August 2, 2020

Pentecost 9 - Year A

 

You'll find a video of the entire service at

https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/319353592778366/

 

Click here for the Worship Booklet  and Hymnal & Psalter for AugustSundays after Pentecost.

 

2020 Aug2_FrIan


Proper 13 - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The Feeding of the Multitudes appears in all 4 Gospels, and a second time in Matthew 15. Only this version and John’s version made it into the Sunday Lectionary. It is one of the most memorable stories and miracles in the Bible that there isn’t a biblical scholar, preacher, food bank director or Sunday School teacher who hasn’t picked apart every word and re-presented it to their listeners or readers. There is nothing profound that you haven’t already heard, so I’m not even going to try! The profundity is in the story itself: its blatant call for us to feed the hungry and that we have enough to meet the needs of every single person. So, I’m going to tell you where I’ve seen loaves and fishes in our community recently.

 

First of all, though, I want to point out that Jesus was a bit unfairly treated. He was off to some quality alone time.

 

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by Himself.

 

But He didn’t get it:

 

But when the crowds heard it, they followed Him on foot from the towns.

 

I guess when you are the Messiah, you don’t get to take time off!

 

I don’t usually reveal the topics of my radio show before they are broadcast, but my next segment is all about feeding the multitudes. The Food Services Department of San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) has been feeding hungry school children during Shelter-at-Home. Those children who receive free or reduced school meals during the academic year, and their siblings under the age of 18, are receiving a weekly bag filled with enough food for 10 meals. The staff are preparing 15-18k meals a week to ensure that 1,500 to 1,800 children who are living with food insecurity don’t go hungry.

 

The meals are not hot lunches like the children would normally get in the cafeteria. They also are not the bags of shelf-stable foods that Stephanie gives out from the parish office. The meals are a mixture of fresh produce, sandwiches on bread and other baked goods from a local baker, and a gallon of milk. And unlike when I was a kid and ketchup was being considered as a serving of vegetables for the school meals program, the nutritional guidelines for these meals is probably better than most of our meals.

 

The Food Services Staff spends Mondays and Tuesdays preparing these meal kits; parents register their need online; the meal kits get picked up at 4 school sites across the district, which runs from San Luis Obispo out to Los Osos and Morro Bay. This program usually produces 15k meals over the course of the entire summer. Now, its producing 15-18k meals per week.

 

Food Services Director Erin Primer and her staff are not alone in this endeavor. They have several partners for their food supply. Erin believes in partnering with local farmers and other agencies. She told me that putting the money into the local economy is good. But 2 other factors motivate her to partner locally: it’s quality stuff, and the workers on these farms and agencies may very well be the parents of children on the program – she’s keeping them employed.

 

One of her partners is another local success story: The SLO Food Bank. St Stephen’s raised over $4,000 for this year’s Hunger Awareness Day. Thank you! Before COVID-19, 1-in-6 persons in SLO County was living with food insecurity. Now it’s even worse! Demand on the Food Bank has tripled.

 

I no longer go to the Food Bank on a weekly basis to get the bags that Stephanie hands out. I’ve been twice, though, for a catch up. The first visit was to catch up with the Assistant Warehouse Manager and the new CEO. The second was to volunteer and to catch up with them. The Food Bank is one huge exercise in logistics:

 

  • Sourcing food
  • Receiving food
  • Packaging food for the different clients, whether partners or individuals
  • Delivering food, either to clients or at food distribution sites to individuals


Unlike many other organizations where the heart is in a collection of offices, the heart of the Food Bank is the warehouse. Through the coordination of the warehouse, thousands of people do not go hungry. But also, food doesn’t go to waste. Whether it’s donated from your cupboards, a local baker or a farmer, a good proportion of the Food Bank’s intake is food that would otherwise go to waste.

 

Both SLO Coastal schools and the

Food Bank are examples of
in whom the real miracle of today’s
Gospel story lies: The People.

 

The miracle in the story is NOT Jesus’ doing; it’s the work of the people.

 

Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

 

We have to remember that Jesus spends a good portion of His ministry preparing the Disciples for His departure. He commissions them to preach, baptize and heal. There are very few miracle stories that are accomplished by the Disciples, so we focus on the miracles which Jesus performs; we associated miracles with Jesus. But in this story, Jesus did what every head of household would do at the beginning of a meal: He blessed and broke the bread.

 

The miracle in this story is accomplished not only by the Disciples, but by all of the people. It’s an illustration of how God wants us to take care of one another – and not just those whom we love, but take care of all people. And when we do focus on caring for all people, it happens.
The Feeding of the Multitudes doesn’t show us Jesus’ Divinity; the story shows us:

 

  • There is enough food in this world to feed everyone, and it will take all of us to make that happen.
  • There is power in collective and concerted action, power beyond what a few can accomplish on their own.
  • When we say and believe “We’re all in this together” we have to be all in this together to accomplish our goal.
  • If we truly cared about one another, we would stay home to crush COVID-19.
  • This story shows us that it is far too easy to be concerned only for ourselves and not the thousands of vulnerable people in our community.


We have seen during Shelter-at-Home how messed up our food system is in this country. Our voracious appetites, our demand for low cost food, and our desire to have our favorite fruits and vegetables all year round have created a food system that leaves people out and is unsustainable. The pandemic has shined a light on this crazy system and how some of the most vulnerable people in this pandemic are those who are picking and processing our food. A PBS “Frontline” documentary “COVID’s Hidden Toll” produced an episode on farm workers in the Salinas Valley. It’s available online if you are interested in watching it.

 

And not only have we created a dysfunctional food system, we have created plastic produce. Strawberries are something local that we can all relate to and which can be used as an example that we have all seen with our own eyes and tasted with our own taste buds. In the days before Facebook, I entertained a few chat rooms while living in the UK. I remember in a group chat about food, I must have been lamenting the lower quality of fresh produce since the UK is so far north and everything had to come from elsewhere in the world. When someone found out I was from California, he wrote,

 

English strawberries are wonderful. California strawberries are awful! [Excuse me!?!] The UK gets California strawberries in the winter, and they are just awful!

 

My response was: Well, someone got duped, because Californians don’t get California strawberries in the winter!

 

That is no longer true! I believe I read somewhere that our local strawberry fields are producing 4 crops a year. We do get strawberries all year round now. When we drive south on Hwy 101, we see the plastic over the rows of beds, and we can smell the fertilizer that they spray on them so they will grow in the winter. We have all seen and smelled it. And we all know that, with the exception of the summer crop, they are no good, but we still demand strawberries all year round.

 

Another thing that I’ve discovered during this pandemic is that my produce, if I buy regular supermarket produce, lasts at least 3 weeks. Those of you with vegetable gardens or who buy organic know that fresh produce should not last 3 weeks. I’m embalming myself from the inside out.


The SLO Food Bank, though, is fantastic. Like SLO Coastal, it partners with local farmers, bakers and butchers. The GleanSLO program sends volunteers out to gather the useable produce that gets left in the fields after harvest. GleanSLO will also come to your house and harvest the fruit trees that you can’t keep up with, consume or even give away. The Food Bank then redistributes some of the country’s best fresh produce, some of the city’s most delicious and expensive bread and meat and gives it to people who cannot afford to buy food for themselves and their families. The Food Bank’s Food Nutrition Program Manager creates recipes that are delicious, nutritious and can be prepared with the food in each week’s bag. The Food Bank and the Food Services Department of the school are the miracle workers in story of the Feeding of the Multitudes in SLO County.

 

Remember, Jesus didn’t get His alone time. Imagine what you would have done if you were trying to have alone time and your kids wouldn’t stop following you – your underage kids or your adult children. What would you have done? My mom was a single mother for about 7 years. I’m a morning person, and I remember when I was probably in 5th Grade waking up in the morning. I went out of my room, and my mom said, “Go back to bed. This is my time.”  Recently my sister told me a similar childhood story of her own.

 

Jesus had a similar response, and He upped the ante a bit.

 

He empowered the Disciples to
be the miracle. Not only were the
Disciples empowered to be the
miracle; the whole
assembled crowd

 

– probably 15k in total when you include women and children – was the miracle, the miracle that fed everyone. Jesus only blessed the bread and fish. It was in the distributing and sharing that it was multiplied.

 

We are called to be the miracle who feed the poor and the hungry. There is enough food in this world, in this country, in this County that no one should go hungry. But greed and power at all levels prevent us from doing that. So, you and I are limited in our ability to be the miracle, and we donate to or volunteer at the Food Bank. That’s good stuff, definitely. But we need to find ways to fix the system so that no one goes hungry, to live like we are truly all in this together, to share all that we have with one another.

 

Now, wouldn’t that be the most
amazing miracle of all?


Update: The next day, the Food Bank emailed to say that St Stephen’s can resume handing out a limited number of food bags. It was a delight to hear about the strides they have made to meet the (sadly) increased demand during Shelter-at-Home. Thank you, Food Bank Team!

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