How Are You Magnified?

 “Let us Pray:     Almighty God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we come before you today from a world that is hungry to know you, to find you, to wrestle with you until some kind of blessing may come.   We come hungry ourselves, yearning to feast on the bread that alone satisfies.  Bread of heaven, feed us now in this hour of worship and feed us always, so that we may be full of the knowledge of your grace and mercy toward us.  In Christ we pray.  Amen.”

I.    Introduction

Today’s Gospel lesson talks about food and hunger:  In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus was trying to flee to a quiet place, perhaps due to the recent killing of John the Baptist, perhaps due to the threatening interest shown to him by the Roman and Hebrew authorities.  Crowds of people had followed him for days, leaving their towns and coming into the countryside, just to hear his next word or to see his next miracle.
      They would not be disappointed:  In today’s Gospel we see that Jesus and his disciples fed over 5,000 persons, even though they had only 5 loaves and 2 fish to do so.  This miracle showed Jesus’s followers several things:  First, that Jesus was a miracle worker.  Second, that Jesus feeds our souls through his example of love -- love for God and love for our neighbors.  And third, he previews the ultimate feeding of the Kingdom of God through the sacrifice of his own body and blood.  We perceive this scene very directly.      
At the start of the Gospel, Jesus is looking for a quiet place.  He seems to be running from the multitudes of people who come to hear him speak and see him perform miracles.  Much like a rock star, Jesus is pursued by his fans, and the last thing he wants to do is spend a fourth day in a row healing the sick, curing the lame, and raising the dead.  But Jesus is moved by the crowd and calls them to gather at the shore and hearken to his message. 
When the long day with the crowd is coming to an end, Jesus asks his disciples how they are to be feed.  The disciples, doing the best they can, come up with five loaves and two fishes.  Jesus consecrates the bread and the fish, and then he gives them to his disciples, who then distribute the food to the crowd.  From the modest collection of loaves and fish, Jesus performs a miracle – a miracle that is so significant to the Bible that this is the only miracle story that is included in all 4 Gospels.

II.    Exegesis

We can interpret the story of the loaves and the fishes in at least 3 ways: Literally, Metaphorically, and Liturgically.
The literal truth of Jesus’s miracle of feeding the multitudes is straightforward.  Jesus magnifies the 5 loaves of bread and the 2 fish into a communal meal that feeds everyone.  Jesus meets his disciples and followers where they are – in an act of sustenance and in an act of blessed feeding.  Jesus is doing a social form of evangelism – he invites the multitude to participate in this miracle – to see and hear the work of the Messiah firsthand.  And as we see in the Gospel of John, Jesus literally IS the Word of God, from his heart he gives us the life-giving “soul food,” and he teaches us to do likewise.  
Metaphorically speaking, Jesus is feeding the souls of both the disciples as well as the multitudes, who in turn feed the souls of the world.  Jesus’s miraculous act of feeding the hungry is a metaphor for Christian mission.  In this view, Jesus is the “Sent One,” Jesus is sent by the Father to complete his mission on Earth.  Jesus completes this mission by feeding those of us who wish to follow him -- so that we can feed and satisfy those others who are hungry for the Word -- the teachings of the master, Jesus Christ.  
 Liturgically, the Gospel story of the loaves and fishes provide us with very specific instructions about how to perform the Lord’s Supper.  This Gospel story is one of many places in the Bible where God provides specific instructions for performing the sacrament of the Eucharist.  [As in Luke 22:17-20, Luke 24:30, Mark 6:37-38, and in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25,] Jesus gives us the blueprint for the 3 miracles that occur during the Lord’s Supper:  First, we bless or consecrate the bread and wine, which miraculously becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  Second, we break the bread – and from one loaf comes two loaves, and from two loaves come four loaves, et cetera.  This is the miracle that occurred in today’s Gospel – the elements are miraculously MAGNIFIED to feed ALL who are hungry, just as Jesus’s words and deeds are miraculously MAGNIFIED whenever we live as Jesus himself lived.  Third, Jesus gave the elements to his disciples, who (even as lay persons) are empowered to transmit these miracles from Jesus to all those who hunger and thirst for him.  Each disciple miraculously receives the power of Jesus Christ – to preach his word, to feed his flock, and to MAGNIFY the work of the church in the lives of others.  In this miracle of the Lord’s Supper, we, as the direct disciples of Jesus Christ, become what Martin Luther calls, the “priesthood of all believers.”  Regardless of whether we are ordained elders or lay congregation members – each of us becomes a minister of Jesus when we participate in the Lord’s Supper.  [Can I get an “Amen”?]

III.    Application of the Word to Our Own Lives.  

Just as Jesus MAGNIFIED those few loaves and fishes into a meal that would satisfy thousands of people, Jesus MAGNIFIES our own lives in so many ways.  Jesus MAGNIFIES our hearts to receive his blessed miracle of transformation – from food of the heart to the Word of the heart.  Jesus MAGNIFIES our souls so that we are free to accept his vision of the Kingdom of God.  And Jesus MAGNIFIES our own acts and our own deeds.  Jesus MAGNIFIES our common lives into lives of mission – we turn from our everyday existence into lives that serve others -- in honor, recognition, and memory of the acts and deeds that Jesus performed on earth.  [Pause]  In what ways does Jesus Christ MAGNIFY your life?

IV.    Poverty and Hunger in America

Food Insecurity
    In today’s Gospel lesson, the multitudes of Jesus’s followers were hungry, they needed to be fed, and Jesus feeds them all in both body and spirit.  And yet, like the multitudes on that hillside, our society faces the problem of hunger every single day.  Even in America, the world’s greatest food-producing nation, children and adults face poverty and hunger in every single county across America.
Today, according to Philabundance, a Philadelphia hunger relief organization:

  • 42 million Americans nationwide — including 13 million children — lived in households that are “food insecure,” meaning there was limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life on a day-by-day basis.  This represents about 13% of our national population.
  • Food insecurity in America means that 5.4 million seniors don’t have enough to eat every day.
  • Households with children were more likely to be food insecure than households without children.  
  • 59% of food insecure households participated in at least one of the major federal food assistance programs — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps); the National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (often called WIC), but many families in poverty still don’t qualify for these programs.

In Philadelphia, Food Insecurity is much more acute than the nation as a whole.  According to statistics compiled by the City of Philadelphia:

  • \Last year, nearly 25% of all Philadelphians were Food Insecure. Compare this to the 13% national average for Food Insecurity.
  • In Philadelphia, the Food Insecurity rate has remained well above the national average for nearly a decade. 
  • Food Insecurity is directly correlated with poverty:  Philadelphia has nearly double the population of residents who live below the poverty line than the nation at large; and Philadelphia’s Food Insecurity rate is nearly double the national average.
  • On any given day, over 1,800 meals are served to food insecure persons in Center City and West Philadelphia.  The total number of meals served to the food insecure last year was 879,892 meals across 35 food shelters and food missions.

“Food Deserts”
In addition to Food Insecurity, Philadelphia is known as a city comprised of many “Food Deserts.”  A “food desert” is an area that is generally more than half a mile from a grocery store or farmer's market.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, define “food deserts” as “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.”
In food deserts, it is more difficult to buy fresh produce, effectively making the true cost of food more expensive for residents.  Here are a few other notable statistics:  

  • In Philadelphia the average distance to a grocery store is 0.7 miles
  • And, while most citizens have access to healthy food through nearby supermarkets, farm markets, or grocery stores, in major cities like Philadelphia, there is a shortage of supermarkets and farm markets.  Instead, many Philadelphians get their food from “corner stores” or “convenience stores,” like Wawa, or fast-food stores like McDonalds, which generally provide highly processed, high-fat, high-sodium snacks, and soda drinks that are high in high fructose corn syrup.  These foods are very high in fat, calories, and preservatives, and are generally devoid of nutrients. 
  • In a recent study, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health found that there were 1092 standard “corner stores” in the city compared to 144 supermarkets. In the northwest section of Philadelphia alone, there were 15 supermarkets in contrast to 62 standard corner stores.

This situation of Food Insecurity and Food Deserts leads to and perpetuates an unfortunate cycle of obesity, hypertension, high triglycerides, and diabetes.  According to a recent report by the City of Philadelphia, the rate of diabetes among adults in the city has risen from 13.4 percent in 2010 to 16 percent in 2012.  That percentage is much higher than the 8.7 percent national average for the United States. These conditions are now epidemic and impose a heavy social burden, not to mention human suffering.  
Philadelphia is a city facing major health crises arising from widespread Food Insecurity and a wide distribution of Food Deserts.

IV.    What Can Be Done – How can our Food Ministry be “MAGNIFIED”?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls on us to “Magnify” our gifts, just as he magnified the loaves and the fishes to feed a mighty crowd.  In what ways do you see God “magnifying” your heart and soul towards a more fruitful and satisfying life – a life in mission to the poor, the hungry, and the homeless?

  • Support supermarkets and grocery store chains that move into urban areas.
  • Help distribute information about good nutrition for adults and children.
  • Promote fresh fruits and vegetables over highly processed foods like “drive-through” food, high-calorie snacks and sodas.
  • Support legislation aimed at maintaining or increasing funding for “Food Security” Programs like “SNAP” and “WIC" (As an aside, the current administration is calling for major cuts to Food Security programs, especially SNAP. [Caitlin Dewey & Tracy Jan, “Trump’s Plans to Cut Food Stamps (SNAP) Could Hit His Supporters Hardest,” The Washington Post, May 22, 2017 (The Trump Administration is planning to cut programs like SNAP by 25% over 10 years.])
  • Start Our Own Food Ministry
    •  Malvern Farmer’s Market partnership.  Collect up to 300 to 500 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables once per month.
    • Partner with other local church, such as St. Peters RC in Old City, which already has a thriving local food mission.
    • Start our own food mission that would focus on Food Insecurity among the homeless population in Old City, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, and Port Richmond.
    •  Reach out to local populations (homeless, low-income, jobless) in need.  These people are as close to this church as the Ben Franklin Bridge.

V.    Conclusion

    Our takeaway from today’s Gospel is quite simple and direct:  God loves us when we feed those in need.  We love each other when we feed those in need.  And we must feed the least of our society -- not only food -- but the Word of God, the kindness of Jesus’s spirit, and the hope that Jesus shows to those starved and thirsty for his Kingdom.  [Pause]

IV.    Prayer

Let us pray.  Loving and gracious God, help us to learn your lesson of MAGNIFICATION and incorporate it into our lives.  Help us to be faithful stewards of your creation, especially the food you give to us.  Help us to work towards food security for all of our neighbors.  Show us the best way to maximize the gifts you provide to us, and help us to create a vision of our own food mission, as we begin collecting the extra produce that you provide to us from the Malvern Farmer’s Market.
Loving and sacred God, help us to love you and to love one another as you have taught us.  Help us to magnify your light into the lives of others, so that we may bring your mission of love to a world hungry for your love.
May it be so.