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The Feeding of the Thousands and Thousands
A sermon preached by Helen Pickard on August 3, 2014

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13

Click for the readings for August 3, 2014

Let the Words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable to you O God our strength and our redeemer.  AMEN.  Please be seated.

TELL:  First, I want to thank Gale for inviting me to preach, and thank all of you for allowing me to share again.  Months ago, I told Gale I really like to preach.  I told her there are a few Gospel passages that particularly call to my heart to explore in a homily.  Looking at those dates on the lectionary, none worked.  This date worked, so Gale asked and I said YES! 

For weeks this summer, we have been reading the PARABLES, metaphorical, intellectual STORIES in which Jesus has been describing the kingdom of heaven.  I like parables.  I think at we at Christ Church, with our focus on education  – that we as Episcopalians - are generally more metaphorical than literal.  We pride ourselves on NOT checking our BRAINS at the door.  Gale even invited all of us to consider our own metaphor for God in last week's sermon.  These parables about the Realm of God contain treasures and pearls, baking bread and gnarly, tangled gardens of weeds, thorns and wheat.  They drew CROWDS in Jesus' day and delight us still.  We can picture them and place ourselves in various roles.  STORIES grow community for all sorts and types in God's Realm.  Just Like the mustard seed that grows to a huge tree  - that provide homes for birds – connecting earth, water and air, flora and fauna – diversity and all the elements of life abundant.  Excitedly, I read ahead to see which parable I would get.

IMAGINE my surprise when I found a miracle.  MIRACLES are HARD.  Miracles require something else entirely, so I feel FORTUNATE that we have the story of Jacob wrestling the Angel as our Hebrew Scripture for today. :)  NO- I'm not going to wimp out and preach on that instead, but I have used it for inspiration.  In order to preach on this miracle, I've had to grad hold with both hands and WRESTLE.  Wrestle with it until it blessed me.  I hope we share that blessing together today, and that none of us leaves with a limp.  Ready?  Here goes!

Everyone is welcome at God's Table.  This is so much a part of our identity at Christ Church, it has become our tag line.  It is how we understand the Gospel and Good News of Jesus.  This is one of the stories on which we hang our placard.  I am not going to focus on where the food comes from, after all, I've been living without my neighborhood grocer for 2 weeks.  In this miracle, I find examples of building community, of separating ourselves from one another, how that separates us from God's abundance, and how Jesus invites us into full communion with God and each other.  THAT is the Realm of GOD and THAT is a MIRACLE!

This reading is often subtitled “The Feeding of the 5000.”  Right away, I find in this an example of our human failing of separating ourselves into various groups.  A close reading reveals the 5000 were men.  While Matthew 10 tells us that God has counted even the hairs on our heads, Matthew 14 couldn’t be bothered to count women and children. 

We have continued as a Church to discount women and children in many ways, but we are taking action towards full inclusion after 2000 years. Let's celebrate that the Church of England voted in July to ordain and consecrate women as bishops. At that time, Desmond Tutu said prophetically, “Wow, you are in for a great surprise and treat... Your church will be enriched no end … God be praised. Yippee.” Let's also rejoice in the 40th anniversary of the first 11 women ordained to the priesthood in the US. Let's give thanks for the ministry of our Interim Rector, The Reverend Doctor Gale Davis. (I'll start the applause) Of course we also have many lay women to thank for their work in the church, including Carolyn Hughes Cuozzo, who just last year shepherded more than 150 children and youth in our parish. 25 years ago, our diocese was the first in the World Wide Anglican Communion to ordain a female bishop, Barbara C. Harris, who refused to wear a bullet proof vest at her consecration. Let's delight in The CAMP we built, named in her honor. All summer long, and at winter retreats, children and youth find their place at God's table. Some summers, the Diocese of MA partners with the Diocese of Jerusalem to host youth from Palestine at the CAMP.

Each of these inclusions transforms our communities, drawing us closer to the model of today's gospel reading, where ALL are welcomed to feed and be fed. As we pray for the PEACE of Jerusalem, the right use of all God's gifts, and the unity of all people as God's own children, let's start now to call this scripture passage “The Feeding of the Thousands and Thousands.”

But today's Gospel begins with Jesus, ALONE on a boat.  He is there after his home town of Nazareth rejected him and King Herod beheaded his cousin, John the Baptist.  Jesus must be at a pretty low place with these events.  He must know his own days are numbered.  Returning to the shore, he finds the crowds who so raptly listened to the parables of the Realm of God.  They are HUNGRY for more of what Jesus offers – healing, love, learning.  It is in THIS moment, when Jesus returns to the COMMUNITY, when he encounters God's people again on the shores, that he finds himself in the abundance of the mustard tree,  in the tangles of life, that Jesus stops telling stories about the kingdom, stops inviting us to THINK about the Realm of God and helps his disciples and the crowd to EXPERICENCE the Realm of God.  This is a miracle. 

The kingdom of heaven is not LIKE feeding thousands of people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.  The kingdom of heaven IS feeding thousands and thousands with those fish and loaves.  The kingdom of heaven is not near, it is HERE!  Bread and fish are food for today.  TODAY we eat in the Realm of God.

My friends at Christ Church Andover, Jesus has moved from telling stories  - parables – metaphors - to making it happen.  For me, this scripture SHOWS us what really happens in God's Realm:  God heals.  God feeds.  God includes.  We consent through our actions.  We show up and become community. 

Let's look again at the passage: the disciples tell Jesus “send the crowds away so that THEY may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” "WE have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." The disciples are not ungenerous in suggesting Jesus send the crowd for food, but they are not thinking creatively either. Nor do they say, “Let's ALL go to the villages for something to eat.” NO, they are putting distance between themselves and the crowd. They are keeping Jesus with them and the crowd over there. NOW, Jesus teaches by doing.   Jesus says through his actions, in God's Realm there is enough. WE have enough, and there is no need to separate. No thorns from wheat, no winnowing fork, no rejection, no beheading. With this community whole, and with Thanksgiving, Jesus and the disciples feed and are fed abundantly. US and THEM are dissolved into WE. We who hunger and we who eat. We who share at the feast.

The people whom Jesus and the disciples feed in this passage are not “the lepers” or “the outcasts.”  It is NOT a class apart.  NOT the under served, the underpaid, the undereducated, the marginalized, the immigrants, the needy – THEY - that class of people who are not US, with whom WE rarely identify.  The poor whom Jesus says are always with us.  Among the thousands and thousands must be business people, tradespeople, those with broken hearts, those with new babies, those with disease and those who love them; ALL are people who hunger and thirst for God.  ALL are people who seek peace and  find it in the presence of the Holy One, in the presence of one another, gathered for the Word and for the Host.  We learn in our tradition that Eucharist transcends all barriers of time and space, uniting us with ALL who ever have or ever will share in communion – the mystery of faith.  I wonder if we do this also in the ways we share and work with Neighbors in Need, Bread and Roses, Esperanza, Habitat and Communities Together.

In the parables, a rich man buys a field for the hidden treasure.  Maybe we are not rich men who buy fields.  In the parables, a women adds yeast to dough.  Maybe we do not make our own bread.  In the parables, a farmer sows seeds.  Maybe we do not grow our own food. 

But we EAT.  Yes, we ALL eat.  We eat what we do not ourselves produce, provide or prepare.  Jesus invites us.  The Holy One invites every one to take part in a feast. 

It is abundant.  The EXPERIENCE of abundance draws us back again and again, to gather as a Body for nurture. For Holy Food and Drink of New and Unending Life.

In the end for me, it is the Miracle that is easier to believe than the metaphor.  I can picture that mustard  tree, but I experience the bread and wine in Communion.  And after long wrestling, that is a blessing.

In the Name of God.  AMEN

Last Published: August 6, 2014 6:22 PM