Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 26, 2015

Most of you know that I spent this past week as a counselor at our diocesan youth summer camp. I’m committed to doing this every year, and it’s always exhausting and exhilarating in equal parts. It’s a mix of long days, short nights on uncomfortable beds, and the endless energy of kids from all over Nebraska between the ages of ten and eighteen. There is worship every day, small group time for kids, games like cabin Olympics and counselor hide and seek, and all the regular round of camp activities you’d find anywhere: sports, zip line, swimming, archery, crafts, and on and on. I think it’s one of the most important things we as a church can do. Every year, we form and renew one of the most loving, accepting, and holy communities I have ever been a part of. The bonds the kids form with each other become some of the most important that sustain them in their faith and life through all the challenges that growing up involves.

This year, we were at a new camp, and one of the mHammockost popular activities was something called “hammock village,” which is simply a large structure made of metal piping that has probably fifteen hammocks strung around a circle. It was one of about a dozen optional activities every day, and it was always full. You might think that more active pursuits like archery, or something called gaga ball–which is like dodge ball inside a wooden pen—would always be more appealing to these kids with endless energy than lying around in a hammock, but those hammocks always had people in them.

I think part of the reason they were always full is that the young people at camp, like all of us really, have very full lives. Most kids I know, like most adults I know, spend their lives running from one activity to the next. There are so many good options available to us, that we often stretch ourselves way too thin by pursuing every good activity that’s out there. In our culture, sitting and doing nothing is a rare thing. Idling and resting are often seen as self-indulgent luxuries. So I think at least part of hammock village’s popularity was the rare opportunity to do nothing but talk and daydream and even nap.

In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus and his disciples are moving at the frenetic pace of camp. Even though we’ve jumped gospels this week, Jesus and his disciples are really in the same position today as they were last week: the crowds are pressing in, and they can’t get a moment’s peace.

The main story here is simple enough. Jesus takes a few loaves of bread and some fish, and miraculously feeds five thousand people, with leftovers. Almost all of us have heard it before, and in fact it’s the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels.

But there’s a pre-requisite for this miracle that I hadn’t really noticed until I was literally lying in hammock village thinking about this sermon. Before the miracle happens, when Jesus and Phillip are discussing the problem, Jesus says to him: “make them sit down.” The crowd is massive, and they are all trying to manage their kids and make plans for the evening, and do all of the other things that made just getting through a day in the ancient world a huge project, and Jesus says the first thing is to just sit down. I’m acutely aware today of how hard it is to make sixty campers sit down, let alone a throng of five thousand people.

This story is told in every gospel because it communicates what is really the central message of all of scripture: God’s love always finds a way through our shortcomings. God’s abundance always fills up our scarcity. When we share what little we have with Jesus-like generosity, God always transforms what little we have into more than the world needs. But in order for this miracle of God’s love, and abundance, and generosity to happen, everyone first has to stop, cease all the frantic activity of managing every last thing in their lives, and sit down.

God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s comfort are always trying to find a way to us. Miracles of healing, and peace, and restored relationships are always waiting to bubble up from beneath the surface of our lives and our world. We are reminded today that we have to stop, and sit down often enough so that there’s room in our lives and spirits to receive them.

It’s why I’m always going on about the habit of praying for ten minutes every day. Just try spending ten minutes doing nothing else but letting God love you. Try spending just a morning, or an afternoon, or an evening each week with no plans and no schedule. Try giving up one commitment that isn’t feeding you and replacing with time to just soak in God’s love.

Part of the reason I think our diocesan camp is so important is because I’ve seen miracles happen there. Miracles of God’s love, and acceptance, and peace, and joy. They happen because even in the midst of all the energetic fun, camp creates a space for the kids to stop, and sit down.

The abundance of God’s love is waiting to fill up your spirit and your life. The first step in receiving it is to sit down. So stop, and sit down, and let God’s unbounded generosity take what little you think you have, and turn it into more than enough to feed a love-starved world. Amen.

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Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, July 19, 2015

This past week, I attended an event called “Omaha Table Talk”, a program run by a local organization called Inclusive Communities which brings together a diverse group of people from around Omaha for conversation over dinner about topics related to building a more just and tolerant community. They do this every month in different locations with different topics. This month’s event took place at Big Mama’s Kitchen on North 45th St., to talk about North Omaha. Nearly 150 people, from all over the city, from very different walks of life, gathered to first listen to several North Omaha leaders talk about the gifts and challenges of their community, and then in table groups of eight or nine people to talk about our prejudices, impressions, and how we can be agents for understanding andconnection. I sat with a table full of people I never would have had a chance to meet otherwise. It is a fantastic idea, and it was a great event. The next Table Talk will be in South Omaha on August 5th, I absolutely won’t miss another one, and I hope that some of you will join me.

Even though it was not a church event, it struck me exactly the kind of thing followers of Jesus ought to be doing. It’s precisely the kind of thing Jesus himself spent most of his time doing. In our gospel lesson for today, his reputation as a healer and teacher has grown so large that huge crowds gather around him wherever he goes, so much Jesus Healing Crowdsso that he can’t even get a few hours off for dinner with his closest disciples. Far from being annoyed by the constant crowds and demands, which would have been understandable, we’re told that Jesus “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

Everywhere Jesus went, his compassion, his healing, and his teaching gathered together scattered, diverse, hurting people from all walks of life, and made them into one flock. Jesus constantly scandalized people by his willingness to associate with the unclean, to break gender barriers, to show the same compassion to those who were hated for their abuse of wealth and power as he did to those who were poor and helpless. Jesus’ ministry always involved gathering people who were different and divided, and turning them into family.

For us who follow Jesus, the purpose of our lives is to do the same thing. The catechism at the back of the Book of Common Prayer tells us “the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”[1] Think about that for a minute. Our mission as the church is not to make more church members, it’s not to make people believe certain doctrines, or to get people to be just like us. Our mission is to do exactly what I saw happening at Omaha Table Talk the other night: to bring healing and reconciliation where there is hatred and division. For a long time, Christians have given the impression that we are concerned primarily with a narrow moral agenda, and getting more people to think, act, and believe like us. The diverse throngs of sick and broken people that wouldn’t give Jesus a moment’s rest remind us that Jesus was in the business of doing exactly the opposite. Jesus spent his whole life crossing boundaries, breaking down barriers, and building bridges.

This work seems especially important at this moment in history. In our time and place, God’s children are as divided from one another as they have ever been. There’s a fascinating book from 2008 by Bill Bishop called The Big Sort,[2] which shows with meticulous demographic data how, over the last thirty years, Americans have systematically segregated themselves into neighborhoods, jobs, and lifestyles that almost guarantee you never have to really deal with someone completely different than you. If we want to, we can choose what to read, watch, wear, buy, and who to talk to so that we are sealed up in your own political, cultural, and religious echo chamber, where everything confirms what we already think.

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to always be cutting against that trend. It’s one of the things I love most about Trinity Cathedral. I see us trying to do that everywhere. Our Sunday morning adult forum gathers a group of people who share very different perspectives and opinions in a loving, trusting community. Our Wednesday lunches gather people together to share a meal who would otherwise never have a chance to encounter each other. A few weeks ago we had a crazy mix of homeless people, members from Trinity, from other area churches, and our Vacation Bible School kids. If that isn’t the kind of thing Jesus would have us to, I don’t know what is.

We practice it every week in our liturgy. The music so many of us love so much is a way we practice bringing unity out of difference. Voices from all of us different and distinctive individuals are united as one voice whenever we sing. Music can be an icon of what God is always working to do through us, bringing harmony where there is discord.

We practice it every week as we gather at the altar. Some of us come with great faith, some of us come with little faith, some of us might come wondering if we could ever have even a little faith. We come with joy, with sadness, with doubt, with fear, with hope. Whoever, and wherever we are, we become one body, because we all share this one bread of God’s abundant, barrier-breaking love.

We receive it in here so that we can show it out there. Just think about what would happen if each of us committed to finding a way, even just once a week, to spend some time listening to someone who is different, who you might not agree with, who you might not otherwise even meet. It’s by crossing those boundaries, listening to those we otherwise shut ourselves out from, that we become the temple through which God can transform a broken and divided world.

There’s a great invitation to communion that is used by the Iona Community in Scotland which sums up God’s invitation and challenge to us: “This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more. So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed. Come, not because we invite you: it is the Lord, and it is the Lord’s will that you who want God should meet God here.”

Hear that invitation this morning, and then pray that you might use your whole life to show that same invitation to everyone you meet. Amen.

[1] Page 855

[2] Bishop, Bill. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. New York: Houghton Mifflin. 2008.S