9th Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Matthew 14: 13-21
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us into relationship. Amen
How do you get people interested in an event?
This is particularly true on college campuses,
all across the nation
as the kids flood back to school
there will be activity fairs
and signs advertising informational meetings for clubs and groups,
and the most successful,
the table that will draw the biggest crowd
will have food,
and not just a few mini snickers bars
but the best food, slices of pizza, doughnuts, maybe even tacos.
Now not all of the adoring taco lovers
will become members of the rowing team
or the young diplomats club.
Most will be there simply for the food,
a break from whatever delights the cafeteria serves up
or perhaps worse their own cooking on a budget.
But, there is the possibility,
ever so small,
that something more could develop
from that initial exchange of food,
even if it is just knowing the name of Lutheran Campus ministries,
the association that they had good food,
and didn’t they say something about a meal after church Sunday mornings,
and aren’t they the ones with the open pantry of personal care supplies?
Even when it’s just about the food
it’s about more than the food,
it’s an entry point into relationship.
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
God calls out to the Israelites,
offering them free food
and not just any free food,
but the best food.
God offers this food
as a way to get them to listen once again
to the covenant promise,
to draw them back into relationship with God,
a relationship that God started with the people
to serve as an example for the other nations
so that the other nations would also come to God.
Even when it’s just about the food,
it’s about more than the food.
In our gospel
the crowds are already coming to Jesus,
in this case
it is in search of the free health car
e that Jesus has been offering,
as he has been wandering about teaching
he has also been healing
and not just offering an ointment here or a potion there
but full, miraculous healings,
withered hands restored, demons exorcised, dead brought back to life,
he’s offering the best and people are flocking to him.
And when Jesus sees the crowds,
the people seeking him
even as he is trying to get
away to mourn the death of John the Baptist,
he has compassion for them,
he feels their pain in his gut,
and he heals their sick.
It’s about more than just the healing.
The crowds are surrounding Jesus
and now the disciples’ enter the picture,
they have committed to a relationship with Jesus
past that of free food and health care,
they’ve joined his club,
they’re on board with his mission,
they want to help,
and so when it starts getting late
they come up to Jesus and say
‘uh hey boss, it’s getting late,
and there’s nothing out here,
maybe it’s time to start telling all these people
that it’s time for them to go someplace where they can get some food.”
they in their own way
are concerned for the welfare of the crowd
but they certainly don’t expect what Jesus tells them to do next.
“You give them something to eat”
Jesus commands the disciples
“but we only have five loaves and two fish,” they reply
and Jesus takes their food,
blesses and breaks it
and gives it back to the disciples to distribute.
And with the little they had
and the blessing of Jesus,
the disciples are able to feed the whole crowd,
and not just a little bit for each person
but all ate and were filled
and there were even left-overs
and for a moment
the reign of God is realized
and all who are gathered
experience the reality
of what Jesus has been teaching the disciples to work toward.
A world where people from all different walks of life
gather together and there is such an abundance
that everyone rich or poor
gets as much as they need and there are even left-overs.
In his command,
Jesus has empowered the disciples
with an understanding that with what little they have
and they blessing of God
they are able to make the reign of God real for people
in the same way Jesus has made it real for them.
That as disciples they are truly partners
in Jesus’ mission to spread the good news,
that the relationships they create with the crowds lead to God.
and sure some people are just there for the food
and that’s okay, because God knows that all people need food
but there’s the possibility that it will lead to something more,
a positive association with Jesus and his movement that may,
in the future draw them into their own path of discipleship.
It’s about more than just the food.
“Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
For most of us,
Our relationship with God
started with a free bath,
and we were brought to that bath
by parents or grandparents,
disciples empowered to share their experience of God with us.
In that bath, which was more than just a bath
God promised to always be in relationship with us
even if that was the only time we were ever in church,
or our parents had it done as “an insurance policy”
even if we stopped coming to church and talking to God in our teens,
20s, 30s 40s, 50s, 60s, etc
even if sometimes we feel like faith is day to day, moment to moment
but Jesus doesn’t just let us go,
he continually calls us back into relationship with God and one another,
through disciples and of course with free food,
the best food, his body and blood
in with and under the bread and wine,
which of course is about more than just the food,
it’s an offering of forgiveness for the relationships we’ve broken,
a taste of the reign of God
where all are welcome and there is enough for everybody.
And when we’ve gathered
with the great variety of people that God brings to the table,
eaten our fill and seen the leftovers,
then God turns us back toward the world,
the hungry and hurting
and says “you give them something to eat,
have compassion for the suffering crowds,
you feed them, you heal them,
and yes most of them will probably just be there for the free food and health care
but it’s an opportunity to
establish a deeper relationship
and then you can offer them something more,
a relationship with the creator of the universe”
And with what little we have
and the blessing of God
we are able to realize the reign of God,
one feast at a time. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.