3rd Sunday in Easter – Rev. Kristin Philipson
Jesus is known for his great sayings: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind;” “Love your neighbour as yourself.” “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” But the line, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast’” (did you hear it in our reading?) – it’s such an ordinary, everyday thing to say and maybe that’s why it jumped out at me. Come and eat! I must say that every day – come and have breakfast! Except that when I say it, it’s an order; come and have breakfast…right now. But Jesus’ says these words and they’re full of all kind of meaning. At first, his friends didn’t even know it was him standing on the beach; they didn’t think they’d see him again and they didn’t recognize him – they thought he was a stranger – and it was just these words, when this stranger says to them, come and have breakfast, that they understood who it was. None of his friends dared to ask this stranger, “who are you?” They knew it was the Lord, Jesus, the Risen Christ. Jesus says these words to a group of fishermen, out almost all night before they caught anything and these ordinary, everyday words become words of comfort to hungry people.
Working in a church you come into contact with a lot of hungry people. Every day this week we had people come in to pick up grocery gifts cards that we purchase with money that you donate, the collection we take up on Christmas Eve. My cell phone rang every single day last month with people who can’t make ends meet, people on disability benefits, people unable to work, people unable to make enough money to feed themselves, people who are hungry.
You come into contact with a lot of hungry people, working in a church. I spoke to a woman in her 90s this week. What’s it like? I asked, what has surprised you about being in your 90s? You know, she said, I’m surprised at what a downer it can be. I get really lonely, she said. If I don’t try to get out of my room and to see people…she trailed off, but I knew what she wanted to say: she’s hungry for companionship.
A lot of hungry people come into this sanctuary. A younger family came here one week, sat over there in one of the pews. Hello, I said, how are you? Well, they said, we’re surviving. Now these parents weren’t physically hungry, but it was obvious they were wanting; they were hungry for time, hungry for peace, hungry for space to breath.
What do you say to hungry people? Jesus says, come and have breakfast. John wrote down the story so we would remember; Jesus is, for us, the Risen Christ, a living presence that meets us where we are and feeds us and nourishes us, fills us and sustains us. I have a classmate in my doctoral program, a woman who came to the US from Burma and leads a Burmese congregation on the outskirts of Chicago and she tells this story. When she was still in Burma she wanted to go to a certain seminary to study but she couldn’t afford the tuition – it was impossible for her family, they were all working and she was working too, but all their money went solely to their subsistence, there was no extra. So, she prayed about it, fretted about it, meditated to deal with the stress of it, lifted her whole heart up to the universe, and in the meantime, she kept working. She would knit a lot; it was her way of coping with her emotions. She’d knit these woolen hats. “Would you ever consider selling your knitting?” one of her co-workers said to her one day. As she tells it, she didn’t even need to ask what was going on; she knew it was the Lord, the Risen Christ, a living presence that had met her where she was, a presence that was nourishing her and sustaining her. She funded her whole education knitting these woolen hats. She was hungry for learning and she was fed. Jesus said to her, come and have breakfast.
I had a similar experience not too long ago. Some of you will know that I was really nervous when Doug and Karen announced that they were leaving; I was nervous about stepping into a role for which I didn’t feel ready. I felt wanting; I felt incompetent. Doug and Karen had both left big shoes and my head was telling me I wouldn’t fill them. And I prayed about it and fretted about it and meditated to deal with the stress of it and lifted my whole heart up to the universe and I was sharing these worries and the sense of pressure I was feeling with a member of the congregation. Will you let me help you? she said. This is what I do for a living, I’m a professional coach and I help people deal with pressure and anxiety, and I knew it was the Lord, that somehow I was being met by a living presence, a Life that keeps on living, a Life that feeds us and sustains us and nourishes. I was hungry for release from anxiety and in this woman, I recognized Jesus, the Risen Christ, and he was telling me to come and have breakfast; to come and be fed.
Jesus says to us, come and have breakfast. We bring with us to the quiet and refuge of this sanctuary our deepest hungers, our real need, our personal hopes to fed and nourished and sustained through whatever we are going through – a longing for peace when all is turmoil, for resolution when we are unresolved, for confidence when we are scared, for clarity when we can’t make sense of anything, for direction when we’re aimless, for security when we’re on edge, for love when we’re lonely, for healing when we need to be transformed.
Do you remember the other time John writes about Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias? A great crowd of people had followed Jesus and he asks his disciples – his friends – where to buy bread for everyone – because this is what Jesus is about: feeding people, filling people with possibility and potential. Do you remember what Philip says? Get real, Jesus, he said. Some people are just going to be hungry and unsatisfied and depleted – nothing you can do about it – it would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite. Do you remember? Andrew speaks up: Don’t try to do anything about all this hunger, Jesus. Look, here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? Why not just accept that some people will be left wanting? Come on, Jesus, don’t you know that some people just have to go knocking on church doors for grocery gift cards and old folks just have to get used to being lonely and young parents just have to deal with being stretched thin and spent and some people just don’t get to go to school and sometimes there’s no alternative to crippling pressure and anxiety. Forget it, Jesus, his disciples said, some people just have to go hungry.
But Jesus said, have the people sit down. There was plenty of grass in that place and they sat down (about 5000 people were there) and Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to all who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. And all who were hungry were fed – the baskets of leftovers they gathered! He is the Risen Christ, the Life that won’t stop living and he meets us at this table – come and have breakfast, he says; I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry. Bring your needs to this table, bring all that is in you that needs to be filled, bring what needs nourishing – the Risen Christ comes to meet us and feed us in the most unexpected times and places and through unexpected people. We are promised life in full and we embody this promise with us everywhere we go – unabashed advocates – that all might be fed. The table is ready. Come and have breakfast.