Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
August 2, 2020
Lessons: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 17:1-7 & 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people look to Jesus as a model for compassion in action, prayers that move the feet, and radical love that has the power to change the world.
Key Scripture: 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. – Matthew 14:13-14
Between where we left off with Jesus telling stories and teaching—yeast, pearls, fishnets, treasure, a field of wheat interspersed with “false wheat”—two significant events happen that could knock the wind out of even our Lord. First, his hometown of Nazareth turns on him after he taught there, and second, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, loses his head as Herod tries to save face at his dinner party. Remember Salome and her dancing? Even for a fully divine and fully human savior, these two events are enough to make anyone need a little time apart to grieve, process, and regroup.
Jesus heads out of town in a boat bound for a deserted place, but he doesn’t get far before the crowds figure it out and follow him. No rest for the weary and worn, not even Jesus. Instead of expressing dismay or sending them away, the gospel writer tells us that Jesus is filled with compassion and heals the sick. Soon another day is done, stomachs are growling, and there’s no Falafal Hut in sight.
The disciples urge Jesus to send the people away to find their own food. Jesus isn’t having that; after all, we know our Lord is pretty insistent on table fellowship. “You give them their supper,” he replies. Of course, all the disciples see is the pitiable scarcity of five loaves of bread (and we’re talking more like pita rounds than a loaf of Wonder Bread—not a lot) and two fish. How in heaven’s name, they were probably wondering, are we going to feed everyone here?
Not a problem in the kindom of God! Jesus prays, blesses, and breaks the bread, and gives the paltry meal to his disciples to distribute. Not only is it enough for everyone to have their fill; there are twelve baskets of leftovers. Abundance is a hallmark of God’s reign and how Jesus approaches life and ministry, recalling the words of the prophet in Isaiah 55: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).
After supper, Jesus sends the disciples back across the Sea of Galilee and the crowds to their homes while he goes up the mountain to pray. Even then, as we’ll learn next week, Jesus comes down from the mountain in the wee hours between dusk and dawn to encounter the disciples floundering in a storm. Again, no rest for the weary, but there’s compassion and empathy aplenty.
I wonder how many good church leaders, ministers, and musicians are looking at their equivalent of loaves and fishes and trying to figure out how to feed and care for their dispersed congregations and for the myriad needs of the world around us. It can be so tempting to see scarcity. After all, advertising makes us want more and feel like we don’t have enough. We are conditioned to see scarcity, when all around us God is showing abundance through creation and through ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Look how our earth has recovered as we’ve been forced by the pandemic to slow down, to cease, to Sabbath.
Yes, like Jesus, we need to take care of ourselves and remain deeply connected to God and to the Holy Spirit that’s always with us. We also need to learn the fine art of compassion in action and how to see and embrace the divine abundance all around us. We are enough. We have enough. And God’s love is enough to turn this silly old world right around.
What will it take to do so? All of us must step up and learn to move compassion from an abstract emotion we talk about to actions that come as naturally to us as breathing. I’m heartened by the way I see folks all over the planet stepping up, from moms and dads and vets and nurses in Portland on the front lines to chefs preparing meals for medical personnel, essential workers, and protesters. People are beginning to wake up from what amounts to a capitalistic dream gone awry with the vision, the dreams, and the willingness to do what it takes to turn a few loaves and fishes into the kindom of God. Are you ready? Are you willing? Do you hear Jesus calling you to compassion in action? If you don’t, listen a little closer and clean that wax of individualism out of your ears. We have serious work to do with great love, and God goes with us.
Bless you, preachers, teachers, musicians, and liturgists as you have so faithfully stepped out of your comfort zones to meet the challenges and opportunities of this new world before us. You are modeling compassion in action. Thank you.
If you are able to gather outside, consider pouring water into a large bowl (font) and have a table with individually packaged granola bars, fruit, and other reasonably healthy snacks (enough for every worshiper to take one). Consider using the passage from Isaiah 55 as a congregational reading, alternating verses for leader and all. Use verse one again at the end for all to say, followed by Amen.
If you are worshiping digitally, perhaps you can adapt the Isaiah passage or invite worshipers to see where they have seen real “loaves and fishes” moments where, against all odds, food (or anything else) happened to be enough and then some. You might offer an example from your own life.
One example happened to me when the church I was serving agreed to host not only the annual community Thanksgiving worship but also a full holiday dinner. We had no clue what to expect. All the local churches were tasked with bringing various components and desserts. One church was supposed to bring green beans, but they brought only a small dish and whole lot of desserts. Fortunately another church came to the rescue with a salad almost big enough to feed Philadelphia (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it was huge). The food held out and all were happy and well fed. It was truly a loaves and fishes moment.
If you are able to meet with your youth this week, consider the gospel lesson. Here are a few questions to get you started: What message does it have for us today as Jesus followers? How are we to feed the world? Is it just food? Or are we supposed to somehow do more? Have you experienced a “loaves and fishes” kind of moment? If so, what did it feel like? Have you ever been completely overwhelmed like the disciples and not see any kind of solution to a problem? To whom did you turn in that situation? What surprises you about this week’s gospel lesson? What sounds new or fresh this time? What puzzles you or makes you wonder?
This week’s focus verse is Isaiah 55:1 – Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Have you ever been hungry or thirsty but discovered you had no money for food? As children you are dependent on the loving adults in your life to provide this critical need. Even if we don’t like our Brussels sprouts or kale, we will probably be served some for our own good. If we could choose what to eat, the menu might look pretty different. What sorts of foods would you eat? Would you have ice cream for breakfast or pizza for every meal? That might sound like a good idea, but it would not be good for you.
God wants to give us good things, too. God wants us to experience all the wonders and beauty of this big world. God wants us to have good friends and loving families—including your church family. God wants all of us to thrive. But that means to stop craving that junk food and anything that keeps us away from God and wellness. It really grieves God’s heart when children don’t have good food, good people and communities, education, and other opportunities to thrive.
So just as your families do their best to feed you good food and give you love and care, God needs all of us to extend our family and community circles to make sure that all are fed and have opportunity to grow, thrive, and know God’s love. Let’s ask God to help us.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for wanting good things for us (for wanting good things for us). Help us to be grateful (Help us to be grateful). Help us to draw bigger circles (Help us to draw bigger circles), and build bigger tables (and build bigger tables), so that all may be fed (so that all may be fed) and know your love (and know your love). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen)
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Do you see the glass as half full or half empty? Stewards of God’s abundance see that glass as always full. Even air is one of God’s good gifts. Instead of focusing on what we lack, this week let’s look for and give thanks for all that we have. Thank you for your continued support of the ministries that help our community and world, especially during these challenging times.
Stewardship at Home
God’s Diet Plan
Have you ever tried a diet? In our house we practice intermittent fasting for health and wellness. It’s made a big difference.
Did you know God has a diet plan for you? Seriously. Reread this week’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 55:1-5). This diet may sound like it’s only about food and water, but as you read on, you see that God wants to give God’s people real life. Because of God’s faithfulness, all of us are invited to the great feast that never ends. How well have you embraced God’s diet plan for your life?
Spend some time praying with verses one and two. What are the good things God gives you? What are the things you crave that aren’t good for you? Invite God to help you move beyond your cravings, desires, and wants to fully embrace the lasting and abundant life God desires for you. What one change might you make to start? Who could be an accountability partner for you?
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/08/feed-and-be-fed/
Images: PublicDomain.com, seetheholyland.net, and K. Kendall, Creative Commons usage license.© Thanks!
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