August 31, 2014
Scripture: Matt 14:13-21
So we asked the disciples, that afternoon, that evening, what happened, and what did you see? And they said, “We had been together for a couple of days. And then one evening while we were having supper word came that Herod had killed John the Baptist.
We knew John. In fact a couple of us had been his disciples. He had called for repentance; he had preached in the desert and baptized by the Jordan and quite frankly he had riled up some of the authorities. He had this attitude, you know? You need to turn your lives around and follow God’s teachings.
But then he got all personal and snippy with Herod, the Roman ruler. Herod was playing house with his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. Herod played house with a lot of women, but he seemed especially attracted to this one, and John told him what he was doing was unlawful and immoral, so Herod had him arrested.”
“Then what happened?”
“There was some kind of banquet, drinking and dancing, and Herod got drunk and promised Herodias’ daughter he’d give her anything she wanted. She wanted John beheaded, and Herod complied. So we packed our things and left, just to get away, to find a quiet place where we could be with Jesus and talk and pray.”
“It took awhile. We went by boat. But when we got to this supposedly ‘quiet place’ there were people waiting. Not ten. Not a hundred. There were thousands of them – men, women, children, all crowding around trying to get close to Jesus.”
“What did they want?”
“You name it. Healing. Understanding. A chance to hear Jesus preach or maybe just to have him listen to them. Have him reach out and touch him.”
“What were they like?”
“Not high class people. Mostly normal. Some of them were dirty – they’d been traveling too. Dusty clothes, sweaty, hot, kids screaming and crying, sick people on stretchers, lepers, some people jabbering to themselves, what a mess. Then Jesus says, ‘Give them something to eat.’ We thought he was kidding.
But we finally came up with some bread and a few fish and told him, ‘But this is all we have.’ And he said, ‘Fine.’ And we got everybody seated, and Jesus prayed, and we started passing out food.”
“Passing out food.”
“Passing out food. We don’t know where it came from, but there was more than enough to go around.”
So we asked Jesus: on that afternoon, that evening, what happened, and what did you see?
“We were in Nazareth, teaching in the synagogue. My cousin John’s disciples came and said that he’d been executed by Herod. And they said Herod had heard about us, and was afraid of my teaching, so I decided we should get away from there, head over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When we got there people were crowding around.
When I saw them I was heart-broken. So many sick. So many confused. Exhausted people. More tired than we were. As I went through the crowd, touching one after another, praying for them, they were healed. It got late. It began to het dark. They were hungry.”
“And what happened?”
“I persuaded the disciples to feed them.”
“With what they had. They had some fish. Some bread. I suppose it didn’t seem like much to them, but we prayed, and then we fed them.”
“And then what?”
“Then what? They ate.”
So we asked a person from town, that afternoon, that evening, what happened, and what did you see?
“They were just streaming across the border. They used to come in twos and threes, these illegals, in the middle of the night, but this was different. I’ve never seen anything like it. All these dirty, ragtag kids, a few adults, with just the clothes on their backs, maybe a few water bottles.
Night and day. No one was stopping them at first. We don’t have that many police, you know? But they just kept coming. There were teenagers, there were school age kids, there were toddlers. You could tell a lot of them were sick, you know? Coughing and sneezing, snot running out of their noses, babies crying.”
“Then a few busses pulled up and they started loading all these filthy children on them. Said they were going to take them to the armory in town. Well I’ll tell you, the armory isn’t that big in our town. What were they going to do with them there?”
“What did they do?”
“Stuffed them in there anyway. I guess they tried to separate them out, sick kids on one side, screaming babies and pregnant mothers on the other, police tape between them. Like police tape is going to keep them apart. Feeding them bologna sandwiches and tacos. Portable toilets. No showers. Never should have let them in in the first place.”
So we asked Verity Jones, from Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) in Indianapolis, what happened, and what did you see?
“It’s still happening. A lot of children. A lot of children. My husband speaks Spanish, and we talked to some of them. They said their parents had been killed, and they think they have relatives here. They say their home isn’t safe and they don’t want to die.”
Well, what do you think?
Verity said, “Let me interject a different perspective. We say in my house, “it’s the loaves and fishes!” At times we shied away from inviting a neighbor in who has dropped by at dinnertime, because we only had enough food for one family, and we have a big family. But then we felt terrible. We were focused on our scarce resources not going far enough, rather than being focused on hospitality.
But most of the time we remember the loaves and fishes. We wave anyone into the house who stops by even close to dinnertime. And somehow we end up with enough food for all. It really is a loaves and fishes thing! At some level it is inexplicable.
Maybe it’s a miracle. And sometimes there isn’t much on each plate. But it demonstrates what people can do when they assume their resources are abundant rather than scarce, despite the actual number of items in the fridge.”
I’d like to tell Verity Jones it isn’t so simple. Yes, there are hungry children coming into the country, and they are refugees. And there are refugee adults. And some are healthy and some are not. Some have family members who are citizens and some do not. Some are well-intentioned and some are not.
And I would tell her that I am a compassionate person. And also first-off it isn’t my responsibility to take care of all these people, and second I don’t have enough resources, because there are too many of them. I’d tell her there are lots of people right where I live that don’t seem to have enough to eat or a place to sleep or medical care, but part of me says to keep feeding them, not pushing them to take responsibility, doesn’t seem to solve anything.
I’d like them to see our relationship as mutually caring, mutually supportive. And in fact I’d tell her we seem to be moving in that direction with some of what I want to call our Courtyard Congregation. The townspeople see a big problem, and they’re angry. Verity Jones sees an easy solution. I often see a dilemma.
Knowing that, and thinking back over this sermon, looking back while I was preparing it, something was missing. I had a flow. Or I had most of it: what the disciples saw at the feeding of the five thousand, and what Jesus saw. What townspeople saw at the border crossing, and what Verity Jones saw. But I didn’t have a conclusion.
So I wondered, what if I described the border crossing, or the people in McMinnville, to my grandfather, my grandpa, what would he say? I’d have to go back quite awhile; he’s been gone since 1965, in the fall. But he did come to visit us from Indiana up in Michigan the year before he died. He knew he was sick then; the leukemia had resurfaced and his body was beginning to show it. I remember how the veins stood out on his hands and arms, how thin he’d gotten. I used to pull the loose skin on his hands up into a fold and let it ease back down. Now I can do that to myself. We were very close.
I would tell him about the kids and the pregnant mothers and the sick people at the border, flowing into the country, and I’d have to describe everything. I’d tell him about the Courtyard Congregation. I don’t think he ever watched TV. Maybe the Lawrence Welk show. I know he and my grandmother had a little black and white TV and he made her shut it off one time because Adlai Stevenson was on, running for president, and he didn’t want Adlai in his house.
But even then the pictures wouldn’t have been on the news every night. Maybe not until a month or so after the fact. Anyway, I’d tell him how some people wanted them to go back to Guatemala and some wanted them to stay; some were mad at the kids and some weren’t, but there were just so many of them, the problem was so big, and no one seemed able to agree about a solution.
But my granddad knew about problems that seemed too big. His first wife died during the flu epidemic in the 1900’s, leaving him with two small children. He owned a hardware store in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and he employed five or six people.
But when the depression came he had to make a choice. Since he couldn’t pay the mortgage on his hardware store he could let the bank repossess it, or he could sell it for a lot less than its value. If the bank took it his employees would be out of work. So he sold it to satisfy the mortgage, and then went to work there sweeping the floors.
He was great with numbers. He could add and subtract a row of six- or seven-digit numbers in his head, and after he remarried my grandmother he went to work at the sale barn where they sold cattle and pigs and sheep and household goods, and he would sit next to the auctioneer and keep track of who bought what for how much on a big ledger sheet.
He’d let me stay in the back where the stock pens were because up front it was boring, but one day when I was six or seven the stock handlers told me they were going to sell a billy goat next and somebody had to ride it into the sales ring, and would I ride it, so I did, and when we got home my grandmother made me take all my clothes off in the garage.
She was so upset my grandpa went out for another chew of tobacco. When each sale was over the buyers and sellers would come in the office of the sale barn to settle up, and his figures were always right. He never had a lot, but he was honest, and he was generous with what he had.
So I think if I asked him, well, how can I fix this, this border mess, or what’s happening in McMinnville, he’d probably say “You can’t.” And if I said, “well, I want to do something,” he’d say, “So do something.” “With what?” “I don’t know. What do you have?” I don’t have much.” And he’d say, “OK, just start with that.”
Movie Clip From 3:59 – 10:36