Preacher: The Rev. Joseph Constant
Good Morning! I am delighted to be with you this morning. I want to thank my good friend and seminary classmate, the Rev. Doyt Conn for extending this invitation to me. I am grateful for the classroom formation that I received at Virginia Seminary but also grateful for the time that Doyt and I spent together every afternoon after class as we picked up our girls from day care and shared and debated over Doyt’s new theological insights.
And thanks to all of you – the Epiphany community for welcoming me and allowing me this opportunity to worship with you.
Let us pray:
Save your people, save your people now;
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy;
Father, hear our prayer, save your people now.
I was born and raised in Haiti. Growing up, I never thought of Haiti, my home, as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, or one of the poorest countries of the world. But Haiti is a place where the majority of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Growing up, I knew what it was like to not always know where my next meal was coming from; I knew what it was like to be surrounded by people who could not afford the basics – food, clothing, shelter, drinking water and health care. But I grew up in a family of faith. My parents were very involved in the life of the Church. They also believed in education. I still managed to play soccer with my friends. We just didn’t have cleats or sneakers and often an orange served as a ball. My parents’ faith carried me through.
As a child, I accepted the poverty that a country like Haiti endures as what I figured was our lot in life. But I left Haiti in my teens, and emigrated to the United States. And I began to realize the disparity between the two countries. And I began to comprehend that such a disparity was not ordained by God.
In his book No Room at the Table, Donald Dunson writes, “Every day, somewhere on this earth, twenty-four thousand people—the vast majority of them children—die from hunger. A recent report by the United Nations warns that a hunger crisis currently threatens 8.6 million people in Central America alone. Earthquakes, hurricanes and plummeting coffee prices have sent this region of the world into deep turmoil; its children are at great risk of malnutrition and hunger related illnesses. It’s easy for individuals to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the sheer magnitude of this problem.”
We have all felt that sense of being overwhelmed and helpless at one point or another. In today’s gospel passage, Jesus’ disciples know something about this feeling of being overwhelmed. Here, in the 14th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has just learned that his cousin John the Baptist is dead, killed by King Herod.
As soon as Jesus heard about his cousin’s death, he withdraws from the crowd. Matthew does not tell us the specific reason for Jesus’ withdrawal. Is it out fear for his own life or does Jesus simply need alone time to grieve the death of his cousin and colleague in ministry?
Regardless, Jesus gets on a boat on his way to a deserted place. But the crowd, motivated by what they had heard, follows Jesus. What was it that the crowd heard that draws them to follow Jesus?
Matthew tells us when Jesus sees the crowd his heart goes out to them. He reaches out and shows them God’s love and compassion. He knows they are looking for someone to give meaning to their lives. In Luke’s version of the story, Luke tells us that Jesus has compassion on the crowd because they are like sheep without a shepherd. They need somebody to guide them and lead them along the way. Jesus immediately begins to respond to the crowd, healing the sick among them, and ministering to those in need.
As the sun begins to set, the disciples realize there is a problem. The people are hungry. It’s been a long day for them. The disciples raise their concerns to Jesus, suggesting Jesus tell the people to go away so they can go and get something to eat. Jesus’ response is not what the disciples expected.
Jesus says to the disciples, we are not sending them away, you feed them. We feed them, but how? How are we supposed to feed 5000 men plus women and children? We did not plan for this. We hardly have enough food for ourselves. They say to Jesus, we only have five loaves of bread and two fish. How are we supposed to feed such a large crowd with just five loaves of bread and two fish?
Jesus asks the disciples to bring him the fives loaves of bread and the two fish. He commands the disciples to tell the crowd to sit on the grass. Jesus takes the food. He looks up to heaven and he blesses the food. He breaks the bread and gives the bread to the disciples for distribution. Jesus places the food in the hands of the twelve disciples and commands them to go. Go and feed the people.
Matthew tells us the entire crowd is fed and they are more than satisfied. The twelve disciples went back to work and collected twelve baskets of left over food. It is suggested that the twelve baskets of collected food represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Later, Jesus will commission the disciples to go to all the nations, to all twelve tribes of Israel to bring the good news of God’s love and compassion. In other words, Jesus expects the disciples and the Church to feed the hungry wherever they may be.
My brothers and sisters, God is determined to use you and me to overcome the suffering in the world. Jesus who turned water into wine! Jesus who touched the leper and cured him immediately! This Jesus could have easily fed the crowd without the help of the disciples. But, you see, in the Kingdom Jesus came to establish, the role of the disciple is important. The role of the community of faith is critical in proclaiming the gospel in word and action. Jesus expects those of us who belong to the Kingdom of God to continue his ministry of caring for the least of these.
In the book of the prophet Micah, chapter 6, verse 8, the bible tells us, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? “
In 2006, I founded the Haiti Micah Project (HMP) to serve the needs of the poorest children in a town in Haiti called Mirebalais. Located 25 miles northeast or given the road conditions, about a two hour drive, from Port-au-Prince, Mirebalais has grown to a population of about 100,000 people since the January 12, 2010 earthquake. This is a town that was built for may be 10,000. Life was difficult for people living in Mirebalais before the earthquake. Employment was scarce; people were hungry and malnutrition was the common cause of illness and death among children. Children were at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse.
In 2006, we responded to the need after a number of hurricanes with a feeding program. Prior to the earthquake, the education/feeding program provided a daily meal and tuition, uniforms, school supplies and basic medical care for 150 children who were at risk or homeless. Since the earthquake, there are days we are feeding 500 children. Once a child is admitted into this program, this child has access to the most basic needs: food, education, clothing and medical care.
I can still remember the day we inaugurated the feeding program, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand came to life for me. We had children of all ages gathered to receive a hot meal. Many of the children slept on the streets or church courtyards and all were hungry, desperately hungry. And slowly the crowds grew. At first there were thirty children, and then forty, and then 70 and then over 100. We hadn’t prepared enough food for 100. We had prepared food for fifty, maybe 60, but then there were 120 people hungry, desperately hungry. Does this story sound familiar?
Now we started to feed the first group, and they were excited and grateful. But we noticed they weren’t finishing the food on the plates. How could this be? And then we realized their actions were intentional. If they could just leave enough food, then the child after them would have a hot meal as well. And we did, we fed everyone that day. This is the kind of miracle God invites us to be a part of. The children taught us a great lesson on the nature of the Kingdom of God.
In James 2:14-17, the bible tells us, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?’ So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead.”
My brothers and sisters, as Christians, Jesus will ask us to do what appears to be impossible. In the kingdom of God, we are called to deny our self-importance and live for the sake of the other. Here, we ask God, how can we be a blessing to someone today? How can we offer support to the mournful and those in distress? How can we improve the quality of somebody’s life?
In the kingdom of God, the king was born in a lowly manger and lives his life in service to the poor, the oppressed and the suffering. In this kingdom, the king offers all that he has, including his own life to release all of God’s children from bondage and affliction. In this kingdom, our faith and our action go hand in hand.
My brothers and sisters, we too stand in a doorway between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. We are called to pay close attention to what Jesus is commissioning us for. As we come to the Lord’s Table to share in the bread and wine, we are reminded of Jesus’ last meal, when he called his disciples together and washed their feet to remind them what it means to serve and what it means to be faithful.
It’s easy for individuals to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the sheer magnitude of the problems we face in our lives and in the world. But, this morning we bring our worries to God in prayer. We bring our time, talent and resources to the Eucharistic table and ask God to bless them. We ask God to use you and me to change the world around us.
I would like to end with a Haitian Creole song for mission that we sing in Haiti. The English translation is:
O Holy Spirit, descend on us.
We have a mission for Haiti.
O Holy Spirit, descend on us
We have a mission for the earth
Let us pray:
O Lespri Sen Desann sou nou
Nou gen yon misyon pou Ayiti.
O Lespri Sen desann sou nou
Nou gen yon misyon pou late-a