Sermon for Year A, Proper 12
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
Saint Thomas Episcopal Church
July 29, 2012
The crowd is pressing in.
The crowd wants healing. The crowd wants food.
The crowd wants a king who will repeatedly heal them and feed them.
They want to feel physically good, spiritually whole, fed and full and satisfied.
They want to have their basic needs met, and they want to live in a world
Where they can wake up knowing that today will not bring starvation or disease.
They want to go to sleep possibly even knowing that tomorrow has a chance
Of being better than today.
In short, they want security – to be treated well by a benevolent king.
I don’t blame them. Jesus can’t provide it, but I don’t blame them for wanting it.
In six more chapters of the Gospel of John,
Jesus says in a very plain way that while we will not always have him nearby,
We will always have the poor –
That, in other words, we will never not live in an age of poverty and deprivation,
Disease and insecurity. Things will always be messed up.
Those who think that following Jesus is about making everything neat and perfect
Simply deceive themselves.
BUT I also have some good news. Some very, very good news.
No one got shut out. Everyone ate that day.
No exceptions, no equivocations, no footnotes.
Everyone. Everyone ate “as much as they wanted.”
When we come to grips with the full import of this message,
It has the power to completely transform us.
In the original language, John tells us there were five thousand men, not total people,
So figure well more than that – two, three times that.
Think of Saturday in the Park minus the Beer Garden.
Thousands upon thousands of men, women, children, and slaves,
And perhaps some members of slaves’ families as well,
All reclining on the grass, wondering how in the world they were going to eat.
Maybe some had brought a little food and that got passed around.
More likely nobody had much of anything to give.
It may have been late in the day, perhaps the crowd had been kept longer,
And few had given much consideration to dinner.
Now, though, everyone was thinking of their one decent meal for that day –
Namely, how to get it.
Throughout the day Jesus had offered as much of the gospel of healing as he could
To as many as he could –
To as many who would come.
One of the benefits of all these years spent in church and reading the Bible
Is that we have heard these stories over and over and over.
We know a little something about the man born blind
And the woman in the flow of blood and Jairus’ daughter
And the beggar by the city gate and the ten lepers
And the man lowered through a roof
And poor Lazarus and the centurion’s daughter and all the countless throng:
What it is to stand among them and clamor to be made whole.
We understand that.
We don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of miracles of a good and gracious God;
But as we all know from our own lives,
When we are so far beyond the point of pain that we can only scream out for help,
And that help comes, and that relief settles in, and the sting of it is eased,
It’s the best kind of news we could have.
It’s only at that moment that we can really hear our stomachs growling.
Yet as important as our disease was to address,
As important as it was to have our pain put to flight,
This is just as real.
Starvation in Jesus’ time and place is such a substantial issue,
And many kinds of life are undervalued.
Hard decisions are being made all the time
About who will get the little bread and fish in the house, and who will not.
Our own circumstances today echo those seemingly distant problems.
I hear almost every day from people who are looking at a little pile of money
And are having to decide between food, medicine, rent, clothing, utilities, diapers.
These are not trifles, and there are fewer scammers than you might imagine.
I can hear the pain underlying the decisions these people are being forced into;
Sometimes I can help; a lot of the time, to my great consternation, I cannot,
Though often just being listened to helps in its own way.
If it were up to human nature and the limits of my own patience,
I’d have shut myself clear of it a long time ago,
Stoppered my fingers in my ears and gone deaf to these facts of living.
But Jesus – doggone it! – Jesus just doesn’t discriminate.
He includes absolutely everyone.
Everyone gets to sit down and eat.
Oh, how we would love to ignore this fact!
It is entirely within our nature to exclude – to draw circles and lines,
To ask that question we’re always asking: “Well, where do you draw the line?” –
When we tell ourselves,
Hey, this is really neat stuff, but let’s create some criteria
About who can have it so people don’t go nuts.
We tell ourselves that for the simple sake of the good of the order,
We need to control who gets this stuff and how often.
But Jesus doesn’t, and he won’t let us do it either.
It is not within the nature of God to be only partially self-giving; look at the cross.
See, no one gets locked out! Everyone gets in.
What a jaw-rattling, life-altering, soul-making point of view to possess.
If a line gets drawn, we erase it.
If a circle shuts someone out, we draw a bigger and more inclusive circle.
If society refuses, we go and stand on the outside with whoever is there.
Everyone gets to sit down and eat.
Is that convenient? Of course not!
It’s totally inconvenient.
It’s the very definition of what it means to “go out of your way.”
But let me share something with you.
I’ve been getting a little frustrated lately with this nebulous term, Love.
The church talks and talks and talks and talks about “the love of God.”
I do it all the time myself!
And I have begun to find, to my frustration,
That I am starting to lose touch with whatever it is I think I mean when I say Love.
That’s a problem for anyone who has vowed to practice whatever he preaches.
Recently, though, I had a chance to think about the concept of convenience,
And I realized that there might be no better term for Love, in the Bible anyway,
Than “inconvenience,” that is, going out of one’s way for someone else’s sake,
To do or say or be or give something that doesn’t profit me except in my soul.
Love … as Inconvenience, being put out and doing something good for someone else.
The more I read Jesus, the more sense this makes.
… “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
… “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
Give to everyone who begs from you,
And do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”
… The real neighbor to the man who fell among thieves was the Samaritan.
Now, “Go, and do likewise.”
… Forgive your debtors.
… Don’t sound a trumpet when you give alms:
Don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
Give in secret.
… Love your neighbor as yourself.
… Don’t judge other people.
… Redefine your family in light of whoever does the will of God.
… Expect to be flogged and dragged before governors and kings as a testimony.
On every page of the Gospels, sisters and brothers,
I see a Jesus who is consistently inconvenienced
And compelled to go out of his way, be interrupted, have his plans changed,
Have to endure all kinds of carping from his disciples about it,
And who advocates this as an entire way of living –
A philosophical framework he approaches his life with –
And lives out of, every time he gets the chance.
And this is Love.
This is what we mean when we say the radical love of God.
Not some fuzzy emotion,
But a real set of concrete actions
That are on the side of the people standing in the margins
That brings them into the space of inclusion, at some cost to ourselves.
Much as I long for something that would be easier –
That does not demand as much time or energy or ten percent of my income –
My own convenience is really just not in the picture if I want to follow Christ.
And we must make peace with that fact,
For this is the way of all wisdom.
The way of all liberation and joy.
You live this way long enough, you get set free.
A lifetime of being inconvenienced for the sake of Jesus
Will quiet your soul and settle your spirit.
I/you/we must include, not judge.
We must go out of our way to invite and include, expand the circle.
That all may be fed with the bread of life and the cup of salvation.
As you often hear on the radio, but for a different purpose, “No exclusions apply.”
The mature Christian learns, in fact, to laugh right in the face of such exclusions.
As if God could be stopped.
Mark these things, then, and make this your whole approach in life:
For the sake of God, and the Kingdom of Christ.
As I say: Good news today. Hard news, but good news.