Saturday, August 12, 2017

You give them something to eat


Rendall Church

Today is the first of  my four August Sundays that I will spend as the guest preacher at Rendall Memorial Presbyterian Church  in Harlem, about a mile or so north of where I live.
Today's preacher
Although I have heard that they are growing again and beginning to attract young people, today’s congregation is mostly older people. Everyone in attendance is African-American save for the music director, his wife, and of course me.

There are a number of unique touches, like all the women elders of the church wearing white. Including, of course, hats. And gloves. I am moved watching the ice of the tall, dignified elderly elder who brings the offering and makes his prayer eyes looking heavenward as the plate is extended to me. And the women coming forward with a wash basin for a hand washing ceremony before handling the communion elements…something I’ve never seen before. 
The Rendall Sanctuary

After the  reading of scripture, Matthew 14: 13-21, this was my reflection:

Good morning. We are Into that last third of summer. When it gets quiet around here. Lots of folks gone. August. If you’re like me and really haven’t gotten away, you feel like you want to. And today we find Jesus wanting to get away. It’s all in one of those so familiar Bible stories, the feeding of the 5000. I’m certain I could ask anyone of you to tell the  story and we’d get a pretty good rendition.
The table ready for communion

SO let’s take a closer look.  I said that Jesus wanted to get away….do you remember why? He has just received the news that his cousin John the Baptist has been killed. This following on the heels of being rejected after preaching in his home town of Nazareth.  Let that sink in a minute.  Try and imagine what he must be feeling….to see the faces of the people he’d grown up with turned against him…unable to do any works there because they couldn't believe  in him..and then to get word that his cousin has been put to death by Herod the King.  Is he wondering what might lie ahead for himself?  Is he dejected? Depressed? Questioning?  This is not a summer vacation break he’s looking for here….Let’s feel that with Jesus for a moment…

SO he wants to get away….to a deserted place…but what happens?  People follow him….Lots of people…and what happens?  He could go, man, can’t they leave me alone for just a little while? He could feel annoyed, exhausted, like he’s got nothing left.  But as he looks at them, he sees their need and he is filled with compassion. In the King James Version, it says he was moved in his bowells, ie moved in the deepest part of his guts…and he cured their sick. Maybe when he looked at them, he saw in the what he was feeling. maybe seeing their pain, their seeking, drew him out of his own sense of desolation….and his power returnslooking beyond himself his power returns…

As it gets late, his disciples come to him with a very reasonable, practical idea. Send them away so that hey can buy food for themselves…a very good idea…

BUT…not for Jesus …They need not go away he says….. you give them something to eat…

Just note that…when the practical solution people say, send them away, Jesus says bring them near….to the chorus of voices all around us saying about so many people send them away….Jesus says NO…bring them closer…

But that second part is equally  important …you give them something to eat…

To which  we get the expected reply…we don’t have enough resources….just five loaves…and two fish….and hear this carefully….Jesus says Bring them to me….

and he blesses them and they pass them around and there are 12 baskets of leftovers (one for each disciple to take home, I guess…)

How often are we tempted to send people away because we just don’t have enough? Jesus says you give the something to eat…he doesn’t want to hear about how  little we have…he doesn’t want to hear about scarcity….he says Y’all have enough to do something…
as individuals
as a church
as a city 
as a country
we have enough…….

A few thoughts…when i was learning to do community ministry, i was taught how to do needs assessments….remember those?  Until someone realized that as long as that’s where we focus our energy we will always be depressed and defeated…because we will never have enough…and we will always be looking  for the answer to come from outside…so instead we started to think about beginning  with capacities assessments…what do we already have? what can we do with what we’ve already got?

But here’s the thing…he says …bring them to me…we’ve got to offer what we have up to him for HIS use for it to work…that’s when miracle making happens …when we offer up what we already have to him for his use…

People have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happened here…
Some say, Jesus used his powers to multiply those loaves  and fishes, created more food  out of thin air
Others say he knew the disciples had more food stashed away or that in starting to pass food around , people would open up and share what they had brought…’s all interesting but in the end doesn't matter…

The real miracle here is not production, the real miracle  is one of distribution….perhaps the real miracle is in the  sharing

We hear a lot thee days about the deserving poor…like  there’s undeserving poor? Like If you can’t afford health care, it’s your own fault…about deserving immigrants vs non deserving….send them away….the chorus says…NO says Jesus let them stay…and YOU give them something to eat…

I recently heard a Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, ask what would happen if we knew our church only had 5 years to live? That we no longer had to worry about survival?  Would we give it all away? Risk wildly in love and extravagant generosity? Live without fear? His point is that if we lived that way NOW, we wouldn’t have to worry abut survival because people would be so attracted to who we are…

Let’s review what we’ve got here…

  1. See in others what we feel in ourselves…look with compassion
  2. Don’t send then away, bring them near
  3. Take what God has already given us and offer it up to Jesus for HIS work…and then
  4. Watch the miracle happen

I have heard that you all have had a bit of a miracle yourselves…that you have taken what God has has given you and offered it up…that’s what I’ve heard…and that God is blessing  this church community…if that’s right, don’t stop NOW!

And let us as well be bold enough to call our city and nation to moral accountability…and show our neighbors what righteous living in Jesus name is all about..

Jesus said…you give them something to eat…

and let those with ears to hear, hear….

After the sermon, we end our service with the sharing of communion, in the old passing of plates and mini cups style. Holding each element until all have been served and taking it together. We sing our final hymns. Maker final prayers. Say our farewells. And go out into the Harlem streets. 

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