Monday, July 30, 2018

May You Know You Have Enough

Let me reset the stage from the last few Sundays’ gospel readings.  Jesus sends his disciples out in groups of two to preach, to teach, and to heal.  They fan throughout the region of Galilee and do some really good ministry.  When they gather again with Jesus in the countryside a whole lot of people follow them.  Jesus, seeing the crowd is like sheep without a shepherd, begins teaching them.  This goes on all day. 

What happens next is recorded in all four gospels.  Jesus manages to feed 5,000 people with only a few loaves of bread and two fish.  It is an event so significance the assigned readings for the next four Sundays will explore its meaning in greater depth.  Today’s reading from John has several details not found in the other three versions.  It is the only one to describe the boy who supplies the loaves and fish.  Next, it tells us the bread is made from barley. About a third of the cost of wheat, this is the bread of the poor.  Jesus’ miracle of abundance begins with the cheapest food possible. 

Finally, while all four versions have the disciples picking up the leftovers, only John records Jesus saying, “Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost.”  Jan Richardson, on her blogsite, writes Jesus “sees the abundance that persists, the feast that remains within the fragments.”  It is so consistent with his life view – the worth of the widow’s mite, the value of the lost sheep, the possibility for good within a single talent.  There is a feast to be had with these fragments, but what?  How?

Did you notice in the story how the disciples fill twelve baskets with crumbs and leftovers?  There is one basket for each disciple.  This means each of them carries the tangible remains of the miraculous grace they have experienced.  Each of them holds a basket of possibility in their hands.  Each of them possesses potential beyond their imagining.  What will the disciples do with the basket of fragments they are stewarding?  Unfortunately, none of the gospel records focus on this aspect of the story, so we are left to wonder and to imagine. 

And we are left to ponder the “fragments” of potential grace we possess.  Do we perceive in them a feast waiting to happen?  If so, what will we do with them?  After her reflection, Richardson posted this poem titled Blessing the Fragments:

Cup your hands together,
and you will see the shape
this blessing wants to take.
Basket, bowl, vessel:
it cannot help but
hold itself open
to welcome
what comes.
This blessing
knows the secret
of the fragments
that find their way
into its keeping,
the wholeness
that may hide
in what has been
left behind,
the persistence of plenty
where there seemed
only lack.

Look into the hollows
of your hands
and ask
what wants to be
gathered there,
what abundance waits
among the scraps
that come to you,
what feast
will offer itself
from the fragments
that remain.

Do you discern your life to be a “persistence of plenty where there seemed only lack”?  Do you have a sense of how “abundance waits among the scrapes that come to you”? 

St. Paul’s Food Pantry is one place where I see this kind of feast happening.  We average about 60-70 clients each Monday night who select up to five items from our well-stocked shelves.  Some weeks we can even offer an extra item and most Monday’s we are able to serve some kind of food to those who join us when we open the doors at 4:30.  Some of our clients are here every week, others only every now and then.  We are blessed with great leadership and terrific volunteers (especially our teenagers).  Your designated contributions fund our ministry, along with the support we receive from a couple of civic organizations you direct toward us.  Over the course of a typical month we distribute 1,500 food items.  While not nearly as impressive as what Jesus did, it still is remarkable.  It is a ministry of abundance made possible because a number of people make small contributions of money and time. 

The belief fragments matter is behind this morning’s drive for household items for ForKids.  Among the things in does, this Suffolk organization helps to settle homeless families in a place to live.  Often, members of these families have little more than a backpack each of personal items.   They arrive to a new home with no soap, detergent, paper towels, toilet paper, trash bags, napkins – you name it; all those things we use every day and never think twice about their availability.  So today’s drive invites each of us to contribute just one thing to help ForKids make life a little better and a little easier for the families they serve.  All we ask of you is a fragment of grace.

There are times when our faith requires us to be all in, like when the boy gives five barley loaves and two fish - literally everything he has.  Moments like this, thankfully, seem to be rare.  Most often the life of faith asks us to believe in the fragments we possess and to be generous with how we use them.  We are asked to believe God will bless the potential of our material gifts.  We are asked to believe God’s Spirit will move through the fragments of the time we are able to offer in service to our church and our community; through our kind words and patient attention to the concerns of others.  We are asked to believe our unique, if unspectacular, gifts and abilities contribute something essential to the common good.  We are asked to believe God has given us a basketful of grace and will continue to bless what we do with it.

There is an old Irish blessing that goes…

May you have enough…

enough happiness to keep you sweet,

enough trials to keep you strong,

enough sorrow to keep you human,

enough failure to keep you humble,

enough success to keep you eager,

enough friends to give you comfort,

enough wealth to meet your needs,

enough enthusiasm to look forward,

enough faith to banish depression,

enough determination to make each day

better than yesterday.

May you have enough.

To this I would add only one thing…

May you know you have enough.

The theologian H. Reinhold Niebuhr noted, “The great Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before.  They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there.”

Jesus said, “Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost.”