This coming week contains two of my favorite holy days: St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday and St. Joseph’s Day on Thursday. I remember in both 2000 and 2006, St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday, and so lots of Cardinals gave special dispensation for Roman Catholics to eat meat on those Fridays, so long as the meat in question was corned beef.
We Christians love our food, and Christ Church is good at food. On my second visit here ever, it took me seven hours of driving in the rain to get here from VTS, but I was greeted at the upstairs door by lots of people, including Darrell Vigh with a plate of hamburgers and hot dogs. I left with a full belly and a vocation.
Christianity is not the only food-minded religion. “In the mid-1800s there was a group of people in America known as the Millerites–a (semi) Christian sect firmly convinced that Jesus would return sometime late in the year 1843. He didn’t, setting off what was called “the Great Disappointment.” At least some of these folks, however, made the best of the situation by declaring that as a matter of fact Jesus had returned but that it had turned out to be an invisible, spiritual advent. Believing themselves to be living in an already-present millennial kingdom, these Adventists decided that as part of this new identity they should invent alternative foods as a sign of their not being fully in this world. So one preacher named Sylvester Graham invented a new kind of cracker for his congregation to eat–yes, the Graham Cracker.”1
Jesus did not serve Graham Crackers at the feeding of the four-thousand, no matter how tasty that might have been. Our young hero, the lad with the two fish and 5 loaves, probably would have preferred some honeyed crackers to the barley loaves he had, as barley loaves were and are rough and harsh; at least back then, it was poor man’s bread. Where this lad got this simple but quite satisfying lunch, we’re not told, nor are we told why Philip presumed that the young man would be willing to give up his lunch.
If I was that lad, I probably would have told Philip he was out of luck, but the boy was obviously open to Jesus; the boy was open to the possibility that, in giving up all that he had to the Lord, he would get much more in return. In the adult education sessions we’ve been having, being open to the Lord, both personally and as a church, has been a big topic. We’ve talked about being spiritually open and we’ve talked about our church being physically open.
The Rev. Dr. Ozzie E. Smith, Jr., a UCC pastor out in Illinois, wrote about a time a “few years ago in the city of Chicago, (when) a crowd of community residents did something unusual. They picketed the churches in their community to do something other than have church. They picketed them to be church. They seemed to say the Christ you claim and proclaim each Sunday seems more than enough in the sanctuary, but never seems to get out in our neighborhoods. Why are you open only on Sunday? Need happens 24/7. There are six other days in the week, but you’re closed.”2
But you’re closed. The crowds today are no different than the crowds that followed Jesus around 2000 years ago. They are hungry both spiritually and physically. They are searching for the thing or the person that will satisfy. The unchurched all around us are just as Jesus saw the people 2000 years ago, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Thankfully, we happen to know the Shepherd, the good Shepherd who has the miraculous food that satisfies even our souls. One of my great points of pride is that we are not closed, not only open on Sundays; our doors are open every day and have been for as long as anyone can remember. That’s our starting point this Lent: open doors that lead to open hearts, hearts that care for the lost, the unsaved, that reach out into our neighborhood where need happens 24/7, hearts that are open to the possibility that, in giving up all that we have to the Lord, we might get much more in return.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.
2The Rev. Dr. Ozzie E. Smith, Jr., More Than Enough, Day 1: http://day1.org/1001-more_than_enough