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A Good Day's Work -- Matthew 14:13-21 (14th Sunday After Pentecost; Labor Day Weekend)

In the lead-up to Labor Day, I ran across something that mentioned “Bring Your Kids to Work Day.” Do you remember that? I do. It was started about 30 years ago as “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day” – a movement to help girls see abundant possibilities in the workplace.[1] Over time, it became more expansive, including all our children. It’s a lovely idea, connecting and honoring family life and work life – giving kids a hopefully healthy glimpse of adult life – bringing the vitality of kids into the workplace – reminding employers that workers have families – that we are whole people

My first memory of something like that – many years before it became an official thing – was going to work with my grandmother. My grandmother, Virginia Clark – Grandma Jiggi to my cousins, my sister, and me – was the head bookkeeper at DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. When I was 3/4/5-years old, visits with Grandma Jiggi usually included going into work with her. I remember the things a child would remember – most vividly that the bookkeeping offices were on two floors and had a metal circular staircase connecting the two. But I also remember the impression. I had the clear sense that my Grandmother was responsible – that she was responsible for important things. Even when we were there for what was, for me, mostly a social visit – her colleagues came to her with questions. And she was the one who knew the answers.

My first memories of going to work with my Dad were a few years later – when he was stationed at Eglin AFB in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Now, it was the 1970s – and this was an Air Force Base – in Florida – so to a 6- or 7- year old – it was just like where Major Nelson and Major Healey worked on I Dream of Jeannie – just without the genies. But, there too, I had the sense that my Dad was doing something purposeful there. Everyone was in their uniforms. It was a serious place.

And every year, about this time of year, I would go to work with my Mom. She was a math teacher – and during teacher prep days – before the school year started – she would let me tag along. Now, I knew that this being a teacher – well, it was about the most important job anyone could have in the world – and I still think that. When Mom took me to work, she would actually put me to work. I’d help make bulletin boards. I’d help get the text books sorted and ready. (Now you’d have to ask her how much help I really was – but I sure felt useful.)

The hope of Bring Your Kids to Work Day was and is that kids might get a healthy glimpse of adult life – of adults working together – and, that it might help kids imagine a future full of purpose and possibility – where there is a purpose and place for them too.

In this morning’s Scripture, Jesus basically takes the disciples to work with him. This is a day in the life of Jesus – of Jesus doing the things that Jesus does – Jesus doing the work that is his to do – the healing, the teaching, the feeding.[2]

It’s a day in the life, but it’s not just any day. It’s a traumatic and horrible day. As it starts, it’s one of those days when you almost can’t bring yourself to get out of bed – when you wonder, as the new day dawns, braced for what may lie ahead – “What in the world am I doing here?”

Just before the Scripture opens, Jesus receives word that John the Baptist has been brutally murdered by King Herod. John the Baptist is Jesus’s cousin – the one who baptized him. And, Jesus and John the Baptist are in the same business – they share the same work.[3] Even before Jesus, John the Baptist has been out there proclaiming the Reign, not of Caesar or Herod, but of God – telling the powers that their days are numbered – preaching nothing less than the overthrow of every oppressive power, and the birth of something entirely new.

Jesus follows John the Baptist and preaches and embodies that Word. Remember: Back in January and February – we said that Jesus proclaims a Brave New World: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus proclaims a brave new world that honors human dignity – a brave new world breaking forth into the old, crumbling order that for too long has pushed people down and harmed and hurt.[4]

But the Old Crumbling Order isn’t going away without a fight – power-over rarely does. The powers have noticed these prophets – kept an eye on them. King Herod views them as a serious threat. And so, just before this morning’s Scripture, Herod imprisons John the Baptist. Herod frets over what to do because he knows that John the Baptist has stirred up the people. But back at the palace, Herod throws a lavish banquet and indulges his wife and her daughter by granting any request they should make – “whatever you want.” They ask for John the Baptist’s head, so Herod has John the Baptist slaughtered, his head served up on a platter at the banquet. The powers do what powers do. They defend their power-over at all cost. They crack down. They kill.

And John’s disciples send word to Jesus of all this – right before this morning’s Scripture opens. This is not just any day – it is a lousy day. And look what Jesus does.

First, Jesus takes a breath. He withdraws. This morning we are talking about work – but on Labor Day Weekend, which is meant to give workers a rest – notice that Jesus takes a breath and rests. Jesus actually rests twice in this story – at the beginning of his work, and right after it. When we see Jesus at work in the Gospels, we see Jesus living out a rhythm of work and rest. Maybe that’s the word you need for today. In our work, in your work, rest. Take a breath. Jesus takes a breath – he withdraws into the wilderness – a place where, as one writer says, “the tentacles of Empire cannot reach.”[5]

But the crowd follows, and, after that breath, Jesus gets back to work.

It’s not just any work. Jesus does the things that Jesus does – what the disciples see him do – what we see him do – again and again. The crowd comes, and Scripture says, Jesus has compassion on them, and heals their sick. All day long. Until evening comes. Jesus heals their broken places.

As the sun begins to set, Jesus feeds more than 5,000 – women, men, children, all of them.

Jesus builds and sustains a community – there in the wilderness.

Does that sound familiar? Thousands of people, out in the wilderness, grumbling because they have no food, and then there’s food enough – bread in the wilderness. Yeah – it’s Moses – Moses all over again.[6] The work that Jesus does is the work that God has been doing all along – accompanying the people in the wilderness, healing their broken places, creating and sustaining community.

While the excess of King Herod’s feast rots in his palace, Jesus is out in the wilderness creating a Brave New World:

· Where Herod kills, Jesus heals

· Where Herod hoards resources for the rich, Jesus feeds the poor. Out in that wilderness – everyone has enough.

· Where Herod deals death, Jesus brings life

Out from the grim and gruesome gloom of Herod’s palace, we find Jesus and the multitudes out in the broad expanse of a wilderness filled with worthy work and holy rest – with healing – with food enough, for everyone, and more. Out in that wilderness, we find Jesus doing the work that God has been doing all along.

And, not just Jesus – remember those disciples Jesus brought along with him – he not only brings them to work, he puts them to work. Look at how he feeds the multitude. Jesus heals all day, and the multitude linger – healed and whole. But as the day draws to a close, the disciples come and voice a problem. The hour is late and the people are hungry. The disciples propose a solution: “Jesus, send them home, and tell them to go and buy some food for themselves.”

But Jesus has a better idea: "No, you give them something to eat." Do you see what he does there? Jesus has been healing these thousands all day long – loving and caring for this multitude – and here he invites the disciples into this holy work. “You give them something to eat.” But he doesn’t leave them on their own. “Tell me what you have. 5 loaves and two fishes? Bring them here to me.” The disciples bring what they have. Jesus takes the bread, he blesses it, and breaks it. And he gives it to his disciples. They go and give it to the crowd. And everyone eats. And everyone is filled. And afterward they gather up what is left, 12 baskets full.

Look at this brave new world coming to life. Back in Herod’s palace, Herod is hoarding everything he has – lavish banquets for the rich, while so many go hungry. But here in the wilderness, Jesus shows them a new possibility: Gather the resources that you have, and distribute them equitably, so that everyone has enough. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the merciful, all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You give them something to eat.

Jesus brings the disciples to work, invites them into this brave new world – says to them – all this healing, all this feeding, all this life – this, Jesus says, this is the work that is ours to do together --

the work that God has been doing all along

from the very beginning

now coming to life in Jesus

now coming to life in the disciples, in the people, in us.

We gather here from diverse backgrounds – all across life’s ages and stages – each with our own talents and skills. Some of us are still in the workplace; some have retired after years of faithful service; some – our kids – look forward to a future full of possibility. We know that our work in this world isn’t just the work we do to make a living – our work is the difference we make in the world in every moment and stage – how we spend our days with purpose and meaning. Every way: The work of raising a family, of building meaningful relationship, of activism, of serving together.

The purpose of Take Your Kids to Work Day was and is to give them a glimpse of a future full of purpose and possibility – where there is a purpose and place for them too. That’s what this Scripture opens up – when Jesus, in the midst of his work says, “You give them something to eat.”

When you stock the community fridge,

When you set the table for the REST shelter,

When you give to the Centsability offering,

When you bring cans for the Food Bank,

When you, when we think of building housing for refugees,

or the next bit of work that is ours to do –

You give them something to eat.”

In this morning’s Scripture, we see the work of Jesus coming to life in them, back then and there. In our moment, we see the work of Jesus, coming to life in us, right here and now.

© 2023 Scott Clark

[1] See ; [2] For background on this text and the Gospel of Matthew, see M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew, New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol. viii (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995); Herman C. Waetjen, The Origin and Destiny of Humanness (San Rafael, CA: Crystal Press, 1976); Jae Won Lee, Commentary in Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 3 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), pp.309-13. [3] See Waetjen, pp.160-61. [4] See [5] See Jae Won Lee, p.309. [6] See Eugene Boring, pp.323-24.

Photo credit: Note Thanun, used with permission via Unsplash


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