It was a warm sunny day. The temperature was about 87 degrees with a gentle breeze blowing from the sea. If you arrived near the beginning, the sight of people moving up the hillside, one by one, in pairs and in groups was something impressive to see. The children were running about in play, the infirmed who could not make it up the hill took the lower ground and the hearty gathered as they could. They were single-minded in their trek. They were all coming to hear the Master teach. His style was unlike the Scribes and Pharisees who were so adamant about the laws and the rules.
People were following the man Jesus whose message was neither strident nor accusatory. They wanted to hear his words of hope. Whatever they faced in life–hunger, fear, war, sickness or whatever burden they bore–it didn’t matter. They knew that they would be clothed with the full armor of God. That armor would protect the inner peace of God’s presence, knowing that they were not alone. So whatever might destroy the body would not destroy the soul. Many were in need of physical healing and so to just be near him was to open their hearts to Jesus’ divine grace.
Jesus preached a message of strength. Whatever else this assorted band of thousands was, they were sisters and brothers in the eyes of God. Worshiping and working together, they could change their part of the world. They did, facing persecution and isolation in the process. We are here today because God blessed the little that they were able to accomplish until the message of Jesus spread across the world.
Young people and those not so young often get the message that they have to “clean up their act” before they can come into church and become a part of the worshipping community. You have probably heard the stories of the person who would not go to the doctor until she felt better or the one who would not hire someone to help with the cleaning until the house had been picked up and was orderly. I invited a friend to come to church with me one Sunday. He offered as he would like to but he was still drinking. But he would come as soon as he could kick the habit.
Somehow we feel that everything about us has to be in order before we can ask for or accept assistance. Jesus says come just as you are. You are loved and accepted by God.
“You, in the middle of the crowd, the thief, come. Remember that I love the person from whom you stole.”
“Liar on the top of the hill, come. Remember that I love the person who deserves to hear the truth. We will tell it together.”
“I have received the soul of my child you killed in the night. Come, that your soul too might be saved.”
Whoever you are, whatever your shortcomings, I love you just the same and invite you to be in relationship with me. Together we will conquer all things.
A few years ago, a young boy, not yet a teen, living in Philadelphia was moved by the many homeless people living on the streets of that city. He began collecting blankets from family and neighbors and distributing them in the evenings after school. Before long, the word was out, with the help of the evening news, and blankets began to pile up by the dozens as people learned of his charitable act. The joy of the story for me was the unconditional act of love and care. There was no judgment as to why people were on the street or homeless and no requirements necessary to get a blanket. Just an acknowledgement that these were sisters and brothers in Christ whom God loved and cared about passionately.
Habitat for Humanity began with a simple idea of pooling skills to provide livable housing.
People in community sharing their talents have performed wonderful acts of caring and love all over this country and the world.
Like the loaves and the fish, Jesus blessed the little that they had to offer and it multiplied to help thousands. This “miracle” has been called by the biblical scholar, James T. Hastings, the “Doctrine of the Remnant.”
Philip, one of those gathered with Jesus on the hill, must have been a good math student. For it is believed that he counted the numbers, decided it would take one farthing per person to feed them, and felt that the situation was hopeless. They didn’t have that kind of money. And surely the loaves of bread and fish that Andrew found were hardly sufficient.
Sometimes, we the church feel as Philip did. We have so little and the needs are so great, we throw up our hands in despair at what, on the surface, seems to be an impossible situation.
There are so many of our sisters and brothers who are hungry, not just for another meal, but for God’s message of love and acceptance. Our houses of worship are signs of hope, of strength and of God. But we are the church that transforms God’s house into a living, inviting sanctuary where all may come and sit with Christ. The purity code has no place here because we all sin and fall short of God’s glory.
To the people at Ephesus, to the people of the church today, we are reminded that God has already “prepared good deeds for us” to perform. It matters not how large or how small, the work done in the name of Christ and blessed by God, multiplies and scatters where the Lord wills.
The people were hungry so Jesus invited the people to sit down. Then he took the remnant that was the fish and the bread, blessed it and there was food enough for all. Jesus takes us, and the remnant of our lives and labors, blesses us and transforms us into a new creation. We cannot earn it. “It is the gift of God.”