Proper 14 2018
Have you ever had the experience of someone presuming to know you? I have. I have had people presume to know me because I am a white Southern male. I have had people presume to know my theology because I am an Episcopal priest; and married; and 62 years old; and… So often people who think they know you really don’t know you at all. It could be that we have not let them, or they have not tried, but for whatever reason people place their expectations on others. I think that presumption is at the root of gossip. Presuming to know someone well enough is what it takes to hear gossip and that same presumption is what it takes to pass it on.
Maybe, one of the greatest gifts my father ever gave to me was that he never presumed to know me; or anybody I ever knew. Truly knowing someone takes work. It can’t be done over Twitter. It can’t be done on social media. Facebook friends are not really friends because being a friend and knowing someone requires time and attention. That was what my father gave me. We got to know each other on Saturday mornings fishing in a small v-hull boat in the Okefenokee swamp. He took time and made our friendship important. He worked on it. He asked me questions about what I believed; how I understood things.
I think as a husband I get into the most trouble when I presume to know what Alicia wants; when I answer the question for her … “Sure, she would enjoy that”, “Yes, she is free for dinner”.
This is the scene we have at the beginning of this Gospel. If it weren’t so sad it would be laughable. The people who heard Jesus speak presumed to know him. We know his parents. We know where he is from. We know his family. We know who he is. How can he say he came down from heaven? What more do they need? We saw him playing in the street and working in his dad’s shop.
They have judged Jesus and their hearts are closed to anything new and anything different. They presume to know Jesus and, in that act, they lose any opportunity to truly know him. They deny themselves the chance to know the God incarnate.
It is not something that was just “back then”. We must be very careful. In our zeal to be right, to be correct, we too can miss God and God moving in our lives. Evangelism is a term I don’t think we or most Christians understand. For too many, evangelism is trying to get someone to believe in a doctrine or an understanding that you believe in. And often it is done as a threat. If you don’t believe this way you will die. If you don’t get it right God will not love you.
True evangelism is much different. I think true evangelism; effective evangelism is living out your faith. It is living out God’s love by loving others in an outward and visible way. But at the heart of living out our faith is getting to know the other. At the heart of our faith is not presuming to know the other but instead listening to understand. God’s redeeming love was never a threat that someone must believe. God’s love proclaimed through Jesus Christ is love that acts in the midst of pain, or disease. It is acting to feed and restore the poor and hungry; it is always about going to where someone is with the truth of God’s love for them. It is always about listening to their pain and responding to that pain. It is about seeking to know someone else and not presuming to know who they are and what they need.
That is the heart of our mission. It is at the heart of welcoming without a litmus test.
Do you know Jesus as your friend and savior? That is not wording we use often. But maybe they are important for us. For us to be able to share God’s love through Jesus Christ we must engage with Christ. We must know him and not presume to know him. It is the question we should ask each day. It is the reason we come to this place each week. In this Eucharist we come forward and ask Jesus to come again into our life. We ask to encounter the risen Lord again. But this is not what it means to be Christian. This is where we begin. In this moment we seek to know Christ and we seek then to go forth, bearing Christ to the world. We seek to reach out with the love of God. We are seeking to do what Christ did day by day.
I can’t tell you how to do that. I cannot give you a few rules to make this happen. I will tell you do not presume. Do not think that somehow if you are here you have done what you need to do. Instead, step out of these doors seeking to live as God moves. Make this day a day where you are willing to wonder about how God loves.
There once was a little boy who wanted a bike for Christmas. He wanted it as badly as he had ever wanted anything. The bike filled his every waking moment. It was his first thought when he woke up; it was his last thought as he went to sleep. His dreams were about this bike. He made his decision to write Santa Claus and ask him, but his mother who was new to her Christian faith wanted this young boy to know that Christmas was more than Santa, so she told him this year to write his note to the baby Jesus. Whatever his mom thought would work was fine with him, so he went up to his room and sat at his desk and began to write. “Dear baby Jesus, I would like a bike for Christmas and if you bring me a bike I will mind my mother and be good for a month.” He stopped and realized that he would never be able to do that, so he tore up the paper and started his note again. “Dear baby Jesus, I want a bike for Christmas and if you bring me a bike I will not hit my sister for a week.” Again, he realized that he could not do that and in frustration he tore up his second letter.
Not quite knowing how to continue he looked around his room. On the bookshelf was a small statue of the Virgin Mary that his mother had given him. He went over and picked it up and brought it back to his desk. He then opened the door in his desk and placed the statue inside and gently closed the drawer.
He started his letter again, “Dear baby Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again….”
I don’t think I am much different than that little boy. Too often my spiritual life dissolves into what's in it for me; too often my stewardship is about what I can get, not what I have been given nor what I have to give. Too often I want to make deals with God and too often I don’t trust. Too often I believe what the world tells me, that I am a self-made man and forget that it is God who made me and makes me. But I am not alone.
The rumblings from the desert were clear. They weren’t just frustrated with the leadership of Moses and Aaron, but they were frustrated with God. The Israelites were hungry, and they could not help but remember only what they wanted during their captivity in Egypt. They remembered there was food, but they did not remember their persecution and slavery. God intervened in their lives, led them out of slavery and into the desert and provided everything. God stepped in and offered them salvation, but they could not trust God, not with this. So, God again intervenes. He provides manna. Literally, Manna means “what is this”, so literally this is “wonder bread” from heaven. And God does an amazing thing with it. God says to them - do not collect more than you need for today. Do not take enough for tomorrow. You are going to have to trust me with your “daily bread” and trust that I will care for you and provide for you.
In last week’s Gospel we heard the miracle of abundance. A child brought 2 fish and 5 loaves to Jesus and within that gift of trust of everything he had, the crowd knew the abundance of God. In this week’s Gospel, the next day, after their free meal they looked for Jesus. “When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Not much has changed in the time between Moses and the Incarnation. The Israelites still miss the point. God will provide. Don’t seek the temporal but seek God. Your salvation and your hope lie in him. They clamor for some bread, the same bread, the same free meal their ancestors ate in the wilderness and Jesus’ response is clear. Do not set your hearts on the gifts, but on the giver. He reminds them that they are to seek with their hearts not with their stomachs.
Greed is a sin. Greed is the reason we have a need for government and taxes, because without them a few will control all and greed changes the people with the wealth into people who are poor, not monetarily but spiritually. With greed, there is never enough, and it changes us from a people who seek God, who know that it is God who provides into a people who believe that they live in poverty, that there is never enough for us to be thankful for. You can be the wealthiest person in the world and still believe you are poor and need more. Greed changes us into a people who cannot trust. That is the sin of the little boy who hoped for a bike.
I know that sin. I know the sin of not seeing and knowing the abundance that God provides. I find myself looking too often for the problem; reveling in the places of fear. It is almost as if I enjoy being the victim. I find it often easier to think of what I don't have or the places where the problems are; and I know that I am not alone. Maybe it is a part of our humanity, our fallen nature - this searching that the Israelites did - this want from the crowds that followed Jesus. Neither knew the abundance of God's salvation in front of them. They both reveled in what they did not have. We are lost/ we are alone / we are without / Lord when are you going to intervene / when are you going to send us relief / when are you going to sustain us? You have led me here where I cannot survive.
And yet in Christ and his Good News we hear the answer. In this Eucharist, we are to know and be filled with the bread of life. As long as we clamor for something more, something different, we will miss the truth. We come to this Eucharist, this thanksgiving, and we are to know the abundance of our salvation from slavery; the slavery which comes when things own us, and the abundance of God's hope. Sometimes that is the hardest thing for us to do - give thanks. I find it so easy to remind God of my problems and find it is just as easy to forget to give thanks for that which truly sustains me; to trust in God’s promise to continue to provide and sustain me.
Of course, you know the truth - that when we come to God in thanksgiving, everything changes.