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.
The purpose of Mark’s gospel is to bear witness to Jesus as the proclaimer and embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and to challenge us to follow Jesus, who Mark also tells us from the very beginning is the Good News, the Son of God. The particular passage that we hear today is the sending out of the disciples, it is the way that the Good News is spread so that we can follow Jesus, it is the mission we are all sent on.
This mission, which is most assuredly the most difficult work we will ever do, is accomplished in a way which stands at odds with values in our culture today, or at least at odds with how popular culture is presented in our media and our on televisions. Most of the stories on television, well at least those that are “reality” based, tell a story of individual excellence. They are stories in which people must be the best they can be; they must rely on their individual strengths, whether that is physical or intellectual. They are stories in which it really is all about them, it is about their self-absorption and often includes deception.
There’s one reality show though that is not like the others. The Amazing Race. People go out into the world two by two, all they have with them is what they can carry on their backs. And, they need to rely on the good will of the local people to get them where they are going. Not bad for reality entertainment. And similar to the story in Mark’s gospel today. Except, instead of winning the big money, Jesus’ disciples win….. well I don’t know that they win anything at all. But eventually the disciples realize that the story is not about winning, it is about the new life that comes through life in Christ.
The mission is a communal one. Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two. We are never to be about the mission alone. We are always to go out together. What does this mean for us? I think first and foremost this means that the challenge to follow Jesus is about being in relationship. In order to spread the Good News that God loves us we need to be first in relationship with God and we need to be in relationship with others. This Christian life is not to be attempted alone. At every turn we have the opportunity to walk this road together, and our commissioning as disciples assumes that we will walk it together. It is most obvious here on Sunday mornings, we gather together, hear God’s word, we pray, we give thanks, we eat, and we are sent out to spread the Good News. Together we are the body of Christ, and we participate in that not only with this assembly but with the worldwide assembly as it gathers together. We pray daily, and when we pray the rhythm of daily prayer we pray with people worldwide.
Travel light. What does this mean for us? Maybe we are being called to simplify our lives and to trust God completely. I learned to travel light years ago. The first big trip I ever took, an extended excursion in Europe when I was just graduated from college, I put everything I needed for six months in a backpack. One of the reasons I took that trip was to see if I could do it, I was very conscious of relying on God and others. However, I prepared. I knew my stuff. I knew what I could and couldn’t do, I knew where I could and couldn’t go. I knew as a young single woman there were just some things I needed to do to stay safe. Traveling light doesn’t mean not being prepared. What sort of baggage do we need to leave behind, and what do we need to bring with us? How do we need to be prepared for this mission God sends us on.
We need to bring our story with us; the story that each of us have of our relationship with God. This is the story that tells of our blessed creation, it is the story that tells about turning away from God. It is the story about how we have been seduced by power or greed; how we have been seduced by our own self-importance; how we have been seduced by conspicuous consumption, and how we turn from those seductions daily and ask for forgiveness, and how God forgives, and loves us no matter what. How when we die to the illusions of happiness in the world, we rise to new life and joy in Jesus Christ. This is the story we must tell, this is the story that we bring with us, this is the story that will heal and transform lives.
How are we prepared for this mission? We prepare by knowing the story of God in our lives, by knowing how God created all that is seen and unseen, how God promised the people to always be their God, how the people turned away from God and worshipped all manner of things that were not God, how God called them back into relationship and how God came into this world just like you and me to show us how we may live, and how God in Jesus died just like you and me, and how something absolutely new happened. We prepare by practicing the telling of our story and our place in God’s story so that others will see that they too are loved completely and absolutely by God, and that their lives may be healed and transformed.
Here at St. Andrew’s we have spent much time and resources on how we attract people to church, on how once they come we welcome them and treat them, and this is all good, it is part of our mission. But it is not the whole mission. We must get out of this building, go beyond these doors to the people who are out there just waiting for the Good News we have to tell them, just waiting for someone to say, “Hey, I know a way out of the trouble you’re in, Hey I know a way of love and respect that can help you, listen to my story.” And when you tell them, you invite them to church with you.
And how do we respond if they don’t accept our offer of new life in Christ? We are to shake the sand off our sandals, let go of the outcome. It’s God’s mission, it’s not about us. This is so hard for us. We want so much to control the outcome. We want so much to be able to say, if I do this right, if I say this right, if I am right, then everyone should be able to see that and come join us.
I have suggested to you today two concrete ways of preparing for the work of mission. One, daily prayer, two, practicing your story. There are many resources for your daily prayer. Open your prayer book to Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, or the daily devotions. Or, there are some very wonderful internet sites that post daily prayer for you. Just google daily prayer. Look for daily prayer from our Book of Common Prayer, you should also find Common Worship of the Church of England, Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church, use those resources, and know that you are praying with millions of people around the globe.
I have suggested that you practice telling your story. This is a way to help others connect their story with the work of God in their lives. Begin by creating your own time line. Trace the events of your life, and then ask yourself the question, did I experience God in this, or not. Identify the times you turned to God and did not turn to God, identify the times you felt loved and cared for by God, and you will begin to see the pattern of your life. You might even do this in the context of your daily prayer. And then, this is the hard part; say to someone, someone right here at St. Andrew’s, can I tell you my story of God’s work in my life. It’s an amazing thing to me, that we might encounter God in each other as we tell our faith stories.
The fact of the matter is that we’re not much good at mission. That’s not to say we haven’t had a history of mission, we have. We come from those in England who spread the Good News throughout Africa and the New World. The Episcopal Church has wonderful mission opportunities for young adults and for adults, but what we need to reclaim is the simple invitation.
You can say, Come and see what Jesus is doing in my life and in our church. And then let God do the rest. That’s all it takes.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.