Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
“Live in Community – Feast and Listen”
February 13, 2022
Decatur Presbyterian Church
When Jesus hears about the death of John the Baptist, he gets in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and withdraws from the crowds to sail away to a wilderness place where he can be alone in his grief.
But when the crowds hear the news, they want nothing more than to be near Jesus, and to be comforted by his presence, so they follow him on foot. From the north shore of Galilee, one can see a boat on the lake and see which direction it is heading.
So the crowds see Jesus’ boat direction and begin walking toward the shore where he would land. By the time Jesus arrives at the grassy slopes, most likely near the northeast corner of the lake, many are already there waiting for him. Instead of avoiding the crowd, or seeking to disperse the crowd, Jesus, even in his own grief, has compassion upon them and begins to cure those who are ill.
Hear the Word of God from Matthew 14:13-21.
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. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’
Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Did you know that, if annual statistics hold, there will be more visits to the emergency rooms across the country today for cut fingers than any other day throughout the rest of the year?
Do you know why? Avocados!
Today is Super Bowl Sunday.
There will be many celebrations of many different kinds, with all kinds of different foods, but all over the country, host will prepare guacamole dip to share with their friends and family. Many of those who do so with not have much experience cutting open a hard avocado shell, and many will end up slicing a finger!
If statistics hold, the majority will be relatively young married females. This is a documented reality. No joke!
Here’s the part I wonder about… I wonder how many of those who will take trips to the ER this evening may have their most memorable, if not even meaningful, Super Bowl night in many years?
Now, I enjoy a good Super Bowl party. I had a grand time leading games with the youth when I was leading youth ministry. Some years ago, a former neighbor held one of the biggest parties in town on Super Bowl night. Here in Decatur, when the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl, we threw a neighborhood party.
I enjoy a good Super Bowl gathering. But, often as not, at a party, you may end up talking to everyone a little bit and no one very much. After the past two challenging years that we have had, you can imagine the following situation. The host of a party cuts her finger. A spouse or a good friend assists her in wrapping the finger and stopping the bleeding. Then she is driven to the ER, where she sits with her friend or spouse, perhaps for hours, with nothing much to do but talk with each other.
After the nurse finally calls her name, the friend or spouse goes back with her to a room and watches and listens as the doctors and nurses do their work. Eventually, she receives a ride home and her friend or spouse finds something for her to eat and ensures that she has all that she needs before it is time to go to bed.
Instead of the loud game with lots of activity and a party atmosphere and entertaining commercials, it could be that what that young married woman needs most on this particular Super Bowl Sunday is genuine human interaction, compassionate human interaction – listening, talking, sharing stories, sharing a late meal, even being taken care of for once, instead of being the caregiver.
When Jesus saw the crowds gathered, he knew there would be many in need of healing. He knew there would be caregivers concerned for those in their care. He knew that there would be those who were grieving over the human condition, just as he was that day. Jesus did not instruct the disciples to turn the boat around and go the other way, though that might have been tempting.
He did not tell them to send the crowd away, though he and the others were all bone-tired. Instead, Jesus had compassion upon them. For hours, he listened to their concerns, he healed the ones who were ill. He taught those who were curious. He confounded those who were skeptical.
He gave hope to those who were in despair. He told them all stories about nature of the kingdom of heaven. When the sun began to descend over the mountains, the crowd became hungry and restless.
It was early evening, time for supper, so the disciples had a reasonable solution: Send all these people away to the nearby villages so that they can get something to eat. Jesus, everyone here is tired and hungry. We are tired and hungry. Let’s shut down this gathering and go get some food and rest.
But Jesus surprised them when he replied: “Give them something to eat.” What happened next is not entirely clear, other than that the entire gathering was fed and there were twelve baskets leftover, one of each of the disciples who had worried about the scarcity of resources. The miracle could have been that Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into a meal for all, or the true miracle could have been that the crowd began to share with one another what that had.
Whatever the case, what is most important in the story is the abundance available in Jesus Christ when people gather in his name and look to him for help and hope. Jesus often revealed the nature of his divinity when he was sharing a meal – at the table in the upper room, at a shared breakfast on the beach after his resurrection, at table in Emmaus when the eyes of his disciples were opened and they recognized his presence.
On the hillside in Galilee, when there seemed not to be enough available, he revealed the abundance of life available in him for all. The food was important to refresh the body, but it was the fellowship with others and the presence of a compassionate Christ that refreshed the souls of thousands.
Lately, we have mostly held graveside services, one yesterday, another tomorrow, most often only with family members and a few friends. We have had meaningful services of worship at the graveside. We have loved and supported one another there.
But there is a qualitative difference that happens when the congregation gathers in this sacred place. The music of the organ, the singing of the people, the light filtering through stained glass are all helpful.
Then afterwards, the gathering around food at the reception is helpful and meaningful. Congregational fellowship is marked by mutual support and sometimes awkward, but always loving, words spoken in the face of grief. Congregational receptions help; they help the family and help the congregation be sustained and encouraged in the midst of grief.
Memorial receptions are but one example of the importance of a congregation gathering around food. I could offer another soliloquy regarding Wednesday night suppers, which we have also missed dearly. Sitting around round tables, catching up with friends young and old, with high chairs and walkers sitting next to each other.
And what of youth group dinners in the Sycamore house – young people coming off the four square or basketball court, sweaty and a bit smelly, with smiles and laughter, and awkward teenage jokes.
And what of our Threshold guests – sitting at a table perhaps for the first time in a long time, enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a Revolution doughnut, able to relax and enjoy a bit of warmth and help in an otherwise stressful and even dangerous life.
And how about our Break Bread groups, sharing home cooked meals around a table or gathering at a local restaurant with singles and couples from the church, simply enjoying each other as they enjoy the blessings of daily bread and life.
And none of this even begins to touch on the sacredness of the sacrament, when we come forward to the table, both individually and all together, to lay down our burdens, to be reconciled to God and neighbor, to be strengthened for the week ahead or for whatever life challenge is pressing us down.
Each time we gather in his name, we keep our eyes and our ears open for the presence of Jesus among us. It does not matter whether we are gathering at home for a family meal or gathering with the church at the communion table, or standing around the church parlor in support of a grieving family.
When we gather around food, we make a point to look at one another and speak to one another and listen to one another, most often without unnecessary distraction. What I am saying is that we have choices when it comes to how we relate to one another around food. We can choose to turn off the television off during family meals or even for the entire evening. We can chose to put the cellphones on mute, and put the books and laptops away, and remove distractions to a different room away from the dinner table.
Jesus often revealed the nature of his divinity when his disciples were sharing a meal. When they ate in the presence of Jesus, sometimes their eyes were opened and they recognized him. So may we, in the midst of distracted lives, seek those times of fellowship around food and table that are not marked by distraction and entertainment, but marked by compassion and caring, listening and sharing.
Genuine human life as it is meant to be lived depends upon such interactions. Such interactions bind a community or a family together. Such interactions nurture relationships, assuage grief, and bring hope beyond measure.
Whatever you may be doing this Super Bowl evening and beyond, first, be careful cutting any avocados! Second, be intentional about your gatherings with others. Whether with family or friends or church, or all three together, remove distractions, quiet the outside noise as you listen to one another, and keep your eyes and your ears open.
The risen Lord Jesus just may show up with an abundance of compassion and grace.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
February 13, 2022