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7.29.18 Rev. Lemming

Much like the smell of rain precedes a thunderstorm, as we near election season, I already sense tempests of cynicism, fear, scarcity, apathy, hatred, indifference, despair, violence, and selfishness building on the horizon. Being fully aware of how overwhelming the political chaos will be, I choose this morning to locate myself in the heart of that nameless boy with five barley loaves and two fish in today’s Gospel. The boy who showed up, offered all he had to Jesus, and quietly witnessed a miracle. When faced with the overwhelming challenge of feeding a multitude, Philip immediately moved into an anxious posture of scarcity. After Jesus asks how they might feed such a large crowd gathered before them, “Philip answered [Jesus], ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’”[1] Philip’s approach to being in relationship with a crowd of strangers is steeped in fear and anxiety; he chooses to interpret this encounter through a scarcity-based lens. The opportunity for companionship with this gathering of strangers is squandered, because Philip chooses to interpret “those people” as a money-based transaction doomed to fail. We’ve all been in Philip’s predicament. In fact, in this capitalist culture, it’s almost impossible to resist the lie that infects everything the greed-fueled media pumps into our minds: “you will never have enough for yourself because there’s not enough for everyone; you need to overwork to make and hoard more money, to buy and hoard more things for yourself, because, as the Vile Maxim of Capitalism in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations goes: ‘All for ourselves and nothing for other people.’”[2] Thankfully, Jesus, the nameless boy, and the prophet Elisha knew exactly how to resist this lie of scarcity. I’m going to take a little homiletical detour here and tell you why I love the prophet Elisha so much.

For obvious reasons and because of my profile picture on my social media platforms perhaps, I receive advertisements to buy hair-restoration products. Products that promise to fully restore the glorious afro I once had the follicle potential to sport in my early twenties. Talk about scarcity and abundance! I love the prophet Elisha – my fellow bald brother in Faith – because he inspires me to reject those shame-inducing hair-restoration adverts and fully embrace my baldness instead. You may recall this passage of Holy Scripture in the Second Book of Kings:

Elisha went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” When Elisha turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.[3]

This in one of many reasons why I love Elisha. But setting Elisha and my rejection of society’s shamed-based, money-making, impossible standards of beauty aside; let us turn to the passage from this morning’s appointed Old Testament Lesson which prefigures today’s Gospel story of Feeding the Five Thousand.

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat.’ But his servant said, ‘How can I set this before a hundred people?’ So Elisha repeated, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.”’ He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.[4]


Elisha’s skeptical servant exhibits the same scarcity-based anxiety of not having enough that we see in Philip and that we see in Andrew. “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Jesus, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’”[5] No one will ever know the name of that boy or why he turned up and offered all he had to Jesus. No one will ever know his motive or his story. But I like to imagine that that nameless boy held the Psalmist’s words in his heart. Like Elisha’s servant, like Philip, and like Andrew, we oftentimes forget the truth revealed in the words of today’s Psalm. I believe that nameless boy, just like Elisha of old, trusted God’s truth, revealed in words of the 145th Psalm, and took it seriously. I believe that nameless boy gave everything he had trusting that:

The Lord is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, *
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.

Faithfully. The meaning of being faithful is not always easy to define. One of the best definitions of what faith means is composed by the Benedictine Monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast in his book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. He says,

Faith is trust. It takes courage to trust. The opposite of faith is not disbelief, but distrust, fear. Fear makes us cling to anything within reach. Fear clings even to beliefs. Thus, beliefs can even get in the way of faith. In genuine faith we hold our beliefs firmly, but lightly. We trust in God, not in our particular understanding of God. That is why people of deep faith are one at heart, even though their beliefs may differ widely. When beliefs become more important than faith, even small differences become insurmountable barriers. When we grow in gratefulness, we grow in faith. Gratefulness implies trust in the giver. A grateful person says “Thank you!” and only afterward checks what’s inside the gift-wrapping. Faith is the courage to respond gratefully to every given situation, out of trust in the Giver.[7]


In today’s Gospel we witness Jesus’ gratefulness and faithful trust in the Giver. Gratitude is the precise moment which reveals God’s abundance. “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”[8] Scholars point out that the same Greek word for “given thanks” in this passage is the source of the term “Eucharist” – our sacramental celebration of Grace in our utmost sacrifice of Thanksgiving.[9] When we gather every week to celebrate Holy Eucharist together, we locate ourselves in the heart of that nameless boy who turned up and offered everything he had to Jesus. That’s why, in the words of the Great Thanksgiving in The Book of Common Prayer – those divine Elizabethan words I grew up with and still love so much – words that fellow Christians throughout the global Anglican Communion are still praying today:

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.[10]


Belonging. The sublime phrases of Thomas Cranmer’s prose express our longing to be; to belong together. Belonging means being one with God and one another in Holy Communion. Brother David observes that,

Belonging is a name of the Triune God. Our heart is rooted in that ultimate belonging. We do not have to earn this, nor do we have to deserve it. It is gratis – pure grace, pure gift. We need only enter into this fullness through gratefulness.[11]

When we come together in gratitude to celebrate Holy Eucharist we resist the cynicism, fear, scarcity, apathy, hatred, indifference, despair, violence, and selfishness of Empire. Instead, we feast on the fruits of the Holy Spirit: the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of God’s Kingdom.[12] When the xenophobia, racism, fear, and hatred of white nationalism bombard us and tempt us to selfishness, distrust, and despair, remember The Great Thanksgiving as our response as people of Faith, to systemic evil. Like that nameless boy in the Gospel, we turn up with all we are and with all have and with all we do, and we give everything to God and to each other in utmost love. We do this so that, as Paul’s Epistle proclaims this morning, Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love; to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.[13] As Brother David states, “We grow in love when we grow in gratefulness. And we grow in gratefulness when we grow in love.”[14] Pay grateful attention to the gifts of this life freely given in love and trust, and God’s abundance will be revealed. We will not only be satisfied but we will be surprised when we realize that we have a surplus to share freely with all who are famished by the selfishness, scarcity, and cynicism of Empire. May each of us, made in God’s divine image, continue to be Givers, Gifts, and Thanksgivings always. Amen.

               [1] John 6:7 (NRSV).


               [2] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Penguin English Library (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1982), 35.


               [3] 2 Kings 2:23-25.


               [4] 2 Kings 4:42-44.


               [5] John 6:9.


               [6] Psalm 145:10-19


              [7] Steindl-Rast, 198.


               [8] John 6:11.


               [9] Harold W. Attridge, Wayne A. Meeks, and Jouette M. Bassler, The Harpercollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphaldeuterocanonical Books, fully rev. and updated. student ed. (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 1826.


     [10] The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church: Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 336.

[11] Steindl-Rast, 189.


               [12] Galatians 5:22-23.

[13] Ephesians 3:14-19.

[14] Steindl-Rast, 176.