Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Proper 12-Sermon for St. Mary's Foggy Bottom-July 26, 2009

2 Kings 4:42-44
A man came from Baalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.”
But his servant said, “How can I set this food before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, and they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord

John 6:1-21
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea f Galilee, also called the sea of Tiberius. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with is disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked u and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Sic months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered up the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done they began to say, “This is indeed a prophet who is come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to tale him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountains by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. the sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him in to the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

My husband once told me that when he starts to feel anxious about money he reminds himself that this is the time to be generous and open-handed. God, he says, cannot put anything into a clenched fist.

His theory of stewardship is one that I have seen at work in some of the poorest of places.
I spent a year of my seminary education at the college of the Transfiguration, the Anglican Provincial seminary in Grahamstown, South Africa. I did what was called field education, hands on training, in two parishes there. St. Clement’s and St. Philip’s. St Philip’s was a Xhosa-speaking congregation in Rhini, the black township that clung to the hills surrounding Grahamstown. The population of Rhini was, for the most part, desperately poor. Unemployment ran at about fifty-percent. And that figure took no account of those who were underemployed. Many only worked two weeks each year during the period of the Grahamstown Arts Festival when the city became a tourist Mecca.

The congregation at St. Philip’s was marginally better off than average. That is not saying much. But some members of the congregation had steady jobs: they were teachers, nurses, shop assistants or domestic workers. Others relied on remittances from family members who had found work on the mines near Johannesburg or in coastal city of Port Elizabeth. No one was wealthy and many lived only a half-step from destitution.

On one Sunday of each quarter there was an ingathering of gifts. Individuals and families made their annual pledges not to the common pot but to their guilds, associations and societies. Every member of the congregation belonged to a guild or a society. The children belonged to the Sunday school or the youth guild; the young girls belonged to the St. Agnes Guild, the women to the Anglican Women’s Fellowship or the Mother’s Union, the men to the Bernard Mzeki fellowship. On the ingathering Sundays we knew to fill our pockets with change and to prepare for a long service. At the offertory each guild would process up the aisle with their gift dancing to a joyful hymn. They would be accompanied by people who did not belong to that particular guild. The intent of the accompanying congregants was to demonstrate their support. Adults would accompany the Sunday school; women would process alongside the Bernard Mzeki fellowship; men would dance alongside the Mother’s Union or the members of the AWF. The expectation was that to accompany a guild you must bring a coin to the table. The coin was, almost invariably, slammed down with a flourish. In this way each guild exceeded its pledged and collected income. The ingathering Sunday was a day of particular joy and fun. The joy and the generosity were surprising in those surroundings. It was a wonder that anyone had any extra to offer. It was a wonder that anxiety didn’t close its fist around those precious coins. Joblessness and hunger were not abstract ideas in Rhini. They were the immediate experience of those who filled the pews. So the question ‘if I offer this money today how will I have enough for tomorrow?’ was not an idle one.

The year in Grahamstown taught me so many lessons about the shape of faith. Dancing up the aisle on ingathering Sunday I was reminded that anxiety and fear can not make a home where faith lives.

Fear is something so familiar. We know the taste of it. For almost a decade it has driven decisions at the highest levels of government and at every level of citizenship in this country. Fear made racial and religious profiling okay. Fear opened a prison at Guantanamo. Fear dropped bombs on Baghdad. Fear has us stripping down at airports: unbelted, unbuckled, unshod with bags and jackets in clattering bins. Fear permitted all kinds of invasion of privacy and abrogation of civil liberties with barely a blink. The power of fear is that our fears are not baseless. Terrorists have struck this country. Enemy combatants may have had nefarious designs on our security. Airplanes have used as a weapons. And Richard Reed did hide a bomb in his shoe. Fear is powerful because it is based in fact. And fear is a flavor that we know all too well.

Now, the shape of our fear has shifted. Jobs are scarce. Each day we hear news of more layoffs. The newspapers are full of home foreclosures and short sales. The television and the radio tell us high rates of credit debt default. The money people have seen the money they set aside for retirement has vanished. We are facing an uncertain future and we are afraid. We are afraid that we will not have enough. The word of today’s Gospel is written directly to us.

The disciples in John’s gospel are seldom portrayed in a flattering light. The pericopes or stories that we read today are no different. If John’s gospel employed the “before” and “after” images of advertising the disciples would, generally, represent the “before” pictures. Unfortunately the disciples, all too often, represent us too. They personify our tenuous grip on faith. Philip’s practical observation sounds like the view from where we stand. “Six month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” he says, looking at the swelling crowd. We can join him in that sentiment. Even if we had more we wouldn’t have enough. How are we ever going to...engage in outreach, repair the building, pay our assessment, cover our costs? The list goes on you can add your own concern. Our anxieties are not baseless. If they were baseless it would be the work of an instant to dispel them. In this version of the feeding Jesus doesn’t dissolve Philip’s fear in an explosion of miracle. He waits.

You see, Philip is right. The truth is that we never will have enough. There is never enough to go around. There is not enough love to fold us in a warm embrace. There is not enough money to meet our endless needs. There is not enough food to silence our hunger. There are not enough guns and bombs to keep us safe. We live in fear and our fears are based in fact. The fact is that when we rely on our own resources we will never have enough.

But, you know, there is another way. It is seen in the open hand of a young boy, “I have this...” Like Andrew, we may not trust the gift. After all, what are five loaves and two fish among so many people? What is the paltry coin that I have in the face of the overwhelming need? But faith puts what we have in the hands of Jesus who can take, give thanks, and share. Then whatever we have no matter how little or how much it is enough with some to spare.

No comments:

Post a Comment