Patti LaCross delivered the following homily at Sunday Assembly on July 31, 2011.
In the fullness of summer, even occasional swimmers need no second invitation to come to the water;
In this cranky, miserly political and economic scene,
People everywhere seek welcome, bread and milk as they struggle to keep their bearings, and even feed themselves and their families.
The refreshment offered in today’s readings from second Isaiah and Matthew’s Gospel is perfectly attuned to our needs at this end of a warm, dry July. And in the comfort of this chapel, we pause in order that the rich images of God’s word can soak into our hearts and minds and send us out renewed in faith and mission.
The 55th chapter of Isaiah begins with the Hebrew Shema! that initiates familiar Jewish prayer. Shema! Listen! Hark! Hear o Israel…
A more commanding start than we hear in today’s passive rendition “Our God says this”
Listen! Requires a response; this is no idle invitation.
Come! Everyone who thirsts, and you that have no money, Come, buy, eat!
This banquet is hosted by an eager God, an image enlivened for me as the Mother of an eager bride, a bride who has received the many, many accepted invitations with much enthusiasm and joy.
In the midst of all else that is going on in people’s lives, the timing of this wedding is perfect.
Family and friends widely flung over the years and miles seem to know that coming to this wedding banquet will not only strengthen our bonds, but rejuvenate us all. Countless conversations Jim and I have had with family members in recent months include the phrase: I –or we –really need this wedding!
Such is the invitation issued to the Israelites who had broken covenant with their God:
Come to the Banquet, come and you will find refreshment and satisfaction- and over that meal with you I will restore the covenant I had with David. You will be my people once again, something you could not buy, and the thing that will endure.
It is against the backdrop of this abundant hospitality that Matthew’s account of the feeding of the crowd has been set.
Healing welcome for the weary, juxtaposed against the horror of the beheading of John the Baptist, by Herod the Coward.
“And Jesus, upon hearing the news”…what could he have been feeling? John, to whom he had presented himself for baptism. John, the prophet who demurred in the presence of Jesus but continued, fearless, in his own call for repentance, in the advent of the Reign of God.
And what could Jesus have imagined for himself in absorbing that news?
Who wouldn’t want some time in a deserted place – even if it were but a stone’s throw from the villages. And would not the crowds have heard the same news?
Someone known to them had stood up to Herod, and was cut down.
To whom could they turn?
“And Jesus saw their need, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick.”
Then as the day ended, he called upon his followers to practice compassion and provide food for them all, the thousands who had gathered around.
When they had done as he said, Jesus took the role of a Jewish father and led this impromptu family in the meal prayer that normally would have echoed from each of their homes:
Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
All the Jews in the crowd – and those to whom this gospel was addressed –
Would have recognized that once again their God had fed them in the wilderness, had prepared for them a table in the presence of their enemies.
They could put their trust in God and live.
A day of this lush beauty reminds us of the providence of that same God.
We gather to sing praise and eat the meal that sustains and unites us with delight.
Yet we do so with our hearts open to all who hunger for sustenance- and for freedom. We too are told to Listen! to the needs of the crowd, and to respond as the disciples did, our efforts assured by the God who calls Come!
Walter Brueggemann teaches that each Eucharistic meal holds special significance for those whose faithfulness endangers them. In this meal, then, let us be mindful particularly mindful of the Christians in Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Nigeria, which lead the 22 most dangerous countries in which to be Christian.
Worldwide, religious persecution of Christians has grown exponentially in recent years. From Eritrea to China, members of ancient stone churches and hidden house churches are in peril.
However, since it is the so-called Christian far right that seizes upon these abuses to push its agenda in ways that fail to reflect the Gospel message, it can be difficult to know how to respond.
A vocal strand of Evangelical Christianity wants to hype an anti-Islamic message from the suffering of overseas Christians in a wide variety of oppressive circumstances.
What will authentic Christian witness demand of us, our children and grandchildren in a world where interfaith dialogue is overwhelmed in much of the world by repression, violent persecution and the displacement of millions of persons, including those targeted for their Christian beliefs?
How will we act in solidarity with fellow Christians and persons of other faiths – without being manipulated by those who would that exploit universal fears of the unknown as well as the suffering of followers of the
Today we are given Jesus, who upon hearing of the execution of John the Baptist, Went off to pray in solitude, then faced the Crowd with compassion, reminding them of God’s providence. In that painful and confusing time, He modeled in solitude and called his followers also to Listen!,
And then to act with loving kindness.
Their obedient response was sufficient to the needs of the crowd.
We are called to that kind of Attentive discipleship, regardless of the powers that threaten institutions, programs, and cultural norms that we hold dear. In the center of it all, Jesus offers direction, our Creator offers sustenance, and the Spirit fills us Courage and Joy.
This is the perfect time for the banquet prepared for us.
Come, all who thirst, all who are dissatisfied, hungry, and weary.
Listen! Drink, and eat.