8 Pentecost, Cycle A Proper 13, August 2, 2020
Genesis 32:22-31 Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5 Matthew 14:13-21
One of the best things, the day after a meal is leftovers. I've said hundreds of time, "wow, this soup or sauce tastes better today than when I served it last night." And so the obvious question is why don't I have the discipline to serve things a day late so that the flavors can marinade longer and taste better? Well, I'm not that disciplined and also not everything tastes good as a leftover, like a soggy salad.
I'm fascinated with the accounts of the multiplication of loaves stories in the Gospels. They all include leftovers. Why do all of the authors make sure to report leftovers but they never write about what is done with the leftovers? Are the leftovers recorded to imply the abundance of God's blessing? Are the leftovers recorded to indicate that the work of distribution remains for the disciples to feed people who were not present for the original meal?
Is the multiplication of loaves story the cryptic insertion of the Eucharistic practice of the early churches with the invitation that the leftover bread is the renewal supply of God's holy bread for the people of this world? If MacDonald's have served billions of burgers, how many billions of people have been fed with the continual leftovers from the Table of the Lord in the history of the church?
The leftovers reported at the multiplication of loaves event is an indication that the feeding of people with bread and the word of God is still not finished. It is a reminder to us that we cannot divorce Eucharist as an event of Word and Sacrament from the needs of the hungry people of the world. We are challenged to devise creative economies to get the leftovers from the abundance of God to us to those who need food and the things for necessary subsistence.
Let us look at a theology of leftovers in the story of salvation. One might say that the intent of God was to bless all with abundance and have the leftovers of abundance be continually shared to new and more people. The leftovers are the evangelism, the invitation to join the main table of blessing which God desires for everyone.
The biblical story of salvation is that God wanted to deliver the blessing of abundant living to all people in this world. As God's creation, God wanted the human creatures to have an "owner's manual" on how to best operate human living and how to troubleshoot if problems arose.
The delivery system was the selection of a people who would build a house of prayer for all people to be invited into the ownership manual for best behaviors and living.
We have read today, the story of the transformation of a single family man into the corporate personality. Jacob wrestled with God and he, died as the last Patriarch, but he received a new Corporate Name, the name of Israel. In this name, a people would be readied as a divine strategy to deliver the owner's manual for human beings to this world. Israel became the corporate name for a people with a divine mission. And the mission had some successes and some failures.
The mission was successful in forging a continuing identity for the Jewish people by rules which segregated them from the other people of the world. Everyone can theoretically become a member of an Amish Community, but the rules are so inaccessible from the normal practices of modern people as to make Amish practice an impossible universal practice. What became obvious in the time of Jesus and Paul is that Judaism as it had come to be practiced was not adaptable to the conditions in Palestine and to the majority people in the cities of the Roman Empire. Even though Judaism permitted proselytes to convert, one could say that evangelism was not a major mission of the Judaism which was practiced at the time of Jesus and Paul. The most effective way of Jewish evangelism was birth of a child within a Jewish family.
In the letter of Paul to Romans, Paul, a Jew, mourned the fact that his Jewish faith community did not have evangelical wisdom. How could the people of the world know that God's blessing was intended for all if there was no strategy for sharing. Paul believed that the blessing of God to the Jews had plenty of leftovers. The offering of these leftovers to the Gentiles people was the evangelism of the Jesus Movement within the Roman Empire. The earliest churches derived from the synagogues and were a Christ-centered Judaism to the people in the Roman Empire. And to be more accessible, the Jesus Movement were led by the Spirit to dispense with the ritual purity requirements of Judaism to reach the Gentile peoples. And this caused a painful separation of the Jesus Movement from the synagogue. Evangelism of the Jesus Movement believed that one was not distinguished by ritual purity, as important as it might be, one was distinguished by the inner presence of the Holy Spirit to change one's life toward the moral perfection of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, self-control and faith.
Leftovers might seem to be like second-hand clothing that we give to the thrift store. But when it comes to food, leftovers can be the better tasting food due to mature marinating. And that is what evangelism is in the Jesus Movement; it is the leftovers of the blessing of the main meal which has marinated our faith lives in maturity so that we can make a more tasty presentations of our good news to the people in our lives. Why? Because we want everyone invited to the main table of God's love and blessing.
May God give us wisdom to distribute the wonderful leftovers of God's blessing in our lives, so that more people can know that they are invited to God's main table, God's welcoming feast of life. Amen.