and Blood are fed, must share that grace with others, just like that little boy.
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
Each week, we gather around the Lord’s Table with the simplest of food (bread and wine), and we are sustained by God’s abundance. With the staple food of bread and the nourishing drink of wine, Jesus gathers his followers together and instituted this meal, which we commemorate and make present in the Eucharist or Great Thanksgiving. This is the same meal by the invocation of the Holy Spirit, becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Thus, we are nourished not just for ourselves, but we are fed heartily, so we might live fully each day as followers of and doers of Jesus’ mission of love.
There is much more going on in this meal than just bread and wine, or even more than a memorial meal, because in it we are being fed and transformed in ways that only mystery can begin to explain. Theologian David Fredrickson states, “There must be something bodily going on between Christ and believers (starting with Christ and moving to believers!) in order that the life of God, which is fully present in the Son, becomes their life as well.”
In the liturgy we say, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength, for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.” In this holy meal, we receive grace, strength, pardon, renewal, and in it together we are made one body, so that we might serve the world in Christ’s name.
Sharing the Good News – “Does being fed, mean feeding others?
“Does being fed, mean feeding others? Yes! At the closing of the liturgy at the baptismal font, the deacon dismisses the congregation. From Table and past the Font, we are sent out, not to go home and take a nap (like most of us do every Thanksgiving), but we are dismissed into the world to share Christ with others. Methodist pastor and Christian leader D.T. Niles, was quoted in a 1986 New York Times article, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”
We are being fed each week for a purpose, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Our mission is to be witnesses in the world of Christ’s redeeming love, and we do that by sharing the Good News and literally being Good News. We do that by reaching into the storms of others’ lives and showing them the bread of grace. We do that by working to restore justice and dignity to every human being. We do that by loving one another as we love ourselves. Being fed DOES means we show others who are spiritually hungry, where to find bread.
From feeding a crowd of 5000, Jesus goes and walks on the water. In John’s version of the story, Jesus is not in the boat where the other disciples are being sheltered. This time, Jesus is out there on water itself walking through the storm. Jesus is not merely in the boat with us good churchgoers, but he calls us out there with him, out onto the trepid and crazy waters of this life, to share his ministry of feeding body and soul, and there is much work to be done.
So, get ready when you come to the Lord’s table today, and get your fill my friends, eat hearty, eat well and then, go and share God’s abundant grace, love, mercy, healing, and reconciliation with everyone you encounter this week. Go and show others where to find bread, because their soul and your soul depend on it.
Let us pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
(1) Fredrickson, David E. “Eucharistic Symbolism in the Gospel of John.” Word & World, vol. 17, no. 1, Wint, pp. 40-44
(2) Lamar, William H IV. “Chasing Jesus.” The Christian Century, vol. 120, no. 14, 12 July 2003, p. 17.