As Jesus Christ is the embodied love of God for us and for all, the Triune God calls us to now embody that love for the world.
Vicar Emily Beckering
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 18 A
texts: Matthew 14:13-21; Is. 55:1-5
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Let us consider this morning three portraits. Three stories. Three witnesses to how the Triune God works in this world in order to reveal an unsurpassed, unfailing love.
The first: a modern-day account of the feeding of the 5,000.
It did not happen in a desert, but it was a wilderness of sorts: the wilderness of South Dakota’s prairie in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A friend of mine from seminary went there when she was in high school on a mission trip with her church youth group. One morning, their group was entrusted with the task of making caramel rolls for a communal breakfast. It was my friend’s job to make sure that there was enough caramel to keep the rolls coming. To her dismay, she discovered early the morning of the breakfast that they were short on corn syrup. They had one pint: what she thought was nowhere near enough to bake the hundreds of caramel rolls needed to serve the whole community. They sent out word for anyone who had corn syrup to bring it along, but as the other volunteers arrived, it was clear that there still would not be enough. My friend informed her youth director, who simply said, “Pray about it.” Though surprised that she could pray about something so small, my friend did. Soon, families who lived on the reservation started showing up with corn syrup by the tablespoon, by the cup, in jars and plastic bottles, and the youth group went to work. By the end of the morning, there were still containers of corn syrup lined up on the counter, everyone was fed, and there sat the original pint of corn syrup: unopened.
The second: a tale of transformation a little closer to home.
You may have heard of or volunteered in A.C.T.S this summer, that’s “Adults and Children Teaming in Service,” the summer jobs program launched here this year for neighborhood kids. One of the children who participated in the program had not chosen to be there, but was instead required to as part of their education, and it showed. The first week for them was difficult: they didn’t know any of the other kids, and so sat off by themselves. They didn’t talk to anyone except to express how unpleasant the work was. The second week of the program, God changed all that through a member of Mount Olive. When the child protested that the work was too hard, the Mount Olive member encouraged them until the task was complete. When the child isolated themselves, the Mount Olive member sought them out. When the work was done, they played games together, and through it all, the volunteer never gave up on that child. By the end of that second week, rather than separate themselves from the rest of the kids, the child became the life of the party. Rather than complain, they began to ask how they could help. But what is more, they noticed and sought out another child who was shy and didn’t know anyone either, and soon the two of them were working and laughing together: and so the Holy Spirit left her mark.
The third: one voice among many.
When I found out that I would get to be the vicar this year at Mount Olive, I knew that I would learn a great deal from you about worship, preaching, teaching, and caring for one another and the neighborhood. What I didn’t know was how God would take this year and transform it into a greater gift than I could possibly imagine. What I wanted was a successful internship, which meant getting approved, not making any mistakes that were too catastrophic, and learning what I need to be able to lead faithfully. What I got was a resurrection: a year overflowing with grace and joy. Through you, Christ has revealed to me and to many, more of who he is for us all. Christ is with you, and Christ is at work in you when you worship, when you love one another, as you seek after justice and feed the hungry, when you welcome strangers, and when you prepare your vicars by offering an abundance of understanding: this all witnesses to God’s love.
I daresay I am not the only one who has had that experience here in this place. We can probably each name people here at Mount Olive through whom we have heard, seen, and felt the love and forgiveness of the Triune God. This experience is not unique to our community.
This is how God brings healing, transformation, and faith: through Christ who is at work in us all for the sake of one another and for the world.
These stories and today’s gospel testify to us that God is at work in this world in real and tangible ways.
This, in fact, is what the incarnation is all about: embodied love, forgiveness in the flesh.
The Triune God did not redeem the world or restore our broken relationship with the wave of a hand, but with an offering of love, by entering into that world and living that love to the point of death on a cross. Through Jesus Christ, we are promised love that we cannot end and forgiveness that we cannot not earn. All this has been done so that we and the entire world could know without a doubt, God’s love, mercy, and desire for us and for all.
We are reminded of that love and offered that forgiveness week after week in another embodied way, through something to which we can cling: the Eucharist. At this table, we see, hear, touch and taste these promises in his blood and body. At this table, the Holy Spirit unites us to be that same body.
Now, you are that body, the body of Christ. You are the visible sign and the tangible love of God.
God feeds great crowds through the generosity of a few, God comforts the lonely through attentive adults and compassionate children, and reveals the greatness of his love through congregations, through you.
That day in the desert, it might have been a lot more impressive of a miracle if Jesus had made bread and fish rain down from the sky or suddenly appear in people’s laps. The same is true of the corn syrup at the community breakfast. But God does not use magic tricks. God works in intimate and tactile ways: by opening the hands and transforming the hearts of people, turning them—turning us—to the needs of one another and the world so that all people might be given what they need.
Notice how Jesus responds to the disciples when they ask for him to care for the crowd: he says, “You give them something to eat.” He calls them to share what they have with their neighbors, but he gives them what they need to do what he has asked. Jesus took what they had to offer—five loaves and two fish—and made it enough for everyone. The disciples even objected saying, “We have nothing here, but…” All they could see was deficiency, inevitable failure, but Christ saw a way to reveal love, a mustard seed that would soon become a great tree, a bit of yeast that would leaven measures and measures of flour.
The same is true of the three other stories this morning. None of us– the disciples, my friend, the student worker, nor I— knew how God was at work. None of us thought that we had enough, but Christ saw to it that we did through the people around us. And all of us got more than we expected. God took care of our human needs, but even more, used those moments to draw us closer into relationship.
Think of the times in your life when you were going about your business, checking things off the list, perhaps even serving as you thought ought, when Christ showed up in someone else and drew you closer to his side.
If you can’t think of any such times, then be on the lookout this week.
God is always working to reveal to us again the depth with which we are loved, to show us that we can trust our Lord, and thus, to meet our deepest need, that for which we were created: to live in relationship with the God who loves us.
In these three witnesses and in today’s gospel, we see just what God can do when we are willing to let go, to share ourselves, our time, our possessions as signs of God’s gracious love. We see just what can happen when we trust that God has something to say and something to do, even when it seems like there is not enough, even when we don’t fully know or recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit.
In the words of Isaiah, we will call upon people who we do not know and those who do not know us shall run to us because God will lead us to one another. As God works in our midst for our mutual transformation, all will see the glory, the abundant love, and the mercy of the Triune God.
Today our Lord asks us, “Are you beginning to realize how much I love you? Are you beginning to know that you can trust me? Are you beginning to see that I will give you and all people what you need?”
May we pray these questions in return: How are you calling us anew today? Of what are you asking us to let go? To whom are you sending us or inviting us to receive? And how are you tugging at our hearts to show, to share, to be signs of your gracious love?
In Jesus’ name. Amen.