Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, August 2, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie. Isaiah 55:1–5 | Romans 9:1–5 | Matthew 14:13–21
I want you to forget for a second that there’s anything strange about 5,000 + (let’s call it 15,000 to account for women and children, too) people being fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Put the miraculous element out of your mind. I want you to forget, because—with our scientifically-oriented minds—we get attached to just the sensational aspect. How did this happen? And maybe, then, we see it as mostly a “proof” of Jesus being God. (The gospel of Mark calls these kind of things “signs.”) But there’s so much more to learn from this story that happens in a desolate place; about God and about us.
First, did you notice what prompts Jesus to get in a boat to this place: John the Baptist has just been murdered by Herod. John was raising objections about the ruler’s unjust and immoral behavior; well-known and yet unmitigated: This travesty of justice is nothing new, as Jesus points out right before his own death: “The killing of prophets who speak out and the stoning of ones sent by God.” This is how fear-based power stays in power; silencing the objections. And so, can you imagine what Jesus is thinking and feeling? He probably also knows—with his own popularity—that his own time is coming. In the face of uncertainty and fear, he chooses to seek his Source and so “withdraws in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
I think this is a great tactic when we are wound up by what’s going on in the world. When we are anxious- and there are reasons for anxiety for sure: Fear of illness, job-loss, discrimination, violence, economic downturn: We have reason to wonder if something is coming our way next. As humans (per social systems theory, which is based on biology), we then move to anxiety-binding tactics that are some form of: Escape and avoidance; irritation at differences, blame; reactivity and emotionality that we can’t name and don’t own.
Isaiah puts it so beautifully—this squandering of ourselves and our energy: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” It might seem like Jesus is avoiding the trouble—and it’s good for us all to disconnect at times from all the emotionally charged news—but he’s also going to a place—whether that’s geographical or inside himself—to remember who he is in God: The political news fades into the background; he connects again with who he is in God; and very shortly becomes again the tangible gospel-bearer. That is, the distant suffering becomes specific with the people who have followed him around the lake on foot. Here, the good-news takes form: He “has compassion for them and cures their sick.”
And then there’s this great reality-check in the rhythm of any day: The disciples reasonably suggest he send them home because it’s dinner-time. This reminds of childhood—out playing kickball in a neighbor’s yard or something—and the main thing is to get back home by 6:00. These days, it’s a holler to the upstairs and downstairs… But Jesus invites everyone to stay and does what anyone would do at a meal: Looks to God, blesses the five loaves and two fish that have been found—and seems unsurprised that this food is enough: At this point for the disciples and listeners, there should be no surprise, really. Doesn’t it make sense that all are fed? In an atmosphere of God-centered, non-fearful, mature leadership—there is, indeed, enough for all.
Really, the deception is that there is not enough: Isaiah is speaking from a specific tradition—the Hebrews or Jews—but one that also keeps including something bigger (Paul in Romans)—the nations or “goyim” who are clearly the “outsiders.” “See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel.” This God has an “allness” plan for ENOUGH-NESS: “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.” Brené Brown calls our scarcity mentally as the “never enough” problem: From the whole world on down to you. It permeates our whole sense of well-being: In our culture, we really are taught to think in terms of “never enough” in what we ARE (good, perfect, thin, etc. enough), or what we HAVE (time, money, etc.). Brown’s research suggests that scarcity mentality thrives in shame-prone environments that are deeply steeped in comparison and fractured by disengagement (Daring Greatly).
Jesus does not disengage, despite the great threat to him amidst the social and political turmoil. He communes with God. He heals—specific individuals—but also as a sign of a God who seeks to heal a world (goyim) that kills people like John the Baptist. Jesus understands the pain we cause ourselves as we think in terms of deficiency and leads us to one of sufficiency. A counter-narrative of worthiness, compassion, and connection. Watching, listening, abiding with Jesus, we know that we ARE enough and we HAVE enough. We are being offered the LIFE evident in rich food; for any who show up. It’s free. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Around the world, Karma Kitchen invites people to come and eat “without price.” The website explains how it works: “Run by volunteers, our meals are cooked and served with love, and offered to the guest as a genuine gift. To complete the full circle of giving and sustain this experiment, guests make contributions in the spirit of pay-it-forward to those who will come after them.” One of Karma Kitchen’s goals is to shift people “from fear of scarcity to celebration of abundance,” as Jesus’ miraculous feeding does.