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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bread of Life—The hand of the Lord feeds us


At 7:15 mass this morning. I'm on the right.
Some apparently random thoughts after encountering John 6 for the first four times at mass this weekend.

With my eyes barely open this morning, I already had plenty to be thankful for. And it was all reinforced, literally reiterated, since I was at mass last night as well, by the liturgy this morning. But it made me realize again how liturgy isn't separate from life, it's on the continuum of life, a place to which we come to celebrate what has gone before and then be pushed out into an altered future.

First, I'm grateful to the wonderfully crazy Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber for her sermon at the ELCA's worship conference, "Called to Be a Living Voice." She was preaching on the same readings we heard, particularly the feeding of the five thousand in John 6. There was so much to like in her words, but for me it was a call to own up to the fact that the good things in my life are not always explainable by logic or hard work or even genetics. Sometimes they are just miracles, even though they are accomplished by ordinary people using ordinary things like food, water, time, and love.

For one thing, I had to play for the 7:15 am mass this morning (yawn), which I usually have to do once or twice a month, but today promises to be an unusually long day on which we'll be arriving in Minneapolis about 10:30 tonight to begin preparing for Music Ministry Alive. I was expecting to have to cantor as well as play piano, which I can do with a brief apology to the assembly at that hour but which isn't my forte or my first choice. I walk in with my sunglasses on and my eyes still at half mast, and who walks into the church but my friend Patty, who is cantoring at the 9:00 mass, smiling and saying, "I was up, and thought you could use some help." Now, this is not a miracle if you know Patty, but it is cause for gratitude on my part, because "the hand of the Lord feeds us, he answers all our needs."

For the second thing, and this happened even earlier, "for he gives to his beloved in sleep," I received a text message overnight. It concerns another good friend of mine who has been weakened recently by symptoms that have turned out to be Parkinson's disease. One of my friend's choir members is a nurse at a research hospital, and her love and concern for my friend led her to research all she could find on Parkinson's. She sent me a long text message this morning, describing an event yesterday that on the face of it may not be miraculous, but does at least demonstrate that sometimes God orchestrates the events of our lives in ways we don't perceive, but which are too strange to be considered accidents, at least by me.

A quick digression: about eleven years ago, as many of you know, I was diagnosed with cancer, and my surgeon thought it was ok to delay surgery for a while (the diagnosis was in the summer) but not indefinitely. Now, about a year previously, my friend Gary Daigle had been the victim of some injustice in his parish workplace, and was fired from his parish job. He had a wife and children, and was in danger of losing his benefits, and it was not a good time in church life in general. But I approached my pastor, and asked if we could put Gary on 30-hour full time in order that he could get benefits, and he would could continue to supplement his income with producing recordings and doing appearances etc. My pastor, a fellow whose nature was to put people's needs before just about every other consideration, said yes. So when this cancer diagnosis happened, Gary had been in the parish a year, knew the choir and other people there, had a good feel for our music program plus more talent than anyone has a right to, and simply slid into the work of running the liturgy and music program during the time of my surgery and recovery. Oh, I forgot to mention: my surgery was two weeks before Christmas, and I wasn't able to get back into the musical saddle, as it were, until three weeks into January. Things went seamlessly through the holidays. So you tell me: was Gary's misfortune an accident, or his joining us at St. Anne's? Were they a coincidence? Or was it creation from nothing?  And a few months later, Gary joined the staff at St. Edna's where he has been ever since, as music and liturgy director.

Back to the original story about my friend and the nurse: her text to me was about an event at the hospital where she works, involving a patient diagnosed who also had Parkinson's. He had not taken proper care with an implant, and had developed serious, even life-threatening complications. The nurse's research on Parkinson's had emboldened her to advocate for surgery for the patient with doctors who may not have been listening to or consulting with one another, and they listened to her. Her advocacy led to a much better mental and physical state for the patient almost immediately, and the doctors told her she saved the patient's life. All of this because of her love for and devotion to my friend, going the extra mile with her research, and then speaking up to her peers in a way that improved life for a completely different patient. So you tell me: was the nurse's involvement in my friend's case an accident? A coincidence? Or was it creation from nothing? I suppose people of good will, even people of faith, may differ on their answer. It sounds like Genesis to me. It sounds like feeding five thousand from the fish and bread one little boy brought for his meal.

One lovely insight that came from Nadia's sermon, an insight I've seen noted in other commentaries on this passage, is how she sees the miracle of feeding the five thousand as an act of creation from nothing, that is, something that only God can do. I'm a modernist. I believe in science. But I'm also a post-modernist, at least in the sense that I am certain that facts are not the same as truth, that there is more to reality than what can be seen or proven. We have to be very modest about what we say about what can't be seen or proven, but neither does it make any sense at all to deny our experience of the good-that-is-invisible, because that good is for everyone, it binds us together. That good wants the good of everyone even more than we do, and finds a gentle way to break through our worship of facts and the clamor for personal rights and freedoms above the common good and all of our unevolved habits of coercion to let us see what things might be like if we learned to drop our rivalry and love one another.

So my suggestion is, think about your life. Think about those startling little "coincidences" that changed the water of your life into wine—the actions, words, and touches in which everything was instantly transformed by love. You are part of the continuum that is life in the universe. Grace has sustained you in every breath, made the miracle of evolution and natural selection that resulted in you possible, let you first hear the stories of creation, manna, exile, and enemy love that blossomed into faith. Christ in God wants to take your memory and transform it into life for the whole world. Christ is fashioning salvation through your participation in the mystery of God. Let the meal of Jesus feed your longing and open the eyes of your heart to the miracle of your life, and to the realization that every life around you is just as miraculous and beloved of God. It is then, when we finally walk out of church with our vision and humanity transformed again by grace, that in everything we touch or hear, in everything we taste, in everything we see, we taste and see the goodness of the Lord.