Remember the “Street Cries” from Porgy and Bess?:
“O they’re so fresh and fine. And they’re just off the vine. Strawberry. Strawberry.”
Or perhaps you were walking through the Haymarket in the North End yesterday?
“Fresh, sweet cherries!” “Plump, delicious raspberries!” “Ripe, juicy peaches”
“Watermelons! Summer’s succulent, savory delight! Get your melons here!”
Our writer in Isaiah’s passage for today sounds like a street vendor:
“Ho., everyone who thirsts, come to the waters
and you that have no money, come, buy, and eat!
Come buy wine and milk without money and without price,
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Incline your ear to me,
Listen … that you may live.”
The writer of this narrative summons a 6th Century BC Israel living in Babylonian exile to give up all of its fascinations with Babylonian power and Babylonian gods and to return to the free, gracious, and compassionate gift of Yahweh, who will bring the exiles home.
These sounds summon the people much like the ones that would have come from a street vendor in Damascus or Jerusalem selling water and food and inviting people to come and buy. In this case, however, the cry of the street vendor is the mouth of Yahweh, who invites the listeners to have free wine and bread. Such free bread, wine, and milk bespeak God’s incredible generosity and may for us form an imaginative background for an understanding of our own Eucharist.
In contrast to this free gift of God in the 6th Century BC Babylonian economy, Jews tried to make their way, but found the bread, wine, and milk very expensive. With such demanding prices, people labored mightily for economic success and then discovered that what they finally purchased did not satisfy.
Although addressed to 6th BC Century exiles, it takes little imagination to see that the same issues are at stake for us in a system that demands relentless work from so many to earn what is promised and then the discovery that the consumer goods of the system are not at all satisfying.
Today, the street shops in Damascus and Jerusalem are probably shuttered, the people scattered, hiding in shelters, basements, darkened closets. Hiding from the bombs and shells being fired upon one another.
Here we stand at the intersection of two landmark anniversaries in the history of war: The July 28, 1914 beginning of World War 1, and the August 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, changing forever the course of human history.
Headlines scream out our plight:
Israeli and Palestinian Shells and Mortars Raining Down Upon One Another
Ebola Virus Continues to Spread Around the World
Rust Fungus Devastates Guatemala’s Prime Coffee Crop and its Farmers
Amid Wave of Child Immigrants, Buses Filled with Unaccompanied Children Turned Away From Shelters
Plane Crash Site Unsecured In Area of Heavy Fighting in the Ukraine
And In Our Backyard, Tornado Damage in Revere Devastating Family After Family, Ruining Homes and Dreams
Our world feels very, very far from the hope of the peaceable kingdom God yearns to usher in. Are we listening to the cries of Isaiah about on what we are spending our money? Things that do not satisfy. That do not give us what we need. What are we buying? What are we buying into? Do we buy into a world run by fear, by greed? Why do we spend our money on the cake of affluence and pass by the bread of justice our souls so desparately need?
Why do we ignore the truth that it is our human nature to use our resources to build platforms for our own ego’s omnipotence, omniscience, and attempts at immortality, while denying or ignoring God’s reality of our creation as beings of One essence?
Maybe the Beatles did have something to tell us when they released the song now 50 years ago in July:
“I don’t care to
o much for money.
Cause money can’t buy me love.”
Which also brings up one of the most mis-quoted passages from the Bible: “Money is the root of all evil.” What the Bible actually says is, “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” The love of money. Greed, Insatiable appetites for more, more, more. The gluttony of a world gone mad.
How is it that we continue to be blind to the truth that the greatest threat to all of us is the erosion of humanity and our relatedness as one human family? How is it that we would sacrifice our humanity on the altar of greed? How is it we refuse to ask the question of ourselves and each other: “Is this a decision that advances God’s will—or just my ego’s satisfaction?”
The Good News is that there is an alternative offered in the gospel:
God’s economy does not buy into this place of despair and hopelessness. In God’s economy in which nothing is wasted, no one is forgotten. All of creation is embraced in Love -- existence itself carries blessing: “You are my beloved. I delight in you!”
God’s investment is in us. In our very being. God buys into the possibility of our own belovedness and comes to us in this very moment, Here. Now. In This Very Place. At this Very Moment:
In his poem,“YES”, William Stafford tells us:
“It could happen:
earthquake, tornado, Armageddon.
It could happen, you know:
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
Yes, it could happen.
That’s why we wake early and look out:
There are no guarantees in this life.
But a few bonuses:
Like morning, like noon, like evening.
Like right now.”
Like right now. The place where God intersects with us. In this very moment.
The free offering of God’s love and grace and witness, the blessing of God’s care for us as God’s own beloved creation can confuse us into believing it must not be worth very much. If it is free, we somehow distrust it. But what price do we pay for truth, for the fact that all of creation is beloved, that we are simply a part of that creation, and that my ego self is not the whole of it?
As Mother Teresa pointed out, “The reason we have no peace is that we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”
Jesus never forgot that we belong to one another. That this creation of God is all sacred and holy ground. That what we do to another, we do to ourselves. That we are all One and that the Common good is the only true good there is.
As poet David Whyte puts it:
“This is not the age of information. This is not the age of information.
Forget the news, and the radio, and the blurred screen.
This is the time of loaves and fishes.
People are hungry, and one good word
Is bread for a thousand.”
Our gospel passage for today begins as Jesus has taken refuge in a deserted place, perhaps mourning his friend and cousin, John, who was recently beheaded--and perhaps also pondering his own fate if he continues to speak the Word of God’s justice and love for all beings.
But the respite is short-lived as a huge crowd has followed him. He has compassion for them, and that compassion leads to his offering healing, love, and hope for those who come to him. Recognizing them as God’s creation. Acknowledging their human needs and their belonging to the family of the human reality.
That compassion is central to God’s economy which points toward the reality of love and care for the last, the least, the lost. Widows and orphans first. Children to the front of the line.
And then after all this healing, the people are hungry.
The disciples protest when Jesus tells them to feed these crowds. Their own understanding of economic realities tell them, “Food for all these people? We can’t do that! What planet are you living on, Jesus?” …
Jesus based his life, his reality, his All on God’s economy, not just the ego’s conditionality. In this economy, he simply asked, “What do we have?”
“Five loaves and two fishes.” A simple answer. An impossible task. Yet with God, all things are possible. What seems like so little to us may amount to a big deal in God’s economy. That is a reality most of us have a hard time “Buying”, if you will.
We don’t know exactly what happened from there, but we do know that this story was so important that it is one of the few stories included in all four of the Gospels.
Remember our senior pastor Nancy Taylor telling us of a “loaves and fishes” story happening right here at Old South this past spring? Seeing the scarves knitted for the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon appearing as if in a miracle?
We could have been huddling here in our sanctuary, doors locked, afraid of what yet may come as the Marathon finish line is here in front of our historic building. Instead, we followed the Revelations passage carved into the stone portico by our forbears, attesting to a faith in God’s world: “Behold, I have set before you an Open Door.”
Our little faithful group of knitters began simply with an idea of wrapping runners in love and care, in the Marathon colors of blue and yellow, in scarves of hope and joy. They had in mind something of God’s economy. “This is what we have. Some blue and yellow yarn. A pattern for a scarf. Let us offer this.”
And then the Word went out, and scarves came from every state in the union, from various countries around the world. Thousands and thousands and thousands of them. There was barely room for this huge building to hold them. Each knitted and woven with prayers and love, ready to offer hope rather than despair. Love instead of fear. Turning the sadness to joy and taking off the mourning sackcloth of ashes and being wrapped in the blue and yellow colors of marathon joy.
The prayer of St. Francis comes to mind when we face these times of violence and pain. We are to witness God’s great love and strength to take evil and transform it into good. We are to follow Jesus, who shows us the way to let go of our revenge, our rage, our need for control at all costs, and be turned into servants of the Common Good upon which our planet can be grounded.
Jesus who at his very point of death on a cross, cried out to God in love and compassion rather than judgment or revenge, “Forgive them, Creator Father, they don’t even know what they are doing.” This is a forgiveness that echoes out to all of creation and transforms our very ground of Being.
St. Francis reminds us to embrace the awful conditions in which we may find ourselves, the painful things done to us, the hopeless future we are to be facing. He shows us God’s economy when he embraces these very conditions and asks God to show him how they might be opportunities for God to bring about a transformation within us, in order to offer something else to the world.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
And with you.
And with you,
And with you and you and you.
Let it begin with us!!!!
Let’s begin here. Now. In this very place. In this very moment. Where God brings about transformation. Where God works miracles.
Will you turn to your Bulletin and pray with me the Prayer of St. Francis printed there. Let our hearts open and be changed as we pray together these ancient, yet ever new, words of wisdom for which our souls hunger:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.