The Sunday Sermon: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 6, 2017
Scripture: Luke 9:10-17
A New Direction
Ten weeks ago we observed Memorial Day weekend, summer officially began, even though High School continued for many. The first Sunday in June was Pentecost Sunday this year, 50 days after Easter. And through the rest of the Sundays in June we explored “life after Jesus” in this room. Because Jesus lived and loved as he did – even unto death, we must ask ourselves always, “What are our lives supposed to represent?” Nothing less, surely. Dare we attempt even more?
As July began this summer, we found ourselves our in the wilderness. Our guest preacher led us out there with Hagar and Ishmael. We remained in this wilderness place of renewal and challenge with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and their descendants. We found, even in the wild world of “beyond,” sanctuary, baptism, and community.
Last week our beloved friend and former Pastor, Wayne Willis, was here to share life. I wasn’t even here, waking up in a tent at a primitive campsite in northern California, but as I imagined all of you gathering and Wayne presence with you, I felt a return, a homecoming of sorts. What a wonderful man.
So all that has brought us to – believe it or not – August. “Wow,” some of us are saying, “already?” Maybe a few others, “Finally,” a few others may be thinking, though they’d never say it out loud. (“Get these kids back into school!”). August has a very different rhythm, I think. It certainly does for me. It is a month of return, a month of “finding our way back” to something we are familiar with, but that is different than last year. It has to be, we’re a year older at least, but some much else has changed since last year. I’m wondering, as we begin August this year, what new directions we will find for ourselves as we prepare for what lies ahead in another year together, another year of ministry, of community.
Pray with me, now, before we go any further. And listen for the Word of God in our scripture lesson. Read Luke 9:10-17 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
That is one of the most familiar passages in the New Testament. The “miracle” knows as the feeding of the five (or four) thousand is told in every Gospel narrative – Matthew, Mark, and John, as well, very similar to this one in Luke. I thought, as I considered it again for this Sunday’s … “exploration” … that it was a pretty appropriate one for the Sunday of our Annual Picnic! All ate and were filled, the passage concludes. I’m sure that will be the case for all of us who sit together in just a few moments from now. And there will be leftovers when we’re done, too, though for different reasons. Our “planners” have anticipated us and ordered enough food – purchased and prepared – for all, I’m sure. There will be leftovers this afternoon, too, though hopefully we won’t have twelve baskets of BBQ remaining. (Eat up!)
All this puts me in mind of story from early in my marriage. I shared this story with you many years ago, with Katie’s permission. I believe I still have the rights to it from that time, so I’m going to share it again. I remember that this story resonated with a lot of you, in part because it’s fun to picture a young “Katie and Joel,” I guess, but hopefully because you “got the point” as well. Here it is, again. I exaggerate only slightly in a storyteller kind of way …
Katie and I had not been married too awfully long when, on a visit to my parents in Pennsylvania, she readily agreed to help my mom with a “dinner party” at the house. I put “dinner party” in quotes, because my mom’s idea of a dinner party is not like some or many of ours. The gathering gets its name from the meal served – dinner, and the number of people gathered – more than four guests was a “party” for my mom. It had nothing to do with how these gathered are served, when they are served, or (as Katie was soon to find out) what and how much they are served.
When Katie was asked to help she sat down and began to make a list of the various needs one has when throwing a “dinner party” for nine people. Table settings, place settings, and pre-dinner needs, but most importantly (and most pertinent to our Gospel reading this morning) food, a menu. My mom didn’t keep a kitchen stocked with food so some purchasing would be necessary – Katie thought. She was conscious of my mom’s style and certainly didn’t want to come off as uppity to her realtively new mother-in-law, so she brought the menu to mom in question form. “Would you like to have a salad?” Katie asked.
“Sure. I have a few peaches and grapes. Maybe a simple fruit salad from those things.”
“Oh, o-okay. How about vegetables?” Katie asked.
“Oh, yes. I thought I’d thaw out the limas and corn. There’s not enough of either alone, but we can mix them,” Mom replied. “We can also slice a few tomatoes.”
Vegetables, check. With only a little energy left, Katie bought up the main course. “What about the meat, or main thing?” She kept her eyes on her list.
“Well, now that’s a good question,” mom said. “What do you think?”
Katie looked up from her page ready to suggest she pick something up from the grocery. She’d get a lot of it just in case … Mom cut her thoughts off. “Actually, I picked up some chicken breasts last week. We could cut them in strips, marinade them and Lyle (my dad) could grill them. Oh, what a feast!” She clapped her hands and moved to the freezer. “Oh, but I don’t have anything to make marinade with.” So thirty minutes later, Katie was droving into town to the grocery store with her shopping list for my mom’s dinner party – a bottle of marinade for the chicken. I think she picked up a few peaches, too, to make the trip worthwhile.
Now, running the risk of ending this tale to quickly, I’ll simply tell you that all of us ate well that evening and there were even a few peaches left over.
So what’s the point of all that? Of that story? My mom is not Jesus and Katie isn’t a distrustful daughter-in-law. (Very much the opposite on both accounts, actually.) The point, I believe, is that this story, one that is familiar to all of us on some level, finds us right where we are this morning. It illustrates another “point of departure” for our lives as disciples, a new direction, if you will. As we step into August and begin to think about the ministry year ahead, we are reminded to trust in the generosity of God’s gifts, not in the scarcity of our own. It’s a simple story that, I hope, responds to the first question in our minds, perhaps even in our hearts, as we prepare to “begin again.” Can we trust God to provide? It’s a simple story that, like our scripture reading, allows us to answer, “Yes. We can.” It’s a concrete story about human beings and food that allows us to step into the miracle story we just read from Luke to meet the one who answers our most anxious question as we begin again our lives of discipleship at any time of the year: “Will there be enough this time?”
This miracle story, the feeding of the five thousand or the multitude, as I’ve mentioned, is the only one recounted in all four Gospels. The fact that it is also included in the Gospel of John, the “non-synoptic” Gospel, suggests that it is indeed of special importance. We sense that, of course, and so our questions about its meaning and its purpose come quickly. Our explanations about what “really” happened soon follow.
All of these people were so moved by Jesus’ generosity that they brought forth the food they had hidden for themselves and by sharing there was enough for everyone.
This meal was not a physical one, but a spiritual and symbolic one. Spiritual hunger was satisfied when all received some tiny amount of food.
And there are others, to be sure …
But as I prepared for this morning, my concern became decreasingly historical and increasingly theological. We are considering this morning what this story is telling us about God and how we can begin to live our own faithful lives. Too often, if not always, we get caught up in the word “miracle” and try to pin it down to an exact moment when it occurs in a story such as this one from Luke. We focus on feasibility and likelihood, and nail “miracles” to very specific times and places – this morning it’s the first century in “a city called Bethsaida.” We make these stories “historical,” in other words, and then wonder why there aren’t any instances of these events today. But miracles do happen today, they are happening today. We’re just looking in the wrong places and we are looking at the wrong objects for our miracles.
We look for results, we look for a product, we look at the bread and the fish and wonder how they “multiply” to feed more than they should. We need to re-direct our vision. Don’t look for a result, listen to the process, to what’s happening. Right before this narrative in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is confounding the powers of this world (Herod is perplexed). Right after this miracle narrative, Peter professes Jesus as God’s anointed, the Messiah. Raise your eyes. Don’t look at the fish and the bread, look at the One who offers them, the Christ, God’s anointed one – anointed “ones.” That’s us, now, too – you and me. In this story, told by all four of our gospel writers, and in Jesus’ Way, we find our direction:
“You give them something to eat …” “You provide.”
Miracles do not create faith, they are perceived by it. The disciples, already full of faith – of trust in and fidelity to the Way of God in Jesus – “get it” in this story. That’s the miraculous event: sight, understanding, and action. They respond to Jesus’ command and all are fed! This miracle story undoubtedly reminded early Christians that they, too, were called to be God’s instruments in meeting the needs of others. These stores must continue to direct us today. You give them something to eat. You provide
Miracles need not be found in supernatural events, the multiplication of bread and fish. They are not relics of the past, on the shorelines of ancient seas. They are part of our lives as disciples today, perceived by our faith that is a gift from God.
This month finds us preparing for next month, “organizing for communal life,” if you’ve read your monthly Newsletter sent this past week. Sunday School classes and a return to a “full” Sunday morning schedule, choir rehearsals and ministry, new fellowships, new studies, and whatever else this new year, so much like last year, but so different because it’s this year, brings. Will God provide? The miraculaous answer is, “Yes, and with leftovers.”
For anyone else who may be getting a little anxious about another beginning – rom the school year just around the corner to our ministry year just around the block, we remind ourselves: As we give our hearts to the power of God’s love, as we take what we have and offer it to each other, to our church, to the world, we will always have “enough.”
So … new journey’s, new directions are before us. Our direction and our tables, both inside and out, are set again. We’ll stray and slip, stumble and stop along the path. But the Way is before us, always, and we’ll come as often as we need to feed and be fed. Let’s prepare for the feast.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / August 6, 2017