Abundant Leftovers

* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on August 6, 2017 *

Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.

Texts for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost:
Romans 9:1-5 + Matthew 14:13-21

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Please pray with me this morning:

Holy Abundant God,
You have generously blessed us,
And call us to be generous with our lives.
Open our hearts and hands beyond our selves,
That through you, our generosity might be multiplied.
Amen.

***************

One of the greatest privileges of my life was spending a semester abroad, living in Sevilla, Spain. During my 6 months there, I was obviously immersed in Spanish culture, everything from language to customs to food. And one of the things I discovered almost immediately, was a sense of genuine generosity in how I was treated. Whether it was a native Spaniard being patient with me as I struggled through what I was trying to communicate; or waiters letting us probar, or try, a lot of different things when we weren’t sure if we’d like a certain food; or simply giving their time and attention and offering their hospitality to a foreigner who was trying his best to learn and learn from another culture, the Spanish people are incredibly generous.

I’ve heard similar stories from people in this community who’ve visited our friends in El Salvador. That even though they don’t have much, the Salvadoran people are so, so generous and hospitable: inviting folks into their homes, feeding them, giving them gifts, everything.
It’s the same generosity and hospitality that I hope they experienced when they were here a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve also heard that the same commitment to generosity and hospitality holds true in most, if not all, of the global south. These wonderful people who, compared to the resources we enjoy here in the United States, have much less than we do, share anything and everything they have simply because being generous is inherent to their identity.

I wonder if people from other parts of the world would say that about us in the United States?

What about you, church? Do you think people would say that New Hope is a generous community?

And this is when a Gospel story becomes more than just a Gospel story. Remember when I said that you’re going to need your bibles? Everyone got Matthew 14? Great.
Our Gospel this morning picks up at Matthew chapter 14, verse 13 and started with, “Now when Jesus heard about this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place.” The “this” being referred to here is everything that’s happened up to this point in chapter 14. Check out those first 12 verses of Matthew 14.
The “this” is the beheading of John the baptizer. A beheading that took place at a banquet that Herod was hosting. This first 21 verses of Matthew 14 might well be called ‘A Tale of Two Banquets’ because if we read carefully, Jesus’ feast in this deserted place is a play on the banquet that Herod held at his place.

Herod’s banquet is at the palace, likely very lavish. There is plenty for the wealthy and powerful few, but no regard for the many, for the hungry and the poor. At Herod’s party, a powerless prisoner is executed for entertainment. The leftovers of Herod’s banquet are violence and death.

Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes is the subversive inverse of Herod’s banquet and is a diametrically opposed example to how the empire works. Jesus’ feast happens in a deserted place of no particular importance, simply a place that he and his disciples withdrew to get away and have some quiet. The explicitly invited group to Jesus’ banquet are those that the entirety of Jesus’ ministry is fixated upon—the poor, the hungry, the blind, the sick, the dis-eased, and the outcast, exactly those that Herod’s banquet kept out.
Herod consumes, Jesus multiplies.
Herod takes a lot and leaves behind only death and violence. Jesus takes a little and creates abundance.

And it’s this continuing inversion that we come together to celebrate every week. That rather than wantonly overconsuming and squeezing every ounce of life out things until they are more than dead as the empire does, God takes things that are dead and raises them to new, thriving, and abundant lives.
It’s the simple, straightforward truth we proclaim about the cross. That God brings life in spite of, instead of, death.

And so what are we doing with this incredible gift?
God has overcome death and given you life, and life abundant. You’ve been given a gift, and so what?

I think Jesus’ directive is pretty clear, “You give them something to eat.” The call of Jesus is one on our lives, how we live as disciples of the one who feeds a multitude with hardly anything. The point of the Gospel reading is not how Jesus literally took 5 dinner rolls and some trout and somehow fed 5,000 people by breaking them into tiny pieces and asking people to share. The point is that there was enough.
There is enough.
There is more than enough, it’s just that you’ve been told for your entire life that there’s not, and so you’ve been told that you have to stock up and hoard what you can.
Friends, that is a theology and a worldview of scarcity.
The God we worship, the kingdom that God is bringing about, operates on an economy of enough.

breadJesus transforms the economy by blessing it and breaking it beyond self-interest. Jesus’ question isn’t “How much do you need?” but rather “How much does your neighbor need?” When we start from a place of care and concern first and foremost for our neighbor, I think you’ll find that there’s always enough.

I’ve gotten a handful of funny looks from folks when I give them a big chunk of bread at communion. But when the gifts of God are so abundant, so extravagant, and so, so good and tasty, how can I not share them with the same lavishness with which God has shared them with us?
baptismYou’ve noticed that I do this with the waters of baptism as well, I think. Not only is it just fun to fling water everywhere and soak little foreheads, in my mind, my joy and excitement is simply mirroring the same extravagance and abundance that God has shown to us in giving us these gifts.

I use this language in our invitation to offering, too. Have you noticed? Every Sunday, I call us back from a time of sharing peace into a time of offering by saying, “We’ll now receive our offering, giving thanks to God for what God has given to us.”
Dear friends, our gifts, what we have, the space and place we inhabit, our friends and family, everything that we are blessed with…these are all blessings from God, and a holistic understanding of stewardship is one that recognizes that all we have and all we’ve been given were first given to us by God. And stewardship, whether we’re talking about offering, time, resources, food, money, talents, gifts…anything you have to give…is simply a way of looking at everything God has blessed you with and asking the question of what you do with…how you steward well…everything God has blessed you with.

How do you show thanks to God, for what God has given to you?

Maybe it’s volunteering at Fort Bend Family Promise or the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry Food Pantry. Maybe it’s finding one afternoon a month to read with some kids at your nearby school. Maybe it’s partnering with a mentoring program like Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Maybe it’s taking a Saturday morning to pick up trash around your neighborhood park. Maybe it’s giving of your time, energy, resources, or talents to New Hope.
Maybe it’s all of those things.

The point is, God is a God of abundance, and God has lavished gifts of all kinds on God’s people, so how do we thank God for all those things that God has extravagantly lavished on us?
When we move beyond an understanding of an economy of scarcity, and begin to view the world and everything in it the way God sees the world, as full of promise and possibility, through an understanding of an economy of abundance, the question is reframed from “How can there possibly be enough?” to “What are we going to do with all these leftovers?”

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