Are there any John Prine fans in the congregation this morning?
If you don’t know who John Prine is, that’s okay. I mean kinda okay, I guess.
He’s one of me and Ericka’s favorite songwriters. Unfortunately, COVID took him away from us a couple years back. He has this song called Spanish Pipedream and the words to the chorus are:
Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, go to the country, build you a home, plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try an’ find Jesus on your own.
I cannot tell you how many times over the past decade, if not longer, I’ve wanted to blow up my TV and live out the rest of those lyrics in my life…But I can’t. Now, don’t get me wrong – we have a garden and I can eat me A LOT of peaches…but I can’t blow up the TV – I like watching old movies and stuff with Ericka AND I can’t throw away the paper. I like reading it – front page to the comics with a cup of coffee in the morning.
But I still have this thing inside me that wants to rid myself of all of it. Why? Because this world, this culture, this state of being in contemporary politics and religion – Wears. Me. Out.
And before you start saying to yourself, “Uh oh. Hear we go…preacher is gettin’ political. Where’s the nearest exit?” Let me assure you of something. That’s not where this is going. And…you should know. I am part of the Gen-X generation. I grew up in the age of Punk Rock and Grunge Music. I am not pulled toward conservativism or liberalism…the darker angels of my nature, the parts of my soul I wrestle with are pulled toward disestablishment, utter lack of trust in any kind of sanctioned institution. Including the Church. Which…I know sounds odd coming from your priest on Sunday morning. But, I’m learning – just because you’re called to something doesn’t mean you don’t wrestle with that something throughout your life. In the words of Annie Dillard, sometimes you gotta ride those monsters to the deep in order to discover a deeper reality.
Honestly, though, can you blame me…really? We are constantly being bombarded by claims to truth and power from people and institutions that fail us over and over. There is this ever widening separation between many because of the constant messaging between one political party that thinks it’s holier than everyone else and another party that thinks it’s smarter than everyone else; and they creep their way into our relationships with friends, families, and neighbors; and you mix that in with story after story of churches covering up abuse, or financial scandal, or exiling people in the name of doctrine…Over the past nine years of being a priest I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat across from someone heartbroken – because of what “church” or “politics” has done to them, their friendships, their marriages, their families. And I am Just. So. Tired.
I am 41 years old. I am married. I have three children. I am a struggler. I am a questioner. I am a doubter. I have a hard time loving others just as they are. I have a hard time loving myself just as I am. I want to grow spiritually. I want to have a relationship with God. But more than anything…I. Want. The. Real.
So, I am not standing behind this pulpit this morning as one who has arrived. I’m here as one who knows he needs community to find the real. And I’m naïve or dumb enough to believe that I’m not alone in that – and maybe we got it in us to be a kind of community that helps one another find the real. In a culture that’s pulling us apart to a radical right or a radical left, what if we’re actually called to be in the radical center. What if that’s the place we can encounter the real. The place we can encounter one another. What if that’s the place we truly encounter the suffering of our world. What if that’s the place we die to ourselves and are resurrected to a new life. A place where we find Jesus. A place where we can be nurtured by our sharing one bread, one cup, and one love. You never know where that kind of sharing might take us…
The way it took the disciples and all in the crowd that day. This passage is commonly read as a miracle story. But what if it wasn’t a miracle…at least in the way we like to think of miracles.
The crowds kept following and Jesus kept welcoming, but it turned into a long day and the sun began its slow walk down the stairs in the western wing. The disciples said to Jesus, “We’re all getting hungry around here. We need to send these people away so they can go fill their bellies.” Jesus said, “You feed them.” “There’s only like 5 loaves and 2 fish…how we supposed to do that?” And then here, I think they’re getting hangry and sarcastic with Jesus who they all know sent them out without money…”Oh, unless, of course Jesus…you want us to go buy them all food….” And then…then Jesus showed them something. He got the whole crowd in groups of 50, which means this mass of people now had the opportunity to actually know one another… “Hi, I’m from Bethany this is my wife and kids – I’m a farmer and well…it’s been hard times…Well I’m from Caesarea - my husband died last year and I’ve been trying to support myself…Well, we came here from Capernaum – we’re in textiles…and we heard about this teacher…we just had to come listen…” Can you see it? Makes me wonder if we have to learn to share ourselves before we share anything else…
Then Jesus took the bread and fish blessed and broke them apart and began to share those pieces with others…and here’s what I imagine happening. These groups of people – no longer strangers began to pull from their sacks and packs what little food they had – scraps of bread here, bits of fish and fruit there, broke them apart, and began to share them in their groups…and before you know it this had made it’s way through the crowd, each group, sharing the little they thought they had, which turned out to be more than enough. Jesus took them to the radical center.
So, let me ask you. What’s more miraculous – a divine parlor trick that defied the laws of physics and pulled loaves of bread out of thin air? Or, empowering a huddled mass of powerless people to know one another and to share with one another?
One bread. One cup. One love.
The poet Naomi Shihab Nye was raised by an American mother and a Palestinian refugee father. In her book, Honeybee, she wrote a story. Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport after a delayed flight, she hears an announcement, “If anyone in the vicinity of gate a-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well, Gate A-4 was her own gate – so she went. And there she was introduced by airline staff to an older Palestinian woman weeping uncontrollably. She bent down to the woman and began to speak to her in her own language. It turned out she didn’t understand – the woman thought her flight had been cancelled entirely and she wasn’t going to make an important medical treatment in El Paso. After explaining to the woman what was happening, she calmed down. Naomi then decided to call her father who spoke to the woman and had a lovely conversation. Then the American poet said to herself, “Why the heck not…” and she called some of her friends who were Palestinian poets and they too spoke to the woman. This all took around two hours. After a while the old woman pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies – little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts - and began passing them out to other tired travelers and not a single one declined – everyone at the gate was covered with the same powdered sugar. The airline broke out free beverages from large coolers and two little girls from the delayed flight ran around pouring people apple juice into little cups. And Naomi Shihab Nye ends the story with these words.
And I looked around the gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate – once the crying of confusion stopped – seemed apprehensive about any other person…this can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
St. Andrew’s, I want to live in that world too. The shared world.
In a few moments, we’re going to all make our way to this altar rail to receive communion – like we do every Sunday. When we do that…we are, all of us, being pulled from the fractured edges this culture tries to keep us in and we are moving to the radical center – where we encounter death and resurrection, where we truly encounter one another, where we proclaim the shared world, one way – together – we find the real.
One bread. One cup. One love.