July 29, 2012
St. Michael and All Angels
Anne Lamott has a new book coming out in November. It’s called Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I love her ability to simplify things. Years ago, I was struck by the simplicity of the prayers she prayed most often: Help me, help me, help me and thank you, thank you, thank you. Probably many of us could say the same, but we try to be a bit more flowery with our language. We don’t want our prayers to seem too abrupt. Now she has added Wow to the list. I love that! How often do you find your breath taken away by beauty or an act of kindness that pierces your heart? Hourly? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Or so long ago that you can’t remember? It’s a wonderful spiritual practice – find something every day to which there is only one response…awe. Perhaps you are stunned at the Olympic athletes who have invested their lives for a moment of physical splendor, the delicious monsoon rains that dash in and out bringing life to the earth, or those who risked their lives to save others in the Aurora shooting last week. At the end of the day, you can ask yourself, when did I experience awe today?
Our culture’s fascination with special effects can keep us from actually seeing the power of God. The last time I went to the movie with my kids, I was surprised to see that every preview was for a 3-D movie. As if regular movies with their cgi and animation aren’t enough anymore, they must all be 3-D. What’s next? What if we help our children see the beauty of a baby bird learning to fly? Or we watch together for the first star to come out at night? What if we turn off all media and take time to see the world through their eyes? I want to ask my kids every day “What is the most awesome thing you saw today?” My hope is that it will have nothing to do with a movie screen and everything to do with someone showing compassion or seeing a porcupine on the Bosque.
If we are paying attention, the scriptures today flood us with God’s abundant response to human need. What is more awesome than that? The feeding of the multitude is the only miracle in all four gospels. We hear it often enough that we may be waiting for the 3-D version of it to experience wonder. I love the first reading today…a man offers food to God and is told to feed the people with it. Imagine you bring some food for the food pantry and just as you lean over to put the food in the basket as you walk into the church, you hear God say, “feed the people”. I would whisper, “But I just brought a few cans of beans. I wasn’t expecting to feed the whole church.” The voice says again, “feed the people”. What would you do next? I can feel panic setting in because we KNOW that isn’t enough food for everyone.
That is the whole point. We aren’t bringing the WHOLE thing, we are bringing our best and then God takes it from there. It’s not all about us. I keep hearing my friend Fran Dorff sing, “Glory be to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask…or imagine.”
It’s strange that faith communities often forget that God working through us can do far more than we can ask or imagine. We keep thinking it’s up to us and we know our limitations all too well. We take our cues from ourselves rather than God. Watch what happens in the gospel. The people are following him “because they saw the signs he was doing for the sick.” (John 6:2 NRSV) Jesus immediately recognizes their hunger and asks the disciples how they will feed everyone. The disciples begin to panic. Andrew finds five loaves of bread and two fish from a boy in the crowd. Then Jesus has the crowd sit down and he takes the bread, gives thanks and shares it with all the people. When they had eaten all the bread and fish they could, the disciples gather up the leftovers. There are many theories about how so little became so much food. I find theories like that a distraction that keeps us from seeing what really happened. Jesus saw their hunger and fed them with what seemed like nothing. This text doesn’t ask us to create a spreadsheet to explain what might have happened. It simply asks us to turn our eyes toward God who steps in and showers us with an abundance that fills us with awe.
We begin with a hunger we can’t explain and we end up in a world of miracles and mystery. Sara Miles was a forty-six year old atheist who walked into St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco one Sunday and it turned her world upside down. She took communion and it changed everything. She says, “It turned out that the prerequisite for conversion wasn’t knowing how to behave in church, or having a religious vocabulary or an a priori ‘belief’ in an abstract set of propositions: It was hunger, the same hunger I’d always carried. Holy communion knocked me upside down and forced me to deal with the impossible reality of God.” (from Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles, p. xvi)
We show up here on a Sunday morning and we make our way to the altar to receive a small piece of bread and drink a sip of wine. And that takes care of our hunger? Yes, it does. Here we encounter the great mystery of God who knows our hunger and weaves our lives together not in the places where we have it all together, but when we come with stomachs growling, hearts empty, and fearful about our future. God meets us in our vulnerability and fills us with love and a fullness that overflows.
It has been a tender week at St. Michael’s. Several people are struggling with situations that threaten to overwhelm at every turn. Here is what I have seen: the love of God carefully knitting our lives together and helping us be bread and wine for one another in our vulnerability and pain. I don’t understand how it works, but I see it and it leaves me speechless.
We show up here hungry and vulnerable and that little piece of bread and wine somehow fill us to overflowing so that we step back into the world and care for one another in ways that are beautiful and holy. The story of the feeding of the multitude implies that ALL are hungry. No one shows up and says, “No thanks. I ate before I came.” Christ sees their hunger and he feeds them. The results are astonishing. The scripture goes on to describe Jesus walking on water as the disciples find themselves out on a boat in a terrible storm. We can try and figure out how he did that or we can see what happens next…the disciples find the courage to take the next steps in a journey toward the unknown. That is what we are called to do.
Together we’ve been asking, “Who is our neighbor?” The question feels daunting because the next question is “How do we care for our neighbor?” and the underlying “What if it’s too much for us?” I can tell you with great certainty that it IS too much for us. That’s the point. As soon as we start to respond to the needs around us, we find that we are shaking in fear and we wonder if we can do this, but it isn’t up to us to make it happen. We come in our humanness and Christ meets us here to feed hungers we can’t even name with an abundance that takes our breath away and then he walks with us as we step beyond our comfort zone into a land called faith.