“Two Contrasting Parties”
3 August 2014
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
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.
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.
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.
the vast majority
suffered at or below subsistence levels
with insufficient caloric or nutritional intake.
The population suffered from diseases of deprivation
or, diseases of contagion
[ 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,
directly addressing the leading economic injustice of his day:
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)
Both addresses immediate hunger with food to fill
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.”
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.
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,
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 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?”
I mean, you and me, together.
We live in a world that starves people out,
holds people down,
scares people into complacency,
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.
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,
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.