June 5, 2005
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Luke 9:10-17

On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured. The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

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Sermon: Who Packed the Picnic Basket?

Next Sunday I want to invite everyone who is here today to come to the church picnic. It’s going to be at Clatter Valley Park, and all you need to bring is a dessert to share – the Fellowship Committee will take care of the food and the fixins – whatever fixins are – what came to my mind was Cheetoes, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.

For some of us, church picnics were a memorable part of growing up. The Sunnyside Reformed Church, where I grew up in Queens, used to rent a couple of busses for a trip to Jones Beach on a Saturday near the end of June. The water was still pretty cold, but when the surf was rough and the sun was hot, it was a perfect day. I do recall that many people showed up in church the next morning sporting a very noticeable red tinge to their skin and not welcoming of a good slap on the back – which is of course what all the boys and girls spent the whole Sunday School hour trying to do to each other.

One other thing I recall from these events was the incredible contents of our family picnic basket. My mother could really pack a tasty and nourishing lunch. Any food takes on a special flavor when you’re outside, but while people around us were unwrapping bologna sandwiches, my mother would be unpacking fried chicken, deviled eggs, stuffed celery, sweet pickles, maybe pea or cucumber or spinach salad, but definitely macaroni salad with grated Velveeta cheese on top, and some kind of bread or even mayonnaise sandwiches to eat with the chicken.

Of all the things I learned from my mother, packing a picnic basket turned out to be one of the most useful, for when I first met Eileen and asked her out to lunch, I caught her off guard with a picnic basket in the back of the car and suggested we simply head out into the country and find a good spot. I don’t know if it was the dazzling conversation or the deviled eggs, but it must have made the right impression since we just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.

But getting back to Jones Beach, when it came to the church picnic basket wars, my mother was the undisputed reigning champion, like Rocky Marciano, in our eyes.

However, she had an advantage. She was the lunch manger at a Schrafft’s restaurant on Maiden Lane in lower Manhattan, right opposite the United States Treasury building. Schrafft’s’ were famous for their luncheon selections, as this menu from 1938 clearly illustrates. It comes with a card suggesting you start your meal with an Old Fashioned for only 40, and then offers these among many other, dishes:
Chicken Giblet and Chopped Bacon Toast Sandwich, 35
Watercress and Mayonnaise Sandwich, 15
Veal and New Vegetables Casserole, 85
Fresh Lobster Cutlets with Sauce Tartare, French Fried Potatoes, 85
Boiled Beef with Horseradish Cream Dressing and Buttered Broccoli, 65
Maple Marshmallow Layer Cake, 20
Fresh Pineapple Ice Cream Soda, 25
Stewed Prunes and Apricots, 15

All this is just to say that if my mother had been with the disciples and Jesus and the crowd of 5,000 at Bethsaida on the sea of Galilee, there would have been more than five loaves and two fish to share. I don’t know what the first century equivalent of macaroni salad would be, let alone Velveeta cheese, but I can assure you the story would have read much differently.

Of course, that would be somewhat beside the point – being with Jesus was not about the food, but about the fellowship. It was about the personal encounter, the look in the eye, the heart to heart, something deeper than the perfunctory “Hello, how are you?”

And I suppose the same is true of church picnics –the gathering is not so much for the stuffing of the stomach as for the building up of the community – Community in Christ. The fact that we face difficulties doing this is nothing new in the life of the church – in fact it goes all the way back to the days of St. Paul. Witness what Paul had to say to the new church in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 11:17-26 When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

In a sense what Paul talks about is the larger problem of how the pursuit of material desires, food and all the fixins, and everything associated with it – acquisition, hoarding, social stratification, anxiety and fear of loss – how all this can get in the way of spiritual growth. And because people become so focused on tangible material desires, they have a hard time even understanding what Jesus is talking about when he speaks of spiritual matters and says, “I am the bread of life”, or other such things.

In the Gospel of John, after Jesus multiplies the loaves and fishes he has to get away from this crowd because they think they’ve found a free meal ticket. But they track him down and have this conversation:
John 6:25-27 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

The same thing is going on in the church today as some preachers fill their tents by telling people that if they come to Jesus their every material need will be met – they’ll be healthy and wealthy and no blessing will be denied – unless, of course, they lack faith, a primary symptom of which is going light on the offerings.

Maybe I’m a bit too cynical, but I know fist hand it’s awfully easy to get seduced by the macaroni salad of life. There’s got to be more to church than a full picnic basket, or why not, as Paul says, just stay home where no one else can eye your fried chicken.

The nutritional value of the meal we are about to share is negligible, but the sacramental value is significant beyond measure – God in Christ sets this table before us with the most common of foods but with an immense richness of fellowship in him.

If we were just looking for nutrition for our bodies, it would not matter much if our minds wandered to think about the chores we hope to accomplish today or the schedule for the week or any other matter. But to reap the sacramental value requires mindfulness, concentration, remembrance, communion with God in prayer. For the sake of our souls we must now, in this very moment, endeavor to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves. This must be our point of focus in these next few minutes as we sit in the presence of God and in the company of one another to break bread with the Lord.

Life is no picnic, but in fellowship with one another and in communion with God we can stay on the righteous path and be nourished with the food that endures for eternal life.

We celebrate an open communion. This sacrament is for all who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God's people. Christ welcomes you. Christ recognizes you. Christ invites you into the circle of fellowship in his name.

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