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Enough for Everyone

Rev. Cat Goodrich
Faith Presbyterian Church, Baltimore
August 2, 2020

Enough for Everyone
Matthew 14:13-21

The first meal I had in Mexico … the first meal that I remember anyway… was pozole, a hot chicken soup with hominy, bright with lime juice, spiced with chile and cilantro, and topped with creamy avocado.

I ate it, steaming, out of a bright blue plastic bowl, on a folding table, with a stack of tortillas kept warm in a dish towel nearby.  All around me, church folk were chattering – laughing and talking, greeting everyone who came through the door.  At the time, I didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but the sentiment – warm hugs and handshakes of welcome, the women scurrying about making sure everyone had enough to eat, kids running between tables making a ruckus, people passing bowls of soup and stacks of tortillas, laughing and joking and talking together… it was church.  Hospitality and welcome shared through food passed around the table.  Even though I was a stranger, who didn’t yet speak the language, I knew that somehow, I was home.

My first meal with my husband was a plate of mediocre pasta at Kramerbooks in DC… if you don’t count the pitcher of Guinness we shared a few days prior.  The meal didn’t matter.  The company was perfect.  My first meal with my church in Birmingham was a classic church potluck, complete with fried chicken, a few unidentifiable casseroles, three bean salad, deviled eggs, and homemade brownies.   With the PNC, our first meal started with an appetizer of onion rings, carefully fried by Peter Burger, eaten hot and crispy while standing in the kitchen together at Paula’s house.  I’m sure if you think about it, you can recall a few memorable first meals of your own.

Eating is what we do together.  Sharing food around a table, or a picnic spread out on the grass, is a central way that humans form and strengthen relationships, build community, and nourish our bodies and our spirits.  Feeding each other is one way we show we care.

So it is exceptionally strange that as we begin this adventure of being church together, we won’t be sharing a meal anytime soon.  I wish that things were different, that we all had made our way to church this morning with casseroles and cakes tightly wrapped, ready to be shared around tables downstairs after worship.

See, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.  Breakfast was a while ago, but not just that.

I’m hungry for community, for this community.  To get to know you all, to spend time with you around a table.  To know who prefers sweet tea, and who makes the best biscuits, using their mama’s recipe and a cast iron pan.  I want to brush elbows as we pass plates from hand to hand, to laugh and joke and talk together while kids run between the tables.

Are you hungry, too?  The news has been so achingly bad, so painfully sad, heartbreaking and rage-making for so long: case numbers surging across the country,
Sickness spreading like wildfire through retirement homes and summer camps, prisons and detention centers…
black and brown fox affected and dying from the virus at higher rates, not to mention at the hands of police and racist vigilantes,
federal agents snatching activists off the streets in unmarked vans, throwing tear gas to disperse peaceful protests,
in the past two weeks, the deaths of civil rights leaders Rev. C.T. Vivian and congressman John Lewis, and on Friday, the Rev. Steve Montgomery – a recently retired Presbyterian pastor in Memphis who was a champion of interfaith community building and social justice.

It’s too much.  Overwhelming doesn’t begin to cover it.  And some days it may feel like there’s not much we can do about any of it.

Some days we may feel like the disciples … there are too many hungry people!  We don’t have anything to give them, send them away, so they can go into the villages and buy something to eat.

But Jesus still says – You give them something to eat.  You give them something to eat.

Something you may already know about me is that I’m a mom. Dary and I have two daughters, Madeline, who goes by Maddie, and Gillian.  They’re 6 and 3.  Being a mom means that I can never leave the house empty handed.  We always bring a bag with us for parenting emergencies – a blue backpack with a change of clothes for both girls, a first aid kit, wipes, hand sanitizer, masks, water, and snacks – lots of snacks.  I like to travel heavily snacked.  My children expect this of me now so that at this point, it’s almost Pavlovian – as soon as we get in the car, they ask: can I have a snack?  Even when I’m on my own, I seldom leave the house without a bottle of water and a bag of almonds, or an apple, or a granola bar, because you never know…

So it is astonishing to me that a crowd of people, more than 5000 strong, would find themselves in the wilderness with nothing to eat.  More than 5000 people, grumbling, restless, excited to see Jesus but probably getting a little bit hangry.  How could this happen?  Was Jesus such an incredible teacher and healer, they stayed with him far longer than they intended when they left home that morning?  Did they get lost, or just lose track of time?

We will never know what miracle transpired that day.  Whatever happened, it was important enough for each of the gospel writers to include this story in their account of the life of Jesus — Matthew and Mark include it more than once.  This story was an essential part of the early church’s identity.  See, it shows us what the kingdom of God is like, especially in contrast to the rule of Rome.  This becomes obvious when we look at the story in context – in Matthew’s gospel, the story of the beheading of John the Baptist comes right before this one.  In case you don’t remember, King Herod has a birthday party and promises his daughter whatever she wants because she danced so well for him.  She requests the head of John the Baptist on a platter, and he gives it to her.  The senseless violence of the empire is on full display.

Contrast that with the feast in our story this morning: a simple meal of bread and fish spread out on the grass.  A meal where Jesus hosts, everyone is welcome, and there is more than enough food for all who are hungry.  In this meal, we glimpse the kingdom, where God’s power can make something out of nothing.  By juxtaposing these two stories, Matthew tells us: the world may be ruled by death-dealing powers, but God’s power gives life: healing, nourishment, and community.

For most of those hungry people out in the wilderness, it was probably their first meal with Jesus.  Can you imagine what it must have been like?  As people begin to grumble and become restless, Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.”  “But we have nothing!  Nothing but five loaves and two fish,” they say.  “Nothing?” Jesus says, “I can work with that!”

This is my favorite part of this story.  Jesus doesn’t perform the miracle while the disciples watch.  He works with them and through them, charging and challenging them to find food and distribute it – YOU give them something to eat.

So, moving through the crowd, the disciples draw people into circles and seat them on the grass.  Suddenly, the hangry crowd becomes community:  Looking at each other, talking together, getting to know one another as they sit and watch the sunset.  As Jesus takes bread, gives thanks for it, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, maybe those who did bring some snacks for the road are inspired to share with their neighbors.  Maybe as the baskets are passed hand-to-hand around the circle, someone takes less than they otherwise would have, so that there would be enough to feed the kids running around, making a ruckus.  As one commentator observed, maybe the miracle of this story has less to do with Jesus multiplying loaves and fish, and more to do with what happens to us in his presence: we’re inspired to love and care for one another.[1]  To share what we have.  To wear a mask and stay socially distanced.  And when we love and care for one another – we find the reign of God, the kin-dom of God among us!

At the beginning of July, the city of Prague in the Czech Republic ended months of lockdown.  To celebrate, the city had a feast.[2]  They made one extremely long table out in the streets, stretching far out in either direction, set with tablecloths and candles and bottles of wine.  Everyone brought something to share, and friends and neighbors and strangers all sat down together.  As the sun set, they shared a meal and toasted their city’s recovery.

I don’t know how wise it was for them to have a feast together so soon after lockdown – someone can check Johns Hopkins’ numbers and report back.  But it sounds incredible doesn’t it?  A community feast!

Friends, we are all hungry.  Hungry for community, for family we haven’t been able to see in months, hungry for real, live, in-person church.  I know we are.  There are hungry people all around.  People are hungry for food, they’re hungry for meaning, they’re hungry for work, hungry for healing, for an end to this pandemic, hungry for care, for justice, for an encounter with the mystery and wonder of God.

Yes, it can be overwhelming.  It may feel like we aren’t cut out for this.  But remember: God has no hands but our own.  And if we offer what we can, even if it feels inadequate, God will do great things through us.

We are about to celebrate communion.  I hate that we are not all together here in the sanctuary, coming forward one by one to share the bread and the cup and feast together at this table for the first time.  But if you look closely, you’ll see that this table stretches out in all directions, from here to wherever you are, right there in your living room, your front porch, your kitchen.  And the Spirit is here, blowing through this place, working through the miracle of technology to knit us together as one body, one community, one church, no matter how far apart we are.  Thanks be to God.

[1] Salmon, Marilyn, “Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21” Preach this Week, August 3, 2008,  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=118

[2] Picheta, Rob, “Prague celebrates end of coronavirus lockdown with mass dinner party at 1,600 ft table,” CNN travel, 7/1/20, https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/czech-public-dinner-lockdown-scli-intl/index.html

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