Preacher: Emily Linderman
I want to talk to today about the contagious power of listening and watching, dreaming and sharing.
Fr. Joseph Constant was here last month and he preached on the Feeding of the Multitude from Matthew’s Gospel. He used his experience of the first day of The Haiti Micah Project’s feeding program to show how this miracle lived on through a crowd of 120 desperately hungry children waiting in line to be fed while the adults serving knew they’d only prepared enough food for maybe 50 or 60 children. The children knew how many were in the crowd and how hungry they were, they’d been watching and listening. They knew in their young bones how to live the miracle of receiving, giving thanks, breaking into smaller pieces, and sharing with those in need. So the adults watched as the first children through the line were excitedly eating and leaving food on their plates; so that all the children in the line would eat that day.
Just like the multitude in John’s Gospel, all ate until they were satisfied.
The feeding of a multitude is told six times in the Gospels—twice in Mark and Matthew, and once each in Luke and John. Long before the Last Supper, Jesus was taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing bread with his disciples and the crowds that followed him. This Gospel story is said to be a miracle or a sign and it’s a miracle or a sign that can be interpreted in many ways. I’m compelled by the interpretations that suggest the feeding of the multitude, the stories of loaves and fishes, are miracles of sharing.
Imagine that the large crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children, had carried a little bit of food on themselves not knowing exactly where they were going, or how long they’d be gone, or when they would eat again. Imagine the crowd gathering on the mountain with the disciples and Jesus toward the top. The crowd sits down as the disciples had asked them to and Jesus stands up. Everyone can see him giving thanks, and everyone can see him breaking what he has in his hands into smaller pieces, and then they watch him pass the pieces around.
This kind of example is contagious!
The crowd started getting out the small pieces of food they were carrying and dividing and sharing the pieces with family members and strangers around them, just like Jesus had. And just like the children in line at the Haiti Micah project, I imagine them eating a little less of the food they brought with them so that someone who didn’t bring food, or didn’t have food at home to bring, could eat too.
This crowd was hungry. They weren’t just looking for an excuse to sit down and share a meal with a large crowd. They weren’t on a group tour through wine country or packing a picnic for a zoo tunes concert the way I like to with my friends. They were impoverished, likely living in a rural environment under Roman occupation and turning over a portion of their livelihood to tax collectors, whether they had it to spare or not. Imagine what it must have felt like for them to eat that day until they were satisfied. Not only were they people who knew literal hunger, this crowd was also hungry for change. After this unexpected feast, they were hoping Jesus would be their new king! Even though that’s not the kind of change Jesus had in mind.
We are not that desperately hungry crowd and yet, I’ve seen the ways the power of God ripples through this community’s sharing.
This basket right here, this currently empty Hunger Basket will hold all the bills and change shared during communion, and is taken every week, blessed, and then traded for a dozen cases of fresh fruits and vegetables and 20 dozen eggs at Macpherson’s, and then shared with the local food bank on Cherry St. to be distributed to those who know hunger in our neighborhood.
This communion feast we’re about to celebrate gets taken beyond these walls through a little blessed brown box by the Lay Eucharistic Visitors to share the holy meal with folks who can’t make it here anymore. One recently deceased member of the larger crowd of Jesus followers at Park Shore, Lucius, couldn’t speak in his last days, but could still hear. He gave the thumbs up sign when asked if he wanted to receive communion and so they shared the meal with him through a spoon to his lips demonstrating:
The power of God in listening,
the power of God in watching,
the power of God in sharing a meal.
Just like Jesus knew what he was going to do when he asked Peter, “Where are we going to buy food for these people to eat?” I believe God knew what would happen a few years ago when the Next 100 Year campaign team invited us to sit down in groups, and give thanks, and break bread, and share with each other over a meal by telling stories about Epiphany and our history, our ancestors, and our lives with God and our hopes for the next 100 years. We dreamed out loud together about what the power of God might do if we shared what we had with each other and then we did it. We shared what we had with each other.
It’s a loaves and fishes story of sorts, although one of a more well stocked variety.
We were then a crowd of 292 families who followed Jesus’ lead and the example of those around us who got us started by putting some of what they had to share in a basket. And then that basket got passed around and we watched the contagious power of sharing spread throughout this crowd until everyone had shared something! Everyone shared something! All 292 individuals and families put something in the basket: 100% participation that turned into 9 million dollars! My God!
What a testimony to the contagious power of listening and dreaming and sharing.
Now here we are, a little over halfway through our campus renovations that started in January. This is our last Sunday in the gym. Some in this crowd will miss being here, and some won’t. God willing and the building inspector consenting, we’ll be worshipping in the renovated Great Hall next Sunday! And then a few months later, we’ll be back worshipping in the church and then a little while after that the chapel.
However, when the buildings are renovated and we’ve moved back in and we celebrate at the Feast of Epiphany on January 6, 2016, the work of God will not be done in our lives.
Because the renovated buildings and grounds were never THE point of our sharing, they were only part of the point. The point was and is to have this outpost of the Kin-dom of God live on for the next 100 years and more. The point was and is to make more room on our campus and in our hearts for the multitude!
What will the power of God at work within us accomplish through this beautifully renovated place?
What will the power of God at work within us accomplish through our collective access to immense resources of all kinds and our collective willingness to share?
How will the power of God move through these kitchens and classrooms and meeting spaces and practice rooms, narthex and naves, chancels and sanctuaries?
Who will come to join us?
As we gather again in the days and months to come to listen for what God is calling us to next and we dream about how to follow that call together – who will be with us? There are some empty seats here today. Take a look around and imagine what other members of the large crowd of humanity might find their way here. Who would you like to invite?
I like to imagine our church and chapel, the gardens and the great hall as the grassy mountainside in the Gospels with plenty of room for all in the crowd to sit down. I like to imagine us sitting next to the teens we know from Teen Feed, and the men we know from Operation Nightwatch who sleep here on Fridays, and the families in the transitional housing apartments we clean and beautify once a month at the YWCA. What if the teens, and the men, and the families were sitting in these empty chairs or joining us in the garden for one of our newcomer receptions? Or what if we were all sitting next to each other in the Great Hall this coming Maundy Thursday at the Agape meal and we broke bread and shared stories and dreams?
What would we hear?
What would we see?
Perhaps some of us would dream aloud about manifesting the Kin-dom of God in our midst a little more boldly so that all members of the crowd, all members of the Body, had enough resources to flourish, to buy daily food for their family table and stock a pantry, or rent or own a safe, beautiful place to live of their own choosing. Some of us might think to ourselves in response or even say aloud, like Philip and Andrew in today’s Gospel, “Six months of study wouldn’t be enough to figure out how to change systemic inequality and the food distribution system! Who are we among so much disparity?”
But, guess what? Just like Philip and Andrew found out, we don’t have to figure it out all on our own. There was never the point. We just have to get started with what we have. We know from this living Gospel miracle what to do.
We follow Jesus. We gather with whoever is around us in this large, beautiful crowd. Some of us hungry, desperately hungry for daily bread, and some of us not. Some of us desperately hungry for change, and some of us a little more comfortable with the ways things are, or afraid of change, or not sure what to do next. But once we’re all gathered, sitting and watching for God together, talking and listening to each other, we will start to remember, “Ahhh, yes. That’s what Jesus did. We remember now. He took what one child had on hand and got it all started. He showed us how to give thanks, how to break what we have into smaller pieces for sharing. And then he showed us how to sit back and watch the power of God spread through the crowd like a miracle.”
It’s in our very bones. We know how to live this miracle of seemingly radical, definitely contagious sharing.
Look at what the power of God at work within this crowd has already done.
Look at what the power of God at work within us is doing in this very season.
Stay around and invite others to see how the power of God working through our listening and watching, our dreaming and our sharing, will spread through this crowd next.
I trust it will be infinitely more than we could ask or imagine.
Conversation with Elise DeGooyer, co-director of the Faith Action Network
Parker Palmer, The Active Life
Eric Law, Inclusion
Sr. Simone Campbell, “Loaves and Fish”
David Whyte, “Loaves and Fishes”