SOLI Lectionary Reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
August 3, 2014
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Isaiah 55:1
I’ve been spending time this week at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the Rethinking Stewardship Conference, where the topic has been year-round stewardship. Although the relationship between stewardship and money has been a significant part of the conversation, the theme of God’s abundance keeps rising to the surface of conversation like rich and nourishing cream. There is so much more than mere money to God’s abundance; in fact, by honoring all aspects of God’s abundance and desire for us to live life to its fullest, then we are equipped to comprehend better how to weave our understanding and right use of financial resources into our daily living.
It is summer here in the northern hemisphere; people are enjoying the lovely weather, the bright colors of the landscape, and the opportunities to feast at picnics, fairs, and backyard barbeques. It is indeed a time of lavish abundance, of rich food and drink, good and lively conversation, and warm hospitality. This makes for a perfect time to explore through preaching and teaching this week’s lessons from Isaiah 55 and Matthew 14. Both bespeak the miracle of God’s ability to feed hungry folk, to make from nothing not only a small repast but a feast with plenty of leftovers–a reality that all the money in the world cannot buy.
In the face of this biblical message of hospitality and abundance, our culture tells us otherwise. From morning to night we receive hundreds, thousands even, of messages telling us there is not enough and we had better get our share. In the United States, fewer people control more of the power and capital. The middle class, and thus most of our faith communities, are feeling the pinch as belts tighten in response to job insecurity, rising costs, and the specter of fear. It’s tough to feel hospitable when you’re afraid of your unknown neighbor and live behind locked doors.
Little children flooding the southern U.S. border are somehow perceived as a threat to our security and well-being. Instead of seeing to it that these beloved children of God are welcomed and cared for until their situations are sorted out, Americans are divided and even downright hostile on an appropriate response. What happened to the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger, to care for the widowed and orphaned, and to provide hospitality to the alien? Maybe we can take a cue from our gospel lesson this week, when the disciples were willing to send folk away to find their own supper in a deserted land, Jesus said no, YOU feed them. And our Lord took meager gifts and provided enough and then some. No one went away wanting.
Can we open our houses of worship and make a place for all at the table? Can we be even just a little bit creative and see possibilities instead of problems? Can we look to our children, our elders, and other vulnerable populations for solutions and empower them to be part of the process of this abundant life that God intends for all creation? Can we not only pray for peace in this conflict-ridden world but also take some simple steps (or radical actions) to bring an end to violence and suffering? Can we get to know our communities and our neighbors better, understanding our mutual needs, hopes, and dreams?
The answer is, “Of course, we can.” With God all things are possible: Feasts without money. Thousands fed from a few fish and loaves. All of us working together to solve problems and bring the vision of God’s reign just a little bit closer with every sacred breath and with every humble gift is not just a pipe dream.
My prayer for you, fellow teachers, preachers, and leaders, is that you will give the Spirit plenty of wiggle room, that you will be bold in your words and actions, and that you will ignite a spark of hope to lead folks forth in joy to serve. Tell everyone what God has done, is doing, and will yet do.
Consider a “noisy offering” (use large coffee cans to collect loose change) for a hunger or justice group today. Talk about how this group’s work is helping bring people to the table to feast or how small gifts are being multiplied for the good of all. If your congregation is part of a community gardening effort, consider placing some of this week’s harvest on the altar or bring it forward with the offering to be blessed before distributing it. This is a perfect week to celebrate God’s abundant love for us, as well as the abundant gifts and talents we can share in our communities and around the world.
Too often we shield our youth from the pain and suffering of the world, and I believe we do this to their future peril. Plenty of excellent resources are available to help youth explore and understand the major issues facing our world and our church today. Invite your youth to pick one and commit to study that issue in depth for several weeks. Do they wonder about the history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine? Are they concerned that children are being held in detention after crossing the United States border? Do they wonder why modern day slavery and human trafficking is still alive and flourishing in our day and time? Need resources? Check with your denomination’s office for governmental affairs or social justice. Seek out local leaders working on these issues. Trust that our young people can be equipped to lead and lead well.
Invite the children to describe God. What words can they think of? Depending on their ages, you might have to prompt them a little bit. Be sure to affirm all answers in some way.
Then ask them, if God had a resume or biography, how would it read? Tell them that one of the early songwriter/poets of the Hebrew songbook did a very good job of describing God in the verses we hear today from Psalm 145. Consider using the Easy to Read Version or the Common English Bible. Write the descriptive words and phrases on pieces of cardstock and allow the children to hold them as you read the Psalmist’s description of God. Tell the children we can have two responses to God: the first and best is simply to praise God. The second one is to try to live our lives by following Jesus so that people can see a little bit of God’s light shining through us. Finish with a prayer of thanks and praise to God.