Sunday, July 30, 2006

There's No Place Like Home

This is, more or less, what I wound up preaching today.

It was Saturday -- yesterday -- and I hadn't finished this sermon yet. I hadn't started this sermon yet. So I did what any other dedicated, responsible individual scheduled to preach on Sunday would do: I went to an all-day music festival. (It was, by the way, the Evart Folk Fest -- a great little folk festival with big-name talent like Claudia Schmidt.)

Anyway -- my mission, sitting there in my lawn chair in the sun, was to somehow hear a new word in an old story -- the feeding of the five thousand. It's one of those Gospel stories that most of us have heard so often that we tend to listen to it without thinking too hard about it. Jesus...big crowd...little kid with a little food...Jesus blesses the turns into lots and lots of food, with baskets of leftovers.

When I was a little kid and heard this story, the picture I had in my mind was of the small fish and barley loaves Jesus blessed magically multiplying before everyone's eyes, like popcorn in the popper. And that's as far as I took the point of it all: Jesus was like a magician who could make exciting stuff happen: Watch him pull a rabbit out of his hat. Watch him pull dinner for 5,000 out of a couple of pieces of bread and some fish.

But I, and we, in hindsight, reading this story through the lens of faith, know that Jesus wasn't performing a magic trick for the entertainment or even for the material comfort of the crowd, nor is that what the Gospel writer wants us to get out of this text. The author sees this event as a sign -- as a significant event in which the Reign of God breaks through into the brokenness and want of our human experience and lets us know that God loves us and means us well and cares for us.

John Waish, a Maryknoll priest, has said that the deepest human needs are to love, to be loved and to blossom outward -- to live lives that mean something. In the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, in last week's Gospel lesson as well as this week's, we find a Jesus who loves -- who loves other people even when they interrupt his retreat with his friends; who makes room for them in his itinerary; who heals them and teaches them and who cares about their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. There's sometimes an either/or mindset in Christianity that wants to only care about one of these aspects of living, the spiritual OR the material. That's not the witness of Scripture; God's shalom, God's intended wholeness for individuals and societies, is about both spiritual and physical wholeness. We see Jesus, in our lesson, caring about both.

We also, I think, see what happens when people loved by God love God back, and by extension love another back. One of the most poignant images that come to my mind as I read this Scripture text is that of the young boy, in the midst of the five thousand men and who knows how many women and little kids, offering up his meager supper. All he knew was that the crowd needed food and that Jesus, whom he loved and whom he had followed to this place, was asking for food for the people; so the boy offered what he had.

Imagine what would have happened if the whole crowd, seeing and hearing Jesus taking blessing that modest contribution, wound up responding in the same way -- by offering what food they had stashed away in their traveling bags. Imagine what would have happened if, in doing this, divisions in that society, reflected in that crowd, started to melt away - divisions between haves and have-nots, between the "righteous" and the "sinners," the "clean" and the "unclean"; between Jews and non-Jews; between ages and genders and clans and regions. Imagine if that crowd had, for just that short time, mirrored what God's shalom really looks like. Would that be a miracle, do you think? I do. Especially in light of current events, I'd submit that that would be a far bigger miracle than the cartoon miracle of my childhood's imagination. I think that's why the people in our Gospel lesson, in their clueless and clumsy way, tried to make Jesus a "king" in the political sense -- they tried to capture this event and make it last forever, not understanding, just as we sometimes don't understand, that Jesus was inviting them not to be merely passive recipients, but to be active participants in the life of love and service that God intends.

Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing John McCutcheon, one of the best songwriters in the folk genre, and I think one of the best songwriters, period. He sang a song, "Calling the Children Home," based on his memories of his mother standing in the doorway calling his large family to the supper table, back when he was a child. The refrain goes:

Home to the table and the big, black pot
Everybody's got enough, 'though we ain't got a lot
No one is forgotten, no one is alone
When she's calling all the children home

McCutcheon goes on to wish, in song, for a day when everyone, everywhere, is called home in that same loving, caring way:

Home to the table, home to the feast
Where the last are first and the greatest are the least
Where the rich will envy what the poor have got
Everybody's got enough, 'though we ain't got a lot
No one is forgotten, no one is alone
When we're calling all the children home...
No one is forgotten, no one is alone
From the shacks in Soweto to the ice of Nome
From Baghdad City to the streets of Rome
When we're calling all the children home

When Jesus lifted up that child's barley loaves and fish and blessed them, he was calling the people home -- home to God's Reign, where we are loved, and love, and where we blossom outward in service to God and to one another. When we gather together at the Eucharist, the great thanksgiving, and partake of that simple, sacred meal of bread and wine, Christ is also calling us home into his Reign. In our own lives this week, as we leave church today, by God's grace we'll be lifting up our own divinely-given gifts, whatever they may be, just the way the boy in the Gospel lesson offered his simple meal to Jesus.

Let us pray that as we do this -- as we offer our time, our talents, our resources, ourselves -- to God, that God may use them to further God's Reign, where everybody's got enough; where no one is forgotten, where no one is alone. Let us allow God to use our lives as voices to call all God's children home. Amen.


cheesehead said...

I love, love, love John McCutcheon, and "Calling All the Children Home" is my favorite of his songs.

I'm putting the CD on right now...

Trish said...

Hey, I liked your message. I also preached today on this Gospel lesson. Thanks for posting yours! :) Have a good one.

Rainbow Pastor said...

Great sermon, LC!

LutheranChik said...

Thanks. And since our little kiddos just came back from church camp, preceded by our confirmation kids, I remarked in the course of the sermon that maybe the Reign of God looks a little like a week at camp, or a day at a folk festival.;-)

BTW, that artwork is called "The 5000" and was painted by Eularia Clarke...I thought I typed that in there, but apparently not. So anyway, now you know.

Verdugo said...

Beautiful, simply beautiful.

net said...

John McCutcheon ROCKS! I've seen him in concert and you are certainly right: He ranks at the top!!!!

My favorite is "The Kindergarten Wall." I sang it for our second daughter's high school baccaleaurate service and for our Children's Sunday last year.

RuthRE said...

excellent :)

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I ALWAYS imagined the feeding of the 5000 as being like a dinner in the fellowship hall: everybody brings a covered dish or two, it doesn't look like much when you leave the house with the Corningware dish with your name on masking tape on the bottom, but after church there's just TONS of food. (Hopefully including lots of brownies and chocolate chip cookies in addition to the tuna casserole and the then-exotic and hip "taco salads".)