sermon preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Rector
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12B, July 29, 2018
Have you ever felt full to bursting?
I’m sure you’ve felt empty before: those times are easy to remember. Empty of energy, empty of stomach, empty of options. That’s a common enough human feeling.
But feeling full: well, that’s another thing altogether.
I feel full today, and we haven’t even had our picnic yet. I feel full to bursting, as if we’d already had loaves and fishes and were just now gathering up the leftovers. I feel full to bursting with welcome, and hospitality, and love. I hope you find that you’re being offered some of that food, too.
You know, Jesus says to his disciples at one point, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” This kind of food is what I feel full of today.
First I felt full of busy-ness. First came the moving in, getting reacclimated, making many trips to the hardware store. Then came the balance of just spending some time at home with our two kittens, getting reacquainted with old friends in the neighborhood. Finally, now has come the first week in the office, filling out employee paperwork, learning the wifi password, finding out the hard way that Good Shepherd has an alarm system. I made my first pastoral visit, got the liturgical brain download from Father Roy, and spent two and a half hours at the bank with Dilcia so that I can spend money.
I also learned that many wonderful people have taken great care in preparing for my arrival and that of my family. My office is painted—thank you so much! People have been taking time out of their busy work schedules to meet with me and brief me on everything I need to know. I feel full of abundance. I feel full of the caring of this beloved community.
Now, abundance feels great, but it’s not like I really need it. Enoughness is fine with me. Actually, I think enoughness is the conversation I’m more interested in having with people, because enoughness is what our whole culture needs to work on. Our default setting, it seems, is that even when we have enough, we keep wanting more. We want to sock some away, which is one thing—or we want to be gluttonous, which is another. We do this out of fear, and the result is that others don’t have enough. In contrast, our call from God is to carry each other, to make sure that we all have enough. And from what I’ve seen so far, the Church of Good Shepherd is doing this work.
You know, the boy who offered his food to Jesus didn’t seem to worry about whether there would be enough; he just gave generously without fear of missing his own lunch. Centuries before, Elisha may have worried about whether there would be enough, but he considered a factor that many of us would overlook: this unnamed “man of God” had brought an offering from the “first fruits,” the earliest reapings of his harvest, specifically in order to share it. Elisha expected that wherever generosity is found, God will guide the process. It takes a child or a prophet to see this. A child or a prophet can tell you that the only way you can have enough is to give away what you have, freely, without fearful hedging, without an agenda, but simply because your giving gives joy to others. Children and prophets can see the enoughness.
But what if we don’t have enough? Well, in that case, our challenge is to give from the “not enough”—to trust that God’s abundance is not only a factor, but is the main factor. Sometimes, in the short term, we do indeed run out of things. And that’s when we need to count on our community to sustain us. When we make our motto “I’ve got mine,” we get in God’s way. But when we trust in God’s abundance and pair that trust with generosity, God may well work through the process so that we find ourselves full to bursting.
In that “full-to-bursting” spirit, this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians is precisely what I wish for all of us. Now, we don’t know for sure whether Paul wrote this letter, or whether we should attribute it to someone writing in Paul’s name a little later on. But whoever this person is, the longing is obvious: a longing for the community of Christians in Ephesus to share a “full-to-bursting” experience.
After all, what do we do in the Church? We become “rooted and grounded in love”—not just love in general, not just love as a random act of kindness, or a thoughtful word, or even as genuine love between two people. In the Church, we seek to connect with a higher love, a bigger love, a self-sacrificial love that does not forever diminish the one who is sacrificing—the love from which and through which all love proceeds. Why is there love? Because of the Love that made us all. In the Church, we dare to believe in and trust this Love. And we do it not merely as disconnected individuals, but by dedicating ourselves to a community.
My desire for all of you, and for us together, is that we will comprehend “with all the saints” the non-existent boundaries of this Love: the infinite “breadth and length and height and depth.” My desire is that our minds be blown, and that our hearts be blown open, by the knowledge of this Love.
We begin this work together with our regular Sunday worship, and with a picnic. While a church picnic may be only a poor reflection of God’s infinite love, it’s a good, humble starting place. It’s a place to share and to experience enoughness, or even abundance. I mean, honestly, how many church potlucks have you attended where there wasn’t enough food? It can happen, but I think it’s pretty rare. So let’s start with a picnic. Let’s start by feeding each other.
From there, we can move on to carrying each other. I can already tell that there’s a lot of that going on. Some have more, and some need more, and so we share what we can.
But, you know, I haven’t said a word yet about the other story we just heard. We heard John’s version of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, yes—incidentally, one of the tiny handful of stories of Jesus that appears in all four gospels. But then we heard another story, that of Jesus walking on the water. In John’s gospel it’s combined with the storm. But here, Jesus doesn’t calm the storm as such. He just comes to be with his friends, and suddenly, they’re at their destination.
I think this is important, and you might not catch it if you’re not paying close attention: “Immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” John is referring back to one of the psalms, which his community would have known and cherished. We hear in Psalm 107: “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea. Then were they glad because of the calm, and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.”
What harbor are you bound for? This harbor may be any number of things, but you can identify it by naming your deepest longing. Maybe you long for rest and refreshment. Maybe you long for justice and peace in our nation and in the world, for the hungry to have food, for the lonely to have companionship, for lost children to be reunited with their parents. Maybe you yourself are facing injustice, or violence, or famine, or loneliness. Your harbor may be clear and immediate relief from these ungodly forces. Alternately, your harbor may appear at the end of a long, satisfying career, or at the arrival of happier times, or in renewed relationships with those from whom you have been estranged. At this point in your life, your harbor may even be death herself, and the joyful rest on the other side of her.
Whatever your harbor is, know that Jesus is guiding you there, but that you’re not the only one in the boat. You’re in the boat with all of us who belong to Jesus. Or perhaps you are in a neighboring boat on the same waters, even if you haven’t yet joined Jesus’ crew through baptism.
Plenty of food, and safe harbor. These are the things I want for you, and for us at Good Shepherd: to be rooted and grounded in love; to be full and satisfied, replenished for the work ahead of us, and with leftovers to share; to comprehend with all the saints the fullness of God’s love; to know Christ and to make Christ’s love known to others; and through the storm, to reach the land to which we are going.
Friends, we’ve got this -- with God's help. And I feel honored to have been invited in. It won’t always be easy or certain. I’m sure I’ll let you down more than once, and I’ll pray that our relationships can grow deeper even in—or especially in—the fertile soil of conflict. Be patient with your new rector. I’ll certainly do my best to be patient with you.
I’d like to close with a prayer from Thomas Merton. I prayed it most recently at the occasion of the graduation of several university students, but I think it also fits our situation. I hope it resonates with you, too.
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”