How many of you have been on a picnic this summer already? How many of you have plans for a July 4th picnic? The extended family of my mom’s husband’s family have been hosted by my step-brother Dave each year the past several years. It’s becoming a family tradition, a reunion.
Picnics are fun times to gather together, to visit with one another, for kids to play together – in this case for me to get to know extended stepfamily, which is overwhelming. But each year Dave provides meat for sandwiches: hamburgers, hot dogs, meatballs, Italian sausage – there is variety and there is plenty. And everybody brings a covered dish and it is a feast. A time of celebration.
Dave and Rhonda put a lot of planning into this gathering. This year for the kids there was a with balloon drop with prizes, sack races. They now have a about 8 acres, so there’s a horse and each of the kids got to go for a ride. He always closes out the evening with fireworks and this year he had parachute fireworks he put off before dark so the kids could run after and gather up all these little parachutes. Plan, they do.
The Bible recounts a story of an unplanned picnic. Jesus was traveling around the countryside and one day as he was in a very rural area I large crowd had followed him, some 5,000 men plus women and children. They were hungry to hear what he had to say, to learn from his teaching. They desired to be healed and delivered. They wanted to see the miracles that Jesus could do. They were there all day long until finally the disciples said that they needed to send the people home so they could get something to eat.
Perhaps it was the disciples who were worn out, weary, and hungry. But Jesus had another idea … a picnic. In all of the 5,000+ people the disciples found one young boy with just five loaves and two fish – not near enough to feed this gathering of more than 5000.
But Jesus took the bread, gave thanks for it and broke it. And he divided the fish among them. And not only was there enough to feed the more than 5,000 so that they were satisfied, there were leftovers: there were 12 basketfuls of pieces of bread and fish remaining. They ended up with more than what they started with!
These people were not issued an invitation to the picnic. Jesus and the disciples headed off to get some rest. But when they arrived at this place, the people had followed them, desperate to hear more and experience more.
No, they were not invited, but Jesus as always is compassionate toward all their needs and received them graciously, as a good host. And so it is as Jesus graciously invites us to this table, this picnic he has prepared in advance for us. There is one small loaf; one cup to feed so many. But there is more than enough.
Some of us will come to this table spiritually hungry, and you will be filled. Some of us will come with physical needs, and you will be healed. Some come weary, and you will receive strength. Some will come to this table searching and you will find God’s direction. Some of us will come to this table with doubts, maybe even wondering who and where this God is, and God will be revealed to you. Some will come to draw near to God, and God will draw near to you in all of his fullness.
This is the table of bounty. This is the table that never runs out. Because there is no end to God’s love. We cannot ever go beyond the reaches of God’s love. This is the table where God invites all and all are welcome. This is the table where saint and sinner come. Adult and child. Male and female. Caucasian or not. This is the table where we gather as one and are made one. This is the table where all come poor, with nothing to offer, and we all leave rich. We come as orphans and we become family. We come as homeless, and find home.
As more than 5000 ate and were satisfied, Jesus invites us to come to this table and be satisfied. Again he has provided the feast. When the 5,000+ were fed it cost nearly eight months wages. The cost of this feast was his life. This feast is his body and his blood.
It seems Jesus was always ready for a picnic. He was always ready to sit down and dine and talk about the important things in life. When he too was human, he was never at a lost for food or the provisions that he was in need of. Though he did not have a place to lay his head, though he did not have much by the world’s standard, people sought him out because he had what they were seeking. He had peace. He had contentment. He was one with the Father. He was obedient to the Father. He was the presence of God. He had healing in his hands. He had an understanding of the Scriptures. He was love. He was kindness. He was compassion. And he still is these things. And people still seek him, or at least they seek these things, perhaps not knowing that He is the source of these things and it is really He whom they seek.
And now as we have eaten at his table, we are filled with Him. We are one with him. We are one with each other. And we are joined as one in ministry to all the world. We have become his hands and his feet. Where we go we carry Christ. We carry his healing. We carry his love and compassion. We have become his presence in the world. As he gave himself for us, we go forth to give ourselves to others. As he counted himself a servant, we go forth to serve one another and the world. As he was sent, we are sent. And as he was given the freedom to choose whether or not he would give his life, we too are given that freedom.
Will you choose to say, “yes” to God’s call and God’s sending? Will you choose to obey? Will you share the feast/picnic? Will you invite someone to share in the picnic? Who will you invite to the picnic?And let us remember that as we invite others to share in this table, we invite them to share in another picnic. For as we come to this table we expectantly await another. For when Christ’s comes in final victory, when he comes to take us where he is, we will feast at his heavenly banquet/picnic.
It is at that banquet that all things will be complete. And it is with that hope that we say, “Come Lord Jesus.”