Preacher: Jessie Houff
Scripture: 2 Kings 4: 42-22 and John 6: 1-21
In these scriptures, God feeds all the people. In an incredible and unbelievable way, hundreds, thousands of people were fed with just a few initial loaves of bread and fish. This is one of those miracles that you’d have to see to believe. But we are a people of faith and these are stories we’ve heard about for our whole lives. It’s accepted as truth because we believe God can do anything.
I like to think about all those hundreds and thousands of people who were fed in both these incidents. Who were they? Not just in terms of where they lived or why they were there, but on a deeper more intimate level – who were these people? In this version, we are told it was “a crowd of people” without any further details on the demographics. Were there children? Women? We know there was at least one boy who had the initial loaves and fish and we know the disciples were there. I would be so interested to know who the other people were.
Something that strikes me about Jesus in particular is that he (and God) didn’t care who the people were. The fact was they were there and they needed to be fed. They were following him so devoutly. If we have events at church, especially in the Church of the Brethren, food is something very important to us. At nearly every gathering we have outside of Sunday Service, food is involved. They come in forms of potlucks, ice cream socials, and luncheons. To eat together is an incredible gift. The conversations that happen surrounding these food-focused events are just as important as the food. In John chapter 6, followers of Jesus went perhaps not knowing if they were going to eat. They followed him because of the amazing things they had seen and heard. Food may not have been on their minds at all because it was Jesus they were so enamoured with. I know for me if I’m invited to an event, I make sure there is food BEFORE I go. And if there will not be food, I make sure to eat beforehand. But in this scripture, people followed and then Jesus said to Phillip, “Where are we to buy food for these people who keep following me?!” Even though he knew very well that he could use his God-given abilities to feed them from just a few items. And most importantly, Jesus didn’t care who these people were because he already knew they were good people just by following him.
He didn’t go around and check to make sure that no one had sinned that day. He didn’t ask everyone to get in line. They were there. And he was going to feed every last person. Everyone is welcome at God’s table…or in this case, a field. No one was turned away. How can we as a church ensure no one is turned away?
Two weeks ago I hosted a Zoom call of young adults and others who are working towards acceptance and accessibility of the Church of the Brethren denomination. We talked about things we want to see in the church and brainstormed what things we could do as an empowered group of people to ensure any and all who want to be a part of our church are welcome. We discussed at this meeting that, unfortunately, our denomination as a whole is not as open and accessible to ALL, rather there are systems and policies in place that prevent EVERYONE from feeling welcome. But before our meeting even started, my friend Katie Smith came off of mute and asked if anyone needed live captioning. I was thankful she brought it up because I had never put on live captioning. In fact, I had never thought about it because it’s a setting you have to find in Zoom and turn it on. Luckily no one needed live captioning, but if they had, I wouldn’t have been able to offer it because it needed to be turned on in the zoom settings before the meeting. Those settings are now enabled, and our services and meetings have been made more accessible for anyone who is hard of hearing. This just proves that even well-intentioned people and organizations have a lot to learn.
This reminded me of Annual Conference, I believe it was 2015. I attended as a BVSer and sat in on the business sessions. There was one person who came to the mic. She was in a wheelchair and she said to the panel who was sitting on the stage, and I’m paraphrasing, she said “I would like for you on the stage to look around. How did you get up there? Did you use the stairs? Great. I was very excited this year to participate in the Church Choir (who sings on the stage during services and for practice). I came to the first practice and found that I had no way to get on the stage. So I couldn’t be in the choir.” She went on to say how disappointed she was that not only was she unable to be a part of the choir, and that the denomination – the church – did not think at all about disabled bodies being able to get on the stage. Well intentioned people are not exempt from thinking about universal design just because they are able-bodied.
A big problem, and perhaps some may view as an excuse, is that churches are legally exempt from providing accessible spaces. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which gives rights and proper access to persons with disabilities wasn’t signed into law until 1990…only 31 years ago. Just 31 years ago it was made a law that public access buildings had to be made accessible for all Americans. So anyone with a disability of any kind from June of 1990 and before did not have any legal rights for access. We have those rights now, but guess what? Churches and religious institutions were not deemed as “public accommodations”. Why? Because Christian organizations said it would be too expensive to update their buildings. I get it, to install ramps, elevators, braille signs and other things would cost a significant amount of money. Lots of churches don’t have that kind of money. But think about it…Christian people would rather stay comfortable in where they are than find ways to ensure their buildings and events are made accessible to every-body. To this day, churches and religious organizations are not required by law to be inclusive. They are not lawfully required. But is our duty to the law more important than our duty to God?
This is the same with the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. Churches and religious institutions are exempt due to the separation of church and state, which may make sense in theory, but in practice not so much. The government doesn’t require us to do anything, and that means we are not being held accountable as Christians to ensure our places of worship are free and accessible for ALL. We are allowed to discriminate because we are the exception to the rule.
But we are Christian…we are supposed to believe and live out the God-given fact that all humans are righteous in the eyes of the Lord. No one should be turned away for ANY reason.
Jesus provided food for the people who followed him. He didn’t care if they were sinners. He didn’t care if they were rich. He didn’t make sure they were worthy of being fed. He made community with the ill. He showed kindness to all and fed thousands of people just because they made the decision to follow him.
How can we as a community of people, a congregation, a district, a denomination do the work of Jesus as we say we do in our slogan: Continuing the work of Jesus peacefully, simply, and together. How can anyone say that they continue the work of Jesus if they do not welcome everyone at our table? How can anyone honestly stand in our church buildings, in our sanctuaries, and say that we are God’s children if we are excluding God’s children?
This is not easy work. The systems and policies in place are extremely tall mountains to climb over. We’ve talked about and mentioned the new Compelling Vision of the church. It’s neighborhood-focus calls us to do the work in our communities. Now that we’re starting to be more present in our building, let’s think of everything we can do to ensure everyone has access, whether you’re in person or staying connected virtually. Let’s continue to hold each other accountable, and do everything with Love. Amen.