Sharing the Food and the Feast

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

Elisha and Jesus make it look easy, don’t they? Presented with a hungry mob, they each open the equivalent of their kitchen cabinet and see it as mostly bare. But then, something happens. There are a few odds and ends, and with the intervention of God, enough is made.  Not only enough, but plenty—with leftovers.

Too many people have spent too much time during the pandemic, doing the first part of that—looking into the pantry and finding it bare. Over the last year, we saw on the news and in our city the long lines of people that looked like pictures from the Great Depression—people desperate for food for themselves and their families. Even as the city reawakens and many businesses have reopened, food pantries report about 30 % more people needing food than before the pandemic. It’s estimated that some 2 million people in the state of New York don’t have enough to eat, and one in five children go hungry. 

And so, as we gather around this Holy Table for the Bread of Heaven that sustains us spiritually, we don’t pretend for a minute that food comes easy or obviously.  God wants to make a feast and for there to be leftovers, but sometimes that includes us, as well.

In today’s version of the feast of the multitudes, it seems like Jesus does three things. 

First, he has a vision: Jesus can imagine people being fed. He can see it. Last week the Church read Mark’s Gospel and we skipped over Mark’s version of the feeding of the thousands. Had we read that version (or Matthew’s or Luke’s, for that matter) we would have seen a remarkable lack of vision on the part of the disciples. The disciples there look at the situation and only see a problem. They don’t identify with the other people and they see the hungry crowd as God’s problem, not theirs.

But today’s version of the story is different. According to John, Jesus is the first to notice the people’s need and he then almost quizzes the disciples to test their vision. For Jesus, the vision is real, even though the means of achieving the vision might not yet be clear. And so the first step in planning for leftovers is having a vision.

Next, Jesus shares the vision as extends an invitation. He makes it clear that he needs help. Turning to Philip, Jesus asks, “Where are we to buy bread…?” Philip responds like the disciples in the other Gospels: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough ….” Notice how Phillip talks about money. He’s a realist. He knows what it is to earn a wage. He knows the market. But even though he may be good with numbers, he’s slow to catch the vision of Jesus. Andrew is quicker. Andrew gets the vision and imitates Jesus by inviting others in. It’s Andrew who locates the boy with a few loaves and a few fish. Sharing in the vision of Christ, Andrew sees possibility in the boy’s offering. Like Jesus, Andrew doesn’t know exactly how it will end, but he invites the boy to be a part of the solution and moves forward.

First, there is the vision of Christ that the people would be fed.
Then invitations go out to enlist the help of others.
And finally, the third piece to this process toward leftovers. Jesus prays.

It might be tempting to see Jesus’s prayer as a stop in the story, a slowdown in the action. But it’s really just the opposite. Prayer is action in high gear. It’s concentrated effort. It’s energy condensed, channeled, and directed toward God.  

St. John Vianney (the 19thcentury priest known for his simplicity and spirituality) used to say, “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”

This is what happens when Jesus prays. People notice because of the quality and the focus and the love. The disciples see him and add their prayers. Then the people see the disciples praying and add their prayers. On and on it goes as priorities shift in prayer from our will (our hunger, our hope, our desire) to God’s will (the world’s hunger, the world’s hope, the world’s desire.)

The story of Jesus feeding the multitudes invites us to get involved:

  • To share in the vision that all would be fed. That all would get enough to eat physically, and that all would be fed spiritually.
  • To accept the invitation of Christ and to invite others. Jesus doesn’t make the miracle all by himself. It takes Andrew to look around and see the kid with loaves and fish, and it takes the kid’s industry and willingness to share.
  • It takes prayer—the prayers of Christ that all would be fed, and our prayers joining to make more, raise the spirit, and finally for us to remember that even though we have work to do, we are sharing in what is ultimately the work of God.

In praying to God, Jesus was reminding himself and everyone else that the work they were about to do—this multiplication of bread and fish—was not their work at all. It’s God’s work in which they are privileged to share.

In the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus again took bread. He blessed it, broke it, and shared it. And we do the same.

At this Holy Table and the various tables we might make holy as we use them in the garden, at the tables in the Mission House, in the tables of restaurants and homes, and wherever we celebrate the feast, may the Holy Spirit enable us to move with God’s vision, invite others, say our prayers and always plan for leftovers.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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