It was a hot and humid July day in Fargo North Dakota for the annual Johnson/Danielson/Lutes family reunion. The kind of day that just standing still you sweat, the kind of summer day that makes you wish for a winter day when the wind blows and makes your bones so cold. This is the July day in Fargo that we all gathered in the city park to see many we hadn’t seen for years, others, we’d just seen yesterday. This is the July day that everyone brought their best, their best jello salad, their best potato salad, their best rolls, their best glorified rice, their very best. This is the July day that the picnic tables were full to overflowing with the best potluck in the world. This is the July day that we revel in the abundance that is family, and food, and fellowship.
Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. They all sat there in the city park, about five thousand in all, somewhat more than our family reunions, but not much. Jesus took the five loaves of bread, the two fish, gave thanks for all he had, and distributed them to everyone. They ate as much as they wanted, and when they were satisfied, the disciples gathered up the fragments, and they filled twelve baskets.
It seems to me that this feeding story in the gospel of John is a precursor to the feeding stories of our family and church potlucks and meals. They are stories of abundance. When was the last time anyone went away hungry from your family potluck? When was the last time anyone went away hungry from a St. Andrew’s potluck? When was the last time anyone went away hungry from a meal St. Andrew’s served at the Cornerstone mission? Even when it seems like there may not be enough, somewhere, somehow, there is enough, and usually more than enough. These stories show us divine plenty and generosity. Even when it seems like and looks like abundance cannot be found, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” God’s abundance shows up.
During the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, all of us gathered were reminded that mission is the heartbeat of who we are. Mission is enfleshed in many different ways. One of the ways mission is enfleshed is through the Millennium Development Goals, goals that technically point us to global concerns, which is very good. Just to remind you, the Millennium Development Goals are by 2015: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to achieve universal primary education, to promote gender equality and empower women, to reduce child mortality, to improve maternal health, to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, to ensure environmental sustainability, and to create a global partnership for development with targets for aid, trade and debt relief. Yet at this General Convention I began to hear movement toward domestic poverty as a major concern of mission, and even funded in the budget. If we think that a budget is a moral document, our church has made a statement about the immorality of people going hungry right here in our own country. I believe the Millennium Development Goals and the relief of domestic poverty goes hand in hand, we can’t pay attention to global concerns without paying attention to poverty that knocks on our front door, especially here in South Dakota, especially here in Rapid City.
When it feels like we are losing so very much, our retirements, people around us losing their jobs, and when goods and services cost more than ever, how can we even think about relieving domestic and global poverty? We do so because it is our call, it is our mission, and we do it because of God’s abundance, we do it because of this story from the gospel of John, even when it looks like there cannot be enough, God’s divine plenty and generosity and love is ever present, God’s abundance shows up, all we have to do is get out of the way and get involved in the work God has already blessed.
In this time of fear, we continue to serve a meal at Cornerstone mission, we are on the way to collecting more money than ever before to provide new clothes for children to begin school in the fall, we have been gifted with money from Fr. Bill’s estate that enable us to give even more to provide malaria nets through Episcopal Relief and Development, and our income to pay our expenses and payroll here at St. Andrew’s is as healthy as it has even been.
When we respond to God’s divine plenty and generosity even in a time of fear and perceived loss, with confidence and abundant generosity ourselves, amazing things happen. We are able to show people the truth of resurrection. Resurrection shows us that when life as we know it dies, new life will arise. We are in the midst of loss and for some death, I am confident in resurrection, I am confident in the new thing that God is doing. And in the midst of God’s divine plenty and generosity, people continue to love one another, people continue to care for one another, people continue to be generous themselves.
And it cannot be accidental that the feeding of the five thousand is followed immediately by the story of Jesus walking on the sea. Jesus said to them, and says to us, “it is I; do not be afraid.” When it feels like we are losing more than we are gaining, when it seems like there is not enough, remember, in the breaking and the sharing of the bread, there is always enough, “it is I; do not be afraid.”
This story from John is not only a description of the way God’s abundance was present then and is now; it also points us to the feast that is to come. This massive picnic in the wilderness is manna from heaven, the bread of angels. Our participation in the feeding of many today, our participation in God’s divine plenty and generosity today, does affect the Kingdom that will come. The story continues to show us that Jesus is the bread of life. We will hear more about that next week.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.
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