Sermons

May is Godís Apology for December

Rumors about Hunger

May 04, 2014

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

I realize I have preached this text on the feeding of the 5000s to you three times already in nearly a decade. You probably won’t remember the themes but here they are. First, this is not a miracle text. Jesus didn’t use magic, the people used sharing to take a little bit and make it a lot. Second: this is a Eucharistic text, telling us how food works for people who follow Jesus. Whenever we eat, we believe that someday soon everybody will eat as well as we do right now. I always pray when asked to pray before a meal in public: Hasten the day when all will eat as well as we will today. Third theme of yore: watch out for foodies. We get way too involved with our food and way too little involved with its meanings. Or better put, “foodies” are aestheticians about food. We photo graph it. We plump it. We arrange the colors. This text is actually prophetic about food. You can be prophetic and aesthetic about food but you have to watch out for your inner chef. He or she may think that the food is over once plated. Truth it has just begun to show its densities, what foodies simplistically call the farm to table movement.

In my search for something new to say to you today I arrived at the notion of picnic. What we have here in this text is an eschatological picnic. It is outdoors. People brought things. That is the definition of a picnic. Everybody brings something like we do at agape. The text is an eschatological, Eucharistic picnic.

There are lots of rumors about the end time and about the agape meal. Let me name three. A rumor is a half-truth told by a disconnected reporter who doesn’t have the sense to check his or her sources.

First Rumor: that food is calories. That we eat to get the fuel we need. Yup. But enter prophesy and its insistence on feeding the thousands: Isn’t it strange that some of us live to reduce calories in a low fat, low sugar frenzy and that the majority of people in the world don’t get enough calories? Can you imagine a third world woman looking at a first world NYC sandwich: first the package, then the enumeration of the calories. 520 calories for the Havarti dill/hormone free mayonnaise, with a dab of honey mustard, two would be tomatoes slices and grain fed turkey on gluten free seeded rye? $7.95. Enough said. Third rumor: Income inequality, which has been rapidly increasing for the last fifty years, is inevitable. Nothing serves the status quo as well as an inevitability argument.

Back to the text: note that ordinary people took off to a mountain and fed each other. Income and resource inequality is not inevitable. One of the ways we say that is through an agape meal. We say that a little sharing tips the universe. Agape undermines the inevitability argument physically and spiritually. Physicists and scientists have taught us the butterfly effect, that small changes in any system create large effects. As long as people have Agape meals, the inevitability despots, the pre destination despots don’t have a prayer. Five loaves. Two Fish. 5000 fed. That is the deep logic and deeper magic of Agape. It hastens the day when all will eat as well as we do today.

There is an additional rumor about hunger and today in what will likely be a chaotic distribution of the sacrament is a good time to name it. That rumor is if we just ate the agape meal right then we’d have the strongest possible weapon against the destiny despots. Some even think there is a right way to pack a picnic. There isn’t. Early Christians had their agape outside of town, where they gathered secretly around their leader. Many ate in caves for centuries. Today the details of Agape often interfere with our participation in it. Who sets up? Who cleans up? How do we make sure there is wine and grape juice? The details matter to us because of the deep magic of the inevitable feeding of all. We don’t want to jimmy the magic so we over attend the details. Have you ever watched someone buy a lottery card? All the little rituals? Likewise we are so excited about communion that we don’t want to jimmy our luck. More importantly, we can’t jimmy our luck or its deep magic. We can just taste what is coming and in that tasting bring it on. Reverence matters at Agape, doing it right does not.

You may find it preposterous that two loaves and a few fish fed so many. You may also find a good picnic preposterous. But please think for a minute about the most famous depiction of a picnic as a painting, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) by Edouard Manet. The 1862 painting depicts the juxtaposition of a female nude and a scantily dressed bather on a picnic with two fully dressed men in a rural setting. Now that is preposterous.

The most important part about a picnic is that everybody brings something. And Charles Dickens, in conclusion, thought so too. In his THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, he says, “Miss Twinkleton (in her amateur state of existence has contributed herself and a veal pie to the picnic.”

The right way to picnic or to agape or to remind ourselves that hunger -- the kind we still have after an expensive sandwich and the kind that comes from too few calories -- is not inevitable. Instead feast, for all, is inevitable and that’s why we come to the picnic and there share what crumbs and fragments we have. We come without our rumors, naked and open to the feast.

Even better, consider, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, which begins with a boating picnic enjoyed by Rat and Mole that exemplifies an English tradition: “The rat brought the boat alongside the bank, tied it up and helped awkward Mole safely ashore, and swung out the picnic basket. The Mole begged to be allowed to unpack it all by himself. He took out all the mysterious packets one by one and arranged their contents, gasping ‘Oh, My. Oh, My!’ at each fresh surprise.” Oh, my. Amen

 
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