A Sermon preached at Broad Bay Congregational United Church of Christ
Readings: 1 Kings 17:8–16; 2 Corinthians 9:6–13; Matthew 14:13–2; Wilda Gafney, Translator.
“Galapagos Penguin” from Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing by Gayle Boss
My to do list is out of control. There is simply way too much to do and each day feels like a failure. There is neither enough time nor money. And yet, I know I am wrong.
We’ve been gifted a sabbath. We’ve been gifted the opportunity to watch penguins and learn with them. We worship a God of generosity.
The widow who is near starvation has a gift to bring that brings life.
The penguin brings us back to our creator.
We have enough when we open our hands and hearts. There is enough food in our community for all to be fed and yet people are hungry.
Who fed Elijah? A poor widow.
And who fed the crowd? Jesus and the crowd fed the crowd and there was enough.
God loves a cheerful giver and there is enough.
It is easy to look at the congregation and think “we’re doomed.” We’re old. Christianity is dying before our eyes. All around me I see churches closing and shrinking. I see clergy burning out, exhausted. Our Lady of Grace, the Benedictine Monastery that has nourished me for over 10 years is closing its retreat center, tearing down the monastery, and building a new smaller energy efficient home for the sisters.
Yet Scripture reminds us that when we open our hearts and our doors, we are able to feed more people and positively impact more lives than seems possible. The widow did it by giving up on her own survival and letting go of what was left.
Jesus did it by just saying to the disciples “Do it.”
Matthew Myer Bolton suggests that Jesus saw scripture as a palette and not a portrait. Not a painting that defines God and sits on the wall but the circular wooden palette in the artists’ hands that we use to create the stories of our lives. So in times of injustice, we look at the Exodus story. In times of scarcity, we look at the feeding of the crowd. We look for that miracle.
As most of you know, we are now using a new lectionary. A lectionary is a proscribed set of readings to help the church and the worship leader reflect more deeply on Scripture. This lectionary, put together by Episcopal priest and Bible Scholar, Wilda Gafney, titled A Woman’s Lectionary for the WHOLE Church. Not just for women but for all. She comes to her work as an African American woman and her choice of readings, and her translations are informed by her own experiences. That doesn’t make her work a niche or fringe reading of the Bible. Everyone does theology out of their own experiences. Instead, it adds color to the palette of Scriptural interpretation, much of which in our culture has been done by white European and American men.
I am challenged by this lectionary for it links readings together in surprising ways; her translation is just different enough to point to a broader understanding of God and the Christian story. This translation adds another color to the palette that we use to paint the story of our lives.
The United Church of Christ statement of faith includes these words, “You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ.” Our work to align with the Sprit to create and renew the church of Jesus Christ.
How do we create Christian Community in this day, in this place?
Jesus has given us a palette and not a portrait. We don’t worship something that sits on the wall and is analyzed from afar.
Instead, let us take these stories from the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible and use them to create a generous community, a community that knows that there is enough. That even when we are hungry and it seems impossible, there is food to share.
Last week in worship, we prayed a Psalm, read Scripture from the Hebrew and Christian Bible and the Christian Bibles. We read an account of the Red Knot by Gayle Boss, a story of a strong bird, near extinction, a story of resilience and fragility. Responding to that reading, Joe went to the piano and with silence and notes, created something more.
In many places, certainly in Maine, the mainline church is like the widow, slowly starving to death.
By opening her heart to be generous, the widow brought life to Elijah and herself.
What happens to us, as individuals and the church when we share what we have?
What happens when we invite musicians not to play the old hymns from the 18th or 19th century but to play stories of hope and resurrection?
What happens when we allow animals to give testimony? Can the penguins urge us to envision a world where we care for creation, consuming less, taking only what we need, and leaving grain the fields and oil in the ground?
What happens when we take the commandment of the sabbath seriously as a community, making time to play with one another and embrace the gifts of conversation, observation and unstructured time?
When I was a child, the family portrait of William Schneider or was it Anton Schneider, came to our living room where it hung for decades. The ancestor was an imposing man with bushy beard surrounded by a large gold frame; I never liked him and was delighted when he moved to another branch of the family. That portrait did not inspire me; it was devoid of the courage of my immigrant family, fleeing from Germany and making a new life in rural Pennsylvania. That portrait did not convey the stories of a storekeeper who supported the community, or engineers traveling in the western US and to South America building commerce and railroads. The portrait failed to inspire me, but the stories of my ancestors are full of life and inspiration.
How do we share the stories of Jesus with those who have lost their way and seek something bigger than themselves? How do we share the stories of faith in ways that could sustain others in times of want or scarcity, in times of oppression or danger.
May we be like the widow, willing to share with the prophet. May we be like the disciples sharing bread and fish. May we be generous and cheerful givers.