June 11 | Tie the knot and pass the pie





Tie the Knot and Pass the Pie 
Text: Matthew 9:9-26
Speaker: Joel Miller


The kin-dom of God is like a woman who went out and found a colorful piece of fabric.  She called her friends who brought other fabric and together they cut the material into smaller pieces, mixed and arranged them into pleasing patterns.  They sewed the pieces back into one whole cloth.  They layered other material to that – one on the bottom for comfort, one in the middle for warmth, and the top piece for beauty.  Then they called more of their friends, saying, Come, join in the making.  Many friends, old and young, came and gathered around.  They sat and conversed and laughed as they guided their needles and threads.  At each intersection of piece meeting piece, through each layer, they tied a knot, binding together comfort, warmth, and beauty.  At the completion of each new whole, they rang a bell and celebrated.  Then they enjoyed a feast of soup and pie, leaving contributions for more materials.  And the cycle began again.


This is, more or less, how comforters get made at CMC. 

Practically speaking, it takes a lot of hands and a lot time to make one comforter.  A year to make all the comforters here this morning. 

Theologically speaking, the process is a pretty good picture of what Jesus called the kingdom of God, or the kin-dom of God.   If you’ve ever been to a comforter knotting party, you’ve likely felt the goodness of it all in your spirit, not to mention your belly, even as you’ve offered your time and hands and perhaps dollars.  The comforter making process is a parable you can wrap around your body, or at least lean back and feel its gentle presence.  

Today’s gospel reading doesn’t contain any of those “the kingdom of God is like this” parables, but it is full of activity that demonstrates the kind of beloved community Jesus was piecing and sewing together.  

Within the span 17 verses Jesus calls a new disciple – Matthew the tax collector.  He eats a meal with other tax collectors and so-called sinners, perhaps Matthew’s friends.  All the while inviting skeptical Pharisees to prioritize mercy, a recurring theme in the law and prophets.  Jesus answers the pleas of a synagogue leader to come and touch and possibly bring to life his daughter who has just died.  And on the way there, Jesus is touched by a woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years.  She believes that if she can just touch Jesus’ cloak she will be made well.  And she is.  And so is the young girl, the daughter of the synagogue leader, when Jesus takes her hand. 

Any one of these events would have been significant.  But as Matthew tells it, they all happen, one after the other, within the same day.  Big day. 

And that wasn’t all of it.  From the young girl’s house Jesus sets out and meets up with two blind men who beg for mercy.  There’s that word again.  Mercy.  Jesus opens their eyes.  He then encounters someone unable to speak because of a harmful spirit.  Jesus opens his mouth and he speaks.

Big. Day.  Exhausting day, perhaps. 

It’s no wonder that right after this, Jesus calls together 12 of his closest friends, and sends them out to do the very things he had done that day – to drive out harmful spirits, to heal disease and sickness, to restore people into the beloved community characterized by mercy and justice.

Surprisingly Matthew is listed among the 12.  The seat of his tax booth hasn’t even cooled and already he’s giving this Jesus thing a whirl.  It’s as if Jesus hands him a needle and thread and says, here, you’re probably going to poke yourself several times before you get the hang of it, but we need you on this project.  The woman who reached out for healing and the girl who took Jesus’ hand aren’t listed among the 12, but we can imagine Jesus also sending them with a blessing to share with others what they have received, equal partners all of them.   

There is a lot of need all around them.  A lot of mending to be done.  Jesus looks out over the beauty and brokenness of his people and sees something even he can’t fully address on his own.  “The harvest is plentiful,” he says, “but the workers are few.”

There’s enough action here that the lectionary left out a part that we went ahead and read.  It’s that interlude while Jesus is still eating with Matthew’s friends, before he gets summoned to the house of the synagogue leader.  Word must have gotten around quickly because the disciples of John the Baptizer show up to the feast with their own question for Jesus.  “Why,” they want to know, “do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?”  Quite the question to be asking right about the time Jesus and everyone with him would have been helping themselves to seconds of soup and pie.  Maybe they asked it right as Jesus had taken another bite and had to wait in that awkward silence while he chewed and swallowed before answering.

Their question does highlight a marked difference between Jesus and John the Baptist.  Two chapters later Jesus himself will say just as much.  Speaking to the crowds, Jesus will say, “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played for flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’  For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon’; and the Human One (Jesus’ name for himself) came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” 

It seems Jesus had developed quite the reputation for himself as somebody who liked to eat, maybe heavy portions – a “glutton and a drunkard,” they say, shared, too often apparently, in questionable company.  And John was an ascetic, disciplined restraint from such excesses.

Why, the disciples of John want to know, why is this the case?

Another John, the Irish-American New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan sees this contrast as key to understanding Jesus’ own self-understanding.  Like most other scholars, Crossan believes Jesus was initially one of those disciples of John the Baptist, most clearly on display when Jesus is under the spiritual authority of John when he is baptized in the Jordan River.  And likely, Jesus would have fasted often, like he did in the wilderness for the 40 days after he was baptized. 

When you fast you are preparing yourself for something.  It can be a quest for spiritual purification just like it is an act of physical purification clearing out toxins.  You fast because you and the world are not yet as they should be and you are preparing yourself to receive something that needs received.  Which was John the Baptizer’s message.  “Repent – change your heart and mind – for the kin-dom of God is coming very soon.”    

When you feast, it means the day you’ve been waiting for has arrived – the holiday, the holy day, the graduation, the birthday, the wedding.  It’s here, there’s no more waiting, might as well try every soup on the menu. 

Although it could have happened at any time, John Dominic Crossan suggests it was the violent execution of John the Baptist that led to a shift for Jesus.  What if the very thing the Baptizer was waiting for, that for which he and his followers fasted and prayed, what if it had already arrived?  What if the kin-dom, the wide extended family of God, the beloved community, was already here?  Right now.  Today.  Like, today.  No more waiting.  No more fasting.  Look around you.  This is it.  Let’s eat.

It’s that wedding analogy Jesus grabs hold of when he replies to John’s disciples.  He likens himself to a groom.  All the misfits around the table, and everyone else for that matter, his bride.  Jesus and humanity tying the knot and throwing a wedding feast.  How can you not celebrate when surrounded by the beloved, the beautiful, the colorful, the delightful and delicious.  So real you can wrap it around your body, taste it, drink it down and go back for refills.  No ethereal, spiritualized, only-after-death kin-dom on Jesus’ mind here.  This is a feast you can touch and smell, and this, dear followers of John, this is the day we eat.

There is, of course a lot of need out there.  A lot of mending to be done.  In just a bit a desperate father will ask Jesus to leave the table and come see if he can breathe any life into his child’s death bed.  A woman with nothing left to lose will reach out and grasp Jesus’ cloak.  Two blind men will ask for mercy, and an outcast unable to speak will silently beg to be heard. 

As gloriously beautiful as these comforters are, they will soon be traveling to some of the most desperate places humans live.  They’ll be given to folks fleeing violence, to climate refugees, those escaping the kind of grinding poverty that unjust global systems create.  Folks with not much left to lose.  These comforters are going to get dirty.  The one you’re leaning against right now.  It’s going to get scuffed up a bit out there.

And there might not be enough to go around.  The harvest is plentiful but the political will to address underlying issues is meager. 

Then Why, the disciples of John ask again, If this is so, if the day of fulfillment has not arrived, Why do you feast?  

Jesus did go on to nuance his response, something theologians have picked up on every since.  It has arrived, but isn’t perceived.  It’s the already, but not yet.  It’s now, but not in its fullness, at least not fully realized. It’s as if the wedding day is here, but not everyone has checked their mailbox for the invitation.   

So yeah, there’s a time for both, for fasting and for feasting.  But given the choice, Jesus was all about the feast.

In our present day setting, privileged, we say, there are a couple ways to feast.  One is oblivious to or intentionally blocking out the plight of others.  Getting as much as you can while you can.  I’m going to make a wager and say that’s not the kind of feasting Jesus was talking about.

There is another kind of feasting.

It’s the kind that sees all this, takes it to heart, and still sets the table.  It’s the kind that invites others to join in the preparing and the eating of the food.  It’s the kind that believes that the kin-dom of God, however partial, however fragmented, is here now.  When we feast and create and join in community we are sewing these fragments together to make a greater whole.  Joy and beauty and the warmth of human kindness are not limited resources.  They multiply, like loaves and fishes, like cloth into comforters.  Blessed, and given. 

Look around you. The harvest is plentiful. 

The kin-dom of God is like this. This is our prayer for ourselves.  And this is our prayers for these comforters.  May they join other gifts to meet a great need.  May all who wrap themselves warm inside be blessed.  And may the banquet table of God’s justice spread ever wider.