Proper 13, Year A
Do you remember your favorite meal? I don’t mean your favorite food, necessarily, but your favorite meal – an event that included food but so much more than just eating? I was reminded of my own favorite meal this week: the proverbial wedding feast. Of course, as much as I love weddings, I don’t mean just any old wedding feast, or even the famed feast at Cana. I mean my own wedding dinner. When Luke and I were married, we decided that we wanted to put a good deal of thought and, yes, money, into the food itself. It was a wonderful mix of our own family tradtions. At dinner time in Luke's family, bowls of food were set out and everyone served themselves. But in my house, my mom would put the food on our plates in the kitchen. So, at our wedding, when our friends sat down at the tables, there were "family style" appetizers, and then dinner was served on plates, as it often is at weddings. We also pulled in our own traditions, and served good vegetarian fare as well as meat, made from locally grown produce. And, we made a point to sit down –even at our wedding –and enjoy dinner together. Our first dinner as a married couple started us out well for a well-fed marriage, in every sense of it.
Food is like that. It weaves itself into the important moments of our lives, and connects to more than our taste buds and our stomachs. There is a deep connection between our spiritual and emotional yearnings and the food that we eat, as well as how we eat it. Think of what we call “comfort food” – chicken soup when you’re feeling sick, a scoop of ice cream with your family on a hot summer night.
Sure, soup is good for you and ice cream will cool you down – but comfort foods feed us body and soul. Eating together nourishes us with more than vitamins too - according to a study cited in one of my cooking magazines, “regular family interaction at dinner can lead to better parenting, healthier children, and improved academic performance.”
Of course, Jesus already knew all this, and tried to teach us about feeding body and soul every chance he got – today’s Gospel reading is just one story from Jesus’ ministry where food connects people, and teaches us something about God and about the life of discipleship.
First, the miracle of feeding the multitudes is a story of God’s abundance: God abounds in compassion, in generosity, and in sustaining people. When Jesus prepares the meal, there is not just enough to go around, there are twelve baskets of leftovers. Twelve baskets! Everyone got to eat until they were satisfied. We are so amazed at God’s bounty that we call it a miracle – and it is indeed. But we shouldn’t be surprised. The feeding of the multitudes should serve as a reminder of God’s abundance that is all around us. Every meal we enjoy is a chance to remember God’s abundance working in our lives.
Think of the miracle of life, growth and abundance that we experience every time we enjoy fresh sweet corn or sweet red strawberries, or simply wander around the colorful produce section at the store? God has given us this amazing creation, capable of producing food enough to feed all six billion people that inhabit the earth – and it is freely given to us out of God’s love, just as Jesus gave loaves and fishes to the gathered crowd.
Yet, all around us, there are people who do not know the God of abundance that we see in Jesus’ ministry. This week, I have been following the BBC News coverage of the famine in Niger. The situation in this African country is incredibly desperate: one third of the children are malnourished. As is so often the case, the situation is complicated, produced by a combination of natural disaster, debt, corruption, poverty – and most recently, locusts and drought. It is the kind of human tragedy that overwhelms us, and makes us want to turn away in sadness. But a particular quote in one article caught my attention. A mother, waiting at a relief shelter with her starving infant son, told the reporter: “Our harvest failed and we have no food. It is the choice of God.”
Now, I don’t really know if this woman believes in the same God that you and I do, and I don’t know if this statement is her best attempt to keep faith in a horrible time of suffering. But I am pretty sure of this: God does not want children to go hungry- but it happens every day in the world, in our country, even in our community. When people go hungry, it is not a failure of God’s creation or of God’s abundance. It is a failure on our part – on the part of all the people in the world – to make sure that the abundance of that creation is passed around so that all may eat and be filled. Because isn’t that the second part of the miracle of the loaves and fishes? If the disciples had not been willing to share what they had, that meager portion of bread and fish, and the gathered people had not been willing to share these gifts with one another, they would not – and we would not – have seen just how powerful God’s abundance truly is.
We are called, each of us, as followers of Jesus to celebrate God’s abundance and goodness in every meal, and to share what we have so that others can also be satisfied. There is so much we can do – and even our meager offerings can help people beyond our imagination. We can give of our time to local soup kitchens and food pantries, we can give our money to organizations like the Heifer Project and Episcopal Relief and Development.
The youth have participated in the World Vision 30-Hour Famine, which raises money and awareness about the problem of hunger – and we plan on participating again in the coming year.
And, we can see each meal as a chance to celebrate and thanks for God’s goodness. That celebration begins here with the simplest of all meals: bread and wine. Here, we will do exactly what Jesus did on the mountains: we will take the food, give thanks and bless it, break it and share it. Simple yet powerful actions that have been done for centuries. So, the table will be set and you are invited. Come to God’s feast, be thankful, and then take the feast into the world.
*thanks to U2 for the title, lyrics from "Crumbs from Your Table"