More than we can ask or imagine…
I don’t know about you, but our house when I was growing up was known for its leftovers. To this day, when I’m home at my parents place my friends tend to show up to raid the fridge for stray containers of Chinese food, or pizza, or whatever may be on offer. There is always the delicate procedure of opening the container for a cautious sniff. How long has that Kung-Pao chicken sat in the back corner?
We’ve spent many a late night over beers and leftovers in deep conversations about music and life, rehashing old high-school stories. As the night wears on we tend to shift into global politics and theology. By three or four in the morning in my parents kitchen we’ve solved one of the world’s great problems: Poverty, Healthcare, Immigration…if only we wrote down those solutions.
In today’s readings we learn that God is a bit like my friend Drew, who is always the first to the fridge. God is concerned about leftovers.
We read today John’s tale of Jesus’ feeding the multitude. This story is so central to Jesus’ identity that it appears in all four Gospels, in fact in Matthew and Mark it appears twice. In all of the Gospels a figure stands out. After the loaves and fish are eaten, 12 baskets remain behind. There are 12 baskets of leftovers. In 2 Kings we hear of Elisha also feeding a crowd with a seemingly scarce source of food. Again we are assured that there is a remainder, there are leftovers.
The Word in either Hebrew or Greek for “leftovers” for “remainder” is theologically significant. This is the same word which describes the portion of field to be “left over,” not harvested, in order that the poor might have food to eat. This is the word that Isaiah uses to describe the Jewish people “left over” after the exile, the faithful remnant which is the hope of Israel’s future. This is the word that shows God’s concern for those who are left out, and that which is left behind. And so today’s lessons ask us to pay attention, like my friend at home do, like God does, to the leftovers. Leftovers are our way in, our way into the story of God’s abundance.
You all know the general theme of this story. People need to be fed. It appears the resources are too scarce, and yet somehow, miraculously after everyone eats there are leftovers. These stories tell us of God’s overabundance. My guess is that you all know a little bit about both scarcity and God’s abundance. In today’s economy we are aware of scarcity. Unemployment numbers and housing foreclosures continues to rise. Thousands are jobless, homeless, or on the brink. There seems not to be enough.
And yet you all are here this morning, and my bet is that many of you could tell stories about God’s abundance, stories where it seemed like the resources were scarce and yet somehow God provided more than you needed. These miraculous and surprising moments continue, our God is a God of overabundant blessing.
This is a basic tension that is named in the time of Elisha, the time of Jesus, and is still present today. Society and the forces of economics tell us a story of scarcity and God asks us to rely on God’s abundance. 5 loaves feed 5000. In God’s economy ALL are fed, ALL are satisfied. This divine economy of abundance requires a different sort of living, one that asks us to turn over our imagination to God.
Ephesians this morning assures us that God is doing more for us than we can ask or imagine. I don’t know about you, but I can ask and imagine a lot. What is at stake here is the realization that often we don’t really know what is best for us, that we must turn our lives over to the God that knows better than us. The God who, in the Word’s of Thomas Merton, “loves us better than we could ever love ourselves.” We are asked to live not out of what we imagine for ourselves, but out of God’s desire that ALL are fed. We are asked to live not out of scarcity, but trusting in God’s abundance.
St. Alban’s is a community that knows something about this. In your work with the Karin you have imagined with God what it would be to gather up the resources necessary to feed, clothe, and provide for God’s refugee children. This is a powerful witness to God’s care for the refugee, the remnant, to those left behind. With John Conrad you allowed your leftover land to house and advocate for the homeless. Might I be so bold this morning as to ask: Where else is God calling you to care for the leftovers? We are about to participate in a meal that among other things recalls Jesus’ feeding miracles, the bread come down from heaven. This morning, no matter how well the ushers count, there will be leftovers. Who do you still need to invite to this table?
We are asked to turn our lives over to God’s imagination, indeed to imagine with God. I believe it is God’s imagination that turns my parents leftovers into the blessing of a community of friends…it makes you look at your tupperware differently…leftovers are pregnant with possibility.
What will you do with your leftovers?