Sunday Worship, September 3 - FEEDING THE MULTITUDES

TIsaiah 55: 1-5; Matthew 14: 13-21
    It's not surprising that the first event of the new community that gathered around Jesus was a meal.  Garrison Keillor even wrote a poem about church suppers, which goes in part “I used to be a string bean and now I'm a buffalo wing, Lord, forgive me for my sins, and for this spare tire and those extra chins.”   All humor aside, eating together is probably the second most intimate act between people.
    The reading from Matthew's Gospel this morning, however, is more than a story about the first church supper with its leftover deserts and Jello salad.  It is a paradigm of how we are to be the church and care for others in our midst.  Rather than sending the crowd away to fend for themselves, Jesus simply says, “Let's feed them.”  
But ever mindful of the limitations of their own resources, the disciples answer, but we only have five loaves and two fishes.  This seems like a perfectly reasonable and understandable response.  There was hardly enough to feed themselves, not to mention feeding others.
    We don't have to go to the barrios of the displaced in Colombia or the mountain villages of El Salvador and Guatemala to find people who do not have the resources to feed themselves, not to mention others.  The small plots of land throughout the Third World do not provide enough food to feed families in contrast to large farms, owned and run by large landowners with irrigation ditches and mechanized harvesting.  This disparity does not exist just in the Third World; it exists right here in the United States.
    Continuing drought throughout California and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have impacted the small farmers more than the large ones.  Agribusiness with its factory farming methods, rather than gaining independence from the weather, has actually contributed to many problems of farming here in the United States.
    Concentrated feeding lots cause serious problems of animal waste disposal and runoff into streams and rivers. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that almost 70% of American streams and rivers are “impaired.”  Even groundwater is being contaminated.  In addition, smaller farmers, even those who farm using sustainable agriculture methods, often cannot compete with huge multinational corporations like Archer Daniel Midlands, which has the audacity to claim it fees the world.
    To add insult to injury, Monsanto sued organic farmers whose fields were inadvertently contaminated by their GMO seeds.  And the U.S. Supreme Court, now a bastion of protection for the wealthy, upheld Monsanto's right to sue in spite of an agreement that Monsanto made not to sue these farmers who were stuck with Monsanto's seeds on their land.  How does anyone fight corporate giants who run roughshod over small independent farmers?  And don't expect Congress to take any action because Monsanto contributes tons of money to members whose districts have Monsanto holdings.  It's a bit like fracking and its impact on the water of surrounding communities.  This is what happens when the almighty dollar replaces the Almighty.
    New Jersey is not immune from these problems, primarily due to our state's willingness to permit building where there should be none.  Our watersheds are being polluted by massive building in spite of community opposition.    Future generations will hold us accountable for our failures in these areas.
    By now, you're wondering, what's this got to do with loaves and fishes.  A great deal, I suggest.  Jesus calls us to be accountable for the way we live.  This is more than just how we spend our money and contributing to the Calico Cat.  Don't get me wrong.  The Cat food pantry is an unfortunate and essential part of our lives as Christians.  I say unfortunate because our society should have a better way to deal with hunger than feeling people through pantries – or housing them in places other than churches because legislatures are afraid to take on the real causes of homelessness in our society.
    While we continue to meet basic human demands, we should also be working for changes in state, national, and international policies that create these needs.  We should support transnational and local NGOs – nongovernmental organizations – that promote sustainable development and empower people.  Oxfam and the YMCA are transnational organizations; Pinelands Preservation is a local one.
    But what can one church – a small church-- do?  First, above all, become informed and learn about the issues facing us as a world in need of change.  Open our minds to new possibilities.  Use our imagination.  That's what Jesus did.  He looked at his world and said, Hey, there are new ways to experience God.  When we open our minds and hearts to the infinite possibilities God has for us, our world is never the same.  That's what made Jesus so dangerous to the existing power structure.  As a church, we can work with other churches and community organizations for a better society and a more sustainable world.  
    Now, the Gospel reading this morning begins with the verse, “When Jesus heard this, he withdrew himself from there...” The “this” the writer is referring to is the execution of John the Baptist.  I don't think Jesus withdrew in fear but in the need to grieve, think, and reflect and pray.  He knew the price he would have to pay if he kept preaching the gospel, the Good News of God's reign of peace and justice.  But Jesus challenged his disciples to share the meager resources they had and, as a result, they fed more people than they could imagine.  We are offered that same challenge today.  As a church, we have the choice of hoarding our resources or taking risks for the sake of the Gospel.
    Although the circumstances have changed somewhat over two thousand years, the issues are still the same.  The question is how we as a church community will respond to the challenges we face, whether we will look inward or whether we will develop a new ministry to the community where we live and the borders beyond it.
    Let us pray:  Giver of all good gifts, give us the ability to discern how we should respond to the many issues facing our community here and the wider community beyond these walls.  In the name of the One who calls us to be transformed, even Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.ext...