Homily – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, you may noticed over the Sundays, over the years, that I talk a good deal about the “bread of life” and more so about how we are to be “bread” for our world.  For the next 5 Sundays, the Scriptures will speak to us about the “bread of life”—this, in the face of a world, where millions go to bed hungry every night.  Men, women and children suffer from malnutrition—wars are fought over the right to eat—the need to eat.  There are those who question whether the earth can feed its people, yet in this country, farmers are paid to keep fields out of production.  Still, we hear stories about the bread of life and that we are somehow supposed to feed the hungry. This country is called the bread basket of the world.  How do we reconcile that with starvation around the globe and more importantly, in our own country, our own city—people not having enough food to live well?

As I prepared for this Sunday’s homily; I was recovering from having a tooth extracted in the previous week—I didn’t expect the recovery time to take so long.  As a result, this homily is one that I did six years ago originally and being that its message was still a good one; I decided to use it again with a few adjustments.

In our first reading from Second Kings and in our Gospel reading from John we see  situations that sound similar to each other.  There apparently is not enough food to go around. Then miraculously—something happens and there is not only enough food, but food to spare.  It seems that the miracle in both cases comes about through the hands of mere mortals—in their willingness to be instruments for the divine—in their ability to believe in something bigger than they could see or imagine.

In both cases, someone steps forward with some loaves—some fish—not enough but a start.  I believe it is significant that the prophet, Elisha and the prophet, Jesus don’t just miraculously bring food out of nothing but that in each case, bring food from the gifts of the people present.  A small gift given in faith, with love, has the power to grow and be not only enough, but be a gift beyond the immediate need.  There is always the chance, when we love unselfishly, for great things to happen.  We should not underestimate that power.

There is a story told that illustrates very well an example of someone going out of their way, doing an extraordinary kindness, that in the whole scope of the world doesn’t change much perhaps, but for one little girl and her family, made a great difference and truly showed them the face of their loving God.  It seems that a 14 year-old dog by the name of Abby, belonging to Meredith, died. Four year old Meredith was crying the next day as she grieved for the family pet. She asked her Mom if they could write a letter to God so that when Abby got to heaven, God would know who she was. Of course Mom said, “Yes” and Meredith dictated some thoughts for her Mom to write down.

Basically, she thanked God for giving her Abby in the first place and asked if God would watch over her dog for her now that she had died. In order for God to know Abby when she arrived, Meredith sent a picture. She postmarked it to “God/Heaven” and put on her return address so that God could find her should God want to write back. She put ample postage on because she thought it was probably a long way to heaven.

A few days later there was a package wrapped in gold paper on their front porch and it was addressed “to Meredith” in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it and inside she found a book by Mr. Rogers entitled, When A Pet Dies.  Taped to the front cover was the letter they had written in its opened envelope.

God sent a return letter telling Meredith that Abby had arrived safely—God knew her from the picture that she sent. God went on to say that Abby’s spirit is in heaven just like it stays in her heart—the book was for her to remember Abby by, and finally God said, “By the way, I’m easy to find, I am wherever there is love.”

At present, I am visiting a woman going through chemotherapy treatments for cancer in the later stages.  I was brought in to visit this woman in a local nursing home by a friend who remembered me ministering to one of her family members.  The woman undergoing treatment needed someone to help her process what was happening to her and to help make sense of it in a spiritual context.

We have been meeting weekly now for several weeks and what has come to this woman through our time together is that she has become more open to others and their suffering due to what she is going through.  She told me this past week that at the nursing home, she hears about many people who are going through some illness or other difficulty and she prays for them.  I affirmed this for her.

We began today talking about the need to share bread with the hungry—an ever present need when the known fact is that so many go to bed hungry every night—so many die every day for lack of food.  We are like the apostles—incredulous before the sheer scope of the situation—“what good is my little gift—my small offering against so many?”  But we must not forget the stories of Scripture today—God can and does perform miracles despite our lack of religious imagination.  We simply have to show up and do our part.

Sometimes we don’t know what to do to help, but we can always pray and we shouldn’t underestimate that power to make a difference, any small gift that we can give—just as Meredith was no doubt lifted up by the “angel” in the dead letter department of the post office who ministered to her, or my new friend sending her positive vibes out to others through her prayers.

These simple stories are cases in point for the fact that people don’t only need bread for their physical bodies, but for their spirits—the food of heart and soul. Again, we may think that we are not able to do much in any given situation, but don’t underestimate the power—the miracle that can happen through each of us if we are willing to show up and be instruments on this earth for our loving God. Each time we gather for Eucharist and we take the bread and wine into our bodies—it becomes Jesus’ body and blood for the world through our faith and the actions of our lives.  This is a wonderful power that Jesus gives us!

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians basically says that, as children of the one God who is over all and works through all; we will be agents of God’s good will.  And do we have a choice about whether to do these good works?  No, we really don’t—if we say we are Christian and follow the prophet from Nazareth; we can only respond to the love given by giving back.  We are all, each of us, diminished when anyone goes hungry in any way—be it in body, mind or spirit.

At present, the struggle at our southern border still goes on as the attempt to unite parents to children, children to parents goes on.  We know people are suffering; for some the damage may be permanent and none of us can rest until we demand that justice is done for these people.  Our faith demands it—the memory of our brother Jesus demands it!

Whenever anyone in our city, our country, our world, suffers, we all suffer—because everyone is part of the body of the People of God. Sometimes, we are the one to suffer, sometimes it is others—but we suffer together if we have eyes and ears and hearts open.

Let us pray today then friends, that each day we would have the strength to show up and do our part, realizing that we each have great power to make a difference in the lives of others, in our world, by bringing the “bread” that is ours to share. Amen? Amen!