(From left) Harry Moseley explains the Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative to Joe Kender, the owner of Grūm, a Milwaukee barber shop, as fellow volunteer Michelle Mooney listens. (Photo by Brendan O’Brien)A Sermon on The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes
[March 30, 2003; John 12:20-33]
Today we have in John’s Gospel the story of the miracle feeding of the 5,000. It is a powerful story that clearly states that God is interested in not only our spiritual lives but also in the commonness of our physical needs. Both are important to God is the message that we receive today.
Now the feeding stories have always been special to me because I worked at The Gathering, an interfaith meal ministry, for over 12 years. There I saw how thousands of volunteers gave of themselves to ensure that everyone who came to our doors hungry would be fed. Many of these folks were just a hair’s breath away from hunger themselves, having first come to eat and then staying on to become volunteers themselves.
They all helped carry out God’s message that no need, no matter how basic is ignored. God speaks to our needs, physical and spiritual, rich and poor, powerful and broken. Jesus came to give us the Good News that in Him we are to receive real life, earthly and spiritual. Life abundant. And that we are to share this showering of gifts in turn with others. This is the Christian Way.
Now when I was at The Gathering, I occasionally would hear from an angry guest who didn’t like our rules a belligerent, “You call yourself a Christian?” With the inference that whatever I was doing to him was surely not how a Christian should be acting.
It was then that I usually thought back to this miracle story today and wondered if they ever asked Jesus or one of the disciples, “Hey, where’s the meat, I don’t like fish?” “How come she got more than me? Don’t you like guys?” or “How come you picked on me for cutting in line?” Did Jesus ever wish that he had just stuck to the spiritual, and had not gotten caught up in that messy and problematic healing and feeding?
But like it or not, I came to the conclusion that as Christians, we are meant to address the whole individual, and sometimes the wider world, if we are to live out the Gospel Good News. We can’t always pick and choose the needs we are called to address. Those pesky hungry people just keep coming back. And if it isn’t the hungry, then maybe it’s the environment, or the war, the old, or poor schools, an addiction, a disease, or a member of our family.
Because of this reality, I believe that if we choose to call ourselves Christians, if we throw our allegiance into that camp, then we have certain responsibilities toward the world and those who share it with us. This responsibility is called ministry or mission. And it is what we are called to do every day as we live out our lives. We do it individually in the normal course of living, and we sometimes do it together with others, but it’s still the same thing. It’s living and talking the Good News.
Mission or Ministry is not reserved for the clergy. We do not call the shots in this department. And despite how strange it may sound for all of us to be called missionaries or ministers, this is in fact what we are when we call ourselves Christians.
“To be an Episcopalian is to be involved in mission.” Sound modern and perhaps a little radical? G.W. Doane said it in 1835 while preaching at the consecration of Bishop Jackson Kemper, the first missionary bishop of Wisconsin.
If calling ourselves Christians means living and talking the good news, what specifically do I mean by this? Simply that each of us is called to love all people, bring justice in the world, and to tell other people of what God is doing in Jesus Christ. We do this because through Christ, God works to overcome evil, sin, death, and to bring all people into reconciliation with Him. We are, as St. Paul said, his ambassadors on earth. It is our mission as ambassadors to share our faith in both word and deed.
We do this in our work, our families, our communities, and in the wider world. The church does not have a mission. It is we who have a mission. The church is here to support us in these ministries. In this sense our local church exists to help form and support our mission in the everyday world that we live in.
These ideas may seem new and perhaps a little strange, because even though they existed and were practiced by both the early church and our own Episcopal denomination, they have in the main today laid unused, not seriously talked about, and certainly not encouraged in all our lay members.
In future months, I hope, along with other members of the Ministry Discernment Committee, to talk with all of you about how you can discern and be supported in claiming your gifts. We want to help you identify your passions concerning the needs you see in the world, and support you as you take your unique sense of ministry with you into your daily life.
I believe the Holy Spirit is working in this place, as we proceed in this holy adventure. I believe that all of you can discover the power that God has given to each of you to be ministers in the world. And finally I believe with all my heart that if you, who call yourselves Christians, choose to follow the path of mission, that there will be little that we as a community cannot accomplish.
My fervent prayer for all of you as we approach Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose ministry and life we now proclaim, is that when I stand at the back of the church and say, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” [that] your response of, “Thanks be to God,” will carry with it, the sense of power, joy, and commitment to ministry that is your birth right as a baptized Christian. There is no other path, no other way but God’s, and you are His ambassadors. Thanks be to God.