October 2, 2022 World Communion Sunday
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 Luke 9:10-17
Jesus said, “Go out and make disciples of all nations.” It seems that this would be a challenge to the disciples, who were mostly regular people from the Galilei area. As far as we know, none of them were terribly educated, although they could probably read and write basic Hebrew. None of them were wealthy, though some of them were probably middle class. None of the central twelve disciples had any political power; although it seems that Joseph of Arimathea sat on the council of the Jerusalem temple.
But one of the reasons why the area that we now know as Israel was historically such a coveted piece of real estate was that it was a nexus for trade routes. From Israel people could travel to the Iraq/Iran area, down to Egypt and Africa, or up into Turkey and then over to Greece and Europe. The Mediterranean was right there, so traders had access to northern Africa and southern Europe. We tend to think of this area as being primarily Jewish but actually, since humans had started to settle this region, it was a melting pot of people who were migrating or trading, and was an area that was under the constant influx of new cultures. This is one of the reasons why the pharisee tradition started: It was a means to keep the Jewish religion from becoming diluted or polluted by other religions, philosophies, and ways of life.
The disciples had all grown up in a Jewish religion and tradition that was constantly being touched by and connected to non-Jewish people. The Galilee area, although a primarily farming and fishing area, had a lot of towns that serviced the three major trade routes, as well as some minor routes. In those towns people from other lands lived and mingled with Jews. I you think about it, the area that Jesus was preaching from was the perfect place for Christianity to go outward from. You could get to nearly anywhere from there.
So today, when you imagine the story of the feeding of this large crowd of people, I want you to think that this wasn’t just a Jewish audience. There were probably people from many different cultures who were listening to Jesus preach.
I want to give you a little background on this event. First of all, this story is one of the few that is included in all four Gospels. Luke mentions specifically that 5,000 men have come to listen to Jesus. A lot of scholars have said that this was because women and children weren’t usually counted; men were counted as indications of their family unit. It’s like how we say for our food panty that we serve 20-30 family units a week. Some units are only one person, but we have up to 10 people in a family, which means we are probably serving somewhere between 40 – 60 people. So, we can safely say that there are anywhere from 5,000 – 10,000 people listening to Jesus.
This story takes place after the disciples come back from their travels. Jesus, at the beginning of chapter 9, gives them the power and authority to preach, cure diseases and cast out demons. He then sends them out in pairs as a practice run to be ready to do what he is doing on their own. They return a few months later, telling him about all of their successes. This could be why there are so many people who have come out to hear Jesus speak. If you had heard one of the disciples and were impressed with the message, wouldn’t you want to come out and listen to Jesus, the expert? I know I would.
So, Jesus is preaching and when the afternoon is getting on the disciples suggest that he needs to wrap things up because the people need to make their way home so that they can eat. Not an illogical thought. But Jesus says something rather surprising: he turns around to the disciples and tells them, “You give them something to eat.”
The disciples had just come back from doing a great job of performing their own miracles of healing and casting out demons. I think that Jesus wanted to show them that the one-on-one, or small crowd miracles that they had done, could be translated into a larger miracle. But this daunts the disciples, and they step back by saying, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”
Jesus sees that maybe this is a bit too big a job for them to handle at the moment. He thinks that they can do it, but they don’t think they can. So, Jesus has them arrange everyone into groups of fifty and then he looks up to heaven and blesses the food. Now this is extremely important because it emphasizes that Jesus isn’t doing this alone – he is working with God and the Holy Spirit. This is an act of divine connection, and the bread and fish have become a divine food, not only for Jesus but also for all the people who are going to be eating it.
I would like to point out that this is probably the first World Communion. Like I said, with that amount of people present there were bound to be some people who were not Jewish, but who had come to hear Jesus. Jesus is blessing this food and increasing it – so there is some divinity attached to it, and people are ingesting into their physical bodies, as well as into their souls, the blessings of God.
Sharing a meal is also an essential part of Luke’s Gospel. There are 19 meals in Luke, 15 of them which are unique to this Gospel. Jesus shares a meal after he has died with the disciples that he meets on the road to Emmaus. It is when Jesus blesses the bread that the two disciples are able to recognize him. Sharing a meal is a very essential part of the human fellowship. There is power in sharing a meal; it’s a place for us to nourish our bodies as well as our minds by exchanging ideas and experiences. It’s a place that we can learn about other people and share the grace of God through renewing ourselves.
I have a friend who spent his life as a restauranter. He opened up a wonderful restaurant in Croton that was a huge success, which everyone enjoyed going to. But one day he said to me, “Peggy, I should be doing more! I’m only running a restaurant.” I knew that he was a devote Christian and I’m sure that he was thinking about mission projects – which he did get into – but I told him that by owning a restaurant he was actually fulfilling a Christian mandate. First of all, he was paying his employees very well, and treating them with integrity. Second, he was creating a space where people could get together, eat simple but really good food, be with people they loved, and would walk away feeling better about themselves.
Okay, he wasn’t feeding 5,000 people all at once, but I know that the reason why people kept going back to the restaurant was because they felt renewed by the experience. How often have you walked out of a restaurant and said, “Never again?” It doesn’t have to be because the food is bad. It could be because the setting wasn’t welcoming, or the waiter was rude. You leave because you didn’t feel better when you left than when you came in.
World Communion Sunday was started in 1930 by Dr. Kerr, a Presbyterian minister who was looking for a way to unite some churches that were having problems with each other. By getting the churches together and having communion with each other they found a common Christian ground to start healing their differences. During and after WWII it was a way for churches to offer their communities a space to pray and worship together during difficult times. After the war the National Council of Churches promoted it as a way to remind all of the separate Christian denominations that we might have some different theological beliefs and practices, but that we are all united under Christ through the communion that he gave to all of us.
After all, Presbyterians are not the enemy, Baptists are not the enemy, Catholics are not the enemy, Coptics are not the enemy, other religions are not even the enemy. Satan is the enemy, and the way we defeat him is to find love among us and spread it as far and as wide as we can.
For me personally, when Jesus gave the blessing of the bread that made me think about miracles. I’m not sure that I am powerful enough to increase the food in our food pantry just by praying, but I thought, “You know you could pray over each of those bags that we prepare and give a blessing to all those families.” How is that going to hurt? And during this time, while I am hunting for grants trying to expand our donor base, I could be in a lot more prayer and ask the Holy Spirit for help.
But can you imagine if we could expand our minds daily into the spirit of World Communion, how that would change our thinking? What could we do if we put our divisions down and helped each other out? What if we went to a restaurant and looked around and saw each person there as a child of God? What if we saw the most basic of human activities as a way to increase fellowship and love in our community?
When you come to the table today take some time at the altar to ask God to help you connect to all the people around you in some way. Let’s all open our hearts up to miracles and the blessings they bring to us.