Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
How many of you have been able to go to one of the MANNA meals at the Cathedral? How many of you know what MANNA meals at the Cathedral are? We talk about MANNA a lot around here, and every once in a while it’s good to step back and provide some context for the work that many of you are involved with.
MANNA stands for (Many Angels Needed Now and Always), and of course it’s also that strange gift…that blessing…that falls from heaven and feeds the Israelites in their long, long trek in the wilderness. The MANNA program is a ministry of—and with—the homeless community in downtown Boston. For the past several years, All Saints has partnered with them and every other month, on the 4th Monday, we provide a meal for their Monday lunch program.
People prepare the lunch here, several days ahead of time, and deliver it to the Cathedral on Monday morning. They serve the lunch, eat with the community, and then share in the Eucharist on Monday afternoon. All are welcome.
Anyone who has ever been to the Monday lunch, and stayed for the service afterwards will tell you that this is not exactly what you might think of when you think of church service projects. True, it is a well-resourced group of people providing a service to a much differently resourced group of people…but MANNA is not just a service project. Because the MANNA community itself is different. The leadership there, comprised of clergy and lay people…housed and unhoused people…are very clear in their intention to not only welcome people across differences of class, wealth, culture, race and mental ability, but also to empower all people to claim their place as essential members of the community. (source). And that’s important…They teach and talk a lot about visible and invisible gifts, and visible and invisible needs. And the inverse relationship between them. Part of their community—the part that is unhoused, or marginally housed—that part of the community has very visible needs. When they show up to lunch, the first thing you see is their need. What you don’t see…and what takes some time and commitment and relationships to uncover are their tremendous and abundant gifts…of faith…and compassion…and resilience…and…vulnerability…and poetry…
When people walk in here…the first thing that they probably see are all of our gifts…our resources…we have our success, and our privilege, and the fruits of our history and our labor on full display…what takes time, and commitment and relationship to uncover are our needs…our deep longings…our vulnerability… our fear…
Our resources are visible, our needs are largely invisible…the unhoused community’s needs are visible…their resources…their gifts…are much less visible…but what MANNA teaches us is that every one of us is an essential member of the community. We need each other.
As poet Gwendolyn Brooks said in her ode to Paul Robeson:
“we are each other’s harvest:
we are each other’s business:
we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” (source)
Visible and invisible needs…visible and invisible gifts…and what makes the invisible visible…is relationship. Being in relationship with people who are not like us…and the fruit of those relationships…is blessing. Anyone who has participated in a MANNA lunch has been blessed by it, because they are so intentional about the relationships. And if you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone who is very different from you…it is not easy…but that’s where blessing takes place.
In the book on blessing in this little book of guidance Way of Love series the author says: “Before we can work for justice, we have to see people as beautiful, not merely deserving. Our deep longing for justice in the world is met as we make real relationships with others.” p. 9…
We have to be able to see the not so visible gifts of others…and we have to get in touch with our own not so visible needs.
That’s what blessing is about. Again, a quote: “Blessing must be relational if it is going to work for our transformation…The core of blessing is not how to figure out how to be more helpful in the world. It is learning how to be in the world in a way that is more receptive to being a part of it all.” (p. 43)
“The point of life is not to be right, or safe, or famous, comfortable, or rich, or powerful. None of those is a sign of success or God’s favor or significance, particularly when our power and wealth and safety require someone else to be poor and weak and scared. The point of life is to be together. To bless one another—all the one another’s—and to struggle against everything that leads us away from love. The point of life is to bless one another as we walk the Way of Love together.” (p. 27)
Isn’t this what Paul says today? “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus (following the Way of Love), so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord.
In his way, it’s what John the Baptist says too. We need to look past the funky clothes and odd diet, and pay attention to his gift…his vision…because John sees clearly…repent—turn around—the reign of God is coming. And when he goes after those who have set themselves apart from the rest, what does he say? Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’;”—“don’t try to say, we don’t need you or your kind…we’ve got it all figured out…no, no. Blessing must be relational if it is to be transformational. And standing apart from the relationship will not lead to blessing.
As we continue to turn, re-navigate, reorient ourselves back towards God, back toward the way of love, as we learn and meditate on scripture, especially the life and teachings of Jesus, as we develop prayer practices that open us up and allow the Holy Spirit to get in and work on us, as we gather together in worship and experience some of that spacious, eternal love and the abundant gifts that God shares with us, the more we do that the more we can go out and really walk with others…seeking and sharing the gifts that we all have and that we all need…The point of life is not to be right or safe or famous or comfortable…the point to life is to be together…to care for one another…to be welcoming and hospitable to one another…to forgive one another…to bless one another as we walk the way of love together.