Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sermon, Proper 13A, Matthew 14:31-21

Quiz time: Last week's sermon focused on what two parables? . . . It was on the parables of the mustard seed and the woman mixing yeast into flour. These two parables would seem to have nothing in common with today's gospel reading of the feeding of the 5000. And really, they don't; that is, until you start digging.

Last week I mentioned that fact was not necessarily truth. That caught some of you by surprise and we had a great discussion around that idea. A fact expresses verifiable information. A truth expresses something deeper and more profound.

Some examples: It's a fact that there is no such thing as a straight line. The truth says that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If you ever saw "Roots," you might remember a scene before an escape where an old slave woman comes in to say goodbye, but she's blindfolded. The fact is that she never saw the people. The truth is something else entirely. The fact is that Pontius Pilate ruled over Jerusalem. The truth is that it was all part of God's kingdom. The fact is that humanity developed over millions of years. The truth is that God made us in his own image.

I was talking with my good friend Jane from the Yellowstone Cluster this past week about the Cascade wildfire over by Red Lodge. She has several parishioners who are on the verge of evacuating their homes. Unfortunately this is nothing new for Jane as she had to deal with the Derby fire two years ago. And if you've been following this story in the news, you'll know that this fire has the potential to be worse than anything we've seen in a long time. The good news is that it is now 33% contained.

As we talked, she pointed out something very interesting. At the fire meeting she attended, which laid out all the ground rules for evacuation plans and firefighting plans, there were lots of people who knew they might lose their homes. They were using this time to plan evacuation routes and what to take and what to leave behind. There were also lots of people who were offering horse trailers and other equipment to anyone who needed them. Not one of these offers was accepted.

Not because people were being stubborn, or because they were holding to that "rugged individualism" mentality, but because they had already placed everything they needed and everything of value in their two vehicles. Think about that for a moment. The fact is that those people may lose probably 95% or more of what they own -- their house, bedding, dishes, toys, pianos, knickknacks, washers, dryers, you name it. The fact is that those people have the potential of living out of their cars.

The truth is that they have everything they need. The truth is that they escaped with what they believed to be all of their most valuable possessions. The truth is that there are people who will help them and care for them. The fact is that everything is gone. The truth is that they have everything they need.

Which brings us to today. Jesus is off on a boat trying to get some quiet time. He needs a place to be alone because he has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. That time alone, however, is short lived as the crowds track him down. And, Jesus being Jesus, he gets out of the boat and meets the people where they are. Eventually, though, it gets late and the disciples decide it's time for everyone to go home, eat dinner, and go to bed.

Instead of sending them away, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the people. "We can't do that; we've got thousands of people here. There's no way our budget will allow it. Besides, we've only got five loaves and two fish."

You work with what you've got. Jesus takes the fish and bread, blessed it, broke it and distributed it. All were fed, and there were even leftovers.

Some people will attribute this story to a miraculous occurrence of a minimal amount of food turning into an abundance of food. Other people will say that nobody in that day and age ever traveled without food, so people just pulled out what they had. And others will say that the miracle wasn't the multiplying of food, but that people actually shared what they had. It doesn't matter to me how you understand this story, because the point isn't how people were fed, the point is that people were fed.

The fact is that the disciples only had five loaves and two fish on hand. The fact is that there were too many people to feed with that. The truth is that God starts small and does big things. The truth is that God operates from a theology of abundance. The truth is that the disciples, the people and all of us have enough; and we have what we need, if we change our perspective.

Fact vs. truth. Where are we looking? Factually, the kingdom of heaven is too small to make a difference. Truthfully the kingdom of heaven will spread and grow and eventually provide a place for all people to come and net and rest. Factually, the kingdom of heaven is only for "orthodox" believers. Truthfully, the kingdom of heaven is made up of people we find noxious or unclean or impure or sinful. Truthfully the kingdom of heaven is more radical and welcoming and inclusive than we might choose to believe. Factually, people affected by the Cascade fire might lose, everything. Truthfully, they have all they need. Factually there wasn't enough food. Truthfully God works from a theology of abundance. Where are we looking?

Factually our parishes are too small to do anything. We don't have enough members or money or time to make an impact. Truthfully . . . well, I can't tell you what that looks like; because it is up to you to decide if we are living factually or truthfully.

If we are living factually, we will continue to struggle, continue to barely get by, continue to not have enough. But if we choose to live truthfully, then many people will find this place to be a home, we will have what we need (and have it in abundance), and we will feed more people than you can imagine. Fact or truth -- where are we looking?


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