Sermons

Proper 12  – Year B; Preached on July 29, 2018; At St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brookline, MA; The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

2 Kings 4:42-44Psalm 145:10-19Ephesians 3:14-21John 6:1-21

This morning, with the story of the feeding of the 5,000, we begin a once-every-three-year five-week journey through what is called the “the Bread of Life discourse” from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.

To help us dive more deeply into the meaning of these passages, we will be using real bread, baked by members of this community, for our communion bread. Though they are efficient, those small white communion wafers do not always communicate the richness of God’s love they are meant to represent.

And we will sing as our Communion hymn “Taste and See.”  Based on Psalm 34, it is our hope that, during this five week encounter with the bread of life discourse we will, all of us, grow in our understanding of what Jesus offers of himself as the bread of life, that we might, all of us, both taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Taste and see.  Taste and see. That is the invitation, to us, and to the crowd who are part of the crowd that are fed with a few loaves of barley bread and just two fish.  This crowd tastes the goodness of the lord as they feast on the food offered them.

 

But they also see the goodness of the Lord as the meager resources are made to be plenty.  Whether you believe it was a miraculous multiplication of the physical bread and fish through Jesus’ divine intervention, or a miraculous multiplication due to the turned hearts of the crowd who took only what they needed and shared what little they had so that there was plenty left over, this encounter with Jesus and the crowd must have been quite a sight to behold.

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord might have been Jesus’ words to Philip as Philip can’t imagine making a difference in the need that surrounded him.  “there’s nothing we can do,” Philip says to Jesus. “Taste and see,” Jesus replies. “Taste AND see.”

The bread which we break, even in its homemade delicious form, it is still a meager image of the abundance of God’s goodness that we are meant to see in it.  When we taste the goodness of the Lord in the body of Christ we break, we are fed to see the goodness of the Lord in the body of Christ that surrounds us.

It is a small glimpse meant to unlock an abundant, overflowing stream contained within it.

Taste and see.  Taste so that you may see.

Last week, my family and I returned from eight days in Guatemala.  Part vacation and part service mission trip, we were blessed to spend two days visiting a program St. Paul’s helps to support called Mil Milagros.

On our first day with the program, we visited two schools in which Mil Milagros operates.  We handed out toothbrushes to the delight of the children. We played some and watched as the children offered presentations of poetry, song and dance.

At the end of the day, we were invited to Sylvia’s house.  Sylvia is a mother of four who has been a participant in Mil Milagros’ programs.

Sylvia welcomed us into her home; a two room dwelling built from corrugated tin.  About two hundred square feet total in size, we sat in the living room/bedroom and listened as Sylvia asked if she might tell us her story.

Sylvia arrived on the property where she now lived four years ago.  It was then that Sylvia made the incredibly brave decision to leave the man who was abusing her.  Pregnant, and with three children in tow, she moved from Guatemala City to the highlands, to land her mother owned, to begin a new life.

Sylvia told us of feeling worthless, of wanting to end her life, of finally making the decision to leave her children behind to risk her life to make the journey north to the united states where she might find work to support her family who she would probably never see again.

And then a friend suggested she enter the early childhood development program at Mil Milagros.  Skeptical it would do any good, Sylvia declined initially. And then, out of desperation, she gave the program a try.

As we sat in her home, tears running down her cheeks, Sylvia spoke of her amazing transformation.  She found within herself, she told us, gifts she never knew she had. She found worth she had been told she lacked. She began treating herself like the beloved child of God she was learning to understand she was.

As she finished her story, my family and I sat in awed silence.  I offered some words of gratitude that felt miniscule compared to the gift we had just been given and then we got back in the van for the ride back to our hotel.  

Sylvia came up a lot in our conversations over the next few days.  We agreed to hold as a mantra in our house, “WWSD”, or “what would Sylvia do?”  When things seemed impossible, whenever we felt like the odds were stacked against us, we would try to imagine what Sylvia would say.  What Sylvia would do.

We were so grateful that Sylvia offered us a feast in her story that we might see the goodness of the Lord.

Four days later, on our last day visiting the program, we were invited to observe a training of mothers in a community Mil Milagros was offering as part of the early childhood development program there.  The same one in which Sylvia had participated in her community.

In a small room outside the community library, about two dozen women gathered to learn the basics of hygiene for their infants.

Honestly, I couldn’t imagine these women needed to learn anything.  They were a wide range of ages and, after all, these indigenous women had been raising children for ages without the benefit of a class about how to clean their children’s ears.

As the class began, though, these women were hanging on every word offered them; their eyes glued on the woman who was commanding the room with her confident presence, who had such love for the women she was teaching you could see it reflected on the faces of these women who call her “maestra” or “teacher.”

Their maestra was Sylvia.

This incredible woman, with a third-grade education, unsure her life held any worth was now a professional educator, and a gifted one at that.  

Now it was Sylvia telling other women of their inherent worth, of their goodness, of their incredible strength.

As the session wrapped up, Sylvia and her co-teachers asked the group to share any final thoughts.

“I’ve never heard any of this before.” one mother offered.

“We’ve never had permission to talk like this, so openly, about these things,” another mother replied.

“It is great to be with other women, and to laugh.  I never laugh at home,” another said prompting nodding and laughing from her fellow students.

I couldn’t quite take in what my eyes had seen.  A woman transformed, now transforming others. These women, walking miles to this class, taking time out of their already overwhelming days of wood-cutting, tortilla making, child rearing, meal-making, food-getting, and clothes-washing -- all of which still waited for them as they made their ways back home -- they seemed to be transforming before my very eyes.  

Finding a strength and a love within them that was always there, and yet they didn’t know existed.  Led by a woman who knew what she was talking about, because she had found that strength and that love herself.

See the goodness of the Lord.

Before they returned home, each women was given a small offering of food staples; a dozen eggs, a bag of beans and a packet of fortified powdered milk.

These staples wouldn’t feed them or their families for the two weeks it would be until they returned to be with one another, but that wasn’t the point.

These staples would nourish their bodies for a bit.  It would be a boost to whatever they were able to provide themselves.

But as they placed their food in bags for the long walk home, it seemed to me that the food they were getting, besides nourishing their bodies and the bodies of their loved ones, would nourish their spirits in unmeasurable ways.

Each egg cooked, each bean that simmered would take them back to this room outside the library where they were reminding of the truth of their inherent worth as children of God.  Each bite a reminder of the love their maestra has for them.

These staples they were given wouldn’t feed them very long.  They would be hungry before returning to their community of love. But their hearts were learning to feast on the bread that lasts forever.  The bread that Sylvia was offering. The bread that Jesus offers us.

The bread of love.  The bread of life.

“Taste and see” Jesus invites Philip on the mountain among the crowd.

“Taste and see” Sylvia invites her students in a makeshift classroom.

“Taste and See” God invites you.  The bread we will break and share might not satisfy your grumbling stomach very long, and certainly not until we gather again.  But we pray and believe that the abundance of love and grace and hope it contains as the Body of Christ might just sustain the grumblings of your heart, the grumblings of your Spirit in ways you can’t yet imagine but for which you hope and long.

What would Sylvia do?

Taste and see.  Come to this table that you might taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Amen.

Sylvia teaching in the Early Childhood Development Program

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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