[Sermon given on Sunday, July 29, 2018 at Saint Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles]

One of the hardest things I struggle with is believing that I am enough. I have lived much of my life believing this narrative that I am simply not enough – not smart enough, not good enough, not brave enough, not Christian enough, simply not enough.

It seems easy, like something I should be able to just will myself to do, but, because we live in a society that seems to thrive on a narrative of scarcity, insecurity, and fear, uprooting a negative message of insufficiency is deceivingly difficult.

Whether it is television ads that tell us that we are one purchase away from greater happiness, or a employment culture that tells us to climb the ladder as quickly and highly as possible, or a world that tells us we are one relationship away from being fulfilled, the common theme seems to be, we are not enough, we need more, we will never find fulfillment.

Now, there is nothing wrong with achieving, or being in a relationship, or even buying things so long as we do so ethically and with a mind towards those who are less fortunate; but, we have to reckon with a society that exploits our insecurities in order to get us to participate in an insatiable culture of consumption and greed. All of these messages go to great lengths to get us to believe that fulfillment and joy are found outside of us, that we are incomplete and broken, that we are simply not enough.

Our Gospel has a lot to say about this culture of insecurity, scarcity, and fear. The story of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 is a story where a child’s lunch fed thousands because he was willing to offer what seemed insufficient.

When laid across our current culture, I believe our Gospel has a lot to teach us about the power of believing in enough for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, and for our world. In fact, Jesus’ ability to do “exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think” when given what seems insufficient is a much-needed balm for a world struggling with chronic insecurity.

When Jesus comes on the scene bearing witness to ever-adventing Kingdom of God, he is doing so in the context of incredibly poverty. Much like our current world, there was a wide wealth gap in Roman society – the rich were incredibly rich and the poor were incredibly poor. What the rich and the poor had in common was a familiar sickness of the soul – scarcity, a failure or inability to believe that there is enough, to apprehend the concept of daily bread. The lack of ability to trust in enough, to believe that daily bread is sufficient, caused the rich to hoard the daily bread of the poor, creating a society of inequality and poverty.

Into this broken cycle, the Lord of Life comes, proclaiming himself to be the “water gushing up to eternal life”[1] and the “Bread of Heaven.”[2] We tend to hear these words in very spiritual ways, but in the context of constant famine and drought, bread and water were also incredibly practical. As the “water of life” and the “Bread of Heaven,” Jesus was harkening back to the Exodus, when Moses struck a rock and water flowed in the desert and when God fed the people with Manna from heaven, bread of which they were told only to gather a day’s supply.

In Jesus we learn that God is concerned about our souls and our bodies. Salvation for our souls is inextricably bound to the welfare of our bodies and the bodies of others. When Jesus comes bearing the Good News, it was a message that stood opposed to what many had come to believe – that enough doesn’t exist and that we live in a dog eat dog world.

When I was working as an intern with the Church of the Common Ground in Atlanta, Georgia, I was exposed to what enough looked like for people who were experiencing incredible poverty. The folks who came to church every Sunday were folks who had long rap sheets, regular run-ins with law enforcement, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental health issues. They were also the beloved of God. These are the people society forgets about – the folks we pass by on street corners or sidewalks. Every Sunday, a different church in metro-Atlanta would sponsor lunch for the congregation and, immediately after the Eucharist was celebrated, the lunches would be passed out to those who came to church and, if there was any left over, it was handed out to those who passed by. The Bread of Heaven was directly connected to the daily bread these folks needed to survive.

Each Sunday I saw people express gratitude for receiving this bountiful gifts, gifts that many of us take for granted. Enough, daily bread, for them was a sack lunch and a hug which they received in thanksgiving. Sharing every Sunday with these folks also pointed out that poverty exists, not because people are lazy and unmotivated, but because we haven’t learned how to share. Believing in enough means that when our cups are full we don’t build larger cups to hold extra. Enough means we give away the overflow. That’s how we become “water gushing up to eternal life” in a world where people die of thirst.

Witnessing this regular feeding of the multitude on the street corners of Atlanta, Georgia helped me better understand enough as a character, a charism, of the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus and his disciples encounter the multitude in our Gospel, they were facing down the same narrative of insecurity we all face. Will there be enough? Am I enough?

The crowd had come seeking something because they heard he was working signs and wonders for the sick. Thousands of them came from all over and Jesus knew they had to eat. When asked “how,” Philip suggested that it was impossible while Andrew through it was improbable, saying “there are two fish and five loaves here, but what is that going to do?” In short, both disciples responded to “how” by declaring “there is not enough.”

They had been socialized in a narrative of scarcity and even when they come face-to-face with the Son of God, even after seeing him turn water into wine and heal the sick, they can’t see how it is Jesus’ very nature to work miracles with what seems unremarkable.

Jesus’ response is simple: he took what seemed insufficient and, εὐχαριστήσας, having given thanks, he began passing out the loaves and the fish. Now, I was warned by my preaching professor to never use Biblical Greek in a sermon. But, I want to make an exception here because we use this word every Sunday – Eucharist – Jesus gave thanks.

We need a narrative of enough, a narrative of thanksgiving, a narrative of daily bread now more than ever before.

We need a narrative of enough when politicians tell us that there isn’t enough and that we have good reason to fear those who are different from us.

We need a narrative of thanksgiving when we look at our own resources and struggle to see how we’ll have enough.

We need a narrative of daily bread when our fear of tomorrow causes us to be less generous, less gracious, less compassionate with what we have today.

In the face of incomprehensible need, Jesus took bread and gave thanks, then began passing it out. What the disciples gathered up afterwards was baskets and baskets of crumbs. The lesson here is when we give thanks for what we have we might come to see that we have more than we could’ve dreamed.

Each Sunday, when we come here to say our prayers and to hear the Word of God proclaimed, we also gathering around this table to give thanks. Here we gather up all the blessings of our lives, and the tragedies, and we bring them here. We gather our triumphs and our defeats, our strengths and our weaknesses, our courage and our cowardice. We gather up our joys and sorrows, our dreams and regrets, our hopes and our fears. We gather up the total content of our lives and we bring it up to this table and we give thanks.

Why?

Because practicing thanksgiving and enough gets it into our bones and receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood remind us that there is one who walks with us who is Lord of enough.

Despite a narrative that says we aren’t enough, that we don’t have enough, that we aren’t successful enough, or we haven’t accomplished all our goals (or any of our goals), or our life doesn’t look like what we think it should, or we haven’t saved enough money, this meal that we share suggests that we are and have enough, plain and simple. We don’t have to buy anything, do anything, say anything, wear anything, own anything, or be anything more than who we are today. We can bring our selves, our souls, and bodies to this table and trust that here, in the moment, we are enough.

So when you come today to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, come in faith believing God for enough.

I invite you to make your pilgrimage from a narrative of scarcity to this banquet table of the Kingdom of God.

I invite you to make a journey towards belief in daily bread.

I invite you to answer those tapes playing in your head, tapes that tell you that you will only be enough when you do or have something different, with the message you receive here – God has given us daily bread.

I invite you to believe that God made you enough the day you were born and that our task in this life is to grow into the knowledge of what God has known about us all along.

[1] John 4:14

[2] John 6:41

Letter from Your Wardens (click to view)

 


August 29, 2019
Dear Saint Paul’s Parish Family,

We are sorry to share so early in our journey with Father Marcus that he has submitted his resignation and will be leaving us October 6, 2019. He has accepted a position at the Diocese of Connecticut. In his new position, he will be the Dean of Formation and will also be working as a Missional Priest-in-Charge of a faith community. This is a wonderful opportunity for him allowing him to continue to strengthen his gifts. The Diocese of Connecticut will benefit as we have from Father Marcus’s passion. Although it is hard to see him go, we have learned and done wonderful things as a parish with his leadership and guidance over the past 2-1/2 years. It will be exciting to watch his continued growth from afar knowing we were blessed to have been part of his early career. Father Marcus’s letter to the parish is included in this email.

So now we begin to look forward. Beth and I will be in contact with ECMN and Bishop Prior to plan for an interim priest and to look at putting together a search committee. We will gather together and consider what we have learned about ourselves during our time with Father Marcus. This is a chance for us to evaluate where we are and to make plans for moving forward: what we want to be sure to carry forward, what things we might want back that have changed, and yes, what might not have been tackled yet that we want to explore? We ask that each of you give prayerful consideration to these questions. They will be foundational to our Rector search.

We know the amazing strength of this parish and are confident we will become even stronger from the challenge that has been put in front of us. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Blessings,
Meredith Johnson, Senior Warden (meredithvj@gmail.com) Beth Carlson, Junior Warden (pbcarlson@comcast.net)


Dear Saint Paul’s,

It is with a mix of sadness and joy that I inform you that I offered my resignation to the Vestry on Monday, August 19. My last day as your priest will be Sunday, October 6, 2019. I have accepted a call to serve as the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, a position that will also include serving as a Missional Priest-in- Charge of a faith community there.

Throughout my time as your Rector, I’ve tried to preach, teach, and exemplify a consistent message: each of us is called to grow in Christian maturity to meet the challenges and opportunities of being the Church in this new missional age. Our patron, Saint Paul the Apostle, calls this the “full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This means taking seriously our individual and collective calls to be leaders, not only within the walls of our parish but also in the wider community. Leading, especially in times of great change, means taking risks, being open to failure that leads to learning, collaborating with others, and standing firmly in our identity and purpose.

People across Saint Paul’s Church have heard this message, stepped up, and stepped forward. Together, we have faced down a major challenge head-on –tackling our budget deficit– and as a result are experiencing a renewal of energy and spirit. We have new ministries popping up all around, a greater capacity for innovation, and deeper commitment to Christ and the mission of God he invites us into. There are others who are still afraid to step forward or unsure where they fit, and that’s okay. Saint Paul’s moves forward together.

My new role will give me the opportunity to help form other ordained leaders in what we’ve done together: translating an age-old faith to a contemporary context. I am excited and honored to be asked by Bishop Ian Douglas to serve the Church in this role.

None of this takes away the anxiety, sadness, or grief that many will feel at this time. Transitions are always hard, especially when it comes when things are going well. I have not served as your Rector for long, but we’ve done a lot together. I will pray for you as you discern what leadership model God might be inviting you to try and who might best step into that role to walk alongside you as you continue engaging God’s mission. Your wardens are two of the most capable people I’ve ever met and together with your vestry and the entire community, as it has for the last 139 years, your journey continues.

There will be time to say goodbye, and I will continue to serve faithfully until my final day. In the meantime, the mission of God calls us onward. There are individuals and communities in need of the Gospel – and it is our job as followers of Jesus Christ to proclaim it, in word and example.

Faithfully, Marcus+

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