August 4, 2014

The scarcity of what we have and the God of abundance

This is the sermon I preached yesterday at St. Bartholomew's:
“Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” 
Matthew 14:13-21
This story must have been important to the early Church. It shows up in all four Gospels. Not only that, Jesus refers to this incident on more than one occasion.

Can you imagine the scene?

Jesus' reputation has been growing. More and more people are hearing about his message of good news for all–not just the religious elites and people of privilege but a message of good news for all. And they had heard about his miraculous touch, the stories of broken people made whole. Healed.

As his reputation spread, the demand upon the disciples and Jesus grew. Jesus retreats to a remote place to recuperate only to be met by a massive crowd upon his return. All day long, Jesus and his disciples minister to those gathered, teaching about the good news of the kingdom and healing the sick. I imagine it was a bit like an impromptu, day-long festival of sorts.

As the sun begins to set, the disciples discuss amongst themselves sending folks home. Now, they are often portrayed as numb skulls in situations like this. But I’m certain that the disciples had the best of intentions. After all, gathered there that day were the sick and the well, the poor and rich. Not everyone had provisions for staying the night. Not everyone had food to eat. The fair thing–the equitable thing, would be to send everyone home. No one is embarrassed that way. People are getting tired. People are getting hungry. It’s time to shut this festival down.

So, the disciples approach Jesus, encouraging him to let everyone know that the party’s over. But Jesus doesn’t entertain this suggestion. “No, fellas,” he replies, “You feed them.” I’m sure this had to have cultivated a feeling the disciples felt countless times. Really, Jesus? Don’t be ridiculous ... Is this one of your metaphorical statements again? They set before Jesus the evidence. “A few pieces of fish and bread,” they tell him, “That’s all we got. Send ‘em home!”

Jesus takes the bread and the fish. He tells the crowd to take a seat and lifts the handful of food up towards the sky. He thanks God for it. He blesses it. He breaks it. And then he begins to hand it to the disciples who then pass it out to the crowds. There isn’t just enough for everyone gathered there. There was more than enough. After everyone has had their fill, baskets full of leftovers come back!

I wonder if this is the great lesson for us that bears so much repeating:

Between the scarcity of what we have and the God of abundance is our willingness to trust and to try.

Where, in each of our lives, are we saying to God, “There is just not enough to go around,” and yet the Spirit is whispering back to us, “Feed them.”

Last night, I returned from a visit to the U.S./Mexico border along the Rio Grande River. A young adult from our Diocse and I had the opportunity of seeing first hand the work that is being done to assist those coming into McAllen in order to escape the terror in their home countries.

You’ve likely heard about Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which has been at the center of much of the media attention given to this crisis. Not long after we entered the parish hall at Sacred Heart, four mothers entered the building with their children. They had just been released from a detention facility for migrants crossing the border. Volunteers cheered as they entered and then quickly went to work, getting them ready for the next leg of their journeys.

Having a daughter, I’ve watched a number of princess movies. And I was reminded of these as volunteers busily took measurements and sizes in order to find the fresh clothes for the families. It was not unlike animated birds and mice busily taking measurements for a ball gown. I can’t explain to you how vast a difference a warm meal and a hot shower can do for a person that has been traveling for as long they had. It was as if a different person stepped out of that shower area with fresh clothes, still damp hair and smiles on each of their faces.

We assisted these families with around 30 other volunteers. There were card-carrying Democrats and card-carrying Republicans. But each of us served because, as the Assistant Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in McAllen, TX put it, they were “trying to behave like Christians.”

I’m not primarily concerned about the politics involved in this crisis. Yet I am deeply concerned about the Church’s response and role in this crisis.

Scripture is not silent on this. We have a biblical mandate to offer care and compassion to the stranger and the alien ... the least, the last, the lost and the left out.

What is more, our baptismal covenant calls us to seek justice and extend human dignity to all–no matter their place of origin or how they got here.

Of course, a very human response is to be concerned about whether or not there is enough. Of course, we might think it best to just send people back to where they came from.

But is Jesus whispering to us, “No, you feed them”?

Is this our opportunity to stand with what we may assume to be scarce resources, trust God, try to obey and watch the God of abundance miraculously fill in the gap?

My hope is that our citizenship will not trump our baptism.

My hope is that we will hear Jesus whispering, “You do it, you care for them.”

My hope is that we will extend care for them. And that we see God do wonderful things with our willingness to trust and to try.

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