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"Mountains of Crumbs Under the Table" - 11th Sunday After Pentecost - August 16, 2020

Do y’all remember back when there was no toilet paper?

Yeah. That was fun.

People reacted to the toilet paper shortage in a variety of ways, but there were two reactions to the shortage that I really found compelling — Now, I’m gonna take a bunch of stories I read and weave them into two fictional characters, so if you think I’m talking about you, trust that I am not, but I’m also not here to tell the Holy Spirit how to do her job, so . . .

Anyway. The first type of person I found interesting I’ll call Pete. Pete heard some rumors in the comments on social media that a toilet paper shortage was coming. Pete hitched the trailer to his pickup, and drove straight to the Sam’s. Pete filled a couple of flatbed carts full of multipacks of toilet paper. Pete was going to make darn sure that his family didn’t go without toilet paper. He brought it home, and failing the cabinet space to store it all, filled up the guest room from the floor to the ceiling stacked high with toilet paper.

Another distinct reaction to the shortage was more like this: let’s make this one a woman named Trish. Trish always buys a little extra toilet paper just in case, so when her neighbor came knocking on the door, embarrassed to ask, but being unable to find any toilet paper over at the Market Street, Trish was like, “Oh hey, take these rolls, I have extra.” Her neighbor looked at her doubtfully: “Are . . . are you sure about this?” And Trish replied, “Yeah, take them. They’re gonna make more TP eventually.”

But having seen the need of her neighbor sparked something in Trish. She thought, “well, you know, if Sally needed TP, there are probably other people who do too.” So she set up something that looked like a Free Little Library in her front yard. She put a few pantry items in there: some TP, some paper towels, and, just for good measure, a few cans of veggies the kids refused to eat. Soon, people were coming to the Free Little Pantry, and taking the item they needed, but leaving an item they didn’t need. The Pantry became a bit of a distanced gathering spot. Neighbors started to learn each other’s names. They started to learn each other’s needs. They realized that their block had a good thing going on, and they should probably help people on the surrounding blocks too. So they got together and made a Facebook group to network between people who had pandemic-related needs and people willing to help. Soon, young men from one zip code were delivering groceries for elderly people in another zip code. Families were helping other families juggle the pressure of schools being closed.

Trish’s community was brought together in a creative and abundant way during the shortage.

Pete never did run out of toilet paper. In fact, in June when his son and his daughter-in-law come to town for a medical appointment, Pete had to get them a hotel room, because the guest room was still impassible with towers of toilet paper.

I’m the TA for an online preaching course this term, and in my little group I have 4 lay people who’ve never preached a single sermon until . . . well, today. So for the past week we’ve been doing an intensive workshop on writing a sermon. And the workshop started with me reading to them today’s Gospel.

And when I finished, Zoom was quiet for a moment, and then one woman unmuted herself and said “So, this gospel has Jesus talking about the digestive system, and then calling a woman a dog? Looks like I picked the wrong week to take up preaching.”

And you know, this Gospel might not be the one I would want to start with either.

Ideally, what I want in a Gospel is a Jesus who is witty and nice, and never gets tired, and is never cranky, and never has to sneak off by himself to pray.

I guess what I’m saying is that I prefer my Jesus fully energized and fully omniscient.

I want Jesus to spring forth from the womb with the knowledge and skills to immediately help Joseph build a new tool shed.

But what I probably need is a Jesus that’s also human. A Jesus that, has to “grow in stature and wisdom” (1). A Jesus that learns.

A Jesus who, when his hand was alllllmost big enough to hold a hammer, Joseph had to help to nail in his first nail.

A Jesus who, as a fully grown rabbi, is willing to learn from an unlikely teacher.

A Canaanite. A woman. Mother of a demon-possessed child.

Hear this conversation between this Canaanite mother and Jesus:

“Have mercy on me, Jesus. My daughter has a demon, and I know that you can heal her.”

Jesus says nothing.

But she persists, and it’s annoying Jesus’ disciples to be seen with this woman wildly yelling after them.

The disciples ask Jesus to send her away, and Jesus says to the disciples, in earshot of the woman:

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”

Undeterred, she says, “Lord, help me."

And Jesus says something to the tune of “Look, this is just how it is. I’m sent to my own people, and helping you … well, it would be like taking bread out of a child’s mouth and throwing it to dogs."

And the woman says “Here’s the thing, Jesus, even dogs get to eat the crumbs from their master’s table. And, Jesus, here’s what I’ve heard about YHWH: There’s a rumor going around that at YHWH’s table, even a few loaves of bread can turn into baskets and baskets and baskets of crumbs."

And in my mind she continues, "So I guess what I’m saying, Jesus, is that you and I both know that when the master of the table is also the God of the Universe, even the crumbs are more than enough. There are mountains of crumbs to go around."

The Canaanite woman reminds Jesus — and all of us — There’s no such thing as not enough God to go around. There’s no such thing as running out of God’s love.

At God’s table, even the crumbs are more than enough. More than enough to feed everyone always.

And Jesus says “Woman. Great is your faith! Your daughter is healed.” (2)

The Canaanite woman’s reminder about God’s abundance seems to free Jesus to think about who he can make room for.

This conversation kind of hits the restart button on Jesus’ ministry in Matthew. After this conversation, the same Jesus who, thus far in Matthew’s Gospel, has been telling his disciples that his mission is to the Jews, will ultimately tell the disciples to “Go into ALL the world and proclaim the good news[a]”.

We’re that. We’re included in that. We’re part of “all the world." We, gathered today in the name of Jesus, are the fruit of this conversation. We are the decendants of this change in perspective. We are the heirs of this expansion in mission.

Like it or not, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the restart button on our ministry as a parish. What we used to take for granted basically disappeared overnight on March 14.

And we STILL have a couple options of how we can respond. We can follow the example of Pete in our little story — stock up on supplies, take care of our own, and long for getting back to the way we’ve always done things. This is actually a reasonable reaction to scarcity.

But . . . What if there’s a more life-giving way?

Let’s hear the Canaanite woman reminding us: “At God’s table even the crumbs are more than enough.” And let’s be more like Trish in our story. Let’s get creative. Let’s use this crazy time to bring our community together. Let’s expand our mission as a parish.

What could it look like if we did?

It could look a lot of ways . . . but here’s a few I’ve heard being bounced around:

  • We could expand our digital offerings — podcasts, online gatherings, children’s videos --to reach more people with the loving, beautiful, welcoming, inclusive message of this parish.

  • I mean, What if we had literally hundreds of digital parishioners?

  • We can start addressing the longing to be together and the sense of loneliness that’s been plaguing people for the past five months by organizing small group gatherings — either safely distanced or online — so that people can fellowship with each other and have a chance to talk about what God is doing in their lives.

  • What if we created Facebook groups that pair the ministry interests of parishioners with people doing that same work in our broader community — racial justice work, creation care, advocating for the homeless. Things that our parish already cares about, but now has a renewed opportunity to engage in.

We have an opportunity to get even more creative and expansive:

  • How wonderful would it be if people in the nearby neighborhoods knew that, in a pinch, our community garden or our food pantry could help them put dinner on the table for their kids?

  • Or . . .How much would it help the emotional health and spiritual growth of young families in this parish if they knew that in the event of job loss or catastrophic illness during this time, we could support them with our own Covid Relief fund?

These are just some of the ideas that I’ve heard floating around. I’m sure you all have ideas too, and, a cool thing about gathering this way, is you can make those ideas known, like, right now in the comments and we can begin to discern in real time as a community who and what we can make room for.

I’m so excited to be doing this work with you.

Let’s use this time outside of our walls to become a church without walls.

Let’s use this time to dream up bigger, bolder St. Andrew’s.

Because y’all: At God’s table, even the crumbs are more than enough.