Archive for August, 2017

Surprised, Touched, Inspired

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

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Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Ephesians 3:14-21

Matthew 8:5-13

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Conversation is part of the fabric of human interaction. Our words can hurt or heal, divide or unite, create community or chaos. The recent violence in Charlottesville has sparked conversation about free speech, racism, antisemitism, national leadership, and the inherent values of our nation.

Robert A. Brown, the President of Boston University sent a letter to the community this week in which he said:

“As we seek in our democracy and our academic community to appreciate and understand difference, we speak of tolerance and the fundamental importance of free speech and respect for diverse points of view.  But tolerance doesn’t necessarily imply or entail acceptance or approval.

Palpably evil acts, such as occurred in Charlottesville, invite the challenging question about what is and is not tolerable or morally acceptable in speech and accompanying deeds.”

President Brown’s letter continues: “I believe it is a view that is broadly shared in our community, that a claim of inherent racial or ethnic superiority is abhorrent.  We must, I believe, explicitly denounce white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that make such claims.  The obligation of our community must be to hold fast to the values that are in our Boston University DNA.  As we participate in broader conversation in our society, we should seek to set a standard of civility and generosity of spirit in discourse that perhaps over time will be an illuminating counterpoint to the hate speech that threatens the very fabric of our republic.”

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In this time in our country when there is so much division and hurt, we do seek deep conversations that help move us into awareness and actions. Persons of faith also seek spiritual strength to guide us in our conversations and actions.

In Ephesians 3, St. Paul asks God to strengthen us by his Spirit—“not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength.”

Paul says: “And I ask God, that with both of your feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”

Today I want to talk about 3 conversations that help bring us into the fullness of God, so that we can serve in a fragile world with inner strength and love.

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen is a pioneer in integrative medicine and relationship centered care.  Dr. Remen writes books, practices medicine, teaches and works with helping professionals and activists who are burned out, feel like they have given all they can give, are tired, annoyed or resentful, and don’t want to do it anymore.

In her workshops, Dr. Remen takes participants through three questions.

What positive thing surprised you today?

What touched you?

What inspired you recently?

All of three questions are directed at what we call the heart.

In Hebrew scripture, the heart is the place where human beings connect with God.

These vivifying questions open up the heart, the place of aliveness, compassion, energy, connection love, deep understanding. The Psalmist knows about the importance of opening the heart.  The Psalmist says:

Create in me a clean heart O God,

and renew within me a right spirit.

Let’s examine each of these questions starting with the question:

What surprised you?

In the healing story of Jesus in Matthew 8, Jesus is approached by a Centurion (a high ranking Roman military official) who says:

Sir, my servant  is home, paralyzed, racked with pain and paralyzed.  

Jesus responds without hesitation: “I will come and cure him.”

 

The Centurion says:

I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. You are the great healer. Just say the word and my servant will be healed.

Scripture says that Jesus was astonished. Really, really, really surprised.  For one thing, a centurion would never say that he is unworthy.  He had a power position. Jesus said, “Nowhere I have found such faith. Go home and so let it be done for you according to your faith. And the servant was healed in that hour.”

What does being surprised do?  Surprise wakes us up. Surprise almost has a gasp quality to it. Our perception of how the world works shifts, making way for a new reality that has unlimited possibilities.

In that new reality I ask myself, is my faith that bold? Am I willing to trust that all will be well?

For example, I would never say that if you have enough faith in Jesus you don’t need health insurance.

But I do have great faith in working as a team across party lines for our nation’s healthcare system in a way that brings equity and healing to all. And I do treasure the saying:

Everything will work out in the end.

If it doesn’t work out, then it is not the end.

And I am surprised how the healing stories of Jesus always make me think.

“What surprises you?” is a vivifying question.

Another surprise story is not in the Bible, but like many stories, it points to the gospel message:

Some frogs were hopping in the forest, and suddenly two of the frogs fell into a deep hole. They jumped and jumped trying to get out of this almost impossible situation.

The other frogs looked into the hole and shouted: “You should have been more careful, give up, you are already as good as dead. Stop jumping so much, your struggle makes us uncomfortable.”

Exhausted and dispirited one frog lay down and died, but the other frog put forth a super-frog effort and by a miracle, jumped out of the hole.

The observer frogs were shocked: “Why did you continue jumping when we told you it was impossible and why did you continue jumping when you knew it made us uncomfortable?”

Reading their lips now that he was close, the frog explained them that he was deaf. When he saw their gestures, he thought they were cheering him on.

The surprise ending is beautiful: It is astonishing that encouragement, companionship, just being there for each other has so much power. How can that be?

In the end, it is not about the words.

It is about the power of what we call the Divine presence.

We are surprised about the simple power of encouragement.

Jesus was surprised that the Centurion really got what Jesus was teaching about the true power of God. I think Jesus spent his life giving a message that people couldn’t take in.  And when they did, He was deeply touched.

Let’s examine the second question: What touched you today or recently?

What was so beautiful or so powerful, that you were humbled by it, opened, connected, heart-filled?

I am always touched by the story of Moses at 120 years old, in the wilderness giving his final lecture to the people of Israel who would have to enter the Promised Land without him.

FINAL lectures or sermons are so touching when people sum up years and decades of wisdom and give it to us as a parting gift.

Deuteronomy 30: 11. The commandment (commandment to love and obey God), I lay on you this day is not too difficult for you, it is not too remote.  It is not in heaven, that you should say:

Who will go up to heaven for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it?

No – it is a thing very near to you — on your lips and in your own heart so that YOU can do it.

The story of Moses’ last lecture touches that deeply vulnerable place in us where we feel like we can’t go on, we can’t recover from loss, can’t turn our country, our world, our planet around.

Moses says to the gathered people: God has given you everything you need to keep moving forward towards the promise. That is God’s covenant with us. But remember, Moses said that to the gathered tribes, not just one person.

The story is touching because it touches a place in each of us that is afraid; and says to the fear: As a community, you have everything you need to create a Promised Land.

A second touching story is from the Islamic faith tradition. It has been a really horrific year for the Muslim community in our country and parts of our world.  So I want to honor this tradition,  this faith, by telling one of their ancient stories that always warms my heart.

Shuaib received a magnificent horse from his brother as a present.  The next day Shuaib came out of his house, and saw a street urchin walking around the powerful beautiful animal, admiring it.

“Is this your horse sir?” the ragged child asked.

Shuaib nodded and said “Yes, my brother gave it to me.”

The boy was astounded. “You mean your brother gave it to you, and it didn’t cost you nothing?  Boy, I wish….” He hesitated.

Shuaib knew what he was going to wish for.  The street boy was going to wish he had a brother like that. But instead the boy said:

“I wish I could be a brother like that.”

We are touched by acts of selflessness. We are all longing to be lifted out of ourselves. Out of our egos that want more and more, the ego constantly compares ourselves to everything and everyone, and labels things as good or bad, less than, more than. It is exhausting to live racing around in a pool of self-absorption or self-loathing, which is simply the other side of the coin.

We long to be surprised, touched and inspired to higher ideals, authentic relationships, deeper healing.

What Surprised you? What Touched you?

 

 Dr. Remen’s third heart-opening question for us is: What inspired you?

The word inspiration is from the same root word spirit, breath, life.  Inspiration implies that our spirit is alive, breathing, awake.

Inspiration opens us up to the divine life force that is always and everywhere around and within us.

A family took care of a 96-year-old Mom who was dying of weariness and Alzheimer’s, and inability to swallow.  It was a long arduous journey. It was smelly and not fun. They really wanted to be there for her and with her, but they were wearing down.

One day the son came across an article about how Japanese tea bowls are repaired.  The Kintsugi method is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powered gold.

Basically, you fill the cracks and chips with gold.  The bowl is not thrown away, but becomes more beautiful because of the events in its life that occurred as it served us.  The cracks are honored rather than disparaged.

The image of the old bowl, its cracks and fragility honored with gold, inspired him, and reawakened his desire to serve and love in the face of the great challenge of taking care of a dying, non-communicative elder.

What surprised you, what touched you, what Inspired you?

These questions take us to the place of the heart, the place where God is able to speak to us, energize our spirits and motivate us to move forward and create a world that benefits all of God’s creation.

I close with St. Paul’s hopeful words to the Ephesians and to us:

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Surprising, Touching, Inspiring.

That is the good news of the Gospel. And how will you bring those three golden elements to honor and encourage a chipped and cracked world that needs them so much?

The Rev. Rebecca W. Dolch


The Rev. Rebecca W. Dolch from the United Methodist Minister Church in Upper New York Conference, Ithaca, New York delivers a guest sermon entitled, “Surprised, Touched, Inspired” as part of the 2017 Marsh Chapel Summer Preaching Series.

Talking About Death

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

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Acts 9:36-43

John 14:1-3

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Testimonials always get my attention.  I love to hear people tell stories about what works for them. Diet testimonials are the best: “How I lost 96 pounds and transformed my life.”

Children give testimonials all the time. A three-year-old said:

“I was really, really scared, and then I put my special blue blanket over my head and now I’m not scared anymore.”

The Tabitha story is a testimonial of the early church telling how Peter resurrected Tabitha from the dead, this devoted woman who helped the poor.

I’m convinced that we can all benefit by becoming more comfortable hearing and telling stories about death. Every single one of us is going to die, and if we live a very long time, we’ll have to deal with the death of most of our friends and family.

In addition to death, we have hundreds of other kinds of losses. Like people moving away, the world falling apart, families falling apart, health and health care falling apart, society and the climate acting crazy and out of control, and everything changing all the time. All losses prepare us for the next loss and the biggest ones, especially if we give testimonials, stories from our own experience about what makes loss bearable, and how we have grown and learned from loss.

Today, I will continue to talk about Tabitha, and I want to share 8 testimonials from Mom’s passing.

 

TESTIMONIAL #1: Death is Normal

Note: our family is far, far from ideal, but Mom and Dad were superstars about talking about death.

Death was kind of like a distant relative we would finally get to meet and when we did, it would be very wonderful.  The Best. Safe, Fun, beautiful.  Quite soon everybody we knew and loved would join us.

As children, we went to the calling hours of our parent’s friends and relatives from the time that we could behave.  I remember mother and Grammy looking at my Great Aunt Lilly in the casket and straightening her dress, and talking about her.

They answered my 7-year-old questions: “Can she hear us?” No, not like we hear people.

“Can I touch her?”  Yes, but her body will be very cold, and her spirit isn’t in it any more—it is with Jesus. Her spirit can visit us in our hearts, when we think about her, but it doesn’t live here any more. It is not scary. Just different. God has it figured out; we don’t have to worry about it.

 

TESTIMONIAL #2: The Bible Speaks

Picture this: I was 12, sitting at my grandmother’s funeral. The preacher got up and read from John 14.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.

Believe in God, Believe also in me.  In my father’s house are many rooms; If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

At that moment the Word was so profoundly real that I knew it was true in a mysterious kind of way, and I also knew from that day forward that the Bible could speak to you like a close friend, and tell you things you needed to know. When people read stories about what Jesus said, Jesus was talking directly to you.

 

TESTIMONIAL #3: Cremation

I remember the struggle that Mother had years ago, deciding to be cremated instead of buried, because she loved the casket traditions she grew up with.

Daddy reminded her that at one of the churches he served the cemetery had to be dug up and moved. When they excavated, they saw that at the bottom of each grave was a simple layer of earth that had once been a body a hundred+ years before.  Mama said in her southern voice:

“Well, I guess I might as well be cremated and get it over with.”

 

TESTIMONIAL #4: Humor and Sorrow

Mom and Dad were OK about death, knew it would come, and Dad made jokes about it all the time.  When we was really sick, he’d say: ”I made honorable mention in the obituaries this morning.”  When he began to lose mobility he said: “keep moving and they won’t throw dirt on you.”

They made funeral arrangements early on, talked about it, and dealt with death a lot.  They had such a positive feeling about death, but they weren’t naïve. Dad lost two siblings in childhood, Mom lost her mom and dad and six brother and a sister, one of them dying by suicide. They lost their oldest son. Dad always told the story of how a soldier on each side of him died in World War II. They weren’t immunity to tragedy, heartbreak, unfairness, horror.  But still: Death was normal and God is in charge.

 

TESTIMONIAL #5: Saying Goodbye

We were with Mom when they took out the breathing tube they had given her until we could all arrive in North Carolina. Her brain aneurism had made it impossible for her to breath on her own at 85 years old. She lived about 10 minutes and then in one last long exhale, she was gone. He essence vanished and left her sweet old body looking like a beautiful sculpture, not a living being.

Just the night before, I talked with her on the phone.  Her last words were what she always said at the end of a phone call:

Bye bye darlin’ I love you.

I’m telling these stories, because I think it is important to give testimonials about death and dying. Death is normal.

Telling the stories of this precious season called the end stage of earthly life is healing. Sharing our faith and trust in the eternal presence of God is comforting.  And it is important to remember to say something like “bye bye darlin’ I love you,” every time.

 

TESTIMONIAL #6: Memorial Services

As a pastor for 40 years, I have performed hundreds of Memorial services, and I have loved doing them. But going to Mother’s service as a daughter, not the minister was different.

I wasn’t talking about someone else’s death.

I was experiencing my Mama being gone, and her spiritual presence being with me. It wasn’t like the Bible story of Tabitha being raised from the dead when Peter prayed.

But for me it was a small scale subtle experience of resurrection. Mama is gone. And the great mystery is: Mama’s spirit is still here.

We didn’t do anything grandiose at mother’s service. We talked about how great she was with laundry. She never, ever washed socks with dishtowels. She started teaching adult Sunday School at age 80 when she finally got over a fear of public speaking.

Steve, Her former next-door neighbor of 20 years drove 2 hours to the service, came up front, and said:

“Jean knew that my partner and I were gay. She called us “the boys next door.” And she treated us like her boys. She gave us the key to her house in case we ever needed to get in. She was a wonderful neighbor.”

I just want to say that the town where Mom’s memorial service was held a decade ago was not a place where you talk about being gay, certainly not in church. But that is what happened at Mother’s service.

A Memorial service is a chance for God to use us one more time to make an impact on the people in our orbit.

A memorial service is a way of making all of us who are still alive, more aware of the small ordinary things that make a difference:   keeping things and relationships really clean, being neighborly, kindness, making lots of people your family.

So don’t let me hear about any of you saying:

“Oh no, I don’t want anything. No service, nothing at the burial.”  You’d be denying your friends and your family and maybe even some strangers, a chance for the healing of the Holy Spirit. That happens when our hearts are opened by love and grief.

Your memorial service or funeral is not for you.  At your service, the rest of us have a chance to frame the relationship we had with you during life and start to piece together the relationship we have with you when you leave this earthly plane.

It is a time when we start picturing you with the angels–a new picture that needs developing.

 

 TESTIMONY #7: Kindness

 We had the calling hours at Mom and Dad’s house. People showed up with food and flowers and hugs and love and stories. All these people simply sharing kindness in the face of grief.

I started sobbing over the four chocolate meringue pies that showed up, because Mother always made Daddy a chocolate Meringue pie for his birthday. It was a symbol of 65 years of love, and marriage, and seeing it opened my heart, and I connected with the love, and with the loss, and with my Dad.

At the time of death or loss, or grief, people are more willing to be vulnerable, intimate with you if you create some space for that.

In the Bible story we read, that is what the women did for Tabitha. They came to her house to prepare her body, they brought the clothes that she had made for them and showed everyone and talked about her other acts of charity and devotion .

That Bible story in Act 9 give us guidance about how to go through the death of a loved one.  They wept. They helped. They reached out for guidance.

We had calling hours at Mother and Dad’s home. Their neighbor, Mr. A.J. Dexter sat beside me and told stories about growing up as a sharecropper’s son. The sharecroppers were the next to the lowest on the social scale in rural N. C. in the 1940’s.

Sharecroppers were kind of like the women in the Bible that Tabitha served – poor women who didn’t have decent clothes until Tabitha made them and gifted them.

Mr. Dexter shared that his mother made his clothes from feed sacks.  He stuttered so badly that all the kids made fun of him.

I asked Mr. Dexter, how did you get over stuttering?  He answered quietly, with great authenticity, looking me in the eye:

Rebecca, I gave it over to the Lord in prayer.  And the Lord gave me a 10th grade teacher who worked with me every afternoon after school before football practice, until I could talk. It was a miracle, he said, a miracle of prayer and conviction and her kindness.

That is what Peter did in the Bible Story.  He prayed for Tabitha, this woman who has served God by serving the widows who had no resources. The story about Tabitha became a testimonial of how God can do what we think is impossible. Open-hearted testimonials like Mr. Dexter’s and Tabitha’s friends and her healing, open our hearts.

The pay-off of an open heart is the experience of being empowered by kindness, fueled by tears, strengthened by pain, and connected heart to heart with other beings – strangers who tell sweet stories at calling hours, characters in the Bible, and all the people you know. The open heart connects us with the divine mystery that Jesus proclaimed: “Where I am you will be also.”

Here is a summary:

Death is normal, God is in charge, talk about death, use humor, grieve, celebrate life at the time of death, kindness is the greatest gift, and God works in ways that seem impossible. Bear witness to this truth.

 

TESTIMONY #8: Life/Death/Life

My brother died of cancer at age 46. The night he died our whole family was there: his wife and three teenage sons, Mom and Dad, my other brothers and their families, and my own. When he breathed his last, we called in the Chaplain, who was wonderful with children. We talked about important things, and then all piled into one elevator. Just before it closed, one of Kelly’s sons let out the biggest belch ever heard, and everybody started laughing like crazy. Couldn’t stop. It was the type of laugh that released years of tension and sorrow.

A woman was running to catch our elevator, but when she got there and saw these crazy laughing people, she decided to take the next elevator.

We filed into the lobby, laughing, crying, hugging and talking about logistics.  Logistics ground us at a time like this. The elevator opened again, and out came the woman we saw before.  She came over to my Mom and my brother Jim and asked this question: “Has there been a birth?”

They answered at the same time: “Yes, there has been a birth.”

We are born. We walk together. We suffer, laugh, die, and we are given a new birth into what Christian call the resurrection and the life everlasting. God is with us the whole time. Thanks be to God!

And that is the good news of the Gospel.

The Rev. Rebecca W. Dolch


The Rev. Rebecca W. Dolch from the United Methodist Minister Church in Upper New York Conference, Ithaca, New York delivers a guest sermon entitled, “Talking About Death” as part of the 2017 Marsh Chapel Summer Preaching Series. 

Free Food

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

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Isaiah 55:1-11

Psalm 145: 8-9

Matthew 14:13-21

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The disciples think it’s time to be done. It’s late. They are out in the middle of nowhere. It’s getting dark, and they are away from the safety of the city. There are 5000 men with them. And let’s not forget those women. And let’s certainly not forget those children. Arsenic hour is coming if it’s not already there. Jesus has been curing their sick for a while. But none of them show any signs of moving. Time for Jesus to stop being with them. Time for them to go get some food. Time to send them away. It’s just the crowd, after all.

Instead, the disciples hear, “They need not go away. You give them something to eat.” The disciples state the obvious: five loaves and two fish are not going to do it. Then Jesus invites his disciples to bring the food, their food, all the food they have, to him. And then Jesus feeds them all: the crowd, the men, the women, the children. Who knows who they are, who knows whether or not they are serious in their coming to Jesus, there are probably even some Gentiles. And let’s not forget those disciples. The food that was not enough is somehow more than enough for them too. Everyone is fed, full, and there are twelve baskets of food that remain for the encore meals.

This feeding of the 5,000 men, with women and children, comes at a challenging time for Jesus and the disciples. Jesus’ family member John the Baptist has just been beheaded in the puppet king Herod’s prison. This day was meant to be a time for Jesus to go off in a boat to be alone. But the crowds follow him from all around, and wait for him on the shore. They want to hear his message of a loving life with God and neighbor. They want to see the signs Jesus brings of God’s presence among them. Their life is hard under Roman occupation, and Jesus brings them hope. Or at least a change, something new and different, a good show. So Jesus has compassion for them, and cures their sick, and gives them something to eat.

People being fed by God and by God’s prophets in a time of trouble is a theme that runs throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Our lesson this morning is from II Isaiah. He presents God as a market woman. She hawks her free food and drink to anyone who will listen and will come, even Gentiles. She challenges her listeners to recognize true value. If they listen to her, she says, not only will their bodies be nourished, but their souls will live as well. She invites everyone to join in the return to God’s love and the fulfillment of God’s promises.

II Isaiah writes in a challenging time. The Israelites are in exile in Babylon. Like the disciples, they are tired and discouraged. They assume that they cannot nourish themselves or anyone else in a strange land. II Isaiah writes to give them hope, to remind them of God’s provision. He invites them to seek God and to look for the evidence of God’s presence with them. God promises them that they will return home. They will become a light to the nations once again.

We too are in a challenging time. Sometimes it seems as though our life of faith is one demand after another, especially when we find ourselves in trouble, or we are tired, lonely, and hungry. Certainly many of us feel that we are strangers in a very strange land, and we do not know when our land will return to “normal”, or whether normal will even be possible again, or what the new “normal” might be. And while we might want to be compassionate as Jesus was, this is the age of the internet. Now we see those crowds for whom Jesus has compassion not just in the places where we live, but all over the planet. Not all of the crowds – bees, frogs, forests, sea creatures – not all of the crowds are human. Even if we bring our resources to God, it is hard to believe they will be enough, or that they will be in time.

And yet, through the very unlikely decision of Cyrus the Persian, who conquered Babylon some time after II Isaiah and whose motives may not have been compassion, the Israelites are sent home. They become a people once again. They proclaim the provision of their God, so that Jesus grows up to see the evidence of the presence of God with him and with everyone, even in their strange land. And later, the disciples see for themselves the evidence of God’s presence amongst them. They knew themselves changed from often recalcitrant followers of Jesus in the middle of nowhere in the Roman Empire, to Christians.   They shared their experience of God’s compassion and provision, and they changed the world.

And here we are, in our own time and our own strange land. We are surrounded by our own crowds. We deal with our own hunger, loneliness, fatigue, illness, even anger. And yet, every Sunday we hear the stories of God’s compassion, the testimonies to God’s provision. And at least the first Sunday of every month, God feeds us and restores us to God’s own self, to our own selves, and to each other. Thanks to David Ames, our sacristan, and Jim Olsen, a former staff member, and some folks amongst us who wanted things to be beautiful for our Lord’s supper, we have a fine table set before us. Thanks to Brother Larry and his team, the bread is delicious, the gluten-free wafers are tasty, and the wine and grape juice are sweet. We are well nourished in our bodies. And, God offers us different kinds of nourishment as well. While the elements of grape and grain nourish our bodies, our prayers and proclamations of our Communion nourish our souls also. There is a lot going on here. Take a look at the bulletin with me now, and if you are in our radio or online congregation, the bulletin is online and you can look at it now or later.

We are now on page five of the bulletin. We have already intentionally invited God into our midst, and we have asked God to help us be prepared by the Holy Spirit so that we may be focused and increased in our love and relationship with God. We have already been invited to the table. We have confessed our sin and been forgiven and restored to right relationship with God. We have passed the peace with one another. We have asked the Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the scriptures read and the word proclaimed, so that we can receive them as good news. We have sung and heard the music of devotion and given glory to God in song. The vibrations and sounds have soothed our bodies and minds.

Now we will offer our resources to God. We will give thanks to God, and hear the acts of God in history. We will remember Jesus’ love for all his friends and followers as he created this meal for them and for us. We will offer ourselves to God’s purposes in union with Jesus’ offering for us. We will proclaim the mystery of faith. We will ask that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us, here and now, so that in the mystery of this sacrament – this outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace – in this mystery we, we, may somehow become the heart and head and voice and hands and feet of Jesus Christ in the world, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit who is our energy and freedom. And we ask that Spirit to make us one, to unite us with Christ, unite us with each other, to unite us in ministry to the whole world, so that we show the power of God at work in us through our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – through all these signs of compassion – and this until the end of time. Then we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, and we are fed. Grape and grain, served in nursery schools all over the country. As the Iona Community describes them, the simple things of the world through which God will bless us. Then, if we discover that an area of our life wants attention, we can pray about it and be anointed with oil as another sign of God’s presence with us.

Then we will give thanks again. We will ask to go into the world with the strength of the Holy Spirit, whose images are fire, water, wind, and the freedom of flight, so that we can offer our compassion and companionship to others as Jesus did. Then we will go out in peace, because we know that God loves us, forgives us, nourishes, and empowers us to love, forgive, nourish, and empower others.

All this is free. The food, the love, the forgiveness, the power. It’s for free, and it’s for everyone who accepts the invitation. It doesn’t matter who we are, what we’ve done, or whether we are completely sure about all this. John Wesley, the founder of my own faith tradition of United Methodism, referred to communion as a “converting ordinance”. He welcomed everyone to the Communion table, because so many of the early Methodists testified that they had come to belief through their experience of the presence of God in the communion, and in being fed.

“They need not go away. You give them something to eat.” This morning we all are invited to the free food of God. Let us come to this meal with expectation, with trust, to enjoy God’s presence and each other’s presence, to be fed and nourished, and in the old saying “take this sacrament to our comfort”. And then, when we keep ourselves full with the love and provisions of God, even in the difficult times, we can indeed give others something to eat.

Amen.

The Rev. Victoria Hart Gaskell & The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean.