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Hello St. Paul’s,
The other day I sent an email to a couple of my chamber music friends, just to check in. We haven’t been able to play together since February, and I have been strangely reluctant to pick up my viola and practice it during the pandemic, although I have, strangely, been playing the piano. I was curious to know how other musicians were coping. My friends responded that they too have been neglecting their instruments, or, in the case of one multi-talented individual, some of his instruments. All of us have remained healthy and haven’t suffered economically, so it’s a bit of a mystery why we would stop doing something that gives us so much joy, just when you might think we would have lots of extra time to do it.
I know how well off I am. Each morning I thank God for another day of health and another day of opportunities to work with people I love. Nevertheless, I confessed to my friends that I have ups and downs, and one responded with dismay, because he has only ever seen me being cheerful and upbeat.
I think a lot of us have been putting on a brave face for many weeks, and I have to wonder how much longer we can keep it up. I’m noticing some frayed tempers and increasing crankiness in our community. I think there’s a lot of pent-up suffering out there, whether the cause is a lost job, or a delayed surgery, or terror of getting sick. And there are people who are just angry: angry about having to stay home, angry at having to wear a mask, angry at losing a vacation or an income, angry at the roller-coaster of closures and reopenings.
I get it: believe me, I get it. We’ve been trying to launch our outdoor worship, and every time we are ready to go, something happens and we have to change it again. We are trying to plan for the future, but every plan has to be hedged around with conditionals, like “in the event of” and “Unless…”. And then there is the pressure to feel and express compassion and outrage for other terrible things that are happening, like police brutality, or extreme weather. I wonder if you feel as exhausted as I do when people demand strong reactions. I know I’m not alone in sometimes wanting to say, “I wish I could care more, but I only have room for so much caring, and I’m pretty full up right now.”
So, what do we do about this frustration, this anger, this depression, this compassion fatigue? We are people of faith. We trust in the promises of God. We have a treasury of tradition to fall back on. We have familiar prayers and Scripture passages that we can recite together or alone. The Psalms provide for expression of every emotion known to humanity. And we have each other. Maybe we can dare to let someone know what we are feeling. Maybe we can invite a friend to share their burden, not with any expectation that we can fix it, but with the assurance that we are all in this together. Let’s be kind to each other and offer a listening and confidential ear.
And meanwhile, for our own comfort, here’s a slightly modified prayer from the Prayer Book: Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through these times of frustration, sadness, and impatience, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness.; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
See you on Sunday.
Hello, St. Paul’s.
One of my favorite Collects goes like this: “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life …” We hear it on the Sunday before Thanksgiving every year.
Hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest: the Church seems to be telling us that we should first HEAR the Scripture, and only then read and study it. In ancient times most people didn’t have access to written materials, if they could even read, and so they encountered the word of God by hearing it. In our literate age we tend to depend heavily on written texts, even to the extent, sometimes, of being critical of someone reading aloud when they deviate from the text by a single syllable.
While I don’t encourage anyone to offer extemporaneous translations of Scripture in church, I do think that we can keep in mind that these are not just translations but paraphrases of ancient material, and sometimes we can lose sight of the power of Scripture if we get too bound up with the script. When I used to serve regularly as deacon I sometimes enjoyed memorizing the Gospel and telling it as a story, with no book between me and my listeners. It was striking how many people started off following word for word in the bulletin but soon put down the paper and became fully engaged in the story.
Where am I going with all this? Well, I want to invite you, in our Zoom and streamed worship, to let go of the bulletin a little and allow Scripture to speak to you. We have a roster of excellent lectors, and with online worship everyone has a front seat, so you should have no trouble understanding the reader. You might try closing your eyes and imagining the scene the reader describes. At other parts of the 10:30 service, we will soon include a shot of Cherie Dean providing a simultaneous translation into American Sign Language. If you’ve ever noticed Cherie signing during a service you know how beautiful and graceful it looks.
To start with, Cherie will simply be signing some of the fixed parts of the service, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed: these can be pre-recorded and replayed every week so as not to abuse Cherie’s gift of time. Earlier in the summer Cherie offered a forum in which she started to teach us how to sign the Lord’s Prayer: she will continue with this on Sunday. Now we have a great opportunity to expand our reach to those whose first language is ASL, by both incorporating it into our services and by learning the basics ourselves. When we return to cautious, in-person worship, signing the Peace will be a helpful alternative to physical contact.
So, this Sunday, try hearing the Scripture before you read it: it may come alive for you in new ways. And thank you, Cherie, for sharing your gift with us.
See you on Sunday.
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In the name of the holy Trinity, one God.
When I was a child in Ireland in the 60’s, my mother had a credit account at the butcher’s, the baker’s, the pharmacy, and the grocer’s. Each shop was small and specialized, and didn’t offer a wide array of choices. The advent of supermarkets changed our shopping habits, and when I came to the US and walked for the first time down a store aisle solely devoted to varieties of breakfast cereal, I was flabbergasted.
Much more recently, I have learned the term “food desert”- a neighborhood, typically in a city, where there are no choices at all, where the only place within walking distance where you can buy food is the 7-11 or the tiny ethnic market. Both of these – the cereal aisle of 100 choices and the food desert – co-exist in our nation. And something about that seems wrong to me.
The passage we heard from Matthew’s Gospel picks up just after the death of John the Baptist. You might remember that he was imprisoned by King Herod for telling truth to power, and subsequently murdered in jail when Herod’s teenage stepdaughter demanded John’s head as her reward for entertaining the king’s guests. We know that Herod hesitated but then gave in because he was unwilling to lose face in front of his powerful friends. The prophet was killed, essentially, on the whim of a despotic ruler in order to preserve his fragile ego.
What a terrible waste of a life. No wonder Jesus wanted to go off on his own to grieve the senseless loss of his cousin. The juxtaposition of these two stories is significant. Herod throws a lavish feast for the rich and powerful, with an outcome leading to death; and then Jesus throws a party for hungry people and offers them abundant life.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes is very familiar, and with good reason: the story is told six times in the four Gospels. It’s the only miracle told by all four Evangelists, and Matthew and Mark both thought it was good enough to tell twice. It is clearly one of the most important stories about Jesus that we have.
Jesus wants to grieve in peace, but the crowds won’t leave him alone. They are hungry, starving for good news. They are oppressed, afraid, voiceless, ruled by leaders they cannot trust, regarded as barely human by the occupying forces, seeking a word of comfort, of encouragement, yearning to be fed w
ith God’s word, God’s love. And, by the way, they are people of color.
And Jesus, even in his grief, cannot deny them. He is the word of God incarnate. The whole purpose of his life on earth is to embody God’s love. He is moved in his very being by the needy people before him. He has compassion for them – you might remember a few weeks ago when our preacher talked about that word compassion, and how the original term means a twisting of the guts, a visceral compulsion to reach out in solidarity to those who are suffering. Jesus cannot help but love these people.
But evening comes and the shadows lengthen, and the disciples realize that they have a huge problem: five thousand men, plus women and children, in a deserted place, as dinner time looms. They are in a food desert, not even a Quik-Mart in sight. How are these people going to be fed? Send them away, they tell Jesus. This is beyond us. But Jesus shocks them with his response: YOU give them something to eat.
Oof: that one landed right between my eyes. YOU give them something to eat. YOU take care of these crowds in food deserts both physical and spiritual, these people who cannot feed their families with a full-time job, these people who are hungry to hear God’s word and feel God’s love. YOU offer hope to those who suffer from injustice, YOU offer comfort to those who fear losing their privileged place in the world.
The disciples turn out their backpacks and come up with a few snacks. Jesus takes the bread and blesses it in front of the crowd. Perhaps he uses the words of our Psalm: Blessed are you, Lord God: “the eyes of all look upon you and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” As he reminds his listeners of their relationship to God the open-handed giver of all good things, they think of what they have in their pockets. How can it be right to eat my picnic when the person next to me has nothing? And a miracle happens, and people are fed, community is created, and God is present.
When everyone pitches in, when we all empty our pockets and open our hands to pool our resources, there is plenty for everyone. Some of you have donated your COVID subsidy to the church or to other non-profits, because you don’t need it. Some of you have made special donations with the money you could have spent on vacations or eating out.
Loaves and fishes. This is the true miracle of faith, when human beings overcome our fear of scarcity and our tendency to hoard, and instead share freely what we have with those who have less. Our national myth of rugged individualism has corrupted our sense of communal responsibility. It is act
ually a blessing to have enough to be able to share: that’s where we are blessed by God, not by building bigger barns like the rich fool in Luke’s Gospel. In the wealthiest country in the world, people go to bed hungry. This is a scandal and a sin, but it’s one that we can mend, if we work on it together.
If we were sharing the Eucharist today, this Gospel would be an obvious lead-in to the sacramental part of our worship. As it is, we are fed by God’s word alone in this season, while we witness the growing hunger of our neighbors in the face of an ever-worsening economic catastrophe. What can we do with our meager resources?
Perhaps we have more
than we realize. We have a rich and vital community, coming together online
every day of the week to pray, to read Scripture, to learn and grow together.
We have a depth of tradition on which to draw, teaching us that all are
welcome. We have hearts for service and for generosity, demonstrated by those
who donate clothing and who regularly make gifts to our pastoral needs fund. We
have 100 people who want to learn how to dismantle the injustices of racism. We
have much to offer to this hungry world.
“You give them something to eat,” says Jesus. Yes, let’s do that. Let’s
share what God has given us, and we will all be blessed. Amen.
August 2 2020
The Very Rev Penelope BridgesYou Give Them Something to Eat