A sermon preached (and letter shared) at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.
Do you remember where we ended last week? Jesus has just fed thousands and then he and his disciples make their way back across the lake, the disciples in a boat and Jesus on foot.
Sometimes I wish I had a big flannel-graph map to help illustrate the ongoing activities of the life of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee and to help us keep up with this ongoing story. Jesus and the disciples are now on the northern shores of the Sea at Capernaum.
In his travels, Jesus encountered folks who were going through the regular activities of their every day life – fishing and going to the market and synagogue, caring for their families and attending to their work – and he showed them the extraordinary life of God’s Kingdom. He didn’t offer an escape but the way to live fully and authentically in their regular activities of their every day life.
But changing the way we see the world is difficult and takes time. We don’t always learn the first time. Or the second. Or the third. The people, the very same people who had just witnessed Jesus turn 5 loaves of bread and a couple of fish into the best picnic lunch they’ve ever eaten, were perplexed about how Jesus got to the other side of the lake without a boat. Jesus definitely didn’t fit within the realm of their reality.
But instead of explaining that he walked on water, Jesus responds with a statement that gets right to the heart of their motivation: “You’re not following me in order to find God,” Jesus says, “you are following me thinking I’ll give you whatever you want.”
“Alright” they say, “what do we do to get whatever it is you are offering?” What must WE do? They are making it about what they want, about human efforts, without Jesus at the center.
Jesus says “look to me and you’ll find so much more than a picnic lunch. Take yourself out of the center, keep your eyes on me and I will show you God. I will show you who you really are as God’s beloved children.”
“Follow me and I will show you how to live the life God intends for you.”
“Follow me and I will show you so much more than what you think you want and need.”
“Follow me and I will show you what authentic life grounded in God’s love is.”
Jesus wraps this message in a metaphor intended to help them bridge what they’ve witnessed Jesus do with the true reason for his doing it: Bread, the universal and timeless symbol for the sustenance of life.
The life Jesus is pointing us toward is more than just physical sustenance. It is complete and total sustenance for our body AND soul – our whole being. When we come to know God as the source of our life, we do not hunger for love or a sense of belonging because we are filled to overflowing, and we do not thirst for power or control because we fed by the compassionate life of Jesus.
This is what we are called to remember each week when we gather around God’s table for both physical and spiritual sustenance. We come together to remember who God is so that we are continuously re-membered, re-connected, re-united with each other as we receive Jesus into the very cellular structure of our being.
What happens in this place shapes and transforms us into the body of Christ at all times and in all places, whatever we are doing. Jesus isn’t an escape from our life but the way to live our life extraordinarily as God’s beloved children.
How we do what we do in this place, like every aspect of our life, has been in flux over the past 18 months and many of us may feel like we are the ones chasing Jesus back and forth across a lake looking for a sense of security and certainty.
We stand in front of Jesus and say ‘how did you get here? You were over there and I need to know where you are so I can find you when I need you.”
And Jesus says to us, “don’t just look for me when you want something. Live with me and you’ll want for nothing.”
In the letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul implores us to “live in a manner worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called.” A life fed by and sustained in God, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Whatever is going on in the world around us, we are called to live grounded in God’s love, even when things aren’t going as we would like them to.
Even in a pandemic. Even when we are weary and tired and running low on patience in a situation that feels like it will never end. Especially when we are weary of the world and need our souls fed and sustained by God’s love.
We want so desperately to be able to say we are in a post-pandemic world. But we are not. And so, we must, with God’s help, continue to walk with Jesus and respond in love and compassion.
This past Wednesday, Bishop David Reed sent out a pastoral letter in response to the new increase of COVID19 infections because of the Delta variant and asked the clergy to read the letter to our parishes today. It is the most amazing example of living with Jesus at the center of all that we say and do. We truly have a godly role-model.
Some of you may have gotten it by email already or seen it posted on social media but I ask you to listen again, with your heart and soul.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It seems we were almost there. With good reason, we had been thinking and talking more about the future. But now comes a surge in illness caused by the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, and we are faced once again with uncertainty and anxiety made worse by imperfect, incomplete knowledge. Our churches had begun to plan with hope for the fall, for new beginnings, and for an unfettered return to worship, fellowship and ministry. But now…what? What shall we do?
First, pray. Pray for the sick and for those who care for them. Pray for your clergy and Vestry or Bishop’s Committee members who are continually called upon to make the best possible decisions in the midst of changing situations and partial knowledge. The local protocols they have developed and implemented, along with the diocesan Guidelines, are useful tools that have served us all well, by God’s grace. Pray that your church’s leaders will be given wisdom to continue adapting and responding, for the greatest common good. Pray for yourself, that you might hold fast to the truth that “nevertheless, the Kingdom of God has come near.”
Second, be vigilant, but keep this latest development in perspective. The vaccines are working and greatly reduce risks to those fully vaccinated. While breakthrough cases receive lots of media attention, far fewer than 1/10th of 1% of those fully vaccinated are experiencing symptomatic infection. Since February, 99.5% of COVID-related deaths in Texas have been among unvaccinated people. Pay attention to the CDC and your local health officials. Tuesday, July 27th , the CDC revised its guidance on mask-wearing. In response to the new predominance of the Delta variant, they encourage all people to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor places in regions where infections and hospitalizations are high.
Third, if you are eligible and have chosen to remain unvaccinated, please prayerfully reconsider. The Delta variant is highly transmittable, and the unvaccinated are at much higher risk of infection. Additionally, they are much more likely to transmit the virus to other unvaccinated people, including children under the age of 12 for whom there is currently no vaccine. If not for your own sake, I implore you to get vaccinated for the sake of those around you who cannot receive the vaccine and for the well-being of your church and your community. Offer your church as a vaccination site; offer rides to those who want to be vaccinated; do not discourage those who choose to resume wearing masks.
Fourth, continue as you have. The past months of the pandemic have not been wasted on us. We know so much more than we did when we first heard about COVID-19 and I’ve included a few reminders of what we know at the end of this letter. We can lead fairly normal lives individually and in our churches. We do know precautions and health/hygiene practices that make us all less vulnerable to the virus. Every church in the Diocese has adopted protocols to fit their local context. I encourage all congregational leaders to review those protocols and adapt as needed.
Fifth, for the time being, the diocesan Phase 2(d) Guidelines remain in effect, as revised on May 18. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had hoped to be announcing the removal of remaining restrictions. I’m sorry, as we all are, that the situation has changed. From the beginning, we have known that the pandemic might change in ways that cause us to pull back again. Thankfully we are not there yet, and the current Guidelines and your own church’s protocols should allow your church to adapt as needed to the context of your community.
Finally, “above all these, put on love.” As churches and individually, we have put up with so much during this season, from inconvenience to grief. We have put off so many things that matter to us, big and small. We have put away cherished customs and habits. Now it is time for us to rededicate ourselves wholeheartedly to putting on the love of Christ, regarding one another through the eyes of Jesus, and loving one another as he loves us. Because we are his Body, there can be no other way for us than this. It is the only way for us to continue living in and moving through this pandemic together, in the Name of Christ and for the life of the world. May the love of the Father sustain you; may the light of the Son enfold you; may the power of the Holy Spirit make you bold.
Love in Christ,
+David M. Reed
Bishop of West Texas