Eighth Sunday after Trinity
Rev Cheryl Collins
May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The vast banqueting room was lit only by flickering torches. The invited guests sprawled on their couches, elderly men, some with women of their own age desperately painting themselves to look younger, others already onto wife mark 2 or even 3. Their wives were weighed down with expensive jewellery, a testimony to the wealth of their husbands. But none of them was as wealthy or as powerful as their host, Herod. He aimed to dazzle them with the piles of gold plate, the exotic delicacies from all over the known world, the lavish entertainment culminating in the young dancer, so beautiful, so tempting, so unattainable. This party was all about show. Even the death of the prophet, head carried in on a platter with the blood still dripping, was designed to show that Herod was afraid of no one, not even the God of the prophet.
When Jesus heard the news of John the Baptist’s murder, his first instinct was to withdraw, to get away from the crowds and their demands and mourn in peace.
But the crowds followed him. Their need was too insistent. And as he looked at them Jesus saw this. His heart went out to them, he knew in his guts that they were starving for what he could give them. Not just his teaching or even his healing but everything that he was. He had not invited them, but he welcomed them, all of them.
As the hour grew later the disciples began to get worried. They had tried to count the crowd but it was impossible. The people wouldn’t sit still, the children were running around, all they knew was that this more people than they had ever seen in one place before. And they were bound to be hungry, not just for teaching but for bread.
They tried to point out the problem to Jesus, but as usual he seemed totally unworried. He asked them to sort it, ‘Just bring me what you’ve got’ he said. As if they were carrying food for this many people on their persons or in their bags.
In their panic they had forgotten what God can do.
I can be like that at times. Worried that we won’t have enough. Enough food, enough, money, enough volunteers, enough of anything. I’ve forgotten that God is already giving us what we need. I’ve forgotten that when we bring our little offerings to God, our talents, our passions, our broken places, the strength we’ve gained through hard times, our fears, the things we love and the things we know then with God it is always more than enough.
Hanging out with Jesus can change our relationship to what is enough if we let it.
We can get stuck in a story of scarcity, of not enough, which stops us risking, which stops us following, which stops us growing.
We get stuck, and forget that everyone has something that they’re hungry for, and everyone has something to offer.
For Jesus’s impromptu party was not just a miracle because five loaves and two fish managed to feed more than five thousand people, it was also a miracle because he turned a crowd of strangers into a community.
In ancient Israel the categories of clean and unclean maintained identity and established boundaries. Contact with outcasts, sinners or lepers made one unclean. Everyone had the responsibility to ensure their own cleanliness as best as they were able, if they wanted to remain part of God’s acceptable people. This meant keeping the food purity laws, and the only way to successfully manage that was either to do the cooking yourself, or to make sure that you know exactly who the cook was and whether their kitchen followed the prescribed rules.
But in the feeding of the five thousand no one knew who the cook was or how she kept her kitchen, and in this context that was extraordinary. Five thousand people were prepared to stake their own cleanliness and therefore acceptability to God on Jesus – they were prepared to trust that any food which had been taken, blessed and broken by him was O.K and in eating it they would remain O.K with God. But more than this, in a culture which declared that ‘you are who you eat with’ five thousand people stopped worrying about that and sat down to share with one another because Jesus said it was O.K.
After all, clearly every person there could not receive their bread directly from Jesus- it passed through countless other pairs of hands on its way to them. By taking that bread they were not only taking into themselves whatever was in the kitchen where it was baked, but also whatever was on the hands of every other person in the crowd. And not only of the hands of every other person, but in their character too, for in this society if you ate with those who were no better than they should be then neither were you.
We don’t know who was in the crowd who met Jesus in this deserted place.
On that dusty hillside Jesus made the people not just one with him, but one with every other person there. Distinctions just didn’t count any more. And that was amazing!
The disciples discovered that Jesus is more than enough. That the kingdom Jesus came to tell them about was defined by the way it included everyone and excluded no one. That hospitality is at the core of what Jesus wants us to do in remembrance of him.
Like the disciples, we’re called to trust that God’s power has blessed us not only with the gifts we need to build up this community, but to invite everyone to share with us and see that all have enough to eat. Being a community that follows Jesus means moving from guest to host and back again.
God welcomes us and we learn to welcome others. We are hospitable because that is the family calling. In hospitality Jesus gives us who he is. We receive somewhere to belong, somewhere to share our gifts, somewhere we are valued. But our community is incomplete without those we have not yet had the opportunity to welcome.
Hospitality can be risky. Sometimes, to be a good host, we have to be ready change. Sometimes we have to invite others in without knowing what their gifts are, where they have come from, whether we want to value them. In these strange times hospitality can feel particularly risky, but it is also an opportunity to welcome those who are feeling lost, forgotten, broken by all that has happened. The rule of St Benedict invites the monks to ‘treat all guests as if they were Christ’. Hospitality is an invitation from God to grow deeper in love.