Morning Worship: Compassion, sufficiency and shared resources are marks of Jesus’ followers

Jesus went to the wilderness to contemplate the death of John the Baptist, but the people followed him.

“He was surrounded by people, by the din of voices, crying children, the sick, the homeless — people who were forgotten and ignored,” said the Rev. Daisy Machado during her sermon, “An Extravagant Hospitality,” at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service Wednesday.

“These voices are still heard today,” she said. “We hear them in the people who huddle on grates in our cities, who are in homeless shelters, in the 47,000 unaccompanied minors whose desperate mothers send them alone across borders rather than consign them to death by poverty or violence.”

Machado’s Scripture text was Matthew 14:13-21.

The pastor asked if all the rhetoric about the unaccompanied minors could really support the idea that “our abundant table will really be raided and left bare. We have to deal with our own theology of scarcity. How do we respond when our resources seem to be dwindling?”

Jesus, she said, had withdrawn in grief over John the Baptist’s death.

“When the crowds descended on him, it seemed to be intrusive. They were hungry — hungry for justice, hope, hospitality and love,” Machado said. “He had compassion on them, unlike Herod, who had abundance to the point of excess.”

Matthew, she said, appears to put the story of Herod’s murder of John the Baptist and Jesus feeding the 5,000 in parallel to show the two kingdoms. Herod killed a prophet and Jesus restores lives. Herod amassed wealth for himself, while Jesus met the needs of others.

As the day in the wilderness wore on, the Disciples saw an unexpected challenge and came up with a solution. They went to Jesus, Machado said, and told him to tell the crowds to go away and buy food in the villages.

“Jesus rejected their idea,” she added. “The Disciples were not called to follow Jesus to put their faith in the imperial economy. Rome could not provide what the people needed. The Disciples needed to understand the nature of [Jesus’] kingdom.”

Machado recalled the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who said that humans are called to respond to God, that humans are not bystanders in the cosmic drama, but that each person is a candle of the Lord — called to light the way. Every soul, Heschel said, is indispensable to God.

“I think Jesus spoke with a twinkle in his eye when he taught the Disciples about the collaborative nature of ministry. This was not razzle-dazzle spectacle. Jesus’ followers are distinguished by their compassion and resourcefulness,” she said. “Jesus challenged them to respond in a way they had not thought of. He taught them to respond with compassion, sufficiency and shared resources. The Disciples were shocked because they looked at the situation from the point of view of scarcity.”

She continued: “Jesus challenged the theology of scarcity that was paralyzing the Disciples. Jesus asked them to mingle with the people, look in their eyes, hear the children cry, to be moved by compassion as he had been. To the Disciples, the crowd was a problem. Jesus was not deterred by the uninvited crowd. He welcomed them with extravagant generosity and hospitality.”

No one really knows what really happened that day.

“This story took on profound importance for the early church,” Machado said. “It is in all four Gospels. Individual Christians can never get wrapped up in their own concerns and withdraw from the world.

“Extravagant hospitality can liberate us from the fear of the other,” she added. “Jesus felt the need of the people, identified with their scarcity and gave abundantly. When we can’t see the imago dei in those on the margins, then we don’t trust God’s extravagant hospitality.”

The Disciples thought that there was no reason for the crowd to stay [in the wilderness]. Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away.”

“That is still true today,” Machado said. “We need to open our hearts to the large and diverse crowd. We continue to be called by God to serve our neighbors with extravagant hospitality, those ignored by our own empire who are indeed our sisters and brothers.”

The effects of freely given compassion always ripple out.

”Do not be lost, do not feel abandoned. May your love, hope and compassion be bread for this world,” she said to conclude.

The Rev. John Morgan presided. Carol Christiansen read the Scripture. Christiansen is a member of the Chautauqua Choir, active in the the CLSC Alumni Association’s Great American Picnic and a member of the Guild of the Seven Seals.  

The Motet Choir sang “Shine Like the Sun.” The text is by John Ylvisaker and the tune, arranged by Karen E. Black, is based on a traditional Scottish melody “Wild Mountain Thyme.” Barbara Hois provided the flute accompaniment; Alexandra Paul and Austin Farnham, part of the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons, were the soloists. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. 

The Allison and Craig Marthinson Endowment for the Department of Religion provides support for this week’s services.