Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sermon: Blessings upon blessings

Icon of Jesus at Church of the Multiplication, Israel

Sermon for August 3, 2014
Proper 13, Year A, 8th Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
For readings click here

Lord, Open our lips
That our mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amen

This week, a friend of mine heard
that today’s gospel story was
the multiplication of loaves and fishes. 
Given the proliferation of zucchini in my garden,
she told me to open with The Story of zucchini bread. 

“The what?” I asked. 
She said The Story that it was zucchini bread
that the disciples had.
So I googled “zucchini. Five loaves. Story.”
And what do you know? 
Here’s a zucchini bread recipe that makes five small loaves.  (show page[1])
It even concludes with,
“This recipe makes 5 loaves baked in small pans… perfect for making a little for yourself
and having some to give away, too.”

The gospel story is so familiar.   Is known…

not only because it is the only miracle
found in all four gospels,
not only because it takes place
in the familiar biblical wilderness,
not only because the recalcitrant disciples
sound like the whining Israelites,
not only because it  has echoes of The Last Supper,
but for all these reasons. 

Even as a well-known story,
there is rich good news here.

The scene opens with Jesus hearing about
the brutal murder of John the Baptist. 

Jesus was grief stricken, so he went to a deserted place.
Desolate.  Solitary.  Perfect for prayer.

Like the Phone Line Trail in Sabino Canyon –
not a stick of vegetation nearby, not a spot of shade. 

But the crowds. 
The crowds could not get enough of him. 
They followed him, making their way
through the dust, the rocks, the barrenness. 
They brought their sick and wounded to him,
their depressed and addicted,
their grieving and stressed. 

And Jesus had compassion on them and healed
all afternoon –
because he had the words
of the prophet Hosea ringing in his ears,
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”[2] 

Well, this made for a long day! 
As evening fell,
the rosey-blue sky anticipated the setting sun
and the wind began to cool. 
The disciples were tired of being the hot sun. 
They got a bit grumpy. 
They were hot and tired and wanted to call it a day. 

The disciples interrupted Jesus at his work. 
They told him,
“Send the crowds away
so that they can buy food for themselves.”

 “Ahem,” Jesus says,
You give them something to eat.”
Don’t make the folks leave this place. 
I know this region is a food desert, so
you give them something to eat.” 

Wait, what?  “We don’t have enough!”
the disciples mumble. 
We ate our PBJ’s long ago.  Our snacks have run out. 
Where are we supposed to find food
to feed all these people? 
And their parting shot:
“We have nothing here but
five loaves of bread and a couple of fish!”

In spite of all the changes between then and now,
their parting shot somehow sounds familiar: 
It seems that we don’t have enough. 
Big crowds of unmet needs tend
to overwhelm our sense of agency. 

It seems we don’t have enough strength
for the crowds of demands from our job, family, and household
It seems that our nation doesn’t have enough
jobs or medical care
for the crowds of people at our borders
It seems that warring nations don’t have enough
compassion to hold a cease-fire for the crowds of people hurt in the battles.

In our own desolate wilderness,
in our evening thoughts, 
we wonder to ourselves, Am I enough?

And Jesus says to us,
You give them something to eat.”

And the disciples replied,
“We have nothing but five loaves and two fish.” 
The crowds do not need to go away,
Jesus said,
bring your loaves to me. 

Jesus had compassion. 
Compassion for the most basic
and deepest needs of all. 
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” 
Jesus was gripped by this saying,
and mercy took the form of bread, that day.

And in front of those crowds,
in that deserted place,
at the end of a long hot day,
Jesus ordered everyone to “please be seated...”

Like the 23rd Psalm, lie down in the green pasture. 
Jesus knew that there was a pasture of green
in their hearts;
a pasture of hope and peace in that cosmic abundance. 
Jesus could picture it, so he took that meager offering.

He looked up to heaven and blessed it.

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam
blessed is God,
for bringing forth bread from the earth
and fish from the sea. Amen.

Jesus broke the loaves into pieces.
and gave those pieces to the disciples, saying
“you give them something to eat”

The disciples gave the pieces to the crowds –
the needy crowds,
the tired worn out crowds,
the many many crowds.

With a foretaste of The Last Supper –
Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave. 

And do you know what? 
That bread met everyone’s basic and deepest needs.  The crowds were filled – satisfied in their belly
and satisfied of their spirit. 

Jesus multiplied the bread to satisfy everyone.
It was enough.
It was more than enough.
Out of that meager offering,
all ate, all were filled and there were left overs!
(maybe it WAS zucchini bread?)

We, too, sometimes say, we have nothing but…
We have nothing but our prayers, our talents, our money, our time – it’s all so limited, we say…

And Jesus replies, bring your meager offering to me. 
Your crowds do not need to go away. 
What you have is enough. Who you are is enough.  

God, through Jesus,
multiplies our “bread” to satisfy all the crowds.
Our meagerness, in the hands of Jesus,
becomes bounty. 

1.     God empowers us directly with strength, inspiration and patience,
when we need it most,
when we have reached that deep empty space in our hearts and admit our powerlessness over the the crowded demands of our lives and we have compassion for ourselves

2.     God empowers a community of disciples
to respond to the border crisis. 
This week in the AZ Diocesan news[3],
an Episcopal priest from Southern AZ wrote about “ten ways to respond” to the border issues
through our own meager offering, with actions like
a.     learning the history of Central America and the US foreign policy of that region, 
b.    attending a border vigil in Douglas, or
c.      reading the book “Bishops on the Border” which inspires a fresh vision to respond to the border crisis with compassion.

3.     God empowers neighbor nations,
and those of other faiths,
to pray for peace and resolution. 
Just last week,
Temple Emanu-El and Weintraub Israel Center
hosted a multi-faith
prayer and conversation event. 
The event offered a glimpse of hope and peace
through the joined prayers of
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikh, and Baha’i faiths.

While meager, the evening opened the way
for further conversation and softened hearts
for grace to enter in. 
With God’s empowerment,
we continue to pray unceasingly
for peace and resolution in the Holy Land.

Jesus himself came to the world,
was blessed, broken and given
to accomplish what we cannot
accomplish for ourselves, which is
a  compassionate, expanded reign of God.

And so I wonder, what is your meager offering?
·        Is it simply two hours, once a month, on a Saturday to make sandwiches for Casa Maria?
·        Is it to promise to God to be mindful in responding to the demands of the crowds?
·        Is it a letter to the editor, invoking compassion?
·        Is it writing a note to someone who is grieving?

Jesus will take our meager offering, bless it, break it and give it – multiplying it in miraculous ways that empower us to do God’s work in the world.

Albert Einstein once said,
“There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is…”

The events that took place on that hillside
two thousand years ago
were a miracle to the more than five thousand
that were there. 

The events that take place today, in our world,
are the miracle of God’s love
for the six billion people
on the planet today –
God loves every single one of them. 

Jesus says, bring me your meager offering. 

And he will take, bless, break and give it
for a miraculous bounty for all,
with enough left over
to fill twelve baskets!


[2] Hosea 6:6
[3] Cited at on July 31 2014