Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sermon for Proper 12

Lima (Peru) Cathedral--John 6:1-21

It’s indeed a great joy to be with you this morning, and I bring you greetings in Christ Jesus from your brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Springfield, which encompasses about two-thirds of the state of Illinois. We have been in a companion relationship with the Diocese of Peru for nearly three years now, and as the Diocese of Peru moves toward the creation of four new dioceses from the current one, and taking its place as the 39th autonomous province of the worldwide Anglican Communion of churches, we share your excitement, and look forward to a continuing partnership with the region of Arequipa—soon, God willing, to become the Diocese of Arequipa, under the leadership of Bishop Alejandro, whom we consecrated yesterday. In April of 2013 I had already made travel arrangements to come down here for a visit then, but I discovered that I needed to have a valve in my heart replaced, so Father Mark Evans, who is with me on this trap as well, along with his wife Sandy, represented me on that occasion. And I should also not fail to mention my wife and intrepid traveling companion of the last 43 years, Brenda, who is with us here this morning. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned, it’s exciting to be in Peru when there are new horizons opening up for the growing community of Anglican Christians in this country, in this diocese on the way to becoming four dioceses. It’s exciting to be here when serious risks are being taken for the sake of the gospel, when there’s an openness to failure, but a firm commitment at the same time to fail, if necessary, as a result of doing something rather than failing as a result of doing nothing. The mission we have been given, the Lord whom we serve, demands no less of us as disciples. In the Diocese of Springfield, we face challenges that are at the same time astonishingly different from the challenges that you face, and also amazingly similar. Most of our diocese is quite flat, and sits around 600 feet above sea level. We have some decent hills in the extreme southern part of Illinois, but a Peruvian would find it laughable if we called them mountains! In all the churches of our diocese, English is the only language that is spoken, which means that we are presently doing nothing by way of mission or ministry among the growing population of Spanish speakers in various corners of the diocese. Our economy is based on agriculture, and education, and health care. In those respects, our environment is very different from yours (and by “yours,” I mean the whole territory of Peru, not just Lima).

But, among the things that we have in common is this: We are starved for resources. Opportunities abound, but we lack both the human resources and the financial resources to take advantage of the opportunities for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. This weighs on me, as I know it weighs on you. I know it weighs on you all because I know it weighs on your bishop! I admire Bishop Godfrey’s tenacity in picking up the phone and banging every drum and looking under every rock in order to find resources to support the work of this diocese. So, despite the mountains of differences between our contexts, we are both communities of Christians, parts of the one holy Catholic and apostolic church of the creeds, communities who are constantly wondering how we’re going to get the means to accomplish what we believe God has called us to accomplish.

In that, we can empathize with what Jesus and his close disciples might have felt when they got out of their boat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and saw a different kind of sea—a sea of humanity, gathered there in eager expectation of hearing the words of Jesus’ teaching and feeling the touch of Jesus’ healing. It was a large crowd, in a deserted area—not an actual desert or wilderness, but, we might say, rural; there were no fast food franchises nearby. And the people were bound to get quite hungry quite soon. There was a great opportunity for mission and ministry right there in front of them. But they apparently lacked the resources to take advantage of the opportunity. One of the disciples, Andrew, said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Bishop Godfrey and I, and others, might look at the tithes and offerings that come in from our people to the parishes, and from the parishes to the level of the diocese, and compare it to the work that needs to be done, and be tempted to say very much the same thing: “That’s nice, but what good is it? It doesn’t even come close to meeting our need.”

And here, precisely here, is where it become relevant that Jesus is Lord, and I’m not! Here is where it becomes relevant that Jesus is Lord and Bill Godfrey is not! Because Jesus, in that moment, never wavered in his confidence that God will never leave his own work unresourced. God will always provide what is necessary for the disciples of his Son to fulfill the mission that has been assigned to them.

Of course, when all we see are five barley loves and two fish, it’s a challenge to maintain an attitude of optimistic faith. But the lesson here is that God does not always or necessarily resource his mission in the precise way we would expect or desire. A year ago at this time, I was busy trying to drum up enthusiasm and support in the diocese for creating a new staff position—a Canon for Mission Development, somebody who would get down in the trenches with our parishes and work out mission strategies for reaching the people in their neighborhoods with the good news of Jesus. I thought it was the right thing to do, and even had somebody in mind to potentially fill the position. And when our annual synod met in October, they officially endorsed the idea. But it required all the parishes to increase their giving to the diocese by an average of 12%. And when the pledges from the parishes actually arrived in January, it was painfully clear that our income was not only not going to go up by 12%, but was actually going to decrease a small amount. I had 5,000 people to feed—which, ironically, is roughly the number of people we have on the rolls of our churches in the diocese—I had 5,000 people to feed, and still saw only five loaves and two fish available to me.

But I still believe the Lord is going to provide for us, to enable us to engage the mission of the gospel in central and southern Illinois. It’s just not going to take the form of a new staff member! Instead, there are smaller initiatives and programs that are cropping up organically in various parts of the diocese—a parish in a desperately poor community that is showing great signs of new life, a vigorous youth ministry venture that has gotten off to a great start, gifted lay people moving into the diocese and taking up important work—I could name others. I am more optimistic now about our work in the Diocese of Springfield than I’ve been since the day I was elected bishop. It’s not always happening according to my plan and my timetable, but it’s happening. God never leaves his own work unresourced. I would wager that if Bishop Godfrey were given the opportunity to corroborate what I’m saying about the work of the Diocese of Peru, he would do so.

When the people on that isolated grassy hillside had eaten their fill of barley bread and tilapia, Jesus commanded his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” And they proceeded to gather up twelve baskets of leftovers. This is a sign that not only does God provide, but he provides in abundance. God is not stingy. Sometimes we only see the abundance retrospectively, but it’s there. So this is why I am so thrilled to be here, in Peru, right at a moment of transition when something quite new and quite exciting—quite historic, potentially—is happening: the birth, or at least the conception, of a new Anglican province. I shall hold you in my prayers, and hold you in my memory, as we give thanks to God for the vocation we have to be heralds of good news and harbingers of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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