Sermon July 26: Love Feast

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Faith United Methodist Church

July 26, 2015

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: John 6:1-21

Sermon:  Love Feast

Pastors are entrusted with ordering the lives if their congregations ~ in sacraments, in preaching the word and overseeing the administration of the church. The route word of ordination is ‘order,’ coming from the Latin ordinacioun. Yet this is a little misleading. No matter how ‘orderly’ one tries to be new pastors soon learn that church life is messy because church life involves, well…. people.

And we don’t know anything that Jesus doesn’t already know. ‘Orderly’ would not be how we would describe the scene in our Gospel lesson this morning. In fact, the word ‘disorderly’ would likely be the best description. We know the story; it is one that is familiar to us. Jesus and the disciples were seeking out some well-deserved rest. They had been healing and teaching and were probably exhausted. So they set off across the sea, only to find that a large crowd was following them and was not going to leave them alone. Five thousand people, we are told. This was no small group. And the crowd marched right up the mountain to where Jesus sat with the disciples. These were people who had heard about Jesus, who were hoping to find in Jesus something they had not found anywhere else, in anyone else. Healing for their diseases. Peace for their souls. Hope for their lives. Food for their hunger.

United Methodist speaker, Rev. Grace Imathiu described the crowd this way, “Following hard after Jesus and here they come scrambling up the mountain; men, women, children, young, old, middle aged, healthy, the sick, the lonely, the confused, the ones with addictions of various kinds…all of them climbing up the mountain to be with Jesus.” And not only did the people come scrambling up the mountain, full of need and expectation, just when Jesus was hoping to get some well deserved rest, but they came right at dinner time.

Now, there are two things that get on my nerves… unruly crowds and uninvited dinner guests. But Jesus takes it all in stride. Turning to Philip, he asks, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip immediately feels the weight of that question right where it hurts the most… in the wallet. Andrew, overhearing the question, apologetically points to a young boy who is willing to share a few meager barely loves and a couple of fish. But Jesus, undeterred, tells his disciples, “Make the people sit down.”

And this is where the story turns. I can almost hear the noisy crowd quieting, anticipation growing. The Gospel tells us, “Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Jesus broke the bread and divided the fish. The crowd ate their fill, and found there were even leftovers to be gathered up, twelve baskets full.

Eating together is a powerful symbol. It seems to me that Jesus’ actions were saying that there is no one outside the kingdom of God. No one should go home hungry. There is enough food, enough hope, enough love to go around. William Loader explains it this way: “The point is that Jesus defines his own ministry and ours ….. in terms of spreading love and compassion.” They were filled and, for a moment, they were satisfied.

I say for a moment, because we know what happens next. The picnic doesn’t last forever. It never does. The crowd, realizing the miracle that had just happened, jumps to its feet. The people are on the move again. Yet Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, withdraws by himself, leaving the crowd behind. The people want to hold on to the miracle, they want to hold on to that power for themselves, so they take off after Jesus. The orderly becomes disorderly again.

The truth is that we all come to Christ with unmet needs, with anxieties, with questions and doubts. Our lives are unpredictable and messy. Yet, as Christ’s followers, we gather in worship to sit and stand and sing and pray. We gather, not because our worship is orderly, but because our lives are disorderly.

So, when was the last time you came face-to-face with the love of God? When was the last time you feasted on God’s abundance? When was the last time you sat in the grass? When was the last time you found yourself at a picnic? When was the last time you beheld a miracle?

Whenever we gather, we are invited to be part of a feast that extends beyond this small table. It’s a feast that extends beyond time and space to include all who have ever responded to the invitation and shared the bread and the cup in Jesus’ name. It’s a feast of love. It includes the blind, the lame and the healthy; the righteous and the tax collectors; Sunday School teachers and those we probably would shy away from on the streets. The orderly and the disorderly. The truth us, we might be surprised at who we find there. And it includes you and me. Amen.