Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Transforming the Mundane

Proper 12b.09/ St. Peter’s
Today’s Gospel lesson tells of Jesus taking
a small amount of food, blessing it,
and turning it into a feast for thousands.
It’s a central story in the New Testament, the only miracle
recounted in all four Gospels.
It’s obviously super important but what does it mean?

When Jesus did something miraculous
it wasn’t to hear the crowd gasp and then applaud
like at a magic show.
He was trying to show us something.

The next time Jesus saw this crowd
he challenged them for just eating the bread
but not seeing the sign.
They had missed the point.

Mark’s account of this story is close to John’s.
Jesus multiplies the loaves and fishes.
That night he walks on water to help the disciples
when they are having trouble on the sea.
When he gets in the boat, Mark says,
“They were dumbfounded because they had
not seen what the miracle of the loaves meant.”

So what does this miracle mean?
It’s a story of transformation, change,
miraculous change that happens by God’s grace.
The point is not to get stuck at the material literal level.
It isn’t about changing a little bread into a lot of bread.
It’s about changing hearts trapped in scarcity
into hearts of abundance.

It’s like the Eucharist.
One liturgical scholar reminds us
“The Eucharist isn’t about changing bread;
it’s about changing lives.”
Just so, Jesus’ miracle of the loaves
is an outward and visible sign
of inward and spiritual grace.

Let’s stay with the food situation and bring it up to date.
963 million people live with daily hunger.
Each year, 3 million children die of malnutrition before the age of five.
A child dies of hunger-related causes every five seconds.

But there is already enough food to feed everyone.
The cost of eradicating world hunger is less
than the United States and Europe spend on pet food.
The problem isn’t our capacity to produce food.
The problem is with our hearts.
Hunger is a spiritual issue.

Senator Mark Hatfield said,
“We stand by as children starve by the millions
because we lack the political will to eliminate hunger.
Yet we have found the will to develop missiles
capable of flying over the polar ice cap and landing
within a few hundred feed of their target.
This is not innovation.
This is a profound distortion
of humanity’s purpose on earth.”

We don’t need more food, more houses,
more of any material thing.
We need more love, more grace, more generosity.

St. Paul’s prayer in our Epistle lesson
describes the kind of change of heart
the miracle of the loaves represents.
It’s the same change of heart the Eucharist represents.
He prays that God “out of the riches of his glory” will bless us
in these ways:
That we might be strengthened in our inner being
with the power of the Holy Spirit;
That Christ might dwell in our hearts;
That we might be rooted and grounded in love;
That we might comprehend the depth and breadth
and height of God’s grace;
That we might know the love of Christ
which is beyond the reach of human understanding;
That we might be filled with God.

Brothers and sisters salvation does not just consist
in what happens to us in the afterlife.
Salvation is becoming radically changed
right down to the core of our being
– not someday – now, today.

Is that possible?
The resounding answer of Scripture and our faith is Yes!
Paul’s lesson concludes by reminding us
that this isn’t something we do.
It’s something God does.
And, in Paul’s words, “God’s) power working in us
can do infinitely more
than all we can ask or imagine.”

There is no limit to what God can do.
Remember what Mary said to the Angel Gabriel
at the Annunciation? She said,
“ How is this possible?’
And the angel said, “All things are possible for God.”

God acting though an illiterate peasant girl in Galilee
brought forth the savior of the world.
Do you think God can do anything less in you?
Do you think God cannot touch your heart
and change your life?

What are our lives about, Friends?
What do we spend ourselves on?
“Getting and spending we lay waste our powers,”
Wordsworth said.
And it’s true. We slog along through lives
that are beneath the dignity of human nature.

But God can change that.
God wants to change that.
God wants to transform us
– to transform each individual heart in this room
– and to transform us together into agents of change
in this darkened world.

God did not want 120 children to die of starvation
during the time of this sermon.
God wants to change that – but he’s not going to do it
with a magic trick.
He wants to eradicate hunger though changing us,
through opening our hearts to compassion and mercy.

Christ wants to live in us.
The Holy Spirit wants to empower us for abundant life
and bold action.
Are we willing?

God can do anything,
but some things God will not do.
God will forgive us whether we like it or not.
God will love us whether we like it or not.
But God will not change us without our consent.

When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ today,
will we receive it as sustenance only
– or will we be transformed?

Are we willing to live a larger life,
a life that will not tolerate the cruelty and injustice
of this world?
Are we willing to undertake a mission
that is beyond our human power
so that we have to rely on God’s power?
Are we willing to be transformed into the likeness
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

How long will we live in his exile?
How long will we tolerate the desolation
of a routine, respectable, mundane life?
When will we become the people our Maker
intends us to be?

That is what salvation is.
Salvation is becoming whole.
Salvation is coming into our own,
being transformed into our true selves.
When will we be saved?

Paul answered that question for the Corinthians.
He wrote: “(God) says, ‘. . . In the day of salvation I helped you.’
I tell you,” Paul says, “Now is the time of God’s favor,
Now is the day of salvation.”

God speaks to us in the now.
Now is the time to become a new being,
a child of God, worthy of our parentage.
Now is the time to be strengthened in our inner being
and invite Christ to dwell in our hearts.
Now is the time to be rooted and grounded in love;
so that we comprehend the depth and breadth
and height of God’s grace.
This is the day to know the inestimable love of Christ
and be filled with God.
And before the sun sets, “God’s) power working in us
will do infinitely more
than all we can ask or imagine.”