“Two Contrasting Parties”

3 August 2014

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


Prayer.


Some sermons tend to write themselves.

Others need a little help.

Today’s message began with seeds planted

in a podcast I subscribe to called “Working Preachers.”

What began as a single dimension auditory experience

needed mapped out by my mathematically trained mind

into a two dimensional visual map

- a napkin illustration, if you will -

that ended up looking something like this:



The difficult part, I explained to my wife, Cynthia,

is connecting the hermeneutic to the Gospel

so that everyone who experiences the Word

will be able to leave worship

with some ideas about how to apply the Word

to daily life.

If the connection can’t be made

the Gospel loses relevance

and you should ask the Bishop for a new pastor!


1. In our Gospel lesson for today

I’d like to begin with an illustration

about the second of two contrasting narratives.

We hear Matthew tell about an eager crowd

who sought Jesus out.

With compassion

he cured their sick,

and when hunger began to gnaw at their empty bellies,

he miraculously fed them.

Jesus comes face to face with the most painful symbol of injustice

in the Roman world: inequality concerning food access.

A small minority of the wealthy, powerful, and elite

enjoyed abundant variety and good quality food.

However,

the vast majority

suffered at or below subsistence levels

with insufficient caloric or nutritional intake.

The population suffered from diseases of deprivation

(inadequate nutrition)

or, diseases of contagion

(inadequate immunity).

[ Thanks to: Warren Carter, Professor of New Testament, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, TX, as found at workingpreacher.org ]


It was the compassion of Jesus

that healed the sick

and fed the hungry

in our Gospel message for today,

thereby,

directly addressing the leading economic injustice of his day:

hunger.

Indeed,

Jesus didn’t just heal them or feed the population,

he did so

with Divine extravagance.

“All ate and were filled,” Matthew reports.


Few of us can relate to this,

because most of us run around on a full stomach,

in anticipation of when we can next stuff ourselves.

In the time of Jesus,

the idea of eating until you were full

was a luxury only reserved for the most wealthy.


When Jesus feeds the 5,000

with two and a half filet-o-fish sandwiches

he is acting within the tradition of our God.

* Do the math: five loaves and two fish *


It always has been God’s will

that the hungry be fed.

It is God’s will

that food be left unharvested in the field,

so that the hungry might be able to glean.

Ezekiel and Isaiah both envision a day

with abundant food

such that no one would be consumed with hunger in the land.

(See Ezekiel 34:27-29 and Isaiah 25:6-10a)


Jesus’ party

Both addresses immediate hunger with food to fill

and

provides a foretaste of what the Kingdom of God

might look like when it comes.


2. A hint of the second contrasting party takes place

at the beginning of our Gospel:

“Now when Jesus heard this,

he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”

(Matthew 14:13)

What did Jesus hear?

He heard about the outcome

of a completely different kind of party

that had just taken place.

He received word of a homicide.


This party was hosted by Herod,

the royal Jewish intermediary between Rome and their conquered people.

Herod’s wealth and power

contributed to his gluttony, debauchery, and licentiousness living.

His parties were filled with wine, women, and song;

sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.

He lived like there was no tomorrow.

For the young and squeamish,

plug your ears for a moment.
Herod wanted sex with his brother’s wife.

John the Baptist called him on the carpet for his adulterous desire.

Herod had him arrested and jailed.

At the party,

Herod’s sister-in-law sent her daughter to dance suggestively for Herod.

Intoxicated with lust and booze,

he offered her anything she wanted.

The niece,

prompted by her mother’s sinful desire,

asked for John’s head on a platter.


Jesus just received word of John’s death

when he withdrew to a deserted place by himself,

probably to grieve.


Herod’s party stands in stark contrast to the one Jesus would throw.

Where Jesus demonstrated compassion

Herod was filled with lust.

Where Jesus drew his attention to the oppressed

Herod wielded his power and authority.

Where Jesus filled the hungry

Herod kept the full filled.

Where Jesus’ party resulted in a portrait of what the kingdom can become

Herod party ended in homicide.

The signature of Jesus’ party is abundant grace.

The signature of Herod is ruin and death.


In a similar sort of way,

there are two contrasting parties going on in the world today.

Quite often the contrast remains the same.


3. Like Herod’s celebration,

I’d suggest there is in today’s world a party of the haves.

The haves are the powerful,

the wealthy,

everyone who mistakenly think they could shinny through the eye of a needle

and drag their treasures along with them.

The haves use money as a symbol of power,

and sometimes, use food as a means of power, too.

It is said that the worst incidents in history of mass starvation

are artificial,

are politically enabled and supported,

even though the world is filled with abundant food.

When wealth and power

separates one from the needs of the world,

and when all efforts are used to further distance one from

hunger, poverty, illness,

then one is dancing, and drugging, and devouring

in modern day gluttony and debauchery

no different than Herod.


We are full of denial.

“You can’t mean us? or can you, pastor Todd?”

Yes.

I mean, you and me, together.

We live in a world that starves people out,

holds people down,

scares people into complacency,

perpetuates injustice,

preys upon the poor,

and we do nothing to stop it.

When we do nothing to stand up and speak out,

then, we, too, are just as guilty as Herod.


We party on as if there is no conflict in Gaza,

as if children aren’t hungry in Central America,

as if school girls aren’t being exploited in Ghana,

and as if all is well down on Joseph Avenue.

Be forewarned.

The hangover from the sin of omission is a doozy.

Revelations often lead to regrets;

You’ve heard them before

- I would have, should have, could have …


When one has a full stomach,

a large bank account,

and a satisfied desire,

it is easy to forget about God

and place trust in something else.

It’s easy to forget about God

And it’s easy to forget about God’s children.


4. The party of power, wealth, and privilege

is today contrasted with the party of the have nots.

The party of the have nots

is like that of the 5,000 who Jesus fed.

It wasn’t a party until Jesus fed them!

So, too, is it today.

The party of have nots

isn’t a party until

we reach out like Jesus,

and fill the world;

when hunger is no more,

when disease is no more,

when violence is no more,

when everyone looks to the Lord

as the source of trust and confidence

and gives glory and praise to the God.


Beloved sisters and brothers,

Jesus feeding 5000 hungry people with 5 loaves and 2 fish,

and healing all those who were sick

is for us today,

encouragement to engage

in the same kind of kingdom building.

Anyone can throw a party for their peers,

Jesus rightly observed.

Instead, throw a party for those in need.

With the same compassion of Jesus,

reach out,

touch,

and heal the illness of the world.

With the same kindness and confidence of Jesus,

reach out in ministry,

in his name,

to all who suffer in need.

There is a party to be had,

but God is waiting for us to throw it.

The party is waiting for us

to reach out with invitation

to a world in desperate need;

to leave behind suffering, illness, and hunger

and to create a jubilee

of love and life abundant.


Yes, we have it right.

Jesus’ party yesterday

is our party to throw today.

The world needs a taste of God’s Kingdom.

Let us multiply the loaves and fishes given to us

and reach out with compassion to a broken and hungry world.

Amen.