Rev. Hogue Sermons

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Hppc August 2 Sermon

More Than Enough
Isaiah 55:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21
Highland Park Presbyterian Church
August 2, 2020 (9th Sunday after Pentecost)
Rev. David Hogue, Interim Pastor

My grandfather was a saint. Oh, I’m sure there were plenty of people around who would have argued with that assessment at the time. But I would have been willing to take them on. He didn’t start out as a saint, but by the time I knew him, he had firmly achieved that status. He was a Free Methodist pastor who served mostly small, rural churches across the state of Ohio. His early life was spent in the rough and tumble world of the railroad, and that crooked little finger on his hand was a constant reminder of an ages-old accident hooking railroad cars together. He had an eighth-grade education – and that was about all he really needed then. Either to manage the small grocery store he ran with my Grandmother, or for the ministry he had in those small Ohio churches.

I’ll never forget one time when he came to preach at our church in Columbus. You see, we were a city church, no matter how small we really were. And we were much too sophisticated for the style of worship Grandpa was used to. He was used to preaching and having people respond to what he said. He knew he was getting through when someone called out “Amen!” or “Lord help us!” And he was getting none of that in this service. Nothing but polite silence. And nothing he could say would bring us out of ourselves. Finally it got to where he could take it no longer. When he made a point he knew was important, he paused, reached over his own shoulder, patted himself on the back, and said “Amen, Brother Staats. Amen.”

Those small rural Free Methodist churches were quite conservative, politically and theologically; and Grandpa undoubtedly fit right in. But Grandpa used to know how to preach in ways that didn’t condemn, but invited instead. Oh, he knew about sin, I suspect in a really up-close and personal way. But he didn’t lean quite so heavily on our sin as many did in those days. He knew about guilt and repentance and forgiveness, and called his congregations to be aware of those realities. But more often he offered an invitation that was a welcoming to the riches of a God whom he loved, and of whose love he was profoundly convinced. He needed less to coerce us to pray, and more to receive those who were moved by the Spirit to pray. He relied less on shaming us than on holding out for us the mustard seed treasures of the Scriptures. Small wonder that after his retirement, and virtually until the month of his death, the younger pastors in his community sought his counsel – his wisdom served the church for years after his retirement.

Granted these are the memories of a still devoted grandson, some 60+ years after his death. But you may understand why he comes to my mind as we listen to the words of Isaiah, and of Matthew this morning. For Isaiah was writing just as the imminent end of the Exile was about to become reality. There was hope in the air, and the Day of the Lord was close at hand. It was a day of optimism, of anticipation of God’s goodness, a time when things were to be made right again. God’s bounty was to become available to all who would reach for it. “Come for water, all who are thirsty; though you have no money, come, buy grain and eat; come, buy wine and milk, not for money, not for a price.” It is a theology of abundance, a hymn to the extravagant goodness of God. It is the declaration of a God who longs to provide far beyond the basic needs of our survival, a God whose care for us is overflowing and priceless. Water has always been life-sustaining; in the East it was also rare, and vendors sold it in the streets. But today Isaiah sings out that that spiritual water is offered freely to all who will receive it. Money can’t buy it, and there is no price for it. It is available to all.

If the Isaiah passage underscores God’s extravagance, Jesus feeding the 5,000 makes an even stronger case. It’s the only miracle story that appear in all four Gospels, with a slightly different twist each time. Jesus had just learned that John, who had baptized Jesus, had just been brutally executed by Herod. Perhaps out of fear for his own safety, or maybe to grieve John’s death, Jesus withdrew to “a deserted place.” But the crowds knew of his teaching and healing and they followed him, probably jeopardizing both his safety and his need for time alone. You know the story: the hour gets late, they are far from food and shelter, and the disciples must have felt overwhelmed by this mass of hungry, needy human beings. Their first thought was to send them away; they could find their own food. But Jesus had compassion on them and instructed the disciples to feed them. Feed them? with what? They could only scrounge up five loaves of bread and two fish; barely enough to satisfy a family, let alone more than 5,000 people! But Jesus took the meager offering – all they had, really – blessed the bread and broke it (in a way that reminds us of his last supper with the disciples) and began feeding everyone in the crowd. Not only are they all filled; there are baskets and baskets of food left over.

Most of us, I suspect, know what it’s like to be close to someone who needs more from us than we think we have. Whether it’s hunger like Jesus’ followers felt, or illness caused by an invisible virus, or financial distress, or family conflict; sometimes it’s the political and racial turmoil that saturates the very air we breathe; perhaps it is teachers and parents agonizing over what to do about school, or a congregation in between permanent pastors. If we feel compassion, we want to help. We talk a lot about empathy these days – that built-in capacity we all have, to varying degrees, to sense someone else’s pain. But empathy by itself can overwhelm us; we can forget that this pain belongs to someone else because it can feel as though it is our pain, too. We want to fix it right away, because we are so uncomfortable; we want to help, because helping makes us feel good. Or maybe, like Jesus’ disciples, we’d like to send them away, let them take care of themselves; we feel inadequate, or depleted, or just overwhelmed by the massive need in front of us. Sometimes empathy by itself can do more harm than good. Compassion, though, builds on top of empathy; we imagine what it’s like for the suffering one, but we remember that is their struggle rather than ours. We are able to ponder the best ways to help; sometimes that actually does mean letting those who struggle work out their own solution; at other times, we help best by providing bread or meat or companionship or prayer.

Like those disciples, we can gather the meager resources we’ve been handed and say, “but this is all we have.” And so the Jesus of today’s parable, says, “bring them to me.” Those tiny morsels of food we have, those few minutes in a busy day, that brief phone call or handwritten card – sometimes that’s all we have. But Christ says “bring them to me.” And he blesses them, and breaks them, and passes them around; and those around us may just be filled beyond our wildest imagination.

Surely that is Christ’s invitation to us today. That we acknowledge our hunger and thirst – that we bring all our infirmities, all our diseases – as truly an offering to God in themselves. For when we hunger and thirst, then truly God can meet us. When our self-sufficiency breaks down, then there is room for God. When we come to the limits of our own self-determination, when all we have are a few small loaves and a couple of fish, there is where we find One who yearns to feed us in our hunger, and offer us drink for our thirst.

One week ago this morning, at just about this time, the body of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis was carried one final time across that famous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, he and hundreds of others had marched across that bridge seeking the right to vote for all citizens, including brown and black persons who were regularly being turned away from the polls, and being told they couldn’t pass a “literacy test.” They were beaten as hundreds of thousands across the country watched in horror on their tv screens. That day proved pivotal in awakening America to the evils of racism. Lewis was beaten so badly he believed he was going to die; and that would not be the last time.

But Lewis’s passion and activism were grounded in a profound faith, like that of so many of his black sisters and brothers. “The civil rights movement was based on faith,” he said. “Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.”

Born in poverty to sharecropper parents in Alabama, we know John was inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. We can imagine him looking at his 15-year-old self and saying, “but this is all I have.” And in his life and legacy, we can see the thousands who have been fed by that gift. To the end, Lewis remained optimistic and hopeful, buoyed up by that vision of a world family reunited, the Beloved Community. “I was beaten, left bloody and unconscious,” he said just last month to Gayle King. “But I never became bitter or hostile, never gave up. I believe that somehow and some way, if it becomes necessary to use our bodies to help redeem the soul of a nation, then we must do it. Create a society at peace with itself, and lay down the burden of hate and division.”

It is not likely than many of us will be called to make similar sacrifices or look back on a life of that kind of impact on the world. But each day we are being asked to offer who we are, what we have, and watch as Christ multiplies our small gift. “Come for water, all who are thirsty,” Isaiah reminds us; “although you have no money, come, buy grain and eat; come, buy wine and milk, not for a price.” Amen, Brother Hogue.

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