The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s051g14  Sunday 18   3/8/2014 

And all ate .. about five thousand men, besides women and children.   Matthew 14:20,21

I find it commendable that the words of institution in the Roman Catholic Mass are:
‘Take this, ALL of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.’ and later: ‘Take this, ALL of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in memory of me.’   Commendable, for a church which traditionally has very strict rules about who may and who may not receive communion, the words of Jesus that ALL should, are emphasised.   I suspect traditionalists would say that all must, after suitable preparation, baptism, confession, and confirmation.   What should be an invitation to all to eat has become a command that all must become before they can eat.  

Yet there are conditions.

God intends that all are fed.  As Psalm 145 puts it: ‘The eyes of all look to you O Lord: and you give them their food in due season.  You open wide your hand: and give what they desire to all things living.’ (1)   So the invitation to eat is the invitation to join in the meal where all are invited.   The people who demur are those who want the party to only include themselves and those who believe, worship and live like them.   I note that the number who were fed ‘were about five thousand men, besides women and children’.   Immediately we see that the inclusion of women and children is particularly noted - people who traditionally were sidelined as unimportant.  And children were included not ‘because they are the future of the church’ - they are included as equals.   Their inclusion is highlighted to show us that what people might contribute is not important, but that all are included, regardless of their spiritual status.   

The invitation to eat is the invitation to join in the family meal where all are counted family; it is to simultaneously to establish a new family including all and to invite all to be participants.

And this apparent conflict between what has been established and what is yet to be fulfilled parallels the debate about realised eschatology popularized by Welsh New Testament scholar and influential Protestant theologian C. H. Dodd (2) - the teaching that we do not look to a future ‘end time’ but see Jesus' ministry as having achieved everything already.  Jesus’ ministry has indeed achieved everything for the world already, we just have to make it as real for the religious conservatives as it is for the whole creation.   As St Paul says: ‘Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!’  (3)

But the problem we have is that ‘christians’ (of most hues) pretend that they have God’s sustenance and that they alone have the authority to determine who may, and who may not, eat.   How we have turned God’s open-handed generosity around to simultaneously magnify our personal and corporate status, diminish others and misrepresent God!   If God is affirming and inclusive how can the church be anything less?   And if we are proclaiming a ‘god’ who is something less, are we really dispensing God’s sustenance?   I think not.

This turns upside down and inside out the traditional idea that the kingdom will come when everyone comes to (my) church, or infinitesimally more realistic, my version of church.   No, the kingdom will come when my church opens itself to all people; when all people, with all their doubts, frustrations, eccentricities and variety, find a place of affirmation and inclusion.  

Yes, of course this is a pipe dream, but if we claim to be led by the Holy Spirit we may have somewhat more than an infinitesimal chance.   But it will not have a hope in hell of a chance while the church continues the doctrine that God decrees that everyone has to become devotees of their particular delusion.

And yet I reflect that it is only at this time that such statements can be made.   If the church of today resists this, it has to be admitted that this wasn’t even on the radar in the church of the last century.   It is only now that the church’s true vocation as an agent of affirmation and inclusion of all people becomes plain, and becoming plain becomes something that well-meaning people might ascribe to, and so becomes possible.

Yet it is in fact not too hard; it is actually possible, for Jesus did this 2000 years ago, and we, I believe, are called to follow him :-)

Each and every day in my work in the hospital, people do in fact pay health insurance to avail themselves of the hospitality of an institution which accepts them without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation, and with the help of some very clever surgeons, doctors, anaesthetists and other professionals, lives are changed.   Of course these professionals are supported by a raft of other specialists: cleaners, cooks, nurses, administrators, the list is almost endless.   All of them are committed to the vision of helping others without hesitation, without discrimination and without expectation, and by doing so they provide us with a more accurate paradigm of church than denominations and dioceses.

Each rejoices to be in a workplace where people’s lives are changed, most often for the better.   No one cares about the faith of those helped and they are helped to be discharged back into society; hopefully to resume living, loving and contributing as they are able to society.   We don’t want them staying in hospital; that would be a sure sign that they were not well.   By contrast the church measures her success in terms of how many people they can keep coming back!

Jesus institutes a meal, the sign of the most intimate fellowship possible among people other than sexual intimacy.   To have a meal is to say that the participants are accepted and included in the most unambiguous of ways.   The food is not the ultimate purpose, it is the affirmation and inclusion, the dignity conferred on each and everyone present.

If our ‘holy communion’ is actually to restate our superiority and entitlement over others, then I doubt we are actually following Jesus; we are saying, like that other worshipper: ‘I am glad I am not like other people ..’ (4)

And so we don’t actually have to have food; the five loaves and the two fish actually are superfluous.  If we are recognising the sacredness of each and every person then what we actually eat is unimportant, it will be provided, and in direct proportion to that which is needful for all to be filled, and there will be a multitude of leftovers for others.  

And if we as the church got off our backsides and took the lead in ushering in a world without divisions, society might well take our claim to be lead by the Holy Spirit seriously and would applaud our coming on board.   Amen.

1. 15,16.
2. 1884–1973
3. Romans 11.12
4. Luke 18.11