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August 3, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13):
To listen to earlier homilies click here.
Laurie+ Brock, Dirty Sexy Ministry: So you’re going to seminary
+Gene Robinson, Hope when the world’s gone off the rails
DRAFT text of homily—please do not cite without permission
How long, do you suppose, the disciples have been murmuring among themselves?
“He’d better wrap this up.”
“Wow, it’s getting late.”
“I’m getting hungry.”
“and I certainly don’t want to be here when this crowd figures out there’s no food.”
How anxious, and hungry, and on edge do you suppose they were when they finally screwed up their courage and said something?
“Send the crowd away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
I always wondered about that.
Did the disciples really think that the poor and the sick who followed Jesus out into the wilderness brought cash with them?
But that’s beside the point.
The disciples are hungry and anxious themselves, and they want the problem to just go away.
That’s one typical response to anxiety.
If I ignore it, maybe it’ll go away.
They’ve been ignoring the crowd, and everyone is still here, so another typical response is…
Let’s get someone else to do something about it.
Whatever it is that’s causing you anxiety, it’s very common to want to push that anxiety off on someone else, saying, “you take care of it.”
It’s interesting what Jesus doesn’t say in response to this.
When the disciples come to him with all their fears about a restless crowd, and their anxieties about what to do about it.
Jesus doesn’t say “don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
He says, “they don’t have to go away, you feed them.”
If they’re making you anxious; you deal with it.
It’s sound advice, but difficult to put into practice.
This is one of the few episodes that is included in all four Gospels.
So this is an important—a core—narrative.
But all four versions differ slightly.
Each highlights certain details that makes the story unique to a particular storyteller.
In Mark, after Jesus says, “you feed them,” there’s an interesting exchange between Jesus and the disciples, that Matthew doesn’t repeat.
Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”
And initially, the disciples balk at this and respond, “are you out of your mind!”
OK, that’s not in Mark.
They say, “are we to go and buy them 200 denarii worth of bread?”
And Jesus says, “how many loaves do you have?”
They clearly don’t know because he then says, “Go and see.”
He refocuses them on the gifts that they already possess.
How many loaves do you have?
Find out who you are, and what you have, and what your resources really are.
What do you have?
At this point in the world, it feels like not much.
The problems of the world are huge.
Violence in Gaza and Iraq, the Ukraine, and a dozen other hotspots, gun violence at home, and all important, and complex battles over individual and corporate rights and responsibilities…health care, poverty, immigrant children on our borders…
And if it were just those major things, it would be more than enough, but there’s also hard, difficult, costly issues in our personal lives.
In my own personal life—I’m not talking about my life as a priest, but friends in my own personal life—among them I have friends:
in crumbling relationships
living with chronic diseases
grieving the loss of loved ones
who are coping with children with various biological, psychological, and emotional disorders
who are exhausted taking care of elderly parents
and on and on…
It’s a lot.
It’s too much.
It’s very easy to look around and say, can’t someone else do it.
It’s too hard.
I’m not up to it.
I’m not enough.
I imagine we’ve all felt that at some point…or are feeling it now.
These fears and anxieties are real—as real as that crowd,
Just imagine that crowd for a moment.
5,000 hot, tired, hungry, thirsty people.
A crowd emotionally on edge because Jesus had been healing their sick all afternoon.
A teaming throng who followed Jesus miles outside of their comfort zones…out to a deserted place…
This isn’t a complacent crowd waiting patiently in line at Disney World.
This is more like the Super Dome just after Katrina—a volatile mix of desperation, and uncertainty.
Not unlike our world today.
You bet the disciples were anxious.
“What do you have? Go and see.”
Who are you really?
What gifts do you have now.
Ready, and waiting to give away?
Something that I’m convinced is absolutely true, about God in particular and about the spiritual life in general…
is that we always already have exactly what we need to do the work God is calling us to do.
But we don’t often recognize that.
In part, I think, because we too often think we need to do it all ourselves, and so we miss (or ignore) the necessary gifts of others.
And in part because we forget that our gifts are often disguised as weaknesses.
Scriptures are pretty clear that every time God calls us to something, God has already provided the necessary tools for the task.
And it’s always the stuff that we already have.
The stuff we brought with us…
maybe without even thinking about it…
the gifts we only really discover in community…
the wounds we limp along with.
Nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy.
And as a friend of mine says, “Somehow in God’s economy, our wounds and scars are what God sees as valuable.” (http://www.dirtysexyministry.com/2014/08/so-youre-going-to-seminary.html?m=1)
And however meager we think any or all of our mutual gifts and talents are…
It’s enough to begin…
To take the next step…
And what is the next step?
The disciples say, “we have nothing but 5 loaves and 2 fish.”
And Jesus says, “Bring them to me.”
That’s what we do with all of our stuff and all of our “nothing”
We bring it and give it all to Jesus.
That’s when miracles happen
And there’s more than one in this story.
Yes, all are fed; that’s a miracle.
But before that another miracle takes place.
A miracle of communication.
The miracle of effectively being a less-anxious presence in the midst of great anxiety.
Of transforming a crowd into communion.
There must have been some miraculous combination of verbal and non-verbal communication that occurred…
Because Jesus orders them all to sit down,
or in some versions, tells the disciples to get them to sit down in groups,
And they do.
That’s a miracle.
What? Did you imagine that Jesus simply said, “The Lord be with you,”
and 5000 people all responded, “and also with you” and suddenly became quiet and attentive?
Jesus, calm and confident, stills this potential storm as well with his faith
that they have enough,
that there will be enough,
that is what he gives to the disciples,
and what they pass along to the crowd
along with this communion of bread and fish which demonstrates this to be true.
Bishop Gene Robinson wrote a great piece on line this week titled “Hope when the world’s gone off the rails” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/27/hope-when-the-world-s-gone-off-the-rails.html)
Wherein he notes the difference between hope and optimism:
“Optimism,” he says “is having confidence that human beings, on their own, can and will do the right thing.”
(I know fewer and fewer truly optimistic people these days)
In contrast, the bishops says, “Hope is having confidence that in the end, God will do the right thing, and with God’s help, so can we.”
For me today, this is the lesson of the feeding of the 5,000…
because “the world is too much with us”
And it’s easy to be pessimistic about the world and
it’s easy to feel like it’s all too much.
But we aren’t called to be optimistic.
We are called to be people of hope
And what Jesus teaches us today in our desert is the same thing that every communion strives to teach, that with God what we have is enough.
What we bring is enough.
What we are is enough.
And that with God’s help we can do the right things.
All we have to do is name what and who we are—wounds and all—bring all of that, and give it all to God.
And it will always be enough.