8th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13
Kingdom Come Symposia, Pastor Kinsey
It was a beautiful day for gathering the group on the green grass yesterday. We’d been out in the warm afternoon sun, in groups of three, for the last couple hours, and before sending us home, we all sat together in our group of, not quite 50.
Would you like a snack, Jackie asked me, holding out a granola bar? Oh, and I forgot to pass out the waters too! Who wants water? And we all took a bottle, seated in our circle in the shade of the trees.
Ok, let’s debrief how it went. Here’s a form to fill out so you can tell us how many voter registration forms you’re returning. Remember, they have to be complete, otherwise they won’t count. And it’s illegal to fill it in yourself. So if you have some incompletes, that’s alright, just list that on the next line of the form.
As we tallied the number of valid forms, we realized it put ONE Northside, as a whole group, over the 1,000 mark of new registered voters! And everyone gave a cheer and a round of applause.
We were feeling full and satisfied on this glorious day. It wasn’t just the snacks and the refreshing water, or the beautiful summer weather, but the accomplishment of this milestone, of reaching 1,000 registered voters. True, the goal was 5,000 and so we still have a ways to go! But at least we were now counting by the 1,000’s, and it gave us hope we could make it. As the group broke up, feelings were high.
The high degree of importance for the mission and message of Jesus, is nowhere more clear than in the feeding of the 5,000, which is the only miracle story that’s recorded in all four gospels.
And this is the gospel story that our Unity Vision Statement is based on, using the one from Mark’s gospel, where the people sit down on the grass in groups of 50’s and 100’s. I learned something new about this story, that I didn’t know before, when I dug a little deeper to understand the word “group”, in Greek, which means symposium, in the original language of Matthew and Mark, Luke and John.
Greek symposia were common for hundreds of years before Jesus. They were basically house parties, gatherings by invitation, and they varied in purpose, from the kind Plato and Socrates attended, which were an invitation to philosophical discussion and debate, with wine and cheese, of course. But there were any number of themes: poetry readings, song, and musical performances, always by the guests; debate about political issues, games, or, in some cases, just the eating and wine drinking as the focus. And, oh yes, only the elite of society could attend! They reclined in cushioned couches arranged in a special room, in a big circle. It was strictly upper class. The rest were there to serve them.
That Mark’s gospel uses this word, symposia, is no mistake. The 5,000 who had followed Jesus to a deserted place, that is, away from the urban watchful eye of their occupiers, was reminiscent of the Exodus, when the Israelites followed Moses into the wilderness, to find their freedom. The disciples actually wanted Jesus to dismiss the people, to go home to eat, but out there in that public place, they create their own symposia. These followers of Jesus are anything but the elites of society. Food insecurity was rampant for most everyone in 1st C. Palestine, due to the occupation. Most people were living, hand to mouth, day to day, a subsistence existence and diet, with some variance, a little better or worse. While the elites, the 1%, of Jesus’ day, including a few of his own people who cowed to the Roman over lords, even the priests in the Temple, had no worries and, food in abundance. From Herod to the Emperor, gluttony has been documented, insatiable appetites, over the top wasting of food, a famished craving.
And so, when Jesus prays, “give us this day our daily bread,” it’s no joke, but a deep desire, for food security.
When Isaiah says, “Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
This is God’s invitation to imagine the eschatological banquet that is the coming down as the kingdom and realm of God to overtake our world – a sign when, as Amos said, justice shall flow like a river, or as Mary sang, when the mighty will be brought down from their thrones - and so on!
Jesus declares that, in God’s empire, the hungry will be fed. Out of the meager food you are left with today, God will provide an everlasting banquet, just as Isaiah promised to Exiles in Babylon, a feast of fat things, and well-aged wine. Jesus fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, as a sign and a promise of what God’s kingdom will look like and what it should be, already.
The greed and insatiable appetites of the rich elites today, are well documented too. Not just political junkets to dine in the Caymans or Caribbean, but billionaires who want still more, squeezing those have the least, because they believe all the trash talk out there about our brothers and sisters, about “not working hard enough,” or not being smart enough, or not being the right skin color.
Once, I sat in on a CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) Board meeting with a large group of religious leaders from all over Chicago. We had bought just enough shares to participate. It was a symposium of about 100 or more, and they were gathered that year to celebrate how they off-shored more of the tax money they owed than ever before, creating record profits at the expense of all the rest of us. We stood up, one at time, to raise our voices against this insatiable appetite, and remind them that it had consequences to the well-being of real people and the good of our society as a whole – and asked them to repent. Not wanting to hear this, they had their beefy security escort us out! But that was alright, we didn’t really want to stay for the wine and cheese anyway!
When Jesus refused to send the people home, and organized them into 50 and 100 member symposia, he was transforming the elite symposia of Greek-Helenistic culture all around him, into communities, the beginning of church communities, that were public churches, gathered around prayer, at the table of the Meal of Holy Communion, gathered around the gift of Christ’s body, filling us up to be Sent out and to multiply the “miracle of resurrection” to the world, one neighborhood at a time.
Somehow, the Spirit of Christ, which is the body of Christ, keeps performing this miracle of multiplication: whenever food insecurity, or political corruption, or persecution of religion, or joblessness, or violence, or racism, or pure greedy appetites appear – Symposia, and faith communities, emerge, and grow, and organize, to overcome the oppression, the sin and deep root causes, from the Evil One.
On the grass yesterday in Rodgers Park, our symposia – organized to engage voters in the public arena – gathered gratefully. Like the 12 baskets of broken bread left over, there were some granola bars still uneaten in the plastic grocery bag, but the real miracle was, none of us had ever joined a symposia like this before. And now 1,000 voters were registered that hadn’t been yesterday – people who care about our neighborhoods, who actually live and work in them.
The vision of our symposia here at Unity, is to be an urban green space, welcoming everyone into a holy encounter, where we are changed, that all may be fed as Jesus feeds us. In the church of Jesus Christ, prayer is tied to the polis, and the Spirit of Jesus is our organizer, you might say, and we are the leaders.