Saturday, July 28, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 10, John 6.1-21, Abundant Grace

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
One of the things Martin Luther taught us is how to pray.  In his catechism the following prayers are suggested:
Luther writes:
The children and servants should present themselves before the table with folded hands and good manners and say:
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and gratify everything that lives with satisfaction.2 3
Then they should say the Lord’s Prayer and the following prayer:
Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these gifts you have given us, which we enjoy from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The Prayer of Thanks4
So too after the meal they should likewise fold their hands and politely say:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is kind and his goodness endures forever. He gives food to all flesh. He gives the cattle their fodder, and feeds the young ravens who call on him. He does not take delight in the strength of the steed or take pleasure in anyone’s legs. The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him and who wait upon his goodness.5
Then they should say the Lord’s Prayer and the following prayer:
We thank you, Lord God our Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, for all the favor you show us, you who live and reign forever. Amen.
What a wonderful, prayerful, way to receive the blessing of food.
In our lessons for today we hear of God’s generous goodness, and the abundance that is offered to us.
Elisha offers the people food, a “small” amount, with the promise that the people shall eat and have some left over, and it was so.
In the Psalm we hear the words that Luther quoted, about God opening his hand and satisfying the needs of every living creature.
And then in the Gospel, again we have the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with just a few loaves of bread, and two fish, a young lad’s lunch.
There are two distinct ways that these passages have been interpreted over the years.
The first way, has been to see the feeding that took place as extraordinary, a miracle, something quite beyond that which is naturally possible.
And the second way is to understand that rather than this being a miracle, a onetime manifestation of the power of God, this is in fact the way God always works if we but trust in him.
Underlying the understanding of this second way is the conviction that God has and will provide every living creature with all that we need.  Not necessarily all that we want, mind you, but all that we need.
It is our human nature to focus on all that we do not have, to fear that we will not have enough, and then to hoard that which we do have. 
The consequence of this is a self fulfilling prophesy.  If we believe that there will not be enough, there won’t be.  But if we trust that God has and will provide to each according to their need, there will be enough.
A wonderful and humorous example of this occurred in 1973,
The Great Toilet Paper Shortage.
Johnny Carson is credited in part with setting it off.  He made a joke during his monologue about a toilet paper shortage.
Everyone panicked.  They went to the stores and bought all that they could, and low and behold, there was none left on the shelves.
There actually never was a shortage at all, it was simply caused by a rumor and though at the end of the day, there wasn’t any toilet paper left in the stores, there was plenty in people’s pantries.
Unless of course, you were one of the poor blokes who didn’t hear Johnny Carson that night and didn’t get to the store in time to buy some.
In the end, the problem wasn’t one of supply, but of distribution.  There was plenty, it’s just that some had far more than they needed, and some were left without any.
Bread for the World, a Christian organization dedicated to the effort to end hunger in our world, both locally and abroad, has long maintained that the problem is not that there is not enough food; the problem is that it is not distributed to each according to their need.
They have interpreted Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand as a miracle of sharing and generosity, not a miracle of doing the impossible.
As Jesus lifted up the loaves and the fish, gifts from one boy’s lunch, others were motivated to share as well, and in the end there was an abundance.
One of the questions that we might ask, is which would be the greater miracle?
Would God’s multiplying the loaves and fish through an act of supernatural power be the greater miracle?
Or would God’s changing the hearts of those who were present so that they might all share and be satisfied be the greater miracle?
I suppose our answer to that question will in part be determined by whether we think it is easier to change the laws of nature than to change the human heart.
One of the issues is whether we live our lives with a spirit of scarcity, or abundance.
Do we believe that God satisfies the desire of every living thing, or do we believe that there is simply not enough to go around?
If we believe the latter, are we hoarders, making sure that we have stocked up to supply our need, even as others go wanting?
One of the problems that the world faces is the disparity between the rich and the poor.  It is getting worse, we are being told.  The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer.
Throughout history the disparity between the rich and the poor has often been the breeding ground for revolution and wars.
It’s no accident that in places like Africa and South America where there are such vast disparity between the rich and the poor that there is also such great political instability.
This difference between the rich and the poor was pointed out to me once as someone shared the experience of a foreign exchange student who went to Rio de Janeiro to study.
Her host family was well to do, the student realized.  But she had no idea just how well to do until one weekend when it was announced that they would go shopping as a family.  So Saturday morning they all boarded a private jet and flew to Paris to shop.
Families like this, in a land that also has millions living in abject poverty.

So the bottom line: 
One question that these texts raise is whether we are willing to be generous, as the young boy was generous, and to trust that as we share with one another there will be sufficient for all.
The second question is whether we do, in fact, have faith in God’s abundance, or are we convinced that there will not be enough.
Here I have a confession.
I’m an anxious worrier, at times.
The disparity that I have lived with over the course of my life is this:
Whenever I looked forward to the future, I have always been concerned that there would not be enough, that financial ruin was a distinct possibility, and wondered how we would ever make it.
And then, on the other hand, whenever I look back at my life, I’m struck with how there has in fact, always been plenty.
I haven’t always had everything I wanted, but I’ve never been without anything I needed.
At our pastor’s text study this last week, Seth, an intern who is completing his work and now will be waiting for a call and placement in a parish shared his experience.
He had shared his own anxiety about not knowing what the next few months would bring, and whether they’d have enough to get by.
His family simply responded, that “you are not alone, we will help you if you need it.”
Oh, Yeah, there is that.
This brings up another side to the story of the feeding of the five thousand.
We can talk about Jesus’ power in the blessing of the loaves.
And we can talk about the generosity of the young boy, and all who like him, shared what they had.
There is another issue though and that is this:  Are we willing to accept help and the generosity of others when we need it?  Or does our pride get in the way?
I’ve had to struggle with that.
On two separate occasions this last year my family has offered to help me out.
The last time it was a simple matter.  My sister recognized that my recent hospitalization and recovery would mean that I’d be off work for a week or so, and lose those wages.  This, together with the hospital bills would be a burden.
And so she offered to help.
Pride says “No, I can do it myself.”
Gratitude says “The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
Can we receive with a gracious heart the gifts that God provides?
And then also, can we in turn, share out of our abundance?
One of the things I don’t remember ever hearing about in the story of the feeding of the five thousand, is this:
Imagine Jesus taking the loaves, blessing them, and then passing them out to the crowd.
Each one in turn, would receive the loaf, take what they needed, and then would pass it on. 
It’s what we call “paying it forward”.
As we have been blessed by the generosity of others, we too can be a blessing.
This is what it means to live in God’s grace.  Amen

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