Sunday, July 29, 2012

Responding to God's Abundance

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
July 29, 2012

Year B: Proper 12 - The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 1:1-15
Psalm 14
(Ephesians 3:14-21)
John 6:1-21
Responding to God’s Abundance
            At first glance, today’s lessons don’t seem to have much to do with each other.
            At the heart of lesson I just read from the Gospel of John, is a powerful story that’s familiar to many of us: Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes. It’s the only one of Jesus’ miracles – or “signs” as the Evangelist John calls them – that is included, with some variations, in all four of the gospels.
            And it’s easy to see why all four evangelists would think this story is important enough – even essential - to include in their accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Think about the elements included in John’s account of the feeding that we just heard.
            Jesus is presented as firmly in control of events. We’re told he saw the large crowd approaching and asks Philip, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” Typically, John tells us that Jesus only asks this to test Philip because Jesus knows all along what he’s going to do.
            As usual, the disciples are presented as more or less clueless, still unable or unwilling to recognize Jesus’ power. Philip says there’s no way they could have enough money to feed all these people. And Andrew has found a boy with five loaves and two fish. But, there’s no way that could be enough for all these people, right?
            There’s also Eucharistic imagery. Later, in John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet but doesn’t say anything about the bread and wine being his body and blood. But here at the feeding, John points out that the Passover is near and Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, and gives it to those seated around them.
            And, finally, there’s the miraculous part of the story. After everyone is satisfied, all 5000 people, somehow there are baskets of bread left over.
            How could this have happened?
            Well, this could simply be a supernatural act of Jesus. Or, maybe the 5000 people were so moved by what they had seen and heard Jesus doing that they reached into their own bags and shared the bread that they had been saving for themselves.
            I prefer option number two, but either way it’s a miracle, or as John prefers to call it, a sign.
            However it happened, the feeding of the 5000 is a powerful sign of God’s overflowing abundance.
            As many of you know, this summer some of us have been reading After You Believe by N. T. Wright. One of the key points he makes in the book is that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mark the beginning of God’s Kingdom on earth.  And, so if we listen to Jesus – if we watch Jesus – we see what God’s Kingdom will be like.
            So, today we learn that God’s Kingdom will be a place of overflowing abundance – where there will be enough for everyone. God’s abundance is so great that there will even be a lot of left over.
            Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mark the beginning of God’s kingdom on earth, but we don’t have to be Bible scholars to know that God’s kingdom on earth is still a work in progress. The world is still filled with poverty, hunger, violence, despair and sin.
            God invites us, calls us, even in a sense needs us, to help finish the job – to help build God’s kingdom on earth
            In today’s Old Testament lesson we continued with the story of David.
            Now, David was someone who was well aware of God’s overflowing abundance. As we’ve heard in recent weeks, God chose the unlikely David, Jesse’s youngest son, the shepherd boy, to be king of Israel.
            As king, David lives a life of relative comfort in Jerusalem, his capital city, in a palace made of rare and valuable cedar. And, as we heard last Sunday, the presence of God in the ark is there with him in Jerusalem.
            God has given him so much – and yet…
            It’s rare for ancient literature to criticize the king, but that’s what we heard in today’s sordid lesson from Second Samuel.
            Think about how David is presented here.
            He’s a coward or maybe just lazy. We’re told it’s springtime, “the time when kings go out to battle,” but David stays behind in his capital, sending others to fight his battles.
            He’s a voyeur. We’re told that David rises from his afternoon nap – it’s good to be the king! – and checks out Bathsheba bathing and immediately wants to know more about her. He asks about her, apparently hoping to add her to his harem.
            It turns out that she’s married to Uriah – one of David’s best soldiers. Notice that Uriah and Bathsheba live very close to the royal palace – a sign of Uriah’s importance.
            This is bad enough so far, but then David gets Bathsheba pregnant and begins plotting. First he wants Uriah to go and be with his wife in an effort to hide his paternity. And when that doesn’t work – Uriah is loyal and trustworthy throughout the story – David sends Uriah to his death in battle.
            It really is a sordid story of deceit and cowardice.
            It would be easy for us to dismiss this old story as having nothing to do with us. After all, we’re not kings or queens. We don’t have royal power and royal wealth. And, even if we did, we would never behave like David, right?
            But, before we dismiss this old sordid story of deceit and cowardice as irrelevant, let’s dig just a little deeper.
            Ultimately, this is a story about sin. This is a story about a man who knew God’s abundance better than just about anyone. Yet, David wasn’t moved by God’s abundance to be grateful or to be generous himself. Instead, David is incredibly and horribly selfish, wanting more, wanting what he could not have, and not caring about the consequences.
            In a way, David’s story is a retelling of the first sin, isn’t it? In the creation story, God had shared overflowing abundance with the first man and woman, and yet rather than being grateful they want more, they want what they could not have, not caring about the consequences.
            But, those consequences turn out to be all too real.
            So, what does all of this have to do with us?
            Well, we are like David and the 5000 well-fed people gathered around Jesus that day in the field. Most of us are well aware of, and enjoy, God’s overflowing abundance. Yes, we live in uncertain economic times. And, yes, some of us have real economic worries.
            But King David – and for that matter most people alive or who have ever lived - couldn’t even imagine the comfort and wealth that most of us enjoy on a daily basis.
            The question is, how do we respond to God’s overflowing abundance?
            Are we like David, never satisfied and willing to selfishly – and sinfully – take more and more, regardless of the consequences for us or for others?
            Or are we like the people gathered around Jesus that day? Are we moved by God’s overflowing abundance to be generous – to share the bread that we have stashed away in our bags or pockets?
            Are we willing to work with God – to help God – build the kingdom here on earth?
            Some of you may remember that at this year’s annual meeting, I talked about how we are called by God to re-gift what God has so generously given to us. Then, going out on a limb, I challenged us – dared us – to raise $5000 on Souper Bowl Sunday for the Community Soup Kitchen in Morristown.
            And you may remember that we more than met that goal, raising $5,460.50.
            Now, that’s a great example of recognizing God’s overflowing abundance and re-gifting.
            I’m going to push my luck again.
            I’m coming up on the fifth anniversary of my arrival here at Grace. And, I hope you know how much I love it here – and love you.
            Grace is an amazing, loving and generous community. But, I’ve always hoped we’d do better with the Food for Friends barrel. On average, we have around 300 people in church on Sunday and yet the Food for Friends barrel is only full when someone or some family makes a Costco run. Which is great – but that doesn’t leave the rest of us off the hook.
            So, I’m going to challenge us – dare us – to be like those people gathered around Jesus, and at least fill that barrel every week. I want to hear Kit complaining about how much unexpired food he has to pack up every week to bring to Dover! I want to hear Capt. Ed warning that all that unexpired food is blocking the door and creating a fire hazard!
            So, what do you think, can we do it?
            Obviously, our generosity will help hungry people.
            But, just as important, filling the barrel will also be an act of mindfulness, reminding us that most of us experience God’s overflowing abundance every day.
            In and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has inaugurated the kingdom of God on earth. God invites us, calls us, even in a sense needs us, to help finish the job – to help build God’s kingdom on earth.
            How we respond is up to us.