Sunday, July 31, 2005|
Isaiah 55:1-5, Ps. 145:8-9, 15-22, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21
Rev. Kwanza Yu
An English reporter was interviewing Mother Teresa of Calcutta on her opposition to abortion.
“But Mother Teresa, doesn’t it bother you that so many children come into the world unwanted?” “Unwanted by whom?” asked Mother Teresa. “I feel sure that God wants them, for why else could he give us so many, and in all different colors, too? Do you want children? She asked the startled reporter who immediately began to look very uncomfortable. “Well, er, uh, not exactly,” she replied.
“If you want a child, I can get you one. And it would be wonderful for you, who have no child to enjoy, to have a child since you have so much here in Europe, so much that you could share with a child. Just say the word and I will get you a child.” End of the interview.
I’m not sure that I agree with her about abortion, but if you read the Bible, particularly a story like today’s gospel, you can see Mother Teresa’s point – there really does seem to be something about this God that tends toward excess, exuberance, and extravagance.
Look at today’s gospel. A huge crowd followed Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus probably wanted to get a break or vacation from all those hurting people who were pressuring in upon him. But that’s not what he got. Even out in the desert, there were thousands of people. So Jesus healed them because he had compassion.
It grew late. The disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can buy something to eat. Jesus tells the disciples to give them something to eat. “Where in the world do you expect us to get enough to feed all these people? There must be at least 5,000 of them out there.”
They only have a couple of fish and a few loaves. But Jesus blesses what they have and it is enough. Everyone eats and is filled. No, even more than that, they have twelve baskets of food left over. Food just overflows everywhere.
I take this miracle as a kind of parable about Jesus. Although they were in a desert, the desert burst into bloom once Jesus got there. There was healing for the hurting and food for the hungry.
The disciples are us. We look at the vast needs of the world and despair. “Jesus, send them away,” we plead. Jesus, work some kind of miracle and feed them. “What do you have?” Jesus asks. We don’t have much. Just a couple of fish in our basket, and a few loaves. But he urges us to take what we have and share it, give it away, throw it away on the multitudes. And it is enough.
I think we come into this world with a sense of scarcity. I’ve got to grab, hoard, accumulate, pile up, and guard. “It’s mind and you can’t have it.” The little child in this country so quickly learns to say.
I’m told that one reason why my brother-in laws dog, Koda gobbles down his food so quickly is that for the first few million years, when dogs lived in the wild, food was a rarity. When a kill was made, all the dogs gathered around the carcass and wolfed down the meat. It was important to eat fast lest another dog get the food.
So million of years later Koda is still gobbling down the food, even though he’s the only one there and has all the time in the world to eat.
We better not let too many Hispanics into the country; they might take American jobs. Don’t give too much to the folks on welfare; it might be a drain on the economy. Don’t raise the minimum wage too much; it might make my hamburgers cost more. Hold on tight to what we have. Reality is a fixed commodity. Life is a zero sum game. If I give to you, I am diminished.
I met a college classmate during my sabbatical in Korea. One day we had lunch and talked. She is a teacher at elementary school in Seoul. How had she kept at elementary school teaching for over 30 years? Lots of people burn out in a job like that, having nothing left to give. Why had she not given out – given up?
“I’ve found that love is a renewable resource,” she said. “The more you give it away, the more you get. As someone said, “in giving you receive.”
I’ve heard someone else say much the same about giving to the church. When we asked Ernie and Maletta Stevens at First Lutheran Church in Pomona, CA during my internship to say why they were one of our congregation’s biggest givers, they said, “Well, we’ve found that the more we give, the more we get.”
At first, their statement bothered me. Did they mean to say that if you give money to the church, you will get more money back? No, they said that their giving was never as much as they could give, that in giving away some of their money for God’s work, they had received peace of mind, great joy and satisfaction at being part of God’s work.
I’ve learned quite early as I began my ministry almost 21 years ago that if you want something done and done right in the church, ask the very busiest member of the church. People who get things done seem to get more things done. They use their time well, yes, but they also seem to have more hours in their day.
People at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Dallas, Texas told me when I started my first parish ministry; until the 1960’s African Americans had all the menial, dead-end jobs. They were not allowed into the textile mills to work, never given an opportunity to advance into professional jobs. “If you let the blacks in here, they will take white jobs,” was the excuse for this economic injustice.
While pastors and community leaders met, an economist showed a group of us the statistics on the rather remarkable economic advances in the American South. One of us, looking at the graphs, noted a huge jump in the poor Southern states’ economics about 1968. What happened?
“The Civil Rights Movement,” said the economist. “We in the South were trying to fight with one hand tied behind our backs. When black people were allowed into the economy, the economy really started to boom.”
We tend toward ethics/attitudes of scarcity, where goods must be accumulated, hoarded, protected, and preserved. Yet God has created a world of profusion, abundance, and richness. When will we learn to trust Jesus? When will we learn some of his expansive and gracious lessons? When will we stop guarding, hoarding, keeping, and clutching and show the open-handed gesture of generosity? We come into this world with a sense of scarcity, holding on tight.
But by the grace of God who asks of us only that we respond to our sisters and brothers in the same gracious, generous spirit. In Jesus, God meets us with an overflowing of love and abundance of grace, and beckons us to live in that world.
Lord, we thank you for loving us so much that you placed us in such a wonderful, abundant world, overflowing with signs of your love and grace. For the beauty of the earth, experienced on a bright summer day like this one, we give thanks.
For our families and friends, our homes, and the daily gifts of food and all the other ways you bless us, we give thanks. Give us gratitude for all your gifts, O God, and give us a sense of responsibility. Make givers of us. Help us to overflow with love and generosity toward others, particularly those in need. Let us give, in some small abundance that we have been given. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.