Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sermon for Proper 22, Year A

Standing on Holy Ground

Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-36, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

I have noticed as I have gone through life that God sometimes has some strange ways of attracting my attention. And I have to say, it is just as well, because otherwise I might not listen. Maybe you have experienced something like this. Everything is going along normally. Things are unfolding as I think they should. I am quite happy with my life. And then something happens that doesn’t make sense. Or it somehow doesn’t fit in with my plans. At that point I realize that somehow God has succeeded in gaining my attention.

Mind you, for me it is not usually quite as amazing as it was for Moses. A burning bush is pretty cool! I suspect that would really get my attention. And it works for Moses! There has been a real change in his life. He is no longer living the life of a prince in the courts of Egypt. Instead he is looking after his father-in-law’s sheep. It is a time of solitude for him, a time to encounter, not only himself, but also God. When he sees the burning bush, he turns aside to find out more. God has his attention. Those are the times to watch out for, because once God has your attention there is always more to follow. “Remove the sandals from your feet,” God says to him, “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Taking your shoes off on sacred ground is hardly an unusual idea. It happens in many faith traditions. Shoes are removed as a sign of respect. But removing our shoes also puts us into a vulnerable position. While it is truly wonderful to walk barefoot on a sandy beach, throw in a few pebbles and the story changes. Footwear protects us from the ground.

And so Moses finds himself in a vulnerable position. I suspect that if he could he would run away, because God is calling him to do what he dreads the most! He needs to go back and face Pharaoh. When he hears what he is to do, he hides his face in fear. He argues with God. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Yet he is exactly the right person for the task. Everything in his past has prepared him for this moment. He knows the culture. He speaks the language. It is only fear that holds him back. And so God reassures him. “I will be with you.”

I can see him putting on those same sandals, leaving the safety of that holy ground, and setting out to do what God has called him to do.

The story of Moses points out a great truth. We do not choose our calling; our calling chooses us. We turn aside from our daily routines to see the burning bush. We find ourselves standing on sacred ground. We stand on that holy ground, safe enough to be whole, to be holy. There we encounter ourselves; there we encounter God. It is when we are standing there barefoot, vulnerable, open, that we most clearly hear God’s call. The question is, do we have the courage to put our sandals back on and respond?

Moses left that sacred space and began the liberation of the people of Israel. It was an awesome experience, but he did not keep it to himself. It became the source for a new way of life. Because Moses stood on holy ground and listened to the call of God, the people of Israel were set free.

Let’s look at it from another point of view. The disciples are at their most vulnerable. And they are ready to run for all they are worth. Jesus tells them that he will suffer and die. It is not what they want to hear. They argue with him. Even Peter, who wants so badly to be like Jesus is unable to accept the possibility that Jesus will be killed. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus reminds them, “deny yourselves, pick up your cross and follow me.”

At that very moment, they are standing on holy ground. There is a cross to be taken up. Jesus is stating the reality of life. Taking the cross has to do with giving of themselves rather than taking. It has to do with accepting responsibility, not refusing it. Jesus knows that risked, expended, offered beyond itself, life can be demanding and costly. Yet that is the only way that it will flower and grow and ultimately be rewarding. And those same fearful disciples will take up the cross. They will put their sandals on their feet and set out in faith. They will put aside their own fears. They will forget about the cost, and follow in Christ’s footsteps.

When we are standing on holy ground, our feet planted firmly, upheld by the experience of encountering God, it is easy to feel a sense of commitment to the gospel. It is when the realities set in that we begin to falter. That is when it is most important to remember God’s promise that we are not alone. “I will be with you,” God said to Moses. “I will be with you,” God says to each of us.

So what does it mean in our lives? It means accepting people where they are in order to patiently and lovingly lead them to where God wants them to be. It means reaching out to our neighbours and meeting their needs. It means identifying with humanity irrespective of race, colour, sexual orientation, creed. It means being truly human. It means involving ourselves with the sufferings and sorrows, conflicts and consternations, failures and defeats of others. It means bearing one another’s burdens and sharing in their despair. It means listening actively and with compassion. It means acting to bring justice and dignity and validity to others. It means proclaiming the gospel of God’s love and grace. It means upholding our baptismal promises.

How do we develop an attitude of discipleship? How do we do as Paul says we are called to do? Just consider the list of things that Paul reminds the Romans – love, outdo, serve, rejoice, be patient, contribute, extend hospitality, bless, rejoice, weep, live in harmony, take thought, live peaceably, never avenge, feed. What a world we would be living in if we accomplished half of that!

The point is that there must be a difference between how we live and how the world lives. That difference comes about because we are standing on holy ground. God is calling us to be. May we understand the call of God and live in response to that call. May we live worthy of our calling.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thoughts on the Gospel

I have been thinking about the Gospel for this week. It focuses on the cross with Jesus reminding the disciples about the great cost of discipleship. "For those who want to save their life will lose it," Jesus tells them, "and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." That is a paradox, not only about the faith, but all of life. It is not through guarding ourselves, protecting ourselves, that we really live. Life flowers and is rewarding when we open ourselves up to others, when we enter relationships with others. And that is risky.

So what does it mean in our lives? What choices do we make?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sermon Thoughts

I am going to post my thoughts over the week as I prepare my sermon. It begins with simply reading the lections for the particular Sunday. The readings for Proper 22, Year A are: Ex 3:1-15; Ps 105:1-6, 23-36, 45c; Rom 12:9-21; Mt 16:21-28

My initial thoughts are about the burning bush. I often wish God was that clear and dramatic. Often I need a real push to see where God is at work in my life and in the world. Yet I know that it has often been when I have been most vulnerable, most in need, that I have experienced such burning bushes.

What about you?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Proper 21, Year A

What Is It That You Do?

Readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

In his book “It Was on Fire When I Sat Down on It, Robert Fulgham talks about our obsession with role. He remarks about the inevitable question that strangers sitting next to you on a plane ask. “What is it that you do?” they will say to you. What they really want to know, of course, is how you earn your living. That is why so often when he asks them in return what they do, they will respond by handing him their business card. When they do so, he asks again, “But what do you do?” They simply point to the card as if that is explanation enough.

Since he is many things, amongst them an author, a Unitarian minister, a lecturer, he was not in the habit of carrying a business card. When asked, he would try to explain what it was he did, but found it easier to either avoid the question or make something up. That got him into a number of tricky circumstances, so he finally thought of a way out of it all. He now carries a business card. On it is one word, “Fulgham”. He says that when he gives it away it leads to fine conversations about what it means to be a son, or a dancer, or a teacher, or a runner, or whatever.

He sums up what he has learned. “I and you – we are infinite, rich, large, contradictory, living breathing miracles – free human beings, children of God and the everlasting universe. That’s what we do.”[i] What he has discovered is that it is not really about what we do but about who we are. It is about becoming what God has called us to be.

That for me is strongly the theme of our readings today. They all have in common that they are about becoming. They are about how God finds us and helps us to become all that we are meant to be.

It is there in that age old story of Moses, the babe in the bulrushes. You know the story well; the baby placed lovingly in a papyrus basket and put amongst the reeds by the bank of the river so that he will be saved. It takes place at a time of unrest in the history of the Hebrew people. There has been a change of government in Egypt. The Hebrew people who took refuge there during a time of famine suddenly find themselves facing slavery, even genocide as Pharaoh commands that young boys be killed. It is the Hebrew women who take charge of the situation. The midwives disobey the order to kill the children. By being themselves, by acting with integrity and by meeting the challenges with wisdom and compassion, they save the lives of countless babies. In an unexpected turn of events, they save Moses, the very child who will in turn save the Hebrew people. God’s eye is on the situation. None of the women could have known the impact of what they were doing. They simply did what was right without fearing the consequences. God took care of the rest.

Then there is the account of the Apostle Paul, writing to the Church in Rome. Paul reminds them that everyone is different. He reminds them that it is a good thing that everyone is different, that we all have different gifts and talents. He wants them to cheerfully accept the particular task or role for which they are best suited. He knows that the congregation will be at its healthiest if all are serving God in the right capacity. He asks them to realize that they are called to give themselves into a living body with other committed Christians. They are to become everything that God wants them to be.

Then there is the story of Peter coming into his own. In recognizing who Jesus is Peter becomes everything that God intends him to be. Jesus is at a crucial point in his ministry. He withdraws with his disciples, not to his home in Galilee, but rather to the district around Caesarea Philippi. It is probably one of the most secular places that Jesus ever visited. Not only is it an army headquarters. It is also a centre for the worship of the god, Pan. Here beneath the slopes of Mount Hermon, in this lovely area watered by cold, rushing streams that converge to form the Jordan River, Jesus asks the disciples a key question about their faith. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They have many answers for Jesus – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. And so Jesus asks again, “Who do you say that I am?” This is not some rhetorical question. He does not want them to talk about what he has accomplished. It is a real question. He wants a real answer, an answer from the heart. The disciples dodge until Simon finally says to him, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It is a response that comes, not from his great theological background. He does not have one. It comes not from anything that he has been taught. It comes from deep inside him. It comes with conviction.

This is Peter after all. At least as the story continues, it will be. Peter, more than anyone knows the humanity of Jesus. He has travelled with him. He has seen him angry, and tired and frustrated. But he has also seen him work great miracles. He has seen him deal with compassion with the needy people who followed him everywhere. He has seen him use a few meager resources to feed hungry people. He has seen him still stormy weather. He knows that Jesus is different. He is the Christ. When Peter calls Jesus the Messiah, he is recognizing all of that. He is making him the master of his life.

And so Jesus responds to him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Peter not only discovers the real identity of Jesus; he discovers his own identity too. Simon the fisherman discovers that he has something in him that makes him Peter, the rock, the foundation on which the Christian Church is built.

Our faith stories, yours and mine are about ‘becoming’. That sense of ‘becoming’ is the foundation of our faith. Jesus says to each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a very contemporary question, one that we need to ask ourselves in the context of our own lives. We have so many ways of viewing Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus’ business card! Teacher, guru, moral ethicist, leader, religious icon, revolutionary, freedom fighter, political liberator! There is no one answer. All of those views reflect human history. They reflect human experience. There is some truth to each one.

And the amazing thing is that knowing Jesus helps us to understand more fully who we are. Our faith helps us to be more fully who we are meant to be. That was one of the most important things that I learned while I was studying theology. I thought I was studying to learn how to be a priest. What I discovered was that God was calling me to be more authentically myself. God has called me to be the best ‘Ann’ that I can be. God has called you to be the best ‘Diane’ or ‘Jim’ or ‘Mary” that you can be.

And the most important thing about knowing ourselves is that sense of becoming is also the foundation of a resilient Christian community. There is something in this place that makes it the Church of St. John the Baptist, Dixie. Right now you may be thinking that what makes it St. John the Baptist has left with Rob. He has been the well loved priest in this parish for a long time. You may even feel a sense of abandonment. Hopefully you are feeling excited about what the future might hold, for you are beginning a new chapter in your history. The Parish Selection Committee has worked hard to capture what this parish is all about. You have had an opportunity to give input about the direction you need to take. This is a wonderful opportunity to reaffirm God’s call to you as the people of God.

You can look back on the long and varied ministry in this place. As with any parish you can look back nostalgically on a time when the Sunday School was filled to overflowing. You can remember wonderful liturgies and celebrations. You can remember people who brought with them their unique gifts and talents. You can also look back on mistakes that were made, on difficult times that you would rather forget. And then you can look forward to a new beginning. Peter is the rock on whom the Church of God is built. You are the rock, the foundation on which this parish is built.

So remember that you are the Church. The Church is not this building, no matter how beautiful it is. It is not the clergy who have served here, no matter how amazing they have been. So be the Church. Use this time of transition to discover new and wonderful things about what you are becoming as a parish. You can be, in fact you must be, everything you are meant to be. Who knows what extraordinary role this parish will play as you move into the future? God be with you as you embark on this new part of the journey. Amen.

[i] “It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It”, p. 68 Robert Fulgham 1989

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, Year A

Only Human

Readings: Gen 45:1-15; Ps 133; Rom 11:1-2a, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28

Once again Jesus is trying to get away from the crowds. For someone in his position it is not an easy task. People follow him everywhere. They hope for a miracle, his healing touch, words of hope and wisdom. They constantly lay claim on Jesus’ time and energy. Even as he withdraws, a woman, a Canaanite, a Gentile, an outsider, comes after him shouting for help. Her daughter is ill.

He ignores her. He is so weary. He just wants to get away from the crowds. He hopes that in ignoring her pleas she will give up and leave him alone. Maybe she will decide that it is not that urgent after all. Maybe she will think of someone else who can help.

But she does not give up that easily. She keeps calling after Jesus until the disciples are beside themselves. "Send her away!" They say to Jesus. "She keeps shouting after us." They are embarrassed by her outburst. She pushes forward. And throwing herself down at Jesus' feet, she pleads. "Lord, help me."

There is sharpness to the point of rudeness, in Jesus’ response. It takes us aback. It is so unexpected. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” he retorts. It does not deter her for one moment. She knows that Jesus can help her. In fact she is certain that he is the only one that can help her.

Still on her knees she responds, “Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Her reply is piercing. Even if she must crawl and grovel to get help for her child she will do it. Her love for her child, her trust that Jesus can help, her determination to do whatever she needs to do, give her the strength to continue.

Jesus sees through to the faith of this woman that he is trying so desperately to ignore. He knows that he cannot ignore her need any longer. Compassion wells up in him. He gets beyond his weariness. He loses his frustration. God shines out from him.

“You have great faith,” he says to her. “What you have asked for is done.” Her daughter is healed at that very moment.

This is Jesus at his most human. His response to the Canaanite woman is such a human response. He is struggling against all the norms of his society. It shows itself in all sorts of attitudes that are typical of the Jewish society in which he lives. His comments are racist and exclusionary. Do we find it embarrassing that Jesus is so human? Or does it help us to look at our own prejudices and shortcomings and find a way to achieve the sense of compassion that we need in order to reach out to those in need?

What are the similar situations in our own lives? Whom do we reject? Whom do we try to keep out? I must say that personally I have struggled with such issues my whole life.

I grew up in an inner city rectory before the era of food banks and shelters. There was a steady stream of homeless people at our door every day looking for help. We did what we could, often feeding them from our own table. It usually fell to the rectory children to make the sandwiches and coffee and take it out to them on the back verandah. For a time my mother had fed them in the kitchen, until one person let it slip that he had just got out of prison on murder charges. On the surface, what we did was good. It was certainly the best we could offer. It was something at a time when society did not take responsibility for homelessness and hunger. But when I reflect deeper I know that we failed to give them what they really needed. We didn’t see them as people. We never asked them their names, although we had nicknames for some of the regulars. There was Rudolf and Pinhead. How unkind that was! We did not try to change their situation.

When I was a theological student I did a placement at the Church of the Holy Trinity at the Eaton Centre. It is a church that really opens its doors to the needs of the community that surrounds it. And yet even there middle class values emerge. My job was to get to know the street people who make the square their home. We were working on providing housing to meet their needs. I tried to get to know them as people. We had a drop in so that they could get warm. I learned their names and a bit about their situation. I tried to get past the smell and the behaviours that landed them on the streets. I supplied them with coffee and a meal if they needed it. On Sunday mornings they would come into the church, particularly since there was always a soup and sandwich lunch. I took to introducing them by name to people. It was a challenge even to these people who are dedicated to advocacy and to working with the poorest of society.

I have to say, I still struggle with my middle class values in my dealings with those who find their way into the Church Centre for help. There are some I would go out of my way to help. I know how needy they are and that they are trying desperately to make ends meet in a difficult economic situation. They are doing the best they can. They are genuinely grateful for anything we are able to do for them.

However, there are others whom I instinctively know are just working the system. They don’t want to follow the rules and come in during office hours. They want extra help. We cannot do enough for them. They phone me on my cell phone and make unreasonable demands on my time. I find myself avoiding dealing with them. I get angry with them. I lose patience. I lack the compassion I should be showing them.

The good news of the gospel is that we are only human. Jesus had to learn to put aside the prejudices of his upbringing. He had to learn to deal with compassion with people. Maybe there is hope for me. Maybe I can learn to follow his example. The Canaanite woman exercised an extraordinary power over Jesus. She nagged at him. She made demands. And yet at the core of it was her trust that he could make a difference in her life. She trusted that he could help her. She had faith. She kept on until she was heard.

Jesus dared to walk among us. He was trapped in our words. He was trapped in our ways. What hope that gives to us! Like Jesus, we can find the way to live compassionately. We can find the way to open our hearts to those in need. We can learn to risk. We can find the words and works that build up God’s kingdom. We can share one another’s pain. We can learn to see Christ in others. We can place all that we have and all that we are before God. We can begin to see the miracles happening in our own lives and those of others.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Proper 19, Year A

Who is my Brother?

Readings: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45c; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

The story of Joseph and his coat of many colours is a popular one. Consider that it was even a very successful stage production. One of the reasons of course, is that it is such an interesting yet unbelievable story.

Joseph is the baby of the family. Being the youngest, he is a favourite with his father. To make matters worse, he makes a bad report to his father about one of his brothers. They all wait for an opportunity to get back at him. It comes. They are looking after the sheep in a remote place. Joseph comes out looking for them. They conspire to kill him. Reuben, one of the brothers persuades them not to kill him, but to put him into a pit. His intention is to come back and rescue him. Then they seize upon an opportunity. They sell their brother to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt. And so begins a new saga in Joseph’s young life.

What fiction! What an unbelievable story! It takes our penchant for the dysfunctional family to a whole new level. How could his brothers do something so terrible to Joseph, their very own flesh and blood? It is almost incomprehensible. We would never sell our brother or sister. There may have been occasions when we felt like it, but we wouldn’t carry it out. Or would we? The answer to that question depends on whom you consider to be your brother and your sister. Let us consider for a moment. Who is my brother? Who is my sister anyway?

One of my sisters is a Filipino woman named Imelda. She lives in the slums of Manila where she works in a clothing factory. There are times when her employer keeps her working around the clock, a twenty-four hour shift. She is not allowed a washroom break. There is no water available in the plant. For all of her hard work and long hours she makes scarcely enough to feed her children. When the workers in her plant staged a strike recently, many lost their jobs. One of her friends was killed. Am I selling Imelda when I buy inexpensive clothing at her expense?

I have a brother named Amerigo. He is only ten years old, yet he lives alone on the streets unwanted by his parents. He used to collect trash and sell it to a vendor. He stopped doing so after he got a serious infection. The doctor warned him to stay away from the dump. Now he works for an ice cream shop owner selling ice cream on the beach. The owner feeds him and gives him a place to sleep. But he receives no money for his hard work. The ice cream box is quite heavy when it is full, especially for a small boy. He must walk for hours, offering ice cream to anyone who will pay. Sometimes he sells nothing. Yet he feels lucky to be alive. Some of his friends work ten hours a day and get so little that they haven’t enough to eat. One friend was killed when he fell into a hole that opened up in a pile of trash at the dump. Am I selling him and others like him?

Are my brothers forced to work on plantations so sprayed with insecticides that they risk early death so that I can have my morning cup of coffee? Do my brothers and sisters in China work for subsistence wages so that I can have inexpensive clothing? Do my little sisters and brothers in India chip away hour after hour on rocks barely eking out an existence so that I can have a decent life style? Do my sisters and brothers in Iran live in poverty while war wages so that I can fill my car with gas and complain when the price goes up?

What about here in Canada? In our own country there are the working poor who must survive on minimum wage. They must supplement their earnings by going to Food Banks. They are in serious danger of losing their homes. Who of us could raise a family on welfare? Are we selling our brothers and sisters? How do we respond to the needs of others? Are we responsible in our stewardship? Are we responsible consumers? How does the story of Joseph speak to us as Christians? What is our responsibility towards our brothers and sisters?

There is no question that it is difficult to know how to respond to such situations. How could we possibly improve the living standards of our poor sisters and brothers around the world? How can we possibly improve the living standards even of those in our own country? It would take a miracle.

There was a heresy prevalent in our past that said that there was nothing we needed to do. We had no responsibility for the rest of the world. There is an equally terrible heresy in the present that says that there is nothing we can do. The problem is too great for us. Our Christian faith must reject such reasoning. If we truly believe that God is in control, there is no room for withdrawal or resignation. Human responsibility and choice are awesomely real. We have the power to make or break our world. Yet in the frailty of our human nature, we hold back.

The gospel message is one of hope to the poor, to the sick, to those in need. The cross and resurrection are the sign of God’s struggle and victory, not just over the power of evil, but also of the status quo. The gospel message turns the tables on it all. What God has done in Christ affects not only us as individuals, but our lives within the whole social order of our world. Our call to faith is an invitation to work with God so that renewal and new life may come about in the affairs of the world, so that the status quo may change. As Christians, we see God most clearly at work in Jesus Christ. We need to continually ask that question that is bandied around society. What would Jesus do?

The answer is that Jesus would find a way to help. That is essentially the message of the gospel this week. Jesus performs miracles. He feeds the crowds. He heals their sick. He is there for the disciples when storms arise. He quells their fears, reassuring them, reminding them that he is with them and they do not need to be afraid. He is even there when get distracted and sink beneath the waves. He is there when they call out to him, “Lord, save me!”

It happens for us too. We call out to God for reassurance. And we reach out. We acknowledge our helplessness. It opens some gate in us that accepts help. It opens the way for others to respond to our need. We experience God’s love and forgiveness and healing and challenge. We are able to see Christ in others and allow them to see Christ in us. And then in turn we are able to respond to the needs of those around us. I am painfully aware that we cannot hope to fix it all. But there are ethical ways in which we can respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters around the globe. We can continue to explore those ways and consider how God is calling us to act on their behalf. We can help bring this wonderful but dysfunctional worldwide Church family of ours into fuller communion with God and with the world in which we live.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Proper 18, Year A

The Miracle of God’s Grace

Readings: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7. 16; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

The three passages of Scripture this Sunday are human stories of people who are grappling with difficult situations in their lives. I suspect that is why I find myself resonating so strongly to each story.

First of all, there is the story of Jacob. He is a trickster, a con artist. He has to face up to the inevitable, a face to face encounter with his brother Esau whom he has wronged. He sends his family away to safety. He waits, alone. There in the darkness of the night he wrestles with a man. Is it a dream? So often it is in our dreams, is it not, that we work out our fears and anxieties, our regrets and guilt. Dream or not, they continue to wrestle throughout the night, neither of them willing to give in. Finally as day is breaking, Jacob says to him, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asks him his name. On hearing it, he responds, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Jacob limps away from the place praising God for his very existence.

The story is a lovely metaphor of our human existence. It speaks to our condition. We do wrestle with our fears and anxieties. If you are at all like me, sometimes you do it all night, tossing and turning, worrying about what is going on in your life. You wrestle with yourself. You go over things that have happened. You look for solutions. You admit where you have gone wrong. You decide on a plan of action. You may be exhausted the next day, you may spend the whole day literally limping, but there is something so healing about facing up to all that is going on. The wounds may be visible, but there is a sense of resolution and of looking to the future.

Then there is Paul’s story. He is communicating a personal experience, trying to help others to understand what is going on in his life. He feels a sense of frustration and disappointment with his ministry to the Gentiles. His great hope had been to share his amazing encounter with the risen Christ with his own people, the Jewish community, to bring them to faith. Instead he finds himself alienated from them. He feels at least partly to blame. His sense of failure is overwhelming to him. But truly, ministry does not work that way. We simply go where Christ leads, not where we think Christ should be leading. That is what it means to answer God’s call. Once again, it may keep us up at night wondering if what we are doing is truly what God wants us to do. It may cause us anguish. But in the long run, following God’s lead, doing what we are meant to do, blesses us in ways we could not have asked or imagined. Paul certainly discovered that in his ministry.

And there is Jesus’ story. News has just come to him about the death of John the Baptist. He is in grief. He reacts as many of us do by withdrawing. He goes to a deserted place by himself. He wants time to consider the tragedy. He wants time to consider what it means in his own ministry. But the crowds follow him out into the wilderness. They follow as they always do. They have such need. He has compassion on them and heals their sick. And when evening comes the disciples want to send them away to fend for themselves.

"You give them something to eat," Jesus tells the disciples.

"We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."

Out of his silence and grief, out of his compassion, Jesus performs a miracle. He takes the bread and fish and blesses them. He gives them what they want, a miracle to thrill them and bread to fill them.

We have all been there. We have experienced that need to be alone. Yet somehow the crowds always follow. Our responsibilities, our plans, our worries, the things we have been avoiding or unable for some reason to complete all crowd in on us until we cry out, “I have nothing more to give. I am at the end of my resources.” And somehow God gives us the strength to go on. God’s grace sustains us. We are fed spiritually. We find ourselves from what we considered to be our slim resources to be able to accomplish all that God is calling us to do. All of the stories are about peoples’ ability to overcome great difficulties and maintain their faith.

This miracle, this feeding of the five thousand teaches us about our God, our God who provides for us. We have all been in situations that feel hopeless. We are constantly amazed by the ability of God to take what we offer and make it great. But it teaches us so much more. Jesus sustained physical life with bread. But his real purpose was giving people eternal life. And that is a real miracle in which we participate. He would have these people and us understand that the provision of God is more than enough to fulfill every need of every man, woman and child on earth.

All of this presents to us a tremendous commission. Needy people followed Jesus everywhere. We don't need to look very far to know that the thing most common to people is need of one kind or another. There are millions in our world who have the most basic needs of existence – food, clean water, shelter, freedom, security. There is within each of us a need for spiritual fulfillment, for inner assurance and serenity, for meaning and purpose in life.

As the people of God, we are fed and nourished so that there is no holding back in our life journey. We come to the table of the Lord and bread is shared with one another. Our journeys become the journeys of all. The path becomes one path lived together. That is the miracle of God's love. That is how God graces us. Amen.

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...