Julie kae sigars
Odd thing happened yesterday afternoon. Lorenzo, our cat, took a chunk out of my Feasting on the Word lectionary resource book.
Something had been bothering him. We weren’t quite sure what. Almost a chasing his tale sort of thing. He was on the couch. I was on the couch. All my stuff was on the couch.
Then he just took a bite out of the last pages of the Matthew feeding of the five thousand.
But it did make me think about all those people. Over five thousand. All had a story. All had a history, unknown to us. All had just heard about John the Baptist and were probably afraid. Some may have been folks who were always prepared. Some might have run for the hills following Jesus without much preparation. What we do know is that the disciples really didn’t want to face the people. They seemed to think they did not have enough.
We each can feel that we are not enough. Look at Paul. Right after this most amazing statement in last week’s Romans passage…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, no angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, not powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord….Paul says this…so powerful,…so comforting…but then we hear today : I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
In the life of the church, the holy catholic universal church, and the life of each particular church, we have these moments. It can be the surprise of deep trust in knowing that All Shall be Well. …followed by a heartbreaking severing of relationships. It can be visions of new ways of being church…that are exciting…. followed by a violation of our space when our building has been broken into, and equipment and cherished objects are stolen. It can be a time of change in how we view families, and marriages, which can bring great hope and joy to some and deep sorrow and anger to others.
Mark Achtemeier, Presbyterian theologian, seminary Biblical professor and evangelical pastor, shares the story of counseling a young woman who was attending seminary. Her calling was strong, yet, in following the rules of the church, she was not eligible for ordination, since she was a lesbian. Now, Dr. Achtemeier was pivotal in the drafting of the language for the Book of Order that banned her ordination. In confiding in him, she was depressed, had lost her joy of her calling, and was considering ending her life, because she could not bring her true self to the process. Dr. Achtemeier listened to her, and then referred her to other faculty members who would be more supportive. And he noticed how her life began anew, full of joy, ready for what her calling might bring her to in serving God. And after many other experiences like this, Achtemeier had to stop and re-read and re-study the Bible which brought him to a completely different place. His newest book on same-sex marriage is a challenge for many in the church, but his compassion and biblical scholarship has been so helpful for many. My mom’s church has had a very difficult time since General Assembly in June. One of my mom close friends at her church, who joined 25 years ago when my mom and dad joined, has left. It has broken my mother’s heart. The time of “all shall be well” has turned to a really sad time. Yet, mom and her friends are reading Achtemeier’s book. You have no idea how big of a deal this is for her.
I have a couple of copies, by the way, if any one wants to look.
But we have always had these times when things just do not go well.
Look at the Babylonian captivity. Isaiah, this gorgeous text offering water, wine, milk , satisfying bread is a consoling text to those separated from their homes. In the midst of this, Isaiah offers this hope and reminder of the covenant of God. And a re-evaluation of what had seemed important.
We hear: Why do you spent your life on those things that offer nothing for your own deep need?
Listen, so you may live.
Listen, so you may live. Which is what Dr. Achtemeier is sharing with the church at this time. Sharing with my mom and those seminary students and others waiting, waiting, waiting and finally receiving calls and finally blessed by marriage….
Listen, so you may live.
Our psalmist sings:
The Lord is good to all….The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing…..God is just in all his ways….kind in all his doings….near to all who call on him…to all who call on him in truth…fulfills the desire of all who fear him….hears their cry and saves them….watches over all who love him…
To all who call on him in truth…. Isn’t that what Isaiah is asking? Truthfully, why do you spend your time and energy on those things that do not deeply satisfy? Isn’t it time to truthfully answer that? Can we bring this to God? Paul declares: I am speaking the truth in Christ---I am not lying. This is when he is confessing his sorrow and anguish….He brings it. He is in a place of sorrow about his own people, the Israelites…he seems to question the covenant and seems broken hearted. Like many of us would be …But then Paul reminds himself of this very covenant, worship, and promises…God is the source and Giver of Life, thanks be to God. To all the nations.
So, in Matthew, a group of broken hearted folks gather in a deserted place, Jesus feels compassion for them… It is getting late…and what do the disciples do? They ask Jesus to tell the crowds to go into the villages for food. They won’t even do it themselves…
Of course, the story goes, Jesus turns it right back to them…
You give them something to eat.
Our compassionate God knows our needs. And Jesus, after the beheading of John the Baptist…just may to ready to turn some of the feeding to the disciples. Because, with the situation as it is, Jesus may have a fate not unlike John the Baptist.
Our compassionate God knows our needs.
You feed them.
And, possibly feeling like us, feeling like they didn’t have enough, Jesus just said, Bring it here.
And he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the bread and gave them back to the disciples to give to the people.
And what happened?
It was more than enough.
What we have is more than enough.
When broken hearted…God knows our need. When in exile or in the deserted place, God has compassion and knows our need.
When we see the needs of the world, our church, our community, our families, the children, we bring our gifts, even if it may seem meager, and we look to God, bless and give these gifts … our prayers, our truthtellings, our activisim, our repentance, our new visions, our songs, our listening hearts….
Last week we shared with you the process that Eric and Madeleine and I have had in preparing out offertories the last couple of weeks. We have been improvising on some chords that Eric has laid out. Each time we play, it is different. In rehearsal, each time, it is different. When we offer it in worship, it is different. When improvising on your own, just one person, you just need to pay attention to what you are doing. But with other people, guess what you need to practice?
Each person brings their gift or vision. Each day, that is a different thing. The spiritual discipline is the daily work you do to enable that gift to have a life of its own. In music, that discipline is daily practice…knowing your instrument really well….scale work, understanding harmonies, etc…
And listening…We notice the chords Eric picks. What are they saying? Well, they may be saying different things, depending upon what mood Eric may be in. But when combined with Madeleine and with me….it changes…becomes….well….church.
We listen, we bless, we offer it up.
I am hopeful that my mom’s church will listen, bless and offer up in their working out what it means to be church in that place.
I am hopeful that those who meet in this place will feel courage and continue to offer their gifts. Pastor Oscar, when seeing most of their instruments were stolen along with their soundboard, commented: We have one acoustic guitar left! We can worship!
In exile, in deserted places….in truth, ….listening, …fed by our compassionate God….rich food for all the nations…without money…without price….a new song, new everyday….may we be that blessing for a thirsty, hungry world in deep need.