St. Paul’s – 9th Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020
We keep skipping over the good stuff this year. At the beginning of Chapter 14 in Matthew, we have the story of Herod’s banquet wherein John the Baptizer lost his head for speaking truth to power – Herod was messing around with his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. Said John, It is not lawful for you to have her. Then then we start in the middle of chapter 14 today with….Now when Jesus heard this…..this being News of the beheading of his cousin and close friend. So he goes off in a boat to a deserted place. All of what is about to happen in the feeding of the multitudes is in a context of violence, oppression, trauma, and fear.
To go off by himself Which on the Sea of Galilee is nigh on impossible! I am told that from the shore one can see around the whole of the lake. Wherever you are, you can see where Jesus goes, and so the crowd follows. So much for some quiet time, contemplative prayer and time to deal with his own grief at the news of John’s demise.
Once the people are there, where Jesus is, he returns to doing what he does best – healing them. Here we see that the Spirit helps us balance service and solitude. Here is a little known fact: at the southern end of the sea was a spa with healing springs – like those you find in Arkansas, West Virginia, southern Indiana and the like. People came from all over the ancient world to these spas, paying good money to bathe in the healing waters. Hotels and restaurants had sprung up all around Tiberius to meet the needs of those who were coming to the springs. Despite the air of anxiety Jesus acts only out of compassion. So we have here an itinerant preacher, teacher and who knows what else, healing people for free. It’s not good for the local economy those in the moneyed classes are murmuring.
But that’s not all! He’s feeding people for free as well! Even the disciples are shocked at this news. They want him, Jesus, to send the people away to buy food for themselves. We tend to see what we don’t have. It is not relevant. God helps us to see his abundance and not what we lack.That’s how it works around the Sea of Galilee – there are plenty of places to catch a meal, buy some bread and fish. Jesus has other plans. He has been reading Isaiah 55 and taking it seriously. Why he was probably even reading the book of Exodus and taking that seriously as well. Remembering how God provides mana out in the middle of nowhere on their way to the promised land.
The 55th chapter of Isaiah is a marvelous piece of text, and it is a shame we get such a small number of verses to chew on this morning. In it the prophet-poet challenges all the basic assumptions of life in this world – which at the time meant life in the captivity of Babylon, which looked, smelled, tasted and felt an awful lot like life back in Egypt, and to Jesus and his crowd it must of sounded a lot like life under the domination of the Roman Empire (not yet Holy!).
Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.
That is, in the old-fashioned vernacular, Come and get it! The poet announces, on God’s behalf, a return to manna season – a bracketed time in the life of Israel when everyone got enough, no one got too much, and if you tried to store it, it soured. That is, there was a time when everyone had enough and no one had too much. We can argue over the specifics of that no doubt, but take a look around and ask yourself, Are we in manna season? Or, are we in ‘Needing all the cash and credit we can get our hands on just to feed ourselves’ season? Once that’s figured out, just try to imagine what it sounds like to those who are struggling in the current Pandemic affected
Empire to hear that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus is offering free milk, free wine, eat what is good and delight yourselves in fatness! So sorry Jenny Craig, it is fatness that the Lord is offering this week!
Then comes the pivotal question in Isaiah 55: Why do we bust our tails for that which does not satisfy? And why do we spend our money on that which is not bread? There is so much we can do on those two questions alone that we will have to leave it to one another to ponder those over the next few days, weeks and months!
Crisis gives us an opportunity to reexamine our priorities. For us, it’s the Pandemic and all the difficult results of its affects on us…., and in Isaiah’s day, it was the crisis of exile. Here in chapter 55, the prophet acts a bit like a financial advisor who is teaching his clients to change their habits in light of a new and emerging economy – a spiritual economy that involves exercising discretion in choosing God’s abundance rather than the idolatry that had led to judgment and exile in the first place. In Isaiah’s budget and in God’s grocery market, there’s plenty for all.
Water. Americans purchase more than 31 BILLION bottles per year at a cost of about $11,000,000,000 (that’s 11 billion)! It’s an environmental disaster, and in blind taste tests, tap water time and time again wins hands down. In lab testing, bottled water is no better than tap water unless you live in places like Flint, Michigan. Still, we throw our money away, and buy enough plastic bottles of water to carpet a path to the moon and back several times over.
Come to the waters, the prophet begins (v. 1). Earlier, the image of water is used to pronounce judgment on Judah. Since the people refused to take the needed, spiritual water God was offering them, God was going to bring a chaotic flood upon them in the form of foreign invasion. In chapter 54, God declares the retreat of the flood by comparing the return from exile to the receding waters of Noah’s flood (54:9-10). God now invites the people again to drink of the water he is offering, much like Jesus invited the Samaritan woman to drink the living water he was offering in John 4.
Wine and milk. Not only does God again offer the water of his life-sustaining presence, he also invites the people to come and receive the grace-filled gift of staples from the abundance of God’s own stores. Wine and milk are a step up from water, and indicate that God is really throwing a feast here and not just supplying the basics. Those who had long been surviving on whatever their captors had provided were now offered a new start, a new economy – an economy of grace and abundance.
Bread. That economy, however, required some discretionary thought. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, God asks, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? (v. 2). Bread, of course, was a food staple of the ancient world and was often metaphorically connected to the ability of God to provide and the nourishing power of God’s word (see 55:10, 11). Jesus would use a similar image in John by calling himself the bread of life (John 6:22-59). Bread is a necessity, and anything else is simply a want. God reminds the people that his spiritual economy runs on their faithfulness on the one hand and his grace on the other. They needed to rely on God’s staple provision, which he had been providing since the days when he fed their ancestors in the desert with manna from heaven. Sound familiar—Give us this day our daily bread.
The returning exiles were thus being charged to establish a new spiritual budget where the highest priority was always directed to God. God was inviting them to, in effect, sign again on the dotted line of the covenant that had been in effect since the time of Abraham and, most recently, had been carried forward by King David. David’s royal descendant would ultimately bring the economy of God’s coming kingdom to bear and provide a place of refuge and reconciliation for the whole world (vv. 3-5). The people were thus to return from the pain of exile with a new dream of what God was going to do not only for them, but for the whole creation (vv. 12-13).
It is with that future in mind that God invites his people into a new way of ordering their lives, which includes not only their spirits but their wallets, too. If we dream God’s kingdom dream – a dream of justice and peace, a dream of freedom from anxiety, a dream of God’s reign and rule on the earth and in our lives – it will radically alter our priorities. We’ll no longer see our money and possessions as ours, but as belonging to God. We will recognize that we are not really owners but stewards, caretakers of the things with which God has entrusted us. If we dream, that dream we’ll not be thinking so much about what we acquire as we will about what we can give away. If we dream that dream, we’ll begin to see that we are not alone but part of a community-a Beloved Comunity. We’ll begin dreaming about how God will use our lives for the making of a Beloved Community. It’s a dream of freedom!
Come, buy and eat! This is Isaiah’s invitation and God’s invitation. And the implication is that there’s no waiting to receive the blessing of the Lord. Come and be satisfied. Now! There is no waiting when you work out your Isaiah budget; no waiting when you accept God’s invitation.
As you look at your budget, does it reflect the priorities of God’s kingdom, or are you spending your money and labor on things that do not satisfy? Like the people of the exile, we must not fail to take a lesson from a crisis. May we all organize our spiritual and economic lives around the priority, purpose and provision of God!
Eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food (v. 2).
And now back to Jesus who offers a meal that no money can buy. No one can offer any amount of money for it because it is priceless. How frustrating it must that be for the folks in town and at the spas? How wonderful must it be for those in the crowd to get this free meal by the sea? To be healed for free? Where do we go to be fed? What do we feed on? Where do we go to be healed and made whole? Do we really trust in bread that is given daily?
Let us pray:
Praise be to you, gracious God,
for this day, this earth, this life,
for the weave of miracles blessing us
and for your quiet power sustaining us.
We praise you for our times of laughter and tears,
risk and reconciliation,
reflection and healing,
and for the stubborn presence of your Spirit
making it all sacred.
Praise be to you, awesome God,
for the holy mysteries
of our struggling and wondering,
for our trials and triumphs,
and all that moves us to awe,
to love, to pray, to serve,
since it is your Spirit that moves us so
and is till creating us still;
through out Lord Jesus Christ. Amen+
Offertory / Invitation to Give
When resources were short, did Christ worry?
No! Christ saw the gifts, and Christ multiplied them!
This is the miracle we witness every time we give to the church.
God will take what we have, and God will do good things with it.
You are invited to give, and even to participate in the miracle
of God’s multiplying acts.
Prayer of Dedication/Offertory
May our gifts quench the thirst
of those who desire hope;
may our lives by spent
in feeding those Whose hunger is all too real;
may we always give away
the blessings you have given to us,
God of The Compassionate Heart. Amen.
May the Christ who walks on wounded feet
walk with you on the road,
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands,
stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart
open your hearts to love
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet
and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you
And the blessing of God Almighty…….