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Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham

July 25, 2021

Sermon, Sunday, July 25, 2021
Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
John 6:1-21

Today as we begin, I ask that you keep our youth in your prayers. This week in Boston they will be preparing and serving meals, and working on homes in need of repair.

From the Gospel of John we read:

Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias) actually more like a lake. A great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, and said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked although he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will that go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down more than five thousand were there. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated - as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over. After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”   

May God grant us wisdom and understanding to this passage. 

Milton and I met in Texas. Three months after we married, we moved to Boston. We were just finding our way and suddenly we were foster parents to a thirteen-year-old girl! This situation happened because we were leading a youth retreat in a nearby town. The pastor of the congregation pulled us aside and said one of his parishioners was going to prison and didn’t want their daughter in the system. He asked if we would take care of her for nine months. We looked at each other and said yes. So, on a paper napkin, her mom signed her daughter over to us as the police were coming to pick the mom up.

Even now I think how surreal that moment was. We both loved being youth ministers, but had no clue about raising a teen. We knew how to guide, mentor, and hang out with youth, but raising one brought disasters left and right. Because Tina had missed so much school, almost thirty days of class in one year, I was determined that she would go to school every day. One morning I thought she was feigning ill and sent her to school anyway. An hour later, the school nurse called me and said, “ah, Ginger, Tina has a fever of 102.” Yes, it was a parental fail and big-time learning experience!

Pretty soon after that, we realized we needed back up. We wanted to help Tina feel what a family environment could be, as well as provide a focused event in all of our lives. Therefore, we began Thursday night dinners which eventually became neighborhood, porch, and barn dinners. The Thursday night slot became, and for thirty years has been, our sacred family dinner night - a time filled with deep discussions, community, great food, companionship and fun. The people gathered around our farm table (made of wood from a church and a barn) filled our small dining room, as it does now. In that Boston four-story 1400 square ft. row house settled on a one-way dead-end street, we began a tradition of sharing and recognizing abundance.

When Milton and I needed help knowing how to best care for our own traumatized kid, the other late twenty and early thirty-somethings gathered at the table, surrounded us with support and resources. And they shared their lives with Tina, and the foster daughter who followed a few years later, too. 

In light of those years, when I reflect on today’s text, a story that is familiar to many, I better understand the miracle in this passage.  For in those early days, it was as if Tina represented the five thousand plus. She needed nourishment. Milton and I were like the disciples questioning what to do, how get enough for her. And those who took their seats at the table, were each like the little boy willing to share their food with her. The miracle in John 6, and in Brasher-Cunningham circa 1992, is that generous spirits and willing hearts shared their resources, nourished, and nurtured others, paying attention to, and meeting, the needs around them. In both cases there was enough, more than enough. There were leftovers, an abundance!

Author Sarah Ban Breathnach penned, "The simpler we make our lives, the more abundant they become. There is no scarcity except in our souls." Abundance and excess are not the same. When we pursue excess rather than live in abundance, we generally feel the hole inside of us, rather than fill it. Grounding ourselves in the Spirit and following the example of Christ will empower us to see beyond our individual lives, fears, and doubts, and extend our hearts to the wider world. Kindness, service, and compassion increase when we are grounded in love.

Earlier in the week, I was beside myself about billionaires going into space. It took me a bit to muster prayerful feelings for someone spending an obscene amount of money for ten minutes in space. I also wondered why anyone needs more than two hundred billion dollars. Fortunately, after his brief trip to space and great criticism, Bezos delivered charitable awards of 200 million dollars - about .08% of his 205 billion dollar net worth.

I am still practicing how to be curious rather than judgmental. I would love to ask him the same question my brother-in-law asked a pro sports player in one of his congregations: “how much would it take for you to live well?” The player thought about it and replied, two million a year. My brother-in-law Miller said, “Ok. You make eight million a year, how about giving away six?” And the player did. I would love to ask that question to billionaires.  Really how much does it take to live well?

No one at First Church seems to have that kind of monopoly money, yet many of us have enough. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves, too: How much does it take to live well? What is living well? Putting food on the table? Helping pay for college? Getting away every year? Visiting family and friends? Coffee out? What is living well in a financial sense? 

Sheryl Crow sang – It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have. Again, the words from Breathnach:  "The simpler we make our lives, the more abundant they become. There is no scarcity except in our souls." I wonder what happens if we start there- wanting what we have. 

If we have community or join community and build community - by adding a foster child, a neighbor, a friend in need- those who gathered by the seaside or around a table, we extend both the table and the community.

Now if we are part of community, we have resources. If we all draw from our pasts and experiences, we have a wider network of resources.  

If we have resources, we can share.

If we share, everyone has enough.

If we understand we have enough, we share what we have.

And if we share what we have, we create community. There is a circle of abundance!

The missionary from Mexico, Elena, who spoke at our church this week, had also served in Paraguay. Paraguay is the birth home of Julie, our second foster daughter with whom we are still fortunate to share our lives. For more than twenty years we have watched her as she has worked to find peace on her journey. So, when Elena made this statement, I texted Julie. Elena said that in one of the main Paraguayan languages, the heart language, the word “peace” translates as a “tranquil stomach.” I love that! Tranquil stomach. It makes so much sense. 

Earlier Elena said that in Mayan culture one may ask how is your heart today? The reply is “blooming” or “trying to bloom.” “Tranquil stomach,” “blooming” or “trying to bloom” all speak to people who understand abundance of the soul. To understand abundance and what is needed means we pay attention, too.

In the scripture we read that Andrew said to Jesus:  “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” How did Andrew know about this boy and his food? He must have been looking around and trying to discern how to help. He was paying attention. Maybe simply paying attention is part of the miracle, too.

The pastor who understood his parishioner needed a safe place for her child, the friends who perceived that we were in over our heads, those who recognize a hole in another’s heart or stomach, and all who pay attention can foster a miracle. 

All who pay attention can foster a miracle. May we go out and do just that! Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham

Lead Minister

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