Sermons on abundance
So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed. Come, it is the Lord who invites you. On this Easter morning, this invitation to the Eucharistic prayer tells us that this altar where we will break bread together, belongs to God and not to any particular church. It speaks to…
We are grains of wheat. That is what we are. We can stay by ourselves, alone and rigid, encased in a hard shell, holding the embryo of what could be, of what God could be through us and deep within us, imprisoned by our unwillingness to let go of those things we hold to be safe and true through our understanding of ourselves, each other, or God. Or, we can die to ourselves and we can become the bread of life, giving life and nourishment to others and bearing much fruit for the Kingdom. “Come and die”, Jesus says.
“Grant us the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love. Grant us the grace of a strong soul, O God, grant us the grace to be strong.” John Phillip Newell, a contemporary Celtic theologian, offers these words in an evening prayer from his psalter, Sounds of the Eternal. In our gospel reading today, Jesus reveals the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love, and “live and move and have his being” as coming from the place of a strong soul. Jesus is focused on overturning that which distracts or inhibits people from fully worshiping God, be it the unjust sacrificial temple tax system that excludes the poor from entering the temple he found in Jerusalem or the many priorities we place in our lives over that of worshiping God. Jesus knows that when we worship God with all our heart, mind, and soul, we can do no else but acknowledge and embrace a holy anger set deep within us that empowers us to right the wrongs, to overturn the imbalance in an oppressive political or religious system, to fight for justice and peace, and to care for the least among us, as Jesus did.
God’s word, the logos, speaks to us each day. Our challenge is to allow Christ to lift the veil for us to see and articulate the truth that is within us and each other. May we see within our relationships the presence of Christ’s healing balm, our salvation, and may we be moved along on our journey, that wild roller coaster of a ride with God, toward a generosity of spirit, which was in the beginning.
As we say in our collect on Friday mornings during Morning Prayer, “Jesus stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone may come within his saving embrace.” Believing in a God who would do that for us, and thus calls us to do that for everyone else, can feel risky. And if it is risky, then perhaps it is of God, for it does seem to me that God is the greatest risk-taker of all. God trusts us, we fallible humans, with each other and with God’s creation, and built into that trust in always intention and invitation to redemption and transformed living. When we believe in a loving God who takes risks for us, who loves us into being, then I believe we too can become risk-takers for love. This is what this parable can teach us. Be risk-takers for love. We often say fear is the opposite of faith, largely because each time the angels show up in scripture, they begin their conversation with “Do not be afraid” for fear can prevent us from seeing, hearing, and loving God. Do not be afraid, my friends. Above all else, God has entrusted you with your love of God and it is right and good to share that love boldly with others. We can’t get that wrong, for that always will be pleasing in God’s sight. Amen.
Give us this day our daily bread. These are familiar words we pray together every Sunday, right before the bread is broken in the Eucharistic prayer. Have you ever wondered why we pray these words at that particular moment? Right before Jesus’ body is broken so each and every one of us can receive and take within us the holy presence of Christ? Why does it matter to us that this particular prayer is on our hearts when the sunlight from the altar window shines upon the bread, which seems to glow with holiness as I break it apart, so we can each be fed with this sacred meal? Give us this day our daily bread. We don’t say, “Give me this day MY daily bread” – this prayer sets us within a community. The prayer is spoken by all of us, for all of us. It draws us into a place of understanding that we are all equal – equal in God’s love, equal in our share of God’s abundance, equal in the blessing we take out into God’s world, God’s vineyard. One doesn’t get more if one has had an exceptionally faithful week of prayer, scripture study, and good deeds. Nor does one get less if one is kneeling at the rail for the first time in 20 years and had somehow forgotten about God all that time. It is this fact that makes the invitation to the Eucharist so appropriate and poignant, “So come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often, and you who have not been for a long time or ever before, you who have tried to follow and all of us who have failed.”
And yet, how can our compassionate hearts not meet these people in the complex layer that lies behind, or beneath, or alongside our rationality in these situations? How do our hearts not break for Hagar, cast out into the wilderness to watch her child die? How could I not have enfolded in my arms that young mother who was allowing a family to be born for others, but not for her. How can we pretend there are children in our societies who go unprotected due to the enslaved condition of their mothers? We can’t and we shouldn’t. We can’t and we shouldn’t dismiss the grief of anyone, whether there were actions or circumstances that should have foretold the impending despair.
I used to think that when we feel the absence of life as it had been, or when the world we know comes tumbling down, or when we were enveloped by a cloud of disorientation or disbelief, God then showed up and responded by ushering us into a new life, by meeting us in that place of deconstruction, of chaos and disorder, in order to reconstruct or re-order our lives into something more whole and true. I still do believe God meets us in the place of letting go of what we knew before, but I have come to understand that God is also the force that pulls at the seam of the reality we have constructed in order to keep us on that ever-moving path of renewed life, which is one way to witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
The disciples took with them their broken hearts, their sense of foolishness for believing in something good, perhaps some hurt pride, because they thought they were right and it turned out they weren’t, or at least at this point in the story. They took all of this brokenness and betrayal and walked away. But Jesus comes alongside them, and they invite him to stay with them, perhaps just as a common gesture of the day, or perhaps because they had a sense that something wanted to be broken open within them. And it was. Jesus broke open the bread and broke through as the Risen Christ. The two travelers broke open their blindness to see another way. The now-disciples gave it all away, by their action of running back to Jerusalem, full of confidence, giving their story and their lives for others, so that bread could be broken for everyone, and all can be fed.
As with the younger son, whether we return home in shame, or regret, or in complete brokenness, Jesus meets us and rejoices. It is the act of our returning home that is celebrated and it is the grace offered by Jesus in the Eucharist that heals our heart and allows us to become whole, to be resurrected, to find a way toward new life out of what had appeared dead in our lives.
Some say that the psalms serve as mirrors for our souls, for just as a one looks into a physical mirror to see one’s outward state, when we read a psalm, we can often discover our inner state. When we hear the psalm today, perhaps we can hear it as an invitation to more deeply examine when, where, and how have we been moving toward God, and when, where, and how have we been moving away from God.
Disorientation is really hard. It’s uncomfortable. It makes our heart hurt. It shakes our beliefs to the core. All that we have believed had been true is suddenly not. It’s what the psalmist wrote about and it’s what we experience in life over and over again, if we’re honest with ourselves. The prosperity gospel tells us all these things are bad, and yet the gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that in each of these moments, resurrection is possible. And that’s the difference between what the psalmist experienced: if it’s bad, it must mean God is absent and needs to be reminded to pay attention and us, as Christians, who will say, if we are disoriented, if we are experiencing something that appears and feels very bad, then God is present and is inviting us into something new. This is a huge distinction. Reorientation, not the previous state of orientation, follows disorientation in the Christian faith