Cans and Fishes…

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 12)

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 6:1-21

 
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

 

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

 

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Larry and Sarah

Larry always shows up exactly when I need him the most.  He is impossible to schedule with, since his life is essentially a complicated algorithm of adventures in helping others and day labor for pay.  But, throughout the years that we have known each other, there is not a day that I have not had brightened by his presence, smile, hug, or super-awful pun that he stretches out into a long story of sharing.  I’m grateful to call him a friend.

I asked Larry to sit with me in this Gospel, because I wanted to see if he would come up with the same reflection that was on my mind.  Of course, we did.  It was a day like any other and none other for both of us.  And so, the story goes like this…

Larry started: “You know, I knew when I saw you stand up there in front of everyone that something wasn’t quite right.  Usually everyone is talking and laughing, but you all kind of looked serious.  I didn’t know about all the food that had spoiled when the power went out.  No one knew about how much or how little food there was that day.  But I remember you stood up there and said, “Let’s give thanks for what we have and pray for abundance today.”

I added, “And then you stood up, and offered to pray for all of us, too” I added, “and you had the wisdom to pray for the volunteers and for the patience of those who were waiting.  We all needed that prayer!”

Larry nodded, “I didn’t know how close things were until I started to help you all stocking the shelves.  I think we were down to the last can of peas!” he chuckled.

I smiled a little thinking about it.  I kept going into the spare room where we kept all the non-perishable food and bringing out whatever I could.  We didn’t have fresh or frozen meat, but it seemed like our cans of salmon were multiplying.  People took what they needed.  Some people put back items they didn’t need, or passed on their turn, offering to use up what they had and come back another week.  Some people took as much as they could and some as little.  It didn’t matter.  I felt like we were held in greater hands that day.

Larry nodded.  “I never had really thought about how all those loaves and fishes multiplied” he said.  “And then, there we were with enough food to feed maybe 50 people and we fed three times that.”

“I just kept praying,” I remembered, “God, grant abundance to this place.  Make us abundant in love, give us what we need so others have what they need.”  What I remember the most was not worrying.  I had plenty I could have worried about, mind you.  But I just wasn’t.  Right down to the very last can, placed in the hand of the very last person, I knew that somehow we would be OK.”

“I could feel it” said Larry.  “That day, none of us worried.  It was calm, we drank our coffee and we chatted, we got what groceries we needed and we all left in love.”

“It’s like that line, ‘they all had enough, as much as they wanted…and when they all were satisfied…”

Larry chimed in, “YES!  Satisfied.  That’s it.  There was enough, and by the next week, everything had been restocked and donated and you were still up and running.”

“Gathering up the leftovers” I chuckled.  “I remember there was literally nothing left, and then when we were cleaning up someone came and dropped off the first donation for the next week.  I set it on the pantry shelves and knew it, too, would multiply.”

It occurs to me that we are so quick to dramatize or diminish this story of feeding and abundance.  It seems like an exaggeration or a tall tale.  But it isn’t.  God supplies abundantly, in ways that we cannot ask or imagine.  That chilly Autumn day at food pantry, I knew in my soul that we were held in God’s abundance.  It wasn’t a prosperity Gospel of good works; it was an in-breaking of God’s abundance into the messiness of our human lives, insuring that our needs were met.

It’s just like Larry showing up in my life over and over again, his smile and his humor and his optimism warm my heart.  He said the same of me, and I treasure that.  Not because of my own doing, but because God supplies what we need: an abundance of love in each other.

Larry

United, not Divided

3rd Sunday Pentecost (Proper 5, Year B) June 10, 2018

 

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 3:20-35


The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  David and Jennifer

 

David started off the conversation, “What stood out for me in this Gospel is that people were all on their own path; people around him weren’t really honoring where each other were.  It was like a house divided: good and bad.”

Jennifer reflected, “It makes me think about what am I choosing to do and how I am weighing my options.  Inside of me, I feel like I have a some really good things…”

“…and challenges…” interrupted David

Jennifer continued, “well yes, and challenges we all have of course, but also just a whole lot of really good things.  Some days I feel like the choice is difficult because it’s hard to choose between a lot of different, but very good things.  We reduce it down, and try to simplify it. So, we think about always having to choose between good and bad but that’s easier to determine. But what do we really know about choosing between good and good?  Like, family and God? That’s when it gets really hard to know what to do, and that’s what stood out to me in this scripture.”

“OK, that’s interesting” said David. “Because we have this one law, to love God and love each other but we still have to figure out how to do that.”

Jennifer nodded, “Exactly.  So, I may have several good things that I want to do in order to live into that, but I have to keep asking myself, ‘How is the good that I want to do a part of the Spirit of God?’”

David was getting the point, “OK, OK.  I hear you! I think what’s I’m getting out of it is that part where Jesus wanted people to know that he was with them and when people believe in Jesus, it isn’t about the places where they are accepted or even what they are feeling inside.  When I first studied the bible, I’d look at different verses and texts and think about where they fit into my life. But now, I try to feel like, how do they fit together? I mean, it isn’t just this verse for this day, but how is it that I live into all of it.”

Jennifer added, “That made me think about how everyone here in the Gospel lesson…even Jesus’ family…they are apart from him, standing outside.  But you know, when I look at Jesus from a distance that’s when I start to wonder, “well what does that mean?” or I judge it, or dismiss it like even his family was doing.  Then I think: we need to be at Jesus’ feet, not judging from a distance. But to listen, right there at Jesus’ feet.”

“What I think other people need to hear” added David, “is that it isn’t about trying to figure out what the demons are in this world, or where they came from.  They need to hear that it can get better, that it is better. The other people, society out there, they need to hear the love and not the judgement. It’s easier to stand in judgement.  I want people to feel the love! I know for me, I can judge all day long. But I have to start living and loving in a spiritual way, a heart way. The demons out there tell us we can handle it all on our own, that we can be on our own in the midst of sinners and temptation.  But Jesus says, be with me. Come here, live in me, do right in your heart, trust in me. That’s good stuff. But its hard, though.”

Jennifer said, “I just keep hearing all these people confused about Jesus, confused about who he has, saying that he’s talking all crazy or that he’s the devil.”

David could related to that, “I mean, yeah, there is still that false gospel out there, the temptation to find an easier way than reliance on God.  I mean, I catch myself. I fall into those traps. And I know it when I get myself back aligned with God and then when I do that is when people say, ‘what is wrong with you?’ and I know, that’s probably when I am living right!”

Jennifer related, “I think about it as a filter; when I look through the filter of Christ’s eyes I see things differently; when I hear through Christ’s ears, I hear different things.  I feel different things when I’m living through the filter of God’s love. It just hits us differently; it helps me define myself not by all my flaws or even my own strengths, but through my identity as a child of God.  And then, if we do that with ourselves, we find ourselves able to see others in that way, too.”

David added, “And you what happens when you do that?  People smile more. They are not hung up on the words someone says or the way someone looks at them.  They are seeing God.”

“Right!” said Jennifer.  “Joy in God enhances our joy in others.  My own joy is just this big, but in God that joy for others is magnified.  When we act in that joy, it is like the world are our brothers and sisters.”

Both David and Jennifer considered those in whom they saw this joy:

David started: “I’m thinking about a lady that comes once a month and brings me some groceries.  I think of her as an angel, doing the will of God. It isn’t just the groceries; it’s that we have made a friendship through that, through God.  She is an angel and a mentor and I always feel that I know God more through her.”

Jennifer thought of someone as well, “Yes! I’m thinking of my friend, who is someone I know is living her life with deep understanding of the will of God, and she is tells the truth and isn’t caught up in trying to be nice about it!”

They both chuckled.  David added, “I feel you!”

Jennifer continued: “But it’s true, and I know she knows it’s true.  And she is always there. If I stumble, she’s there and she’ll hold me in it.”

“That’s really it” said David. “It isn’t just a friend thing, it’s a caretaker thing.  Like we have spiritual caretakers who are more than family. Let me tell you a little something.  My mother left me, left this earth three years ago. She was a deep Christian, she served God. She made sure we were baptized, that we went to church and has our faith.  It wasn’t just about the baptism or the going through the motions, though. She was Christ for me. And even though she isn’t here anymore, I think that in God that people are still with us…even if they aren’t here…someone who lives that deeply in Christ they still influence you.  You still hear them when you stray. In Christ we keep those connections.”

 

Still in the room

Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Faith from the Margins to the Web authors:  Ruth and Jamillah

As they sat in the chapel reading scripture and talking together, Ruth and Jamillah suddenly found themselves in the midst of an unexpected serenade of organ music.  At first, their voices sounded quiet and small, almost overpowered by a large, majestic pipe organ. But, over the course of the interview these two gentle souls having heartfelt conversation filled the room with hopefulness and love.  Here is a brief but beautiful glimpse at how Christ’s presence was made known to them and by their witness, to us:

Ruth started off the conversation: “What really struck me were the words, where Jesus says, ‘Peace’ and the disciples were ‘startled’ and ‘terrified.’  Then, Jesus’ solution is to say, ‘here I am, touch me. If you want to know its me, just reach out. For me, I heard once that the phrase used the most is “Be Not Afraid” so like, when angels would come, they would first say, “Do Not Be Afraid.”  Because, you know, having something happen be so out of the norm, it scares us! And, having somebody bear the message of God, it scares us, too. And so, here, Jesus even scared his disciples! That makes me want to open a little more to fear, to not be so afraid of fear.  Because if I’m going to feel fear when something unexpected happens, when Jesus walks into the room or I notice Him here, well then maybe fear isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a sign in my own body that says, ‘pay attention!’”

“Yeah, that’s true” said Jamillah, “I used to think backwards.  Well, maybe not backwards, but l think sometimes I get scared when a message comes to me.  Even though God is God, even though God is Creator of all things, God came up with all these words for us.  Sometimes we follow the scriptures and they are so real. God is so….well… God! But the words are so real, so right now that sometimes they scare me because I think: how could God’s word be speaking so much to me.”

“I like what you’re saying” said Ruth.  “it’s like when he says, ‘look at my hands, touch me!’  I mean, if we are human and we are spiritual creatures then our job is to know who God is to us.  Like, when I hear you talking, you are telling me who God is to you, who God has been to you. And because you reached out, you looked at Him, you touched Him…and that is what Jesus asked us to do!  At different points in my life, when I see something or when I touch something I learn something different each time because I’m always seeing with different eyes, or feeling with different hands. I’ve been through different things now so I see things differently, or I feel things differently.  It isn’t like God is one big thing that we can know, because we are changing all the time, so the way we understand God changes all the time, too.”

“I also learned that Easter means not just the rising again, but about being seen” said Jamillah.  

Ruth offered a thoughtful example.  “I think about my own parents. As I grew up, I learned more about them: what happened to them as kids, what their lives have been as adults.  I’m still learning about my own parents, still finding out new aspects of who they are. They’re still with us, thank God, so I get to keep knowing them more.  So, if I can’t even know everything about my own parents, how on earth would I expect to know everything about God! I think God is always that open to us, but we have to be that open to God.  I mean, my Mom has all this information I could know, but if I don’t call her up, or ask her questions then how would I come to know all that about her? It’s the same way with God, I think. I have to bring myself back to be open to God.”

Jamillah was thoughtful: “I’ve seen God in my life because there have been times when I couldn’t get out of where I was without God finding me.  I’ve been homeless, I’ve been needing money just to be able to see the doctor or pay my medical bills. I’ve been in situations where I didn’t have the resources to get out on my own.  But, then I have realized I was connected to Him, I realize the bond that I have with God. Like I said, I can’t always speak elegantly with the verses like some people. But, I do know how to read the scriptures, to feel the bond with God, to realize that He is active in my life and that He sees me as a believer.”

“Nice!” said Ruth.  “You said that you don’t have elegant words, but you have your story!  I mean here, in this story, it’s that point where Jesus says, ‘I’m hungry, do you have something to eat?’ and all that fear, terror it all goes away because they sit down together.  I mean, that’s your story. It’s one of the most powerful ways to see the presence of God. The truth is in the living.”

“Some people can preach the word, but don’t live it” said Jamillah.  

“You know, sometimes I think that my biggest fears are scripture and prayer, like you said earlier” added Ruth.  “What’s frightening isn’t that I won’t find God there but that I will have that encounter, that I will hear and see God and have to confront what I know I’m supposed to do but that I don’t feel ready for.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re thinking you’re afraid of the scriptures or God” said Jamillah, “but sometimes when you’re trying to do your own thing, that’s when God makes you realize you are really doing God’s thing.  It says here, that so many people back then and now were disbelievers, but God is a truth teller. Other people need to hear that, so they believe. They need to know that they can hear the scripture for themselves, that God is real and present.”

Ruth added, “…and Jesus says, ‘why are you afraid?’ so when I feel fear, I have to wonder, am I actually taking  time to see Jesus in the room with me? Or am I just feeling my fear? I guess it means to me that I have to look for God, to recognize God’s presence in my fear, to know that I have a chance to open up and listen and let go of my fears when I pay attention that God is there.  Even when I feel my fear, He’s still in the room with me just like Jesus is still right there with the disciples, doubting and fearful. They can just reach out and touch, to allow their minds to be opened.”

“You know, that’s true” said Jamillah, “I was thinking about that part where he opened their minds.  I mean, usually, when there is a bible study you are told what it means, what you should believe. But today, here, we had a chance to open our minds.  I felt that today: my mind opened, I was able to see what Jesus did, that he gave the words to the disciples that were the evidence of God. There are so many different meanings that have come to me today.  I feel like, you know, this is the first time I ever really read a scripture and understood it like this, the way that we shared it together.”

“I agree.  These stories are about real people, and we are real people.  I think it takes the realness of life to understand it.” said Ruth.