Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Give Them Something to Eat" - Sermon for August 6, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Give them Something to Eat”
Pastor Andrew Davis
August 6, 2017
Matthew 14: 13-21

            What a crazy last week this has been, although it's still quite eventful as we speak!!  As I reflect on the year 2017 to this point, it’s like we’ve gone from one extreme to another, from floods to fire.  However, I cannot say enough about how proud I am of this congregation for all of the ways that you have stepped up in love…from helping donate snacks and drinks for our fire crews that have been watching this neighborhood, to being willing to house people in the case of evacuation in which the voluntarily evacuation was lifted at 8am, and for helping create contingency plans in case of mandatory evacuation, and for your overall willingness to help in any way possible.  It's also a time of high anxiety, as this is a situation that I have never, ever had to face in my lifetime even though I've been through a hurricane and through a tornado warning back east. 
              Earlier this week, my mom and I were talking on the phone and reminiscing back to 1995 when Rio Linda experienced significant flooding that caused evacuations.  Although my family’s house was high enough and was not in any danger of flooding, many people in the lower-lying areas lost their homes on Cherry Lane and those that were closest to the banks of Dry Creek.  However, instead of sitting around and waiting things out the day after the massive rainstorm that caused the flood and cancelled school, our church sprang into action and opened up as a shelter, starting with a just a coffee pot and a place to hang out.  But before long, the Red Cross became involved and food, clothing, and cleaning supplies began pouring in, and things were humming with activity and would be for awhile.  School was cancelled for the rest of that week, so our family helped where we could, sorting clothes, carrying boxes of supplies in, and just being present for the people who had been evacuated.  It was an eventful week that culminated with a visit from President Bill Clinton, and yes, I even got to shake his hand.  It’s a core duty that we have as a people of faith to provide hospitality and aid, hence why our church office has been open for the fire crews this past week.  And they have been very grateful to all of us for our hospitality and for being able to provide a place of rest and an escape from the heat outside.  But more importantly, it’s an essential task of ours as a community of faith to give people a place to rest, a place for a cold drink, and most importantly, a place where we give them something to eat!! 
You have to start somewhere and while we started with some coffee and simple snacks, Jesus began with five loaves and two fishes in our Gospel lesson this morning which is also known as the ‘feeding of the five thousand.  Now I’m not sure about you, but if someone told me that I could feed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fishes, I would think they were out of their mind.  Or if I suggested that we could feed five thousand people with so little, people would say the same about us too.  But, I digress here. 
In our text, Jesus is actually trying to retreat from the crowds after hearing about the beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist and naturally, he needed a little time alone to process the grief that he must have been feeling.  Yet like many celebrities and their groupies, Jesus just couldn’t catch a break because someone heard where he was going and it ‘went viral’ around the crowds, so they went too, as word of mouth was the version of social media in Jesus’s time!  But instead of being angry or irritated because the crowds wouldn’t leave him alone, which is easy to do when we want some of that much-coveted alone time, Jesus instead shows compassion on them and still heals their sick and injured even if he couldn't get away.  On the other hand, the disciples are the ones who are a little  grumbly about it, wanting to send the people away to go buy food in the town on their own; but they quickly get put into their place when Jesus tells them “YOU give them something to eat!” (Matt. 14: 16, NRSV; emphasis mine).  When Jesus says it, you do it!!  And sure enough, a miracle happens and the crowds are able to eat their fill because God was able to multiply those loaves and fishes, a story that we see in ALL FOUR GOSPELS, meaning that giving them something to eat is of utmost importance!!!   
I think back to five years ago during my first semester of seminary when I was dealing with a minor crisis during Thanksgiving week, as my paycheck was lost in the mail and never showed up and of course, we had no meal service in the refectory that week.  Yet, I didn’t go hungry because we had an emergency food pantry on campus, plus I received a package of goodies from my parents, and also had classmates who looked out for each other, especially my friend Sia, who currently serves as a pastor of a small UMC in Seattle.  Sia (or Momma Sia as she was often known as around the dorm, being one of the oldest residents on campus) is one of those people who will make sure that nobody goes hungry, as a couple of those days she in her loving, yet motherly demeanor told me to ‘get in here and eat’ one day when she was preparing lunch and made lunch for several of us.  In the Tongan culture that she is part of, you always look out for each other and always make sure people have enough to eat.  Plus, our friend Meg, who lived not too far away from campus invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with her family and made sure we had a place to go.  It’s something I cannot ever forget and reminds me of the time in the Book of Exodus when the Israelite people were in the desert and God provided manna and quail for the people.  It wasn’t an easy week that week and was full of anxiety, but God provided through different people. Just like God provided through different people, Jesus demonstrated how God provides with the five thousand, in which they did not have to go away.  God provides, and it takes trusting in God, even when it means we too give people something to eat. 
I don’t think we have to look too far to see that hunger and poverty are right atound us.  Incomes might be limited and getting food on the table might be a challenge because there are also bills to pay.  In the book that our committee on lay leadership is currently studying, The Passionate Church, Rev. Mike Slaughter points out that “the US Census Bureau reports the US poverty rate in 2014 for children under age eighteen was 21.1 percent.”[i] Although on a slightly brighter note, the poverty rate in that same category dropped to 19.7 percent in 2015, which is the most recent figure available from the Census Bureau, but that’s still kind of high for the 18/under demographic.[ii] For people age 18-64, the poverty rate as of 2015 was 12.4 percent and for age 65 and over, the rate was 8.8 percent.[iii] However, getting food, particularly nourishing food can be a challenge because healthier, more nutritious food costs more than junk food!!  Well, let's be real, junk food can taste better at times, especially if we like sweet and salty.  When we think about it, what are some ways we can share our resources to help give others something to eat beyond what we already do?  Because when we help to share and make that a possibility, we are then able to become “focused on producing God’s blessings within the lives of others.”[iv] Jesus had to show a little tough love on the disciples to stop grumbling and think of the crowd when he said “you give them something to eat” and the crowd was able to experience God's blessings (Matthew 14: 16, NRSV). 
Last year when I was just beginning here in Quincy, an article in The Sacramento Bee opened my eyes up about the poverty level among many here in Plumas County.  In the article, it was pointed out that
Plumas County has one of the highest concentrations of elderly people in California. Nearly a quarter of its residents are over 65. In recent months, the number of seniors receiving subsidized meals has been shooting up. The county expects to provide nearly 50,000 meals this year, about a 16 percent increase compared to two years ago.
The suggested donation is $2.50 a meal, plus $1.50 for those who have it delivered. But many can’t pay anything.
California’s recent economic expansion hasn’t reached some counties in the state’s rural north. Plumas County’s unemployment rate in April (2016), nearly 11 percent, was among the highest in the state – and unchanged from the previous year. Young people have been leaving for jobs elsewhere. Many of the remaining residents are aging into poverty, their fixed incomes failing to keep up with the high cost of food, rent, transportation and heat.[v]
That’s not exactly something that gives me a lot of hope, but this is an opportunity where the church is able to provide a source of hope, especially when we give people around us something to eat.  We do have C.A.N. and a weekly community supper, plus we have emergency bags of food for a day’s provision in the church office.  I also have an emergency/discretionary fund that anyone, even people here in our church can use in an emergency situation and a fund that I invite and encourage you to donate to on a regular basis.  I also will accept donations of gift cards to Moon’s, Subway, Round Table, or Safeway that could cover a meal for a whole family or for a day’s worth of groceries so that if the need arises and someone comes to our door needing food, we can give them something to eat, not turn them away.  Besides giving people something to eat if needed, the emergency/discretionary fund can also cover a one-time payment up to a certain amount on utility bills, phone bills, a month’s rent or part of a month's rent, a partial security deposit, or a hotel room for up to two nights; however instead of cash out the door, there is a vetting process that requires documentation such as a copy of the bill or rental agreement, as checks are made directly to the utility or landowner.  Even though we need some of the essential services, we need to eat too and when our money is going to other services on a limited income, we ultimately may not have enough to eat in the long run.  Plus once a month, there is a food giveaway at C.A.N. in the parking lot at St. John’s Catholic Church too.
If we have gardens and have extra produce from it, I encourage everyone to share anything that you might not use, and will plan to do the same when my garden starts producing very soon.  Even offering a meal in our homes with people who we know may not necessarily have enough to eat can go a long, long way, just like my friend Sia would do for us that lived in the dorm during our time in seminary, or when we had our communal dinners on the third floor of the new dorm three years ago.  In fact when we think of giving people something to eat, I think back to last Fall’s contemporary topics study around Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived it.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism was particularly big on serving the poor and the disadvantaged.  In Revival, Adam Hamilton writes that
In the world as it should be, no one goes to bed hungry because they don’t have enough to eat.  No one is cold because they don’t have clothing and shelter.  In the world as it should be, all are treated with respect and compassion and receive justice.  There are no wars. No one receives a subpar education, and racism and bigotry have vanished.  If that is the world as it should be, then Christians are meant to work to close the gap between realities of the world we live in and Christ’s vision of God’s kingdom on earth.  This means that our task as Christians is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome strangers, provide quality education for low-income children, minister to the sick who can’t afford medical care, and so much more.[vi]

          Hearing something that’s a little convicting is kind of overwhelming in some ways and might even afflict the comfortable a little bit, and perhaps even ruffle a few feathers; although sometimes being a person of faith requires being a little uncomfortable at times, something that I’m still learning along the way too.  Then again, when John Wesley preached such a message as this, it got him banned from some of the pulpits around England!!  However, this also means that we can’t be like the disciples in this morning’s lesson and grumble about feeding the crowds when they become hungry, but instead, give them something to eat as Jesus says.  Just like last week in our gospel lesson, things have to begin small, but one small act of kindness and generosity, even if the size of a mustard seed or grain of yeast can go a very long way.  After all, “Instead of commanding them to leave, [Jesus] orders [the crowds] to stay and sit down on the grass. He then gets to work doing what he has come to do -- curing every disease and sickness among the people. The multiplication of the loaves of bread and the fish harken to the previous parable that Jesus speaks to the crowd concerning the mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven produces a plentiful harvest from the smallest of seeds.”[vii] 
            And helping in our part of giving people something to eat also goes a long way too, and is an ongoing and essential mission opportunity that we have before us, just like the small gesture of thanks to the fire crews by offering snacks and drinks this last week.  I hope it’s a small foretaste of the Kingdom of God to come and also helping to bring the Kingdom of God to the here and now.  This past week, we could easily scoff that we had a lot of food and drink for the fire crews and yes, they were being well fed at base camp at the fairgrounds, but we still are able to give people something to eat with the stuff we weren’t using, as it goes to use for the community supper and can also go to base camp, or C.A.N..  It’s also been amazing seeing the generosity of people donating money to Quincy Provisions and The Scoop at The Toy Store for ice cream and treats for the fire crews, or seeing Moon’s provide a cool place and complimentary soft drinks -- all of it is a testament to how we as a community have lived into our calling to give people something to eat and drink. I hope that perhaps something like that can also be done for others in our community after this  fire is over.  And as we prepare to come to the Communion table in a few minutes, Jesus too offers us something to eat, but also offers us grace and spiritual nourishment as we partake of the meal, chew on the bread of life, and drink from the cup of freedom.  By giving us something to eat, Jesus offers us a chance to renew our faith and to renew ourselves on this journey.  So that as we renew ourselves and renew our faith through from table of grace, we too can keep living into our calling to give the people something to eat, as we never know who we may see the face of Christ in. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!!

[i] Michael Slaughter, The Passionate Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 48. 

[ii] Bureau, US. 2017. "Income And Poverty In The United States: 2015". Census.Gov. Accessed August 2 2017.

[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Slaughter, 60. 

[v] "In Rural North State, More Seniors Depend On Government For Daily Meals". 2017. Sacbee. Accessed August 2 2017.

[vi] Adam Hamilton, Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014), 115.

[vii] "Commentary On Matthew 14:13-21 By Jennifer T. Kaalund". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed August 2 2017.

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