MARK 6:30-44

MAY 15, 2016


Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer


(Play Audio)


            Food. We have a love affair with it. It's both a source of temptation and a cause for celebration. The Bible is full of it: Eve was tempted with an apple. Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of pea soup. Jesus attended countless dinner parties. Heaven will be like a wedding banquet prepared for a king, and in our Scripture today, Jesus feeds 5,000 people. I want to look at two commands in this compelling story told in all four Gospels. Before that, however, I want to say a little more about the last of the seven deadly sins in our Spring Cleaning 2.0 sermon series.

            Gluttony. I’ve been putting off focusing on gluttony for as long as I can. In fact, I even thought about reducing the seven deadlies to just six of them to see if anyone would notice or object. One reason I’ve been avoiding this deadly sin is that gluttony shows. Other deadly sins we might be able to hide, but gluttony just hangs out there for people to see. What ever happened to my 34 inch waist? Two months ago I had Belinda let out a couple pairs of slacks for me, and it’s embarrassing.

            Second, I didn't want to talk about this because I really love food, not baked beans or shell fish, but just about everything else. I'm not alone in that regard. Take  Sherrie Murphree's husband for example. Sherrie, who lives in Odessa, Texas said of her husband, “My husband has an almost boundless appetite for ice cream, and it was obvious at a Sunday school party where he helped himself to a good sample of every flavor available. Later during game time, he was asked: ‘If you could choose any famous couple to be your parents, who would they be?’ His answer came without hesitation: ‘Baskin and Robbins!’”

            The word “gluttony” comes from the Latin word gluttire meaning to gulp down or swallow. Historically it refers to the overindulgence and overconsumption of food to the point of waste and it poses a public health problem. It has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and joint pain.

            Our federal government reminds us that obesity, a major side effect of gluttony, is a $150 billion a year health problem. According to public health statistics 68% of all Americans are overweight, many being obese, with obese being defined as anyone roughly thirty pounds overweight.  After our recent South American cruise, I crossed that line and have been on a diet ever since.    

            One might think that the United States leads the world in obesity. Actually, we are number twelve. The top ten obese nations are the island nations just east of Australia, places like Samoa, the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands. Take heart, however. We are the number one obese nation among developed countries, Mexico being number two and New Zealand number three.

            Now it seems odd that gluttony would make the list of deadly sins among the early Christians. Their food supply was nothing like we have today, so how did it make the list? Well, for a couple of reasons. Number one, there existed in biblical times festivals of gorging, during which pagans ate and drank for days and days. The host, in addition to keeping the table groaning and the flagon flowing, made these gorging festivals possible by providing each dinner guest with a delicate little feather. And if you need further explanation as to what the feather was for, see me after the service.

            So, in part, gluttony made the list in reaction to the pagan gorging festivals, but there was a second reason it made the list. For early Christians, gluttony violated the Christian dictum about sharing with the hungry. The  Apostle Paul confronts this problem in Corinth. The more affluent Christians in the church kept most of the food at the weekly potluck for themselves, leaving just leftovers for the rest of the poorer Christians in the church.  Paul objected strenuously to his practice. In fact, listen to his words.  I’m reading from First Corinthians 11.


            For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!


            As a quick aside, they don’t teach pastors about church potlucks in seminary. You have to learn about those on the fly and I heard of a pastor who developed what he believes to be the proper way to organize a potluck. He said, “If you expect more than seventy people, you need to spread the food over more than one table and create multiple serving lines. Failure to do this means that the first people through the line will require a forklift to carry their plate back to the table, while the last people will be lucky to choose from among three half-empty bowls of cole slaw.”

            Given the fact we rarely have more than seventy, we are good to go.  We do, however, have a cart with wheels available if you need it to carry your food back to your table table at our potluck.

            And that brings us back to the two commands I want us to note in the feeding of the five thousand. Note Jesus first command to his disciples. The disciples came to Jesus encouraging him to wrap up so the people could return to their homes to eat, but Jesus responds to them saying, “You give them something to eat." They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread to eat?” That, by the way, would be equivalent to eight months of a person's wages!

            That’s a reasonable question. They want to clarify the command. Are we to go and feed all these hungry people at great expense to ourselves?

            We still ask Jesus the same question. Are we to go and feed the hungry? Hunger is still a world problem. As I mentioned last Sunday, twenty-one thousand people die from hunger every day. That's one life every 3.6 seconds. Seventy-five percent of them are children under age five. According to the USDA, 4.4 million households in the United States suffer from hunger and that number is increasing, especially among the working poor. In that regard I’m glad we have made a commitment to feed the hungry down at the First Baptist Church once a quarter, and I’m glad so many of you bring food for the food pantry every month. I'm also glad that the General Assembly of our denomination has a Hunger Program.  A part of what we contribute to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering goes to alleviate hunger in the United States and around the world. The Presbyterian Hunger Program has been doing that for decades.

            I read a couple of statistics this week that first alarmed me, then sobered me. The United Nations estimates that it would cost thirty billion dollars a year to end world hunger. 30 billion dollars. That's a lot of money to end world hunger. Then I read another statistic. According to an article published in US News and World Report, we Americans spend spend just north of 60 billion dollars a year on diet programs and diet aids to burn, to block, to flush, and to suck out the extra fat we accumulate from overeating. I wonder if we were a little less gluttonous if we would share some of that windfall with those who need food?

            So, that’s the first command. “You give them something to eat.” I bet Jesus would say the same thing to us today. Now for Jesus’ second command. It comes in verse 39 …


            Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat in groups of hundreds and fifties.


            It was a genius move, breaking them down into groups because in doing so Jesus transforms them from a crowd into smaller communities. In fact, the biblical commentator William Barclay believes this is what led to the miracle. When the crowd was molded into smaller groups, they could see each other face to face, just not other people in a crowd, and it moved them to share what they had. Barclay believes what happened here was more a miracle of sharing rather than multiplication. Maybe so, we don’t know, but whatever happened, here’s the question: Is there something that happens in community that goes way beyond the calories of food? Does eating together in community fill our lives in ways, brings us satisfaction in ways food does not? Is that what Mark was getting at when he writes in verse 42, “And all ate and were filled?”

            Mariam Weinstein wrote a book titledThe Surprising Power of Family Meals. In it she says that when families regularly eat together there are fewer incidences of alcohol and drug abuse, less obesity and fewer eating disorders, because children have reliable access to their parents, and it provides an anchoring for everyone's day, and it enhances a feeling of belonging. There's a lot more to family meals than just food.

            “He ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups.”

            And as a church family that's why church potlucks are so very important. A lot of churches have gotten away from them, especially larger churches, but it’s in the breaking of bread together, that something wonderful happens beyond the food. Of course, the food is great and the meals are fun, but we also get a sense of satisfaction, a sense of belonging at potluck suppers that we don’t get by going through the McDonald’s drive thru on the way home from church.

            I bet that's why Jesus never refused an invitation to a meal. He would go and eat with the most self-righteous, hypocritical people in town one night, and then the next night he could be found eating with the worst of sinners in town. In fact, all this eating earned Jesus the reputation of being a glutton and a drunkard. But you see, Jesus knew that in eating with people you share yourself and God's blessings. Eating with others is a time of close communion. Remember what happened to the disciples at the inn in Emmaus? They were sitting there at the table, and when the bread was broken, their eyes were opened and they recognized the Lord in their midst.

            One last question and then we are done. Is there a hunger that food will not satisfy? Jesus, tempted in the wilderness to turn stones to bread, replies to Satan: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." The sin of gluttony is not about size or health. It is about satisfaction. It is the assumption that food will provide the comfort, the satisfaction, the acceptance that God alone can give.

            Let’s stand and sing, and then go eat!!! Amen.

[1] Sermon idea from J Howard Olds.