Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Jesus is a peanut vendor" a sermon for July 31, 7th Sun after Pentecost

Ho! Peanuts, popcorn, cold beer! Ho! Peanuts, popcorn, cold beer! Ho!

(Hang with me a second.)

‘Ho!’ is the first word of our Old Testament Reading. You can look it up. See it? ‘Ho!’ Like Santa. Ho, ho, ho. The problem with this word is that nobody not dressed like a giant elf with reindeer ever says that anymore. It’s archaic. Old-fashioned. To put it bluntly, it’s lame. Ho. Who says that?

So one commentary recommends that we translate it, ‘Hey you!’, only remember that the you is plural, 'cuz he’s talking to a crowd, so in Texas, maybe we’d say, ‘Hey y’all!’, but even then we’re losing something of the context: remember, this is a vendor hawking wares, a guy who is selling stuff – he doesn’t have a natural audience; he's not preaching from a pulpit; people aren’t lined up to listen – by definition, he’s interrupting. He’s hawking wares on people busy with other things, people whose attention must be claimed.

And then I’m sitting there Tuesday night at the ballgame the Presbyterians us to and the peanut guy walks by and it hits me. That’s it! That’s the single, best translation I’ve heard all week. The single best way to say that strange two-letter word ‘ho’. “Ho! Peanuts. Popcorn.” You get it.

The reading this morning is trying to make a sound like that. An enthusiastic alarm. Truthfully, he’s trying to get your attention - trying to sell you on something. Trying to interrupt you, to persuade you to reconsider your plans. “Listen up, there’s a good thing going, and let me tell you…” He knows you have other plans. He knows you’re busy. But hang on, listen quick. He thinks it’s worth hearing anyway. He thinks that what he has to give is something you don’t have that you might like to have.

He starts off with water. Free water. And the Americans roll their eyes because unlike places in the two-thirds word we can get that on tap, big deal, so he mentions the food – all for free – the milk and the wine, and don’t worry if you don’t have money. It doesn’t matter. (Though the vendor does rhetorically ask his audience why they continue to spend their money on things that don’t satisfy. And isn’t that the definition of most things we purchase, that once the buyer’s buzz wears off, they seldom really satisfy.) No matter. No money? Just come. Come and be filled.

And then the vendor breaks character and does a strange thing: he invites his listeners to sit down and listen. Before he was interrupting, now he presumes a conversation. He says, “I want to feed you because I want you to live. You may not believe it, but I want the best for you. And living, I want to make my covenant with you. I want people to look at you and think ‘glory’, the goodness of the Holy One, the abundance of the blessing of God.

This is so strange that it’s worth some ridiculous examples. Here are two: It’s like going to a baseball game to watch other people play, killing time as pastimes do, buying a hot dog with all the fixings from the guy who’s shouting ‘ho!’, and discovering that the vendor is really your childhood hero, and that he’s got an extra mitt, and he’d love a game of catch.

It’s like staring at the television, watching the bachelor or bachelorette, killing time as pastimes do, and a knock at the door, and it’s your own true love, though you’ve never met, and he wonders if he might take you out to dinner. And maybe you’ve already eaten, but instinctively you know in that moment that this story is not even mostly about the food.

I want people to look at you, he says, and think ‘glory’, the goodness of the Holy One, the abundance of the blessing of God.

Surprise and new life. Life of the kind you had stopped hoping for.

Another story about food that’s not really about food. Jesus and the feeding of the five thousand men. Probably a lot more if you counted the women and kids. We’ve heard it so many times. And sometimes we gloss over it, and sometimes we just acknowledge it, and I’ve heard preachers talk about it in order to inspire hospitality meals, potlucks, and food pantry work. You can feed the people, too, he’ll say. Indeed, isn’t that what Jesus says? He tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” And so we scramble to feed each other. And it’s not all bad. But there’s a detail in the story that we sometimes miss, I think, I know I’ve missed it - do you know what it is? The detail is that these people don’t really need food.

Think about it – the disciples tell Jesus to send the people away, so that they can go buy some grub. Grab some dinner. They’ve got money. Presumably, no one had promised them a catered dinner on the lawn in any case. So they’ve got money AND they expected to spend it that night. They’re not vagabonds. This is not a matter of would they eat, but where would they eat. So this story is not the story of the homeless being fed. Instead, it’s the story of being made able to stay near Jesus. It’s the story of being given permission to listen a while longer to Jesus even when it starts to change their other plans.

And now the two stories are becoming one story: Jesus is the peanut vendor, asking the people to sit down and to listen. And he’s giving them everything they need in order to close to him.

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all of these things will be added to you as well.”

So this is the story of the single mother who gives of her time and her treasure to the Lord and wonders how it’s all going to balance out. This is the story of the couple that leaves home for a strange town where they will be strangers and they leave because they heard God call them, and they wonder if God will leave them like orphans. This is the story of any and every person, every people, who has ever stepped out in faith because they knew that their need to stay near to Jesus was every bit as real a need as the bread and milk they ate.

Because instinctively they knew that the story and their hunger was not even mostly about the food.

Can I ask you a personal question?

How are you feeding on Jesus? In what ways are you intentional about staying near him?

Are you finding friends with whom to regularly gather, to pray? Not just on Sundays. How is your spiritual hunger touched and filled by the bread and the wine, the Body and Blood, that you receive here? What parts of your life are being touched by this blessing? What part of your life might you still stand to hand over to him?

How is God calling you to partner with him in ways that allow God to touch the hidden parts, the hunger, of other people’s lives? The parts they’ve stopped hoping might get better. Lives they no longer, in the truest sense, enjoy.

I know, that’s too many questions. I hope some of them hit the mark, but it’s more than you have pockets for this morning. Let me share a story, then, and leave you with just one question that I hope will help to carry all the others.

So I’m at the library, picking out books to take to the beach next week, and after a few minutes of digging through the shelves I take my find to the desk and wait in line. I notice I’m a little anxious. Guilty conscience leftover from my childhood. ‘Any late fees?’ I ask the grey-bearded librarian. He checks my card. ‘No,' he says. I am relieved. ‘In fact,’ he says, ‘no check outs for the last year, actually.’ If that’s not a picture of guilt and its effects I don’t know what is. He slides my book over and checks it out on the computer. Hands it back to me. With a smile that we’d call modest on anyone other a librarian he hands it to me, and he says in a way only librarians can, ‘Enjoy.’

Enjoy. Librarians can be so presumptuous. He hadn’t even read the book! I pray to become so presumptuous. “Here, the Body of Christ," I would tell you. "Enjoy!” That’s all this Gospel is saying, and it’s plenty.

So, the five-cent recap: Jesus multiplies the food not because the people don’t have other means for food. He multiplies the food so that he can buy more time with them. You know, for as fancy a reason as he he enjoys them. Enjoys their company. Enjoys who they are. And because they enjoy him; they don’t want to go, either. I remember a prayer service at the monastic community in Taize, France, and the leaders, the monks, had all gone home, but the youth who had gathered from all over the world could not go home. They could, but they didn't. They enjoyed it too much. They wanted to stay with their Savior. So they did. They sang hymns long into the early morning hours.

This, then, is the question that I promised you a minute ago, the one that carries all the others anyway: “Did you know he enjoys you and that his delight is to be enjoyed by you?”

Come, this is the feast of the Living God and Christ himself is the Lamb. This is the invitation to a new way of life - a new life - and so, yes, it interrupts your other plans. All good love stories do. But look on the hill where he feeds them and see that they’re not thinking about the microwave dinners they left in the fridge. No, this is the feast of victory for our God. And Christ is the Lamb whose blood has set us free to be people of God. Children of God. Praise God!

And one last thing: enjoy.

Amen.

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