Sunday, August 3, 2014

August 3, 2014 - Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles - "I Was Hungry"

Matthew 14.13-21

Bad news comes to Jesus … as bad news usually does … all of a sudden, out of the blue, just like that … 

Maybe Jesus was expecting it, but when it comes, it comes hard and fast … as bad news usually does … hard and fast … out of the blue, just like that.

“John is dead,” they say … “We buried him just awhile ago … a headless body it was … we hear it was a birthday party, and plenty of dancing, and the old fool made a promise to a dancing girl … ‘You can have anything you want.’

She wanted John’s head … that’s what her Mommy told her to say … what a fool Herod was … too much drink and a belly full of food.

He didn’t want to do kill John, or so he said … but John is dead anyway, all because of a birthday party … We buried him a little while ago … sorry to bring bad news … but we wanted you to know … so sorry … we wanted you to know.”

And with that bad news hard and fast on him, Jesus heads off into a wilderness area, by himself … to do what we all do, I suppose, when bad news hits us hard and fast … our mind is a mess, thoughts whirl here and there without rhyme or reason … tears come unbidden … we’re sad, angry, frightened, confused … best left alone for awhile … “Don’t talk to me right now … leave me alone … I have to be alone for awhile” …

So human is Jesus when bad news comes his way … no tower of strength, impervious to the slings and arrows of life … he’s just flesh and blood … like us, and he hurts and he cries … when bad news comes his way … I’ve got to get away for awhile … by myself … and he finds a boat to sail him away.

But the crowds … always the crowds, press in upon Jesus … the crowds find out … someone spills the beans, “We know where Jesus is.”

And off go the crowds … on foot, dust a-flying … determined to find Jesus … “What is he going to say next? … what kind of trouble is he going to find?” … the crowds want to know more about him … hear his take on life and faith … and for the sick, maybe a chance, a chance to get healthy again … the crowds press forward, kicking up the dust …

Then or now, folks have a way of finding out where we are …

The text brings a knowing smile …

Jesus takes a boat … onto the sea, canvass billowing, the lap of waves, the smell of fish, a fresh wind - he knows it all, he’s familiar with the sea and those who make their living on it .. and there finds peace … a slow boat it is; he’s in no hurry … when the boat pulls ashore, the crowds are already there … they beat him to the punch … they’re waiting for him … no rest for the weary … the work is never done.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we don’t know the rest of the story … let’s pretend that it’s you and me … our heart is heavy with bad news, we’re tired, bone tired, dead tired … we taken time to get away from everything … we want to be be alone … “Don’t call me, I call you!” 

And the smart phone - oh, we should’ve turned the darn thing off … but we didn’t … bells and whistles and show tunes and clicks and gongs … email, instant messages, voice mail, notices and tweets … 

“Oh, just leave me alone!”

But no alone for Jesus … no rest for him today!

And now the story takes a turn … the heart of Jesus shines like a bright light in a very dark night … it says of him, simply, plainly, When he saw the great crowds, he had compassion for them … and he goes to work.

The work is never done …

For Jesus … or for us …

The work of the Kingdom … bring good news … raise up hope … engage in the stuff of life … make things better … fill in the low places where life is hard and hope is thin … bring down those high and mighty places puffed up with pride and power … prepare the way of the LORD, make straight his paths.

Jesus has compassion for the crowd …

By this time, the disciples show up … they, too, see the crowds … they listen to Jesus … they watch him work … they know he’s tired, they know he’s sad … they watch him go to work.

When evening falls … the disciples make their move … had they been thinking about it for awhile?

They’ve been thinking about it for some time, stewing about it … whispering to one another … and before Jesus can say a word, they say a few words to Jesus - Look here, Jesus, this crowd is hungry, and there’s no food to be found here; things might get outta hand … we suggest, send them into the villages … not that far away … they can buy food for themselves.

But Jesus has none of it … There’s no need for them to go away, says Jesus … you give them something to eat.

But we don’t have enough, not near enough to feed this hungry crowd … we have only five loaves and two fish … 

Bring the food to me, says Jesus.

And to the crowd, Sit on down, and make yourselves comfortable! 

With food in hand, Jesus looks up to heaven … gives thanks to his father … that’s what “bless” means here … no need to bless the food - that’s a pagan ritual … food is already holy, already blessed … it comes from God’s good earth … when Jews said a blessing before the meal, it wasn’t to do anything to the food but to bless God, to praise God, to hallow God’s name … Hallowed by thy name … that’s the blessing … Jesus gives thanks for the food …

And then Jesus breaks the bread …  

Truth be told?

Jesus doesn’t trust the disciples right now … they’re not about to share their food … all the disciples can think about right now is their own hunger … they’re not about to share what they have …

Jesus doesn’t waste any time even asking them.

Give me the food; I’ll handle it.

When he breaks it, he proportions it, fairly … everyone gets a piece of bread … there’s more than enough to feed everyone, if everyone takes their share, and no more … when the loaves and fish are divided fairly, everyone can eat.

The disciples don’t know that yet … don’t know how much they really have … or the power of sharing … a whole lot they don’t know about God, and life, and what the work of the kingdom is all about.

Jesus sees to it that everyone is fed … no one sent back home … nobody turned away … 5000 hungry men … women and children, too.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Some have suggested that when the crowd saw Jesus take the bread and fish, turn toward heaven, give thanks, start to pass it out, the spirit of fear was driven away … 

One-by-one, they reached into robes and satchels and found what little they had … some flat bread, a dried fish or two, a piece of cheese, some dates and nuts … folks were no longer afraid … they began to share with their neighbors what they had.

I don’t know if that’s what happened.

But as far as I’m concerned, that’s the greater miracle.

It would have been an easy for Jesus to simply make bread and fish … what a fuss the crowd would have made, patting their full bellies … but there would have been no redemption in that miracle … nothing to change the disciples, nothing to change the crowd … everyone would have loved Jesus a little bit more, for what he gave to them … 

Jesus isn’t interested in having folks “love” him … he wants us to love one another … brave enough to stop sending the hungry away … see the world - with the eyes of God.

I wonder …

Did the disciples ever feel ashamed of their behavior?  … did they talk amongst themselves about it, later that night, or the next week?

Palestine, Ukraine, Sudan, Libya … Arizona and Texas and California … a refugee crisis … people are hungry … children are crying.

If ever the Christian Church in America has an opportunity to step up and bear witness, it’s right now, right here, on our border … 

Some call ‘em illegals, some build walls, some send in the soldiers …  some wanna send the children away … fend for themselves … but Christians are taking the high road of faith … Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, plenty of other groups, too … to help America be the America of our highest and best dreams … the promise engraved on our Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Yesterday, the birthday of American novelist, James Baldwin.

An important moment for Baldwin came when he and a friend were standing on a street corner in New York City, waiting for the light to change. 

Baldwin recounts that his friend, an artist, "pointed down and said, 'Look.' I looked and all I saw was water. And he said, 'Look again,' which I did, and I saw oil on the water and the city reflected in that puddle." 

In that moment, Baldwin learned how to see, see the world differently than he had before.

Carl Sandburg the poet said: “In these times you have to be an optimist to open your eyes when you awake in the morning.”

The poet, Dana Gioia … wrote:

“What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost. “

Yes, we can do it.

We can feed the hungry.

Jesus my LORD, take my fish, take my bread … my hands are not strong enough to break it fairly for all; in your hands, it will be rightly broken, and fairly given … teach us, dear LORD, there’s enough for everyone … 

And when the dinner was done, and folks had eaten their fill … something extraordinary … 12 baskets of leftovers … enough for latecomers and midnight snacks … and who doesn’t love leftovers?

We can do it!

Amen and Amen!