Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Empty Dish

Alcibiades is prospering as you can tell from the photo here as compared to the one below. He has a remarkable way of communicating with us. By cleverly manovering his dish to a strategic place any by looking up at us with those eyes it is as though he is saying "Do you want me to draw you a picture?"
Supper was forthcoming shortly after this photo was taken.

Love and Generosity

Feed My Sheep

Jesus said; “Feed my sheep”.

When I was at General Convention several weeks ago, I heard a woman from New Zealand speak on the matter of generosity. She is a native of the Mauri people, folks known and respected for their traditions of spirituality. She now teaches theology at an Anglican seminary in New Zealand. And what she said struck me deeply. I quote; “It is not the amount of the gift that counts, it is the amount of love that goes into the gift that counts.” In that context, let me ask you to listen to this exchange between Jesus and Peter in John’s Gospel

(John 21:15-17) “15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.” ”

Please notice in this exchange that the key question that Jesus posed to Peter was the question of his love; "Peter, do you love me?". It follows then as day follows the night that if we love Jesus we will then feed his sheep and tend his flock.

Clearly Jesus was concerned about the feeding of the multitudes, not only with the food that nourishes the body, but also with the food that nourishes the deeper longings of the human soul.

Consider today’s Gospel. (Mark 6:30-44) Jesus and his followers had been having a hard go of it. There were many to be taught, many to be healed, and many to be loved, especially the outcast, the maimed, and those with so many diseases. And so it was that, after a long hard day that Jesus encouraged his followers to go away to a quiet place where they could be still and collect themselves. On a lovely hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee under the shade of trees and on a grassy knoll, there would be a chance to rest.

But it just wasn’t to be. The crowd saw where they were going and rushed on ahead. And Jesus, we’re told “had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. Those folks lived in a violent and hateful time. In those days there was a brutal occupation force there. The Romans were known for their no nonsense violent approach to resistance. And these folk were looking for something. Something in what Jesus had to offer was so different from whatever anyone else spoke about. There was this heaven on earth, and this business of Love between us and God and among one another that had such a magnetic appeal to it. The hatred and enmity that folks harbored at the time wasn’t working out so well, and this Jesus had a new approach to the fractured and broken reality of the human condition. And so it was that he had compassion on them.

The day wore on I suppose as he continued to teach and heal and listen in to the heartache of the folks. He loved them with such a depth that nothing else on earth could compare with. Eventually the followers noticed that they really needed to send them away to the villages and countryside so that they could fend for themselves and get themselves something to eat. And they told Jesus to send them away. But Jesus said; “You give them something to eat”. They protested; “Where are we to get the money to buy enough for all these folks?”

So Jesus asked them how much they had, and there were those five loaves and two fish. Not much when you do the division among 5000. “Have them sit down in groups of a hundred and fifty or so.” And then in a clear presage to the Eucharistic pattern, Jesus took the bread, broke it, gave thanks to God for it, and distributed it among the people. It did the same for the fish. It was thus that the people were satisfied. And it was thus that a dozen baskets of scraps were left over. Something deep inside was satisfied in the folks that gathered. They weren’t a crowd any more they were a people gathered by the love of God to love one another, like we are each Sunday when we gather likewise for a similar meal with Jesus as our High Priest.

At Christ’s Kitchen, our own hot lunch program, we’ve been feeding folks in record numbers recently. Every day in recent weeks, we’ve been feeding around 70 folks a day and on Thursday we fed a record 79! The folds who come to Christ’s Kitchen find more than a meal here, they find love and acceptance, dignity and respect. And so they come back for more.

In recognition of this ministry, we’ve received some wonderful gifts that help to sustain that ministry. Last year, we received a very substantial gift from the Powell Estate from a man who didn’t belong to this church and who didn’t even believe in God, necessarily. He did believe in what we were doing in feeding the poor and caring for those of modest means. And so he left us the major portion of his estate. And this week I received word of yet another gift from a woman that nobody seems to even know very well, at least I am relatively confident she was never a member of this church. But somehow, whatever we do has brought us to the point that she wishes to join us even now in her estate in “Feeding My Sheep.”

These are both wonderful gifts.

But I do wonder about the church from time to time. I know how important the outreach ministry of the church is. I’ve dedicated my life to holding back the scourge of racism, homelessness, poverty and more recently toward inclusivity for various forms of outcasts from the church. This outreach ministry is of critical importance. And it costs us to do that ministry. Not many congregations really want to step up to the challenge of doing the kind of work we do as a matter of course. St. Mark’s deserves the recognition we have received as one of the Jubilee Centers of the Episcopal Church, since it is here that so many of our community poor find refuge and help.

But the church could use some help too from time to time. I hope we all realize that were it not for the fact that the church is here, ministries like Christ’s Kitchen and the Food Pantry would not be here. Had it not been for the church, there may not have been somebody who would spend a very significant amount of energy to rally folks around the building of a homeless shelter.

To be sure a church needs to have its own sense of purpose and mission, but the church also needs someone who cares that the church itself will prosper. For without the church none of these other ministries would even exist. Can you imagine the cost if the government ran the kitchen, the food pantry and the homeless shelter? Good lord not only would it cost a fortune, but there would be sticky fingers all over the place causing shall we say a misappropriation of funds.

It is thus that I must speak to you as your priest today and ask you to make provision for the church so that we will always be able to “Feed My Sheep”. In the Book of Common Prayer in the small print on Page 445 of the Service of Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child, the following statement is written;

“The minister of the congregation is directed to instruct the people, from time to time, about the duty of Christian parents to make prudent provision for the well-being of their families, and of all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.” Book of Common Prayer page 445.

And so it was that I found myself wishing that maybe someday someone would make a generous gift to the Church, to strengthen the work of the church. I found myself wishing that someone would love God enough to make such a gift that would do for the church what has been done so generously for Christ’s Kitchen. I wished that perhaps there would be many such gifts “Grace upon Grace”. It was thus that I prayed to God and it came to me “Tell the people what you’re telling me”. All I’m asking for is that we all have the kind of love in our hearts that Jesus asked Peter to have. I pray that this love will include the church.

And so as Jesus said; "Peter, do you love me?"

If so then, “Feed My Sheep.”

Helpful Links

Here are some helpful links that will be useful to many as we seek to sort through fact and fiction in these days of contention and controversy in the church.
Click on the following to connect to these helpful websites
The Episcopal Church is the official website of a wonderful church with a big heart, full of compassion and a "House of Prayer for ALL People"
The Anglican Communion Office is where you will find all kinds of information from the Archbishop of Canterbury and member churches around the world.
Anglicans Online is another website which give a good comprehensive moderate view of all sorts of interesting things about this church.
And finally by way of advocacy, I like Integrity USA which for years has been calling for full inclusion of all sorts and conditions of people. Eventually, there will be no outcasts in the church.
That will do it for now.
Plenty of reading material on any of the above websites. Enjoy
Fr. Paul