Monday, August 22, 2016
The Eucharistic Lifestyle
It is an exciting day! Your new Priest in Charge, Brian Raiche officially begins his ministry with you today and assumes the responsibilities and privileges that come with the office. Congratulations to you. It is a day worth celebrating. It is a whole new beginning!
As for me, the time has come to conclude my work with you and retire for the sixth time.
Before I take my leave from this church, however, there is one last thing I would like to share with you. It is a lesson I struggle to remind myself of every single day of my life. It is a lesson the disciples had difficulty learning from the outset. We, the the followers of Jesus, often begin with our anxiety over one thing or another, how little we have and lets face it, we complain. Its too hot. Its too cold. There isn’t enough money. Work is getting to us. Somebody is driving us to distraction. And on and on it goes.
On the other hand, Jesus begins with giving thanks and distributing what little there is, until all have their fill and then, when we collect the left overs there are 12 more baskets full, interestingly enough, one for each of the disciples. An ample amount to fill the needs of all. We called it a miracle then. But when we give thanks, miracles do happen. This is how Jesus satisfied the hunger of the 5,000. Days later there were 4,000 and the same anxiety attack strikes. Again they say we don’t have enough. Jesus upbraids them; do you still not get it? Give thanks for what you have, share it, and there will be more than enough for all and more besides.
There is a lesson in all this if we wish to live a Eucharistic life. And learn it we may, and remember it we must day after day if we wish to live the Joy of Jesus. My default position tends toward anxious fear over whether there will be enough. But Jesus always begins by giving thanks, breaking bread, and distributing what there is among all that are gathered. And there is always enough.
This lesson is at the heart of our humanity. At the birth of the savior the angels greet Mary and the Shepherds with the reassuring words “Fear not!”. Jesus says the same thing and repeats it time and again at his resurrection; “Fear not!”. In life as in death it is the same thing! And yet we retreat time and again back into our fears as if that were our default setting.
We are called to be the Easter People! Let me encourage you to remember that our Baptism calls us to give thanks with Jesus. This is our new default setting: to give thanks in all things and for all things. To do Eucharist is to do thanksgiving. This is at the heart of our very worship and spirituality. What is it we say?
“Lift up your hearts
"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
"It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”
Alas, will we continue to be anxious and fretful over our household budgets? Of course! Will your vestry fuss over property and money matters. Most assuredly so. We’re likely to forget everything Jesus is trying to tell us.
But try to remember, it is not I who am encouraging you to begin with gratitude. It is Jesus who sets the example. It is the biblical narrative that sets the tone for gratitude throughout.
In today’s first lesson Isaiah reminds us of God’s abundant love;
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;”
Imagine! We have been consecrated to God’s service. There’s a reason for profound gratitude not only as servants of God in our every day lives, but as the folk the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Likewise the Psalmist exults in today’s appointed psalm;
“5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.”
And talk of exultation, listen to these soaring words from the Letter to the Hebrews which we heard read to us just moments ago;
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”
How can one’s heart be anything other than grateful to know the grace given unto us in our Baptism and in our Eucharistic fellowship?
The Gospel proclamation today tells us of a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She stood up straight and of course she praised God. How could she not? The leader of the congregation, however fussed about healing on the sabbath day, when Jesus rather directly confronted him with theses words;
“Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”
Notice the joy, the praise and the rejoicing in all these encounters with the living God.
This is our invitation. When we are afraid or anxious over one thing or another, especially over the issue over whether there will be enough to go around, remember that Jesus tells us to begin with giving thanks, breaking bread, and sharing of whatever we have. Then, what seems like so little to us becomes an abundance for everyone.
Having said all this, I wonder how Cindy and I will make ends meet in the weeks and the months ahead. The extra income is nice. But having said that I am called to remember what I am telling you; anxiety over what little we have does not lead to sufficiency or abundance. Rather it is gratitude for what we do have and learning how to share that gratitude with others that leads to joy!
From the earliest days of my ministry and our marriage, we have given to God in proportion to what God has given us. The biblical tithe is 10%. That is a lot of money. But what about 5%. That’s still a lot of money, but since the beginning, we know that as we share in proportion to what we have been given, more always comes back to us by some miraculous calculus in God’s economy. As we cast our bread upon the waters we never cease to be amazed, perfectly amazed at how the gracious goodness of the Living God becomes an abundant source that provides not only enough of what we need, but also an abundant source beyond what we could possibly have imagined.
Which brings us up to this day. As you prepare for your pilgrimage together, please know that not all your days will be easy. I am reminded of the time when things were going rather badly for Moses. It was in Numbers, Chapter 11
“Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes…the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’ (Never mind the brilliant series of miracles that brought the people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the wilderness, and the miracle of manna itself, which appeared each morning providing sufficiency for their hunger.) “Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents…So Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child”, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!” I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favour in your sight.”
Bad case of clergy burnout there! So how did God handle this faith crisis? He spoke into the heart of Moses and said;
‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. ~Numbers 11
A good example of community organizing there! As you become more and more of a congregation together, remember, this work is not the burden of the priest, the wardens and the vestry alone. This work is everyone’s work.
God has consecrated all of you to this service.
Give thanks therefore in all things and miracles will happen for you right here at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Reading.
In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.