Friday, August 1, 2008

Sunday's sermon

Since I'm pretty sure there's only one parishioner who reads this blog, I'll go ahead and post what I plan to preach on Sunday. The gospel is MTs version of the feeding of the 5,000. Thanks to some suggestions from the revgalblogpals for helping me hear the Spirit in this story once again.

Once upon a time, there were twelve men who became disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. They weren’t all alike but they all heard Jesus’ call to “follow me” deep in their hearts and couldn’t refuse him.

Over time, they came to love him. Without realizing it, they came to see part of their role as disciples to be that of caretakers. Jesus didn’t seem to pay much attention to his own needs so these men decided they would handle that for him.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus has just finished a teaching mission, telling many parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. At the end of that time, he receives the news that John the Baptist has been beheaded at the whim of Herod’s stepdaughter Salome. This is sad on many levels. The people have once again killed a prophet. The one who understood Jesus better than even his disciples is gone. We forget sometimes that John was Jesus’ cousin so it is a family loss as well. And, finally, it makes what Jesus is doing just that much more dangerous.

Jesus is tired, bone weary with no reserves left. More than anything, he needs time alone to pray and to sleep. So he gets into a boat with his disciples around him to protect and care for him and they go to the other side of the lake. I hope he got a nap in the boat because his departure was noticed by someone. And that someone promptly told other someones and a whole bunch of people swarmed around the lake to spend time with Jesus, to ask him questions and to find healing for themselves and their friends.

When Jesus got out of the boat, he was almost instantly surrounded by all these people. This is not a passive crowd nor is it an aggressive mob. No, it is likely that these people called out to Jesus, reached out hands for a touch, turned up their faces hoping to catch his eye. There was likely some jockeying for position, of course, because wherever two or three are gather together, someone always wants to be first.

And this tired Jesus, this man who is exhausted to the point of being physically drained, sees the people and his heart goes out to them. He steps from the boat and wades into the crowd, touching all those hands, catching all those eyes and answering their calls. The disciples know his exhausted state but they realize that something is happening here and Jesus looks refreshed and energized. What had been scarce is now abundant.

I think that when Jesus taught such large crowds, the disciples’ job must have been to make sure everyone could hear him. Now, Jesus didn’t have a single stump speech that the disciples could memorize and say with him but they knew his stories by now and they could probably read his body language well. Their ears were attuned to his voice just as a parent can hear their own child calling them when lots of other children are calling out, too. And so these few disciples were able to help this one man spread the good news of the Kingdom to thousands at a time.

But it is getting on toward evening and the disciples decide that Jesus really does need a break now. It wasn’t that long of a nap, after all, and he still needs to rest and have some time alone. So they suggest to Jesus that it is time for the crowd to be sent home. It is time for supper.
You know what happened next. Jesus told them they could feed everyone and they figured he’d really gone round the bend this time. “Are you kidding, Jesus? We’ve only got a few fish and some loaves of bread. It’s barely enough for the thirteen of us let alone these thousands of people here.”

And Jesus takes what they have, blesses it and sends them into the crowd to distribute it. When they have done so, everyone has had their fill and there is more than enough left over to feed many more. What had been scarce is now abundant.

It doesn’t really matter how the abundance came to be, whether everyone there took something out of the baskets while adding what they had brought with them or whether the loaves and fish really stretched that far. It is generally understood that most everyone would have had a little something in a pocket or pouch, just not enough to share. You’ve been in that position, haven’t you? When you’re out with friends and everyone suddenly gets hungry? You’ve brought a granola bar in case you get hungry but not nearly enough to feed everyone. So you don’t tell anyone you’ve got it and hope you can find a minute alone to eat it without the others seeing you.

No, how it happened is not nearly as important as that it happened. It doesn’t even matter if it happened grudgingly or wonderingly. All that matters is that it happened.

I remember a potluck supper one time. In that parish, we really did just bring a dish. It was never enough to feed your family. It was meant to go with everyone else’s offerings and together they would make a meal. One time, though, several people had come right from work and brought nothing. We had about six or seven dishes for about 60 people. One was a casserole with meat in it, most were veggies, one was a salad and I think there was a dessert. We all looked at the meager fare and figured this was the time we would go home hungry.
The blessing was said and we served our plates. I wouldn’t say that any plate was really full but I have to tell you that we were all satisfied and no one went away hungry that night. What we were sure was scarcity was really abundance.

How often do we look at what we have only in terms of what we do not have? How often do we lament that there isn’t enough, that there needs to be more? If you think this is veering into stewardship, you are right. But I want you to hear this from two points of view.

As individuals making a decision to give, we often worry there won’t be enough left over for us. Remember the baskets of food that were gathered and give generously of what you have.

As a church concerned about meeting expenses and having enough to fund programs and outreach, remember the loaves and fish and how many people were fed by them.

All of us, regardless of where we stand, need to live abundant lives in Jesus Christ. And that means giving up the viewpoint of scarcity. That way of thinking shrinks our hearts until we have nothing left to give. Knowing that we make our gifts available willingly and with thankful hearts will energize us and renew our strength. As individuals and as a church.

Once upon a time, there was a single man who gave everything he had, even his life, that we might live and live abundantly. Don’t you think it’s time we did so?


Anonymous said...

This'll preach!!! I'm throwing around the same idea... but I don't have the words to go with it yet. Hopefully... they will become before the dawn. I wish they would come on Wed!!!!!

Anonymous said...

"...And that means giving up the viewpoint of scarcity. That way of thinking shrinks our hearts until we have nothing left to give."

Margaret, this is definitely something to think about. I must say that often do I think in terms of scarcity and in fear and to be honest, it has left me with a shrinking heart. One could definitely apply this thought to all aspects of life and not only finances. The one thing that I definitely also wish to learn is to start thinking positively instead of negatively. I am really beginning to think that our energy (positive or negative) and what we think, draws the same to us, which only increases this.

Anyway, thank you for sharing this!

Ray Flanary