9th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
On Wednesday morning, I joined the Thirty Days of Prayer. In the words of the organizers: “’Healing the Heart of Our City’ is a month-long collaborative project to respond to and transform the pain we are experiencing in Minneapolis.” It was billed as an attempt to add “a vital spiritual dimension to the strategic thinking, policy proposals, and investments being considered.”
There were about nine or ten chairs set up for a small group of 9 or 10 to sit in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time that Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck, killing him. There was a brief introduction in which we were invited to imagine a new future, and then the leader rang the gong.
As I sat there on W. Broadway in north Minneapolis, a couple of blocks down from the Cub Foods that had been looted, I could see the place where another building must have stood, burned to the ground. I watched the cars go by, people passing on the sidewalk, and I let that moment from May 31st play again in my head.
Sitting in that chair, breathing quietly seemed hardly enough. Why was I there? What difference would it really make to pray? Was I there for show? Am I really willing to do the work that’s required right now? Could I? Could we at Gloria Dei, all of us separated from each other for the time being?
It’s amazing how of your own stuff (your fears, your wounds, your doubts, your insecurities) can come up when you stop and sit in silence. It’s probably the one reason we do it so little. It’s a dangerous thing, that space of quiet between you and “your stuff.” you and injustice, you and the world’s hunger, you and CoVID-19.
In those minutes of silence, I felt totally inadequate, a fraud really, a pastor that can talk big but is afraid of losing something that I can’t even always name.
Now, I’m not telling you this because I want you to rush to my defense or tell me that I have wonderful gifts to share. Even though I love being the center of the story, that’s not my point.
I’m telling you this because I’ve heard this deep inadequacy spoken through the stories so many of you have to tell. How can I be a good parent, a good employee, and share a house 24/7? How can I make it through this distance, my beloved on lockdown in the care center? How can I possibly face this illness, this death? How can I make it another day with the emotional resources that seem so hardly adequate?
Much less, how do I use everything that I have to tackle the painful hunger around this globe? The racial injustice, the broken political system, the twisting economic systems that require more and more and more, the changing climate?
What do I have to bring? It’s all so overwhelming. We got a note this week, scribbled on a scrap of paper, unsigned, saying, “I’ll not be joining Gloria Dei again. I listen to the news all day. I don’t want to hear it when I come to church.”
I totally, and one hundred percent understand that. I just want to be free of it all.
Which is exactly the struggle the followers of Jesus have been asking since Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and said, “Follow me.” The same question that inevitably gets asked by everyone who has passed through baptismal waters and responds to the promise “ to proclaim the good news of God through Christ Jesus through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”
It’s not long after, “I do, and I ask God to help and guide me,” that we wonder how, or even, “Do I really want to?”
The disciples want to avoid the people’s hunger on that hillside. “Send them away to the towns. Let someone else with more resources, more ability, more willingness handle this. We’re tired.”
Jesus simply says, “Bring what you have.”
Is there more gospel in that? Bring what you have. Bring who you are today, not who you hope to be tomorrow. Bring what’s in your pockets, or hearts, or bank account. Bring it.
Our bread is likely to be half-baked and our fish is probably starting to smell. Bring it,and put it in the hands of Jesus. He’ll give thanks for the gift, and then give it back to you to share.
This is the mystery, the miracle of it all, when it comes back it looks just like it did before, but it’s enough to feed the people. It’s enough for everyone to have this one meal together. It’s enough to give away. In fact, in giving it away, it turns out to be more. The fear of letting go, giving away something you didn’t think you could, or letting go of the belief that you can’t make a difference, sets free something inside that makes you want to keep going. Suddenly, you’re scrounging around in your cabinets, your plumbing the depths of your being, your rethinking your investments, because there is such joy and peace and grace in this mysterious, priceless, costly, holy exchange.
Maybe part of the miracle that the “you” in the bible is always plural. “Bring what you have,” isn’t meant for an individual but for a community. In fact, Jesus is simply calling us into church together. We probably forget the communal dimension of our faith when we’re so far apart. We can’t get together to see one another across the aisle to see that one face that gives us hope that it’s going to be okay. Right now it’s so easy to turn inward and become insular.
But the truth we can’t forget, church, is that we’re all on the grass together on that mountain side. All of us are hungry in some way; and all of us have something to share. Together it’s a miraculous feast. In the hands of Jesus, there’s enough for all.
In the prayer tent, it dawned on me at the end, that my quiet breath, that I thought was nothing, was precisely the thing that was taken from George Floyd. It dawned on me as a drove home, that we have been given life, breath, Spirit, bread, wine, this church, this day, this family, this job, even this pain that grows into compassion; this grief that leans into community—this life that we live.
Bring it. Place it in the hands of Jesus. Give thanks as he does. And then receive it back. The promise: It’s enough. It’s more than enough.