The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

A MEAL WITH FRIENDS

Delivered 9/3/2000
Text: Luke 9:10-17
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

"...looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke..." Familiar sounding words. Reminiscent of the Last Supper. A foreshadowing of what we ourselves will do today.

Our lesson is a well-known one, the feeding of the 5,000. Of all Jesus' miracles, this is the only one repeated in all four gospels.(1) Five loaves, two small fish...and by the time it is all over, 5,000 men PLUS their women and children had been fed and were satisfied, with twelve baskets of left-overs collected.

How did Jesus do that? I have no idea. One suggestion made is that these folks all had food with them to start with, but none wanted to show it for fear that they would have to share; then Jesus confronted them with these meager morsels, and they were more or less shamed into digging into their own picnic baskets (or whatever they had) and finally doing the sharing that they should have done in the first place. I guess that is possible, but I would not bet the farm on it. To be honest, I am content to remain blissfully ignorant of the details, just happy to celebrate a special moment...a miraculous moment...with all those people there in that countryside outside Bethsaida.

I want to call your attention to one little detail in the story that you might not have thought much about before. Verse 14: Jesus says, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each." Hmm. NO ONE ATE ALONE!

I am sure there were some there who would have preferred to eat alone:

  • Some had come for healing who had heard about this miracle worker and were not interested in any chit-chat.
  • Some were feeling guilty who had come to hear this teacher in a search for solace who would have appreciated not having to explain why they were out here.
  • Some were grieving and would have been content to be left quietly in solitude.
  • Some were just plain shy and not all that comfortable being forced to open up to new acquaintances.

In other words, they were normal. Those THERE on THAT day are also HERE on THIS day. "Make them sit down in groups..." NO ONE ALONE!

That was by design. There is something about the gospel that is utterly and completely communal. Jesus started by gathering friends around him - 12 of them - and relied on them to help spread the word. As the time came for him to end his earthly ministry, his instructions were to get out there and make MORE disciples, more friends - we call it the Great Commission. The result of that instruction was the formation of the church - more friends gathered together in the name of Jesus. Even now, in our Presbyterian tradition, the two sacraments we regularly celebrate (Baptism and the Lord's Supper) are communal: baptism is our official introduction into the community; the Lord's Supper is the way the community is nourished and sustained. NO ONE IS BAPTIZED ALONE; NO ONE ENJOYS THE LORD'S SUPPER ALONE. The church forces us out of our isolation - there is no such thing as a "Lone Ranger" Christianity (and, for that matter, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto, Kemo Sabe). Jesus said, "Have them sit down in groups..."

One of the images the Bible offers of heaven is a banquet. I can guarantee you that someone coming into that feast, approaching the headwaiter with a request for "A table for one, please," will hear, "Sorry. None available."

Fred Craddock, one of America's great teachers of preaching, tells the story of another breakfast experience. He was stuck in Winnipeg, Canada and in the midst of an early October snow storm which paralyzed the city. Everything was shut down and his host could not even make it to Fred's hotel to pick him up for breakfast.

So, for breakfast, Fred found himself at a crowded bus depot café about two blocks from his hotel. As he entered, somebody scooted over and let him get in a booth. A big man with a greasy apron came over to the table and asked him what he wanted. Not knowing what the café served, Fred asked to see a menu.

"What'd ya want with a menu?" the man asked. "We have soup."

"Then I'll have soup," he said. Just what he wanted--soup for breakfast.

The man brought the soup and Craddock says it was an unusual looking soup. It was grey, the color of a mouse. He did not know what was in it, but he took this spoon and tasted it. Awful! "I can't eat this," he said. So he sat in that crowded café warming his hands around the bowl, railing against the world, stuck in Winnipeg.

Then, the door opened and someone yelled, "Close the door," and she did. A woman came in. She was middle-aged, had on a coat, but no covering for her head. Someone scooted over and let her in a booth. The big man with the greasy apron came over and the whole café heard this conversation:

"What'd ya want?"

"Bring me a glass of water," she said.

The man brought the water, took out his tablet and repeated the question. "What'd ya want?"

"Just the water."

"Lady, you gotta order something."

"Just the water."

The man's voice started rising: "Lady, I've got paying customers here waiting for a place, now order!"

"Just the water."

"You order something or you get out!"

"Can I stay and get warm?"

"Order or get out."

So, she got up. The people at the table where she was seated got up, people around got up, the folks that let Fred sit at the table got up, Fred got up, and they all started moving towards the door.

"Ok," the big man with the greasy apron said, "She can stay." And everybody sat down. He even brought her a bowl of that soup.

Fred asked the man sitting next to him, "Who is she?"

"I never saw her before," he said, "but if she ain't welcome, ain't nobody welcome."

Then Craddock said, all you could hear was the sound of people eating that soup. "Well, if they can eat it, I can eat it," he said. He picked up his spoon and started eating the soup.

"It was good soup. I ate all of that soup. It was strange soup. I don't remember ever having it. As I left I remembered eating something that tasted like that before. That soup that day tasted like bread and wine. I wished that had happened in a church," he said. "But sometimes it does. Maybe here, maybe this church, maybe..."

Jesus said, "Have them sit down in groups..." No tables for one. The Lord's Table is for a great gathering of friends...old friends we have known for years, new friends who may have just come in "from the cold" whom we barely know at all, but friends we CAN get to know better. And our meal is hosted by one whom the scripture describes as a "friend who sticks closer than a brother."(2) When we sit and eat together, something special, something wondrous can happen. And it does. It will. Right here. Today. Be ready for it. And when it does...ENJOY!!!

Amen!


1. Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-13

2. Proverbs 18:24

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