Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Fortaste Of The Feast To Come!

It is something that we do all the time every day in fact.
We sit and eat.
Some time we take it for granted.
We eat without really thinking about it.
We think that we are eating to satisfy our hunger.
But eating is so much more than merely taking in calories for survival.
Eating is filled with meaning.
Jesus knew this.
It is why we can never separate Jesus out from his eating habits.
Any moral or ethical debate about what it means to live a Christian life has to start and end with something that we do every day.
It has to start at our dining room tables.

Jesus knew that food was more than food.
That eating with people sent a message about who he was, and who God is.
It is why the Gospels are filled with stories about Jesus eating with tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, and other undesirable people.
For in eating with them Jesus was making a point.

In today’s Gospel story we see that feeding 5,000 men was about more than merely offering hungry people food.
Sometimes with this story we get caught up in things that don’t matter.
We want to know if this is a historical story or not.
Interpreters have argued about it for years.
This morning I don’t want to talk about that I want us to see what the meaning is of this meal that Jesus shares with the crowd that day.

The key to the story for me is this one line, “when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them.”
Jesus feeds the crowd out of compassion.
Out of love Jesus takes time to be with them, cure the sick, and ultimately feed them.

To feed someone is to love them.
I learned this lesson for the first time when we got our cats.
It was before we had children.
And it was my job to feed them.
I would come home from a long day at work and I was tired.
I just wanted to sit on the couch watch the baseball game.
But these cats would come and meow at me or nudge at me until I got up and fed them.
I would say to the cats, “You know I love you because I am going to get up and feed you right now.”

Of course, it came into even more focus when I became a parent.
I would see my wife get up at all hours of the night to feed the baby.
Even though she needed sleep or was hungry herself she gave of herself because of the great love she had for our kids.
And now most of what I do is try to provide food for them.
In that simply act of putting food on a table we show our love and concern for someone else.

Eating has meaning when we cross cultures.
I have been blessed in my life to serve at two congregations that were ethnic specific ministry.
One was an African American church; the other was a Latino church.
In both places the food was different then what I grew up with.
But in both places I grew closer to the people when I would share their food.
I ate pig’s feet, collard greens, rice, and a whole bunch of things in order to show that I cared.
And they fed me in order to show that they loved me and cared about me.
In both cases the populations that I served were not overwhelming rich, but they had rich food which they gladly shared with me every chance they got.
When I was in New York I went and met with the Imam from the local Mosque.
When I got there he offered me tea and food.
I turned him down.
He then said that it was part of their custom to offer strangers food.
I then agreed to the food even though I was not hungry, because I realized that he was showing me compassion by offering me this food.
Sharing food with others bonds us together.
I am thankful for those experiences where I got to cross cultures and bond with others over food.

Even more then this think of the times when you shared meals with people.
They are usually around very significant events.
When you are married, when you are celebrating a graduation, when it is your birthday, to celebrate your anniversary, when someone dies are all times when we share a meal around significant life events.
Last week on my vacation we attended a wedding and we saw what all meals should look like.
A wedding banquet is filled with love and joy.
I would hope that all our tables would look like this every night.
Last night I was at my sister’s 40th birthday party.
You know what my wife and I did for the party.
We cooked my sister’s favorite food.
So that she might know how much we love and care for her.
Eating has great meaning to us.
It is why we do it at such important moments in our life.
It can help us celebrate, it can help us mourn, it can help us feel joy and ease sorrow.

My dad really liked to sit and enjoy a good meal.
One of the things that we shared was a love of cherry stone claims.
If it was on the menu we would order it and share it.
My dad always would insist that I have the last one.
I am sure he wanted it for himself.
But he would always say, “Jon, eat the last one!”
I would try and protest, but in the end I would get the last one.
It wasn’t just that either, almost always if there was something to eat and we both liked it he would insist that I eat the last part.
At the time I didn’t pay too much attention to it.
But looking back it was one of the ways that he showed how much he loved me.
It was a little moment but it carried lots and lots of meaning.
The feeding of the 5,000 is the same way.
Jesus here does something that is somewhat mundane.
He gives people food, but whatever happened on that day it was so meaningful that all four Gospels write about it.
It was one of the ways that Jesus showed us God’s compassion.
Here are these people and they need food, and God cares about them so God feeds them.
As if God is saying, “Here you take the last bite, it is for you”.

And Jesus invites his disciples to participate in this great act of compassion.
“You give them something to eat.”
In other words it is God who provides the meal, but the disciples who distribute and who collect the leftovers.
Jesus invites us to participate in this act too.
Jesus invites us to have a table that looks like his ministry.
Jesus invites us to have a table of people that are lost, down, and broken that is filled with compassion and love.
A table that looks like a wedding feast filled with joy!
Tables were people are always willing to give up the last bite in order to show love to someone else.

Jesus fed 5,000 people.
That is the story.
But the meaning is so much more.
It is about God’s compassion and love for us and all people, and an invitation to us to have that same compassion and love that Jesus has so that all the meals that we share might be a foretaste of the feast to come.

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