Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"And all ate ... and were filled"

Message preached August 4 , 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Matthew 14:13-21

Order of Worship

            What I remember more than anything else, growing up in the Bethesda First Baptist Church, are the meals. I canít hardly recall what the sanctuary looked like, even though I spent nearly every Sunday morning sitting in it with my parents. But in my mindís eye thereís a picture of our fellowship hall, and tables spread with white paper cloth. Now, I know thereís all sorts of food on some of those tables, brought by everyone to share - but , you know, I canít quite see that in my memory. As a youngster I knew there was always plenty to go around, and then some, but exactly what the dishes were I have no idea. Likewise, I can picture the kitchen and the big dishwashing machine that so captured my imagination. And I can almost feel the steam from it when it was opened, and the smell of the detergent.

            These are some of my earliest and most important remembrances of what church was all about. Thatís why I, for one, would love to see as many covered dish meals as possible in the course of a church year. Meals, such as the one weíll be sharing later, are important in the life of Godís people. Now, Iím aware that - as a kid - I didnít have to prepare the food. My mother may not have been so enthralled by these meals, since she was the one who had to plan ahead and do extra work to make it possible. Furthermore, Iím not as carefree today as I was then. Some meals, especially the ones after which I have some responsibility, are not as enjoyable for me, cause my mind is on other "stuff" than just eating and talking around the tables. Even so, I still love these meals.

            This morningís scripture is remembered as a big meal - a really big meal. It takes place not in some fellowship hall, but outside, next to a lake. It wasnít originally intended to be a pot-luck meal. However, thatís what it became. In fact, a case could be made that this was the first pot-luck meal in the church. Of course, the church wasnít yet "the church," but that doesnít really matter. I would say "covered dish" instead of "pot-luck," remembering my sister Eva Simmonís injunction about how itís Godís "blessing" rather than plain old "luck" that governs these things. But I canít. These "dishes" werenít covered. They were open baskets. Furthermore, I think the health department would have shut this thing down had something like this happened here and now. Am I wrong?

            Letís back up and see this whole affair as Matthew remembers it. Mind you, thereís other ways in which it could be recalled. This is sort of an insiderís account. It probably looked a bit different to someone standing on the edge of the crowd. In the mindís eye of Matthew, this happened right after another big meal. It was a birthday party thrown by King Herod for his new wifeís daughter. No way this could be called "pot luck." It was lavishly prepared by servants. No sweat from any guest went into the pot. This was a "high brow" affair, though I imagine the entertainment was not.

            A slight detail behind this meal was that Herodís new wife was actually his sister-in-law, which shows that things could "Herodias" by Bernardino Luini, 1527-1531get just as confusing back then as they sometimes can get today. A certain John the Baptist just wouldnít shut up about how this arrangement wasnít right in Godís eyes, so Herod had him put in jail. As a birthday present for his new wifeís daughter, King Herod offered to give her anything her little heart desired. So, coached by Mom, she asked for Johnís head on a platter. Talk about a strange, strange meal! Not one Iíd like to attend, or even remember (see Matthew 14:1-12 for the full account).

            Our scripture this morning begins with the news of John the Baptistís death. You might recall that John was a cousin of Jesus. The two went way back (see Lukeís recollection of that in 1:39-45). When Jesus heard the bad news, according to Matthew, he just wanted to get away. Heíd been busy teaching about Godís kingdom - how the seeds of this realm are tossed upon the ground of peopleís lives, there to grow (Matthew 13:18-23, 36-43); how this seed may be as small as a mustard seed or a bit of yeast, yet it brings forth abundance (Matthew 13:31-33); how this treasure from God is worth giving our lives for (Matthew 13:44-50).

            He tried preaching this in his own hometown, but they didnít want to listen. That disappointment, coupled with the news of his cousinís death, would have been enough to make anyone get away. Call it "alone" time. Time to vacate the premises, push off todayís struggles and just "be." Sort of like our ideal of what a "vacation" should be. Of course, how often does such an "ideal" become "reality?" For Jesus on that day, it didnít last very long. He got in a boat to head to some "deserted place," but the crowds followed him. When he stepped ashore at his "vacation" spot, there they were... You know, sometimes good things happen even when what we think we need is something else.

            You heard they story as Matthew remembered it, how Jesus had compassion on the crowds that interrupted his all-too-brief vacation. I think I would not have been so gracious, but Iím not Jesus (thank God!). He reached out and healed people. Not like some faith-healer on a stage who only sees the folks his disciples let through, the hard-luck cases - who wouldnít provide much of a show - weeded out. Jesus truly cared, and cured the sick.

            And when it became late, and his disciples realized how deserted this place was (no restaurant or grocery store for miles), encouraging him to send the crowds away, Jesus had another idea. Letís have a pot-luck. Only this pot-luck meal would be quite unusual. It was, after all, the end of the day. Folks didnít bring their dishes with the intention of sharing, and by that hour most of the good stuff was probably already eaten.

            I loved how Mennonite comedians Ted and Lee recreated this meal at National Youth Conference the other week. Portraying disciples Andrew and Peter, they headed out among the youth and collected all sorts of food - mostly snack items, i.e. skittles, gum, pretzels. Then Jesus prayed over this odd assortment. And it became a feast. There was plenty for everyone, with baskets of left-overs. By "everyone," Matthew meant 5,000 men, plus the women and children. This was one real-meal deal. Not like Herodís party, with its dish you hope and pray was covered. All who were hungry ate and were filled, not just the rich and important people.

            Earlier, Jesus had talked about the Kingdom, how just a bit of its leaven could rise up the loaf of bread for which the world was hungering. At this pot luck meal, Jesus - who was no doubt tired and grieving and ready for a break - did more than just talk. With the leaven of Godís blessing the Kingdom of God became visible - if only for just that mealtime. It became visible, that is, to those who had eyes to see. They could not only see it, they could taste it!

            Isnít that how it is even today? Somehow we have this mistaken image that Godís Kingdom becomes real to us only when everything is perfectly in place. Think, however, of this first pot-luck meal. It followed bad news. It happened at a time when even our Lord was drained. He needed to get away for a while. Youíd think that it wouldíve been better if it had come at a different moment, once he was all rested up, and had time to grieve. But thatís not what happened, was it? You heard the story as remembered by Matthew. It was not the best of times, but that Kingdom meal took place anyway. And it became the model for every church pot-luck since.

            As a kid, I knew there was always enough. Of course, I didnít live with hunger like some children in this world. Meals like this take on a different meaning where food is scarce. I wonder if little ones in those places know that when the church gathers around the Lordís table there is always enough. I have a feeling that they know a miracle when they see it, unlike us who sometimes are blind. When Godís people put their loaves and fishes in the baskets, and they ask God to bless it all, watch out! And I do mean, "watch" out. The kingdom becomes visible.

            Maybe thatís why I remember the fellowship hall of my youth more than the sanctuary. I know my pastor growing up was trying every week to cook up a meal in worship that would satisfy Godís people. I know that now, especially since Iím now in his shoes. However, I donít remember a single word he ever said from the pulpit. Maybe that does make sense, since I also donít recall any particular dish on the table. Sort of like my mother at home. I donít remember much when it came to the meals she cooked, but I was nourished.

            I remember another covered dish meal at church growing up. Actually, it wasnít my church, it was our "sister" church on the other side of town. I donít recall how old I was, but in my mindís eye there was this black woman much, much bigger than I sitting across the table from me in the fellowship hall. After she asked my name, and I told her, she proceeded to tell me all about the disciple Peter who shared my name. I look back to that meal as the first time I heard God calling me.

            I have no idea who that woman was or what road she had traveled to get to that point in life. That was the 1960's, a turbulent era - especially for someone of color. Still, God spoke to me through that woman... and I heard. I know Iíve told that story many times, but itís "my" story. Why I share it now is because of where it happened - at a pot-luck meal.

            Itís amazing the things that can happen when and where we might least expect. The key is just opening our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our mouths to eat and be filled. Not just whatís on our plate - the loaves and fishes; the skittles, gum, or pretzels; the tuna fish casserole, or pumpkin pie; the bread and the wine ... When we open ourselves to Godís blessing, watch out!

            With all this talk of food, letís end with a hymn asking the Lord to be present at our table, the one many of us will sit around a bit later at the covered dish meal, or the tables around which we all will this day gather. Be thankful, aware of Godís abundant blessings, and full of praise. In fact, weíll tag on the doxology - a song of praise which follows the same tune - at the end of #457. Letís stand and sing.

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Matthew.

©2002 Peter L. Haynes

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