Almost a Sermon on Abundance

RCL – July 29,2012 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 11:1-15 with Psalm 14 or
2 Kings 4:42-44 with Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

With this set of texts, I am not sure to begin. If I were preaching and could see the faces of people gathered for worship, I might begin with an acknowledgment of the stress and difficulties we all face, before moving to the power of God’s presence. However, a blog entry is not a sermon with a live congregation with whom I can gauge responses and know in that moment if I am on target or need to switch gears. So here I will simply pair the verses that grabbed me anew with the news stories that captured my attention this week.

I would be remiss if I did not make mention of the shootings in Aurora. Words cannot begin to address the meaninglessness of this tragedy. The whole story is horrific. Innocent people shot and killed in a movie theater does not make any sense to any rational person. The reactions of public officials and the outrage people have toward the young man responsible are more understandable. Yet somehow, I see tragedy in him as well. And the part that really gets me was a headline that said that gun sales were up since the shooting. It makes me think that the psalmist who wrote Psalm 14 might have had it right:

God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

Fortunately, the story does not end here. I’ve seen more posts on Facebook asking for prayers for the victims than I’ve seen for any single event. I also saw the story about Christian Bale reaching out to the surviving victims out of compassion and not as a PR stunt. I even participated in a discussion about the shooter and how sad it is that someone as disturbed as he was able to acquire the weapons he did without drawing any attention to himself. So, like Psalm 14, the story of these shootings doesn’t end in despair but on a much more hopeful note.

The nineteenth annual AIDS conference that gathered in D.C. this week also offers a story of concern and hope. There has been much improvement in the treatment and prevention of AIDS over the last three decades. Alongside the progress, though, there are some very disturbing statistics. Apparently, the percentages of people with AIDS in D.C. is on par with some African countries. This makes no sense to me. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me why medications for treatment and various options for prevention are not readily available everywhere in the world. Money, education, and politics should not hinder people from being treated for HIV or learning how it is prevented. As much as I am impressed at how different things are now than they were in the 80’s for people who have HIV and AIDS, I am unsettled by the fact that it is  still a world health problem. Even so, it is still being talked about, still being studied, and people are still trying to make changes. As I think about this, I hear these words from Psalm 145:

God upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.

The struggle for me comes when I look at other places in the world and see brokenness and despair more clearly than I see hope and possibility. Syria and Afghanistan are prime examples of this. Or all the reports of fragile economies everywhere from Japan to the US to Greece and Spain and others. The ongoing drought conditions in many parts of the US and elsewhere. The fears of rising oil prices and rising food prices. Seemingly random violence all over the world is heartbreaking. How can the truth of God’s promises of power and presence be felt or experienced in the face of such things?

The amazing power displayed in the feeding stories from both 2 Kings and John make me yearn for such abundance now. And Jesus’ display of powerful presence in walking on water creates in me a desire for such an experience. I want to see that. I want to directly witness that. I find myself questioning where God is in the world when I weigh these scripture stories against the news stories until I take a step back, or a step much closer as the case may be.

God is present in every act of compassion – yours, mine, Christian Bale’s. God is present when a child is offered food, shelter, and comfort – in my house, your house, or in the house of Syrian rebels. God is present when treatment and kindness are offered to a person with HIV or AIDS – with my hands, your hands, or the hands of a nurse in Kenya or D.C. The abundance of God’s grace is everywhere, but it is so easy to miss it. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of missing it. I want to live in the fullness of God’s grace and not lose sight of it when the issues of the world are overwhelming.

Many times a week patients tell me how awful life is and how everything is hopeless and that they have no reason to live. I respond to this by asking them what they are thankful for. More often than not, the patients are caught off guard by this question until I point out that if one has something to be grateful for, everything doesn’t totally suck. It helps to focus on what we have and can do rather than what we don’t have and can’t do.

God’s abundance is not the same as abundance in the world. It has nothing to do with wealth, power, or politics. It has everything to do with compassion, justice, and love. These are the things to focus on. I have these things in abundance, more than I realize most days. Perhaps, when the 5,000 were fed and Jesus walked on water, it was to prove this simple but unfathomable fact, that God is quite powerfully present in this world in very unexpected ways and will, indeed, satisfy our deepest hunger. The only caveat is that we have to be willing to share in the abundance and witness the power. Maybe we should start being intentional about this by praying the prayer so beautifully written in Ephesians:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

What would happen if we prayed this prayer for our family, friends, co-workers, enemies, strangers we pass on the street, soldiers everywhere on all sides, politicians, world leaders, people with AIDS, Olympic athletes, and everyone else you can think of? God can do far more than we can ask or imagine, so let us begin asking and imagining as we keep our eyes open for all reflections of God’s power and presence.

And, yes, I do realize that this is a bit more like a sermon than a blog entry.

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