The Miracle of Sufficiency

by Dr. Sam Laurent, Campus Minister of the Episcopal Center at Duke

Jesus is not in the mood to face the crowds. It takes a lot of energy to be Jesus, to give of yourself and your energy and to face the demands of a crowd whose need for healing knows no end. Jesus has just gotten word that John the Baptist, who baptised him and prepared the way for his ministry, has been beheaded under the authority of Herod. The first verse of this passage is clipped by the lectionary, so you may not know that this is immediately after John’s death. In full, the verse reads “now when Jesus heard this he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” He seeks solitude because he grieves. This is a personal loss for Jesus, and perhaps a moment when the violence that awaits those who speak truth to power comes into clearer focus. 

So he retreats. Perhaps he seeks the clarity he found in his 40 days in the desert, galvanizing his resolve and his vision for ministry. In the face of John’s gruesome death, we could easily understand needing time to regather oneself. Perhaps it was pure grief. Compassion is the noblest and best virtue, but it’s absolutely exhausting, too. To care about people is to eventually grieve them, and Jesus cared very much about John the Baptist. 

Whatever his inner state, we can imagine Jesus was not thrilled to see the crowds coming down to the water. I’m going to run the risk of speaking for all of us and say we can imagine his exhausted sigh even more easily now, 4 months into our pandemic distancing. Each day’s news only seems to increase the grief and forestall the much-anticipated return to normalcy. Just a quick break from the constant virus anxiety would be so nice. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is hurt, and he wants a brief break from being the public-facing branch of the Trinity. But the crowds were relentless. Such is the suffering of the world.

Deep in my quarantine-weary bones, I yearn for Jesus to row close to shore, respectfully tell the crowd to come back later because he needs a nap, and row back out. But people needed healing. His compassion got him into this situation. So he healed them, and that’s the part that amazes me. All day, apparently, he healed them, for evening fell and the crowd was still gathered, here in this deserted place. 

Remember the mustard seed from last week, or better yet, the yeast that leavens bread. Unseeably small granules that as a collective breathe out and inflate loaves of bread. This is literal inspiration, the blowing-in of life from the tiniest corners of the creation. Jesus, one person amidst the crowds, is building the kingdom of God one person at a time. One touch, one kind word, one assurance that God sees and loves this particular life. Each healing another pocket of lightness, breathing the Spirit into God’s people, leavening the common life.

And so it is evening and they sit, in their multitude, here by the water in the deserted place with only two fish and five loaves. The disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds home, lest they go hungry, but he instead asks for the food to be brought to him. This is the familiar part, where Jesus somehow feeds the masses—five thousand men, plus women and children whom God numbered but the Bible didn’t—let’s say ten thousand people, a little more than Cameron Indoor holds, with two fish and five loaves. 

It is not just a magic trick. This is an expression of the way of God’s abundance. Bread, the most fundamental of foods, is usually involved in these things. Think of the manna in the desert, bread falling from the sky. Think of the last supper and our ongoing observance of it in our Eucharistic feast. The loaves and fishes are infinitesimal compared to the material hunger of the people gathered, but the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed or like baker’s yeast, and somehow, the food is enough. When all had eaten, the leftovers filled 12 baskets. The small dinner became a manifestation of abundance. All were filled, and there was still more.

I urge you not to spend too long wondering about the exact mechanics of the feat. The Bible is not much of a technical manual. Instead, notice the extremes of scale. Jesus and the crowds. Five loaves, two fishes, and ten thousand hungry souls. The seed and the plant, the yeast and the bread. It was an instance of the kingdom of God. Jesus and the food were too small in the face of the need, and yet they were enough.

Our fatigue in this season is well-earned. It has been a hard year. It has been a hot summer. We are becoming more and more aware of the injustices in our society and of our failures to contain the COVID pandemic. As a parent and a campus minister, my life is shaped on two major fronts by the decisions of schools, and I feel rather powerless in the face of it. Things happen, and I make tentative plans to deal with them until the next thing happens. Trying to connect with incoming students and care for returning students is real work in reasonable times, and it feels like playing frisbee in a hurricane right now.

I am—and I bet you are, too—in a particularly good place to resonate with the smallness and fragility of the mustard seed or the yeast cell. If there is one thing worth highlighting about the kingdom of heaven this week, let me submit that it is that in the face of monolithic forces like injustice and hunger and suffering, the kingdom of heaven comes as one person at a time, one seed, one cell at a time, and it is somehow sufficient. Jesus was enough for the day. The food was enough for the evening.

And by God, we are enough for the present moment. None of us are called, on any particular day, to singlehandedly turn the tide of the pandemic. None will achieve racial justice alone. That’s not how things work. We are called to make it through each day and to risk getting our hearts broken. The most impressive part of the story, to me, comes when Jesus had compassion for the crowd amidst his own grief. His sufficiency was a given. His presence was a miracle. The kingdom of heaven is sufficient. Jesus’ willingness to extend the kingdom of heaven to the crowds is amazing. 

Jesus was willing to let the world be the world and to care for the people in front of him. That he did until the end, and that we can practice. When the scope of things, the very bigness of our problems, paralyzes or numbs you, you can follow the example of Jesus. You are enough. The Spirit moves through you, and through those you love, and though you cannot fix every problem you touch, you are enough for today,. You will be enough for tomorrow. You are like the mustard seed, like the microscopic yeast. Great things unfold downstream of the small ripples we make today. To find the energy to answer the call each day is the true spiritual task of these times. The practice of compassion, of sharing God’s love, is enough, and will see us through. Love will suffice.

AMEN

Listen above to this sermon, or watch below on Facebook.

Weekly Announcements for July 31, 2020

This Week at St. Luke’s
NOTE: ALL NEW ZOOM LINKS as of 8/1/20

In-person worship is suspended until AT LEAST SEPTEMBER.

Public Health Indicators can be found here

Click here for this week’s compete bulletin for our Sunday 10am worship.

Saturday
9am Rector Reflection on Facebook
Sunday
   10am Spiritual Communion on Facebook 
    Sermon and Godly Play Story posts on Facebook
    11am Coffee Hour on NEW Zoom link
    8pm Youth Group on Zoom 
Monday
  6:00 Extra Vestry Meeting 
Tuesday
   6:30  Virtual VBS on Zoom
   7:00  Storytime on Facebook
Wednesday
   Noon Prayer and Share NEW Zoom link
   7:15  Bell Ringing for Peace
Thursday
   3pm  Worship Recording
   5pm  Graduate Celebration
Friday
   1pm Anxiety & Grief Group Google Hangout 
New This Week
NEW ZOOM LINKS!
As of August 1st, we are moving all our Zoom meetings to our new St. Luke’s Zoom Account.  Please make sure to use the updated links.

COMPLETE YOUR SURVEY
If you have not yet turned in your survey about fall activities, please do so this week.  Each member of your household should fill out their own survey.

HELP FARMWORKERS
In Person:  The Episcopal Farmworker Ministry continues to provide vital support to farmworkers.  They need more distribution helpers.  If you are able and willing to spend the day outside of Wilson on the 2nd or 4th Saturday of the month, contact Juan.
By Donating:  Last year, EFWM helped 170 children with school supplies.  This year, 400 children have asked for help.  If you are able to donate funds for supplies, click here

BELOVED NEIGHBORS
The Episcopal Farmworker Ministry is offering a 6-session online program about History, Race and Immigration at 10am on Saturday mornings beginning August 22.  For more information or to register, click here

VOTE FAITHFULLY
Presiding Bishop Curry says, “It is a Christian obligation to vote, and more than that, it is the church’s responsibility to get the souls to the polls.” (more info here
Due to COVID-19, many of us may want to avoid in-person voting this year.  You can download the request form for an absentee ballot here. Deadline for submitting the request form is 5pm Tue Oct 27, but we encourage you to do it now to compensate for any delays.  The ballot will be mailed to you and must be returned to the county board of elections by Nov 3, 2020.  Again, due to possible postal delays, it is advisable to mail your ballot by mid-October. 

BELL RINGING FOR PEACE
St. Luke’s will take part in the Sister Cities Bell Ringing for Peace, which celebrates 75 years of peace between the US and Japan. (The US bombed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945). Our Sister City of Toyama has asked us to ring bells at 7:15pm on Wed, Aug 5th.  People are encouraged to ring bells at home, too.
 
Announcements
GARDEN DAY AUGUST 8, 7:30-9:30am
Eileen Morgan, the leader of our August Garden Day, invites you to join with a dedicated group of St. Lukers to do some late summer garden care (e.g. weeding and sprucing up our campus).  Bring a mask, your favorite hydration liquid, and gardening tools.  We’ll get started early to “beat the heat.”

FORWARD DAY BY DAY
The August-October Forward Day by Day booklets have arrived.  If you would like to use this daily reflection tool, please contact Kathy and she will mail you a booklet.  
(You can also access the meditations online here, or listen to the podcast here.)

LEAP UPDATE
This spring, LEAP teachers created almost-daily videos for their students, and the videos continue this summer.  They have delivered 4 boxes of materials to each student’s home, and called each family every week. The Board approved new spending on produce, grocery cards, and rent help.  This fall, their goal is to provide tablets for all students.  They will begin with virtual learning, then move to outdoor learning, and eventually plan to return indoors. To support this important work or find out more, click here. 

HEALTH-E FROM HOME
UNC is offering a free 8-week program to support you making small changes for a healthier life.  They are evaluating how this program can support people stuck at home more because of COVID-19.  To learn more, click here

DEALING WITH STRESS WEBINAR
The Diocese of North Carolina encourages you to join one of these webinars about Dealing With Stress, Anxiety and Grief. 
August 18th at 7pm: For Parents
August 20th at 7pm: Focus on Adults
How Can I Help?
GOOD NEWS COMMUNITY GARDEN
Mary Beth Berkley is coordinating discussions between St. Luke’s, St. Titus, and El Buen Pastor about creating a Good News community garden to grow food and deepen relationships among the congregations.  We’re looking for folks interested in vegetable gardening and/or building community! Want to know more or get involved?  Contact Mary Beth.

ADAPTIVE P.E. EQUIPMENT
One of our St. Luke’s children uses adaptive PE equipment at school.  Because school will be at home this fall, his teacher is asking for at-home supplies for all the children who need mobility-accessible equipment. If you would like to purchase some of this needed equipment, click here.

TEMPORARY VESTRY CLERK NEEDED
Please contact Helen if you would be willing to be Clerk of the Vestry for the second half of 2020.  Duties include taking minutes at all vestry meetings, Parish Council, and Parish-wide meetings; edit and distribute minutes, and work with the Parish Administrator to file appropriately.  Ability to take notes quickly, comfort with Word, Google Docs and Zoom required.  

KEEP CLERGY IN THE LOOP
Please make sure to keep the clergy in the loop if there are any needs or concerns you have or you know about.  You can e-mail Helen at any time.  

REMEMBER, Your clergy will not send you e-mail or texts messages asking for gift cards or financial help.  Be suspicious of anything that comes outside of these announcements.  Do not respond to the request, but call the clergy person or create a separate e-mail to rector@stlukesdurham.org to verify. 
 
Full Length Article
The Birth of the Good News Garden   ‘Proclaim the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words…’ is a sentiment often attributed to St. Francis — and one that, especially in today’s world, might be viewed as an urgent challenge to all of us to find new ways to put our faith into action.  One new way is presently taking shape at this very minute, right here in Durham… in the form of a Good News Garden. The concept of a Good News Garden was born in the midst of this persistent pandemic; in a nation that is, at the same time, awakening to the cries for a long-needed response to its terrible racial inequities; and taking place on our increasingly environmentally-wounded planet.  Yes, we are in need of much healing… but we recognize God’s desire for us to also find, even in this broken world, the beauty and joy of His creation.  Congregants from St. Titus’ and St. Luke’s have come together — with an open invitation to El Buen Pastor to join us — to translate the vision of a Good News Garden into a reality.  By working together, praying together, and – one day, when COVID-19 recedes – breaking bread together, we hope to nurture our small piece of earth through good gardening practices; sharing good food from the garden with those in need; and working together – all of us – toward that Kingdom of God that Jesus so lovingly describes.  Through prayer, we reach inside ourselves; and through action, we reach out to others, in the faith that we can form a more inclusive and loving community than we could ever hope to achieve alone as individuals, or even as isolated congregations. On July 15th, seven members from St. Titus’ and St. Luke’s attended (via Zoom) the first formal Good News Garden meeting.  Several others were not able to attend but also expressed keen interest in participating in this project.  A wonderful spirit characterized this first meeting, with subsequent work now underway: Garden plots at St. Titus’ have been identified as an excellent and central garden location for our Good News Garden.  Permission to use these plots for our garden has generously been granted by the St. Titus Vestry. Continued efforts to connect with El Buen Pastor are ongoing, with invitations also extended to all congregants of St. Titus’ and St. Luke’s to join this Good News Garden effort. On July 27th, soil samples of the proposed garden plots were taken, to be submitted for analysis, as an early step in garden preparation.In the meantime, specific plans for garden layout and seeding remain as ‘works in progress’, as do plans to clarify how we will work together and communicate with each other. Safety measures, including how to work with social-distancing also are being thoroughly considered and carefully formulated. As you can see, much work remains, as does the potential for much joy and connection as can happen when people come together to work hard and to work together as followers of Jesus.  If this project appeals to you, please consider joining us.  We welcome you! Contact Co-leaders: Mary Hawkins and Mary Beth Berkley.