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The Kingdom Parables: Putting Words into Action

July 31, 2011

A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church
on the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 31, 2011

The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary
Genesis 32 and 33 (read from Ralph Milton’s Lectionary Story Bible)
          Matthew 14: 13-21

Jesus had been preaching about the Kingdom of God all afternoon. He had spoken in parables, those fascinating stories that first tickled and then engaged the crowd’s questions, doubts, and hopes. And though even his disciples understood little of what he had been saying, they were captivated initially by his words about a kingdom in which all things hidden will be revealed; in which small beginnings produce huge results. And they wanted to know more about this kingdom in which the practice of generosity (the Parable of the Sower) and the practice of hospitality (the Parable of the Weeds) produce a harvest of such abundance that there is enough for everyone, and more. What were they to do with a kingdom that must be diligently sought (the Pearl of Great Price), and yet at the same time could be simply discovered by chance (the buried treasure), but in either case would demand absolutely everything from the one who discovered it, or could this kingdom itself be lost?  

So that evening Jesus invited his disciples and the crowd to become a parable. This story about Jesus feeding five thousand, a story so important to Christian tradition that it is included in all four gospels, is part of my sermon series on the “Kingdom Parables” because Jesus is no longer just speaking about but acting out the Kingdom of God. This hidden kingdom of God becomes real, accessible, and sustaining when we live it. 

After Jesus has spent much of the evening healing those with illness in the crowd, the disciples come to him and say, “Jesus, the crowds are hungry.” And so Jesus says to them, “You give them something to eat!”   Jesus wants us to live God’s kingdom here and now – without delay: “You give them something to eat.”  Jesus wants the disciples and the crowd to learn about God’s kingdom in the way every teacher knows we learn best:  by doing.

Unlike the extravagant abundance featured by earlier parables – like the yeast in 50 pounds of bread or a treasure worth selling everything one has to possess it, in this lived parable there is enough with leftovers, but there is no extravagance about it.  It is not a meal fit for a king or a treasure that would be envied by a prince, let alone a merchant. 

According to the Interpretation commentary on Matthew,

Bread and fish constituted the basic ingredients of the peasant’s meal in Galilee. Jesus miracle provides no cooked dishes, no luxurious fruit, no wine! It directs attention therefore, not to the future and its superabundance but to the present, when God’s providential care can be counted on to supply the bare necessities.”[1]

Mark Hare is our Presbyterian mission co-worker in Haiti.  The people of Haiti know well the significance of obtaining the bare necessities for life.  But one example: remember back to the catastrophic earthquake in January of 2010 that killed and displaced thousands of people even as it devastated the land. Small farmers and the many displaced people who depended on them for food were desperate.

Monsanto, the US-based agricultural and bio-tech corporation, offered the Haitian government free GM seeds through USAID, the government agency providing U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance. GM or genetically modified, means that the seeds may have been genetically altered, with genetic material from other organisms incorporated into the plants. The Haitian government rejected this offer so Monsanto and USAID then offered free hybrid seeds which the government agreed to distribute.

Hybrid seed is produced by artificially cross-pollinating plants to improve certain traits in the plant. The PC(USA)’s long-term mission partner in Haiti, The Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP), was gravely concerned. MPP is Haiti’s largest grassroots movement and is composed of small farmers.  This is the group that Mark works with. Because hybrid seeds only reliably produce crops for one season, small farmers would be required to purchase further seeds from Monsanto for subsequent plantings. Further, because corn is wind-pollinated, the donated corn varieties were a potential threat all of the native Haitian varieties. Farmers with fields of native corn varieties would not be able to harvest pure seeds, if any of their neighbors planted the seeds donated by Monsanto. Finally, the seeds themselves were designed to be planted by machines and were coated in a chemical that is dangerous if handled. Haiti’s farmers plant by hand.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program asked the MPP how the PC(USA) could help. After all, Jesus said “you give them something to eat.”  MPP explained it was organizing over ten thousand small farmers to march to a central location and publicly burn a heap of these hybrid seeds. The march and peaceful action were ways to educate small farmers about the dangers of the hybrid seeds and to express their displeasure to the Haitian government. They asked the PC(USA) to send a representative to accompany them. The leader of MPP then hoped to come to New York and Washington to speak with officials at the UN and USAID.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program, in consultation with our PC(USA) mission co-workers and US congregations involved in the Joining Hands Network, then sent a representative to accompany the Haitian small farmers and then facilitated appointments with US and Haitian officials in the States so that our partners could directly communicate their concerns.

You give them something to eat, teaches Jesus.

Following these efforts, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Presbyterian Hunger Program sent funds to buy over 150 tons of indigenous corn, bean, peanut, rice and vegetable seeds that reproduce. This meant 10,000 families received 30 pounds of seeds to plant. Those initial seeds helped over 60,000 children eat. “You give them something to eat” said Jesus.  Then farmers returned seeds from their harvest to local farmers’ organizations working with the church on this project who distributed the seeds to other families to increase production.  The Presbyterian Hunger Program is now raising funds to help another 10,000 families get started. “You give them something to eat” said Jesus.

Let’s take a look at a brief video to see what was done and how.

(Please take a moment to watch the video. We used a lightbox projector to display the video on the wall of the sanctuary transept. Here is a link to the PC(USA) website where the video is currently located. Please also let me now when the link no longer directs you to the video).

With the church’s investment in rural communities, Haitians are feeding Haitians so they are no longer vulnerable to world food price increases and they are less dependent on agribusiness corporations like Monsanto. “You give them something to eat,” said Jesus.

“When the sees arrived, it was our salvation” said one of the Haitian farmers in the video.

At our Stewardship Team meeting earlier this week, the group of us gathered at the table were discussing tithing, or making a commitment of 10% of our income to support the work of Christ’s ministry.  While it has been my practice as long as I have been ordained to tithe 10% of my cash salary to the church, I shared that a good friend of mine tithes 10% of his gross income, but that he gives half to the church, and half to other charities. Which prompted the very honest question from a member of our team: “I have often wondered,” she said, “why not give it all to the church?”

It is a good question. Why not give it all to the church!  The church is in the business of transforming lives into the image of Christ, and transforming our world according to the model of God’s kingdom. Why give it all to the church?  Because we have our eyes on God’s ultimate purpose – the well-being of all creation, its people and the earth itself, so we often see things differently from other institutions in our society.  For example, we certainly saw the ‘opportunities’ in the Haitian crisis differently than did a major corporation who makes it its purpose to sell as many of its seeds to the world…  And by ensuring that Haitians can feed Haitians, neither did we make Haitians dependent on charity from corporations or from non-profits to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families.  We respected their dignity, their choices, and their freedom.

God is calling us to make visible God’s reign among us – to become part of the parable through which God is revealing the kingdom already afoot among us.  Let us therefore sing with confidence and eyes wide open, our next hymn, Til the World is Fed. 

[1]Douglas R.A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Westminster/John Knox Press, 1999. The story about Monsanto and the MPP can be found in the Presbyterian Hunger Program Bible Study on the PC(USA) website.

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