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Sunday, August 03, 2014

August 3rd, 2014 - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shared Homily Starter


First Reading:
Isaiah 55.1-3
Second Reading:
Romans 8.35, 37-39
Gospel Reading:
Matthew 14.13-21

Our last Sunday service took place during Downtown East Village Pride Week and this week the Vancouver Pride Parade is taking place as I speak. The focus of the readings last time was God's unconditional love for us. Today's readings expand on that. They speak of God's concern for our sustenance and nourishment. God wants us to be fed not just spiritually but physically and emotionally. God accomplishes this through us.

Now, some religious people try to convince us that God's love is conditional. They say it depends on belonging to the right church and obeying the rules, even when the rules are devoid of love and compassion. They say it depends on loving the right people instead of just loving people. This week's readings reiterate that God's love is unconditional; nothing, in all creation, can separate us from the love of God. The starting point of Christian ethics is God wants us to be happy. God wants us to neither hunger or thirst.

According to Isaiah our God says, “You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The prophet is telling us that God's economy is a gift economy. The gift economy removes the artificial scarcity caused by the commodification of almost everything, which then becomes accessible only to the moneyed few. God's economy is based on abundance. It fundamentally challenges our perceptions about ourselves. It transforms our self and world understanding by reminding us that we are being given gifts all the time from many known and unknown sources. It graciously invites us back into our sacred role as active gift-givers – from homo economicus to homo giftus1. In God's economy we are able to recognize and re-value our own gifts as well as those of others.

Jesus knew God's economy. As the Embodied Living Word of God, Jesus demonstrated it. Through his actions, He shows us how to live God's words. Jesus knows we are God's masterpieces. God engraved compassion on and in our hearts. He also knew, sometimes, compassion has to be coaxed out of us. We need to be shown the way. So when the Apostles said ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ Let's imagine that instead of saying, ‘Bring them here to me’ Jesus said, 'Anyone who has food with them, bring it here to me.' The Apostles were thinking of worldly scarcity, whereas Jesus was certain of God's abundance. Thought of this way, the feeding of the five-thousand is just as great, or maybe even a greater miracle. The miracle is, getting everyone to share so that no one went hungry that day. Did Jesus model an enduring lesson in Godly economics, that sharing leaves no one hungry?

Physical hunger is only one of our needs. God is concerned with our other needs as well. Therefore, there are times when we need to be agents of God's love for a specific individual. Take for example, Scott Jones of Nova Scotia who was left paralyzed after he was attacked by a man who stabbed him twice in the back, then tried to slit his throat2. All because he is gay. People were touched by his story and responded. On his website, Scott wrote:

After the attack on October 12th left me paralyzed, I didn't know what to do. I was scared of what my life was going to be like. Initially, all I could feel was my fear. I was so angry at my situation, and the man who attacked me. Some days it was hard to breathe.
Then love started to pour in around me- and it poured hard! People were so, so helpful- visiting, sending messages, donations, bringing food, organizing events. People empathized deeply with my pain and wanted to help in any way they could. There is something so beautiful about human beings trying to help other human beings in need.3

Another feature of God's economy is the “pay it forward” concept. Some of you may have seen the film, Pay It Forward. In this movie, a young boy, for his social studies project, comes up with the idea of paying a favour not back, but forward, that is, repaying good deeds with new good deeds done to three new people. Each of the three new people are asked to pay the favour forward to three other new people. The boy's idea brings about a revolution not only in his life and the lives those around him, but in an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.

A contemporary real life example of paying it forward, is again, Scott Jones. Scott wasn't content to just bask in the love and support he received after his attack. So he payed it forward by starting the “Don't Be Afraid” campaign. The “Don't Be Afraid” awareness campaign aims to dissolve the fear that surrounds homophobia and promote a deeper level of acceptance.

But, paying it forward is not a unique or new idea. It is part of the fabric of our being. We all do it, without even knowing it. It is how we live out our faith. We must keep reminding ourselves that God wants us to be happy. Scripture abounds in stories that tell us that if we participate in God's economy instead of the world's economy, we will be happy. Obeying rules that are devoid of love and compassion, is not part of God's economy. Loving the right people instead of just loving people, is not part of God's economy. Viewed through the perspective of God's economy, today's readings express God's concern for us to be fed not just spiritually but in all the ways we need. God has invited us, and through Jesus, has shown us how to be the co-nurturers and co-sustainers with God ̶ to and for each other.

In a moment I'm going to ask you to share an example of when you felt nurtured by God, either directly or through others. But first I'll give you an example from my life. When I was drinking, all my friends drank. Even at school, I spent a lot of time in the pub. When I decided to stop, I was afraid to give up my drinking buddies because I could only envision the loneliness that would follow. But God intervened by putting people in my life who didn't drink. Not just at AA but more importantly, at school. Through the support of these new friends, I was able to make through that first year. Although, we have lost contact with each other, if it wasn't for those people, not only would I not be standing here today, I might not be here at all. God, through those friends, nurtured me and guided me onto the road to spiritual, physical and emotional health.

Now, each of you take a minute and think back to a time when you felt nurtured. If you feel comfortable doing so, please share it with us.

Notes:
1“Reclaiming the gift culture” http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/giftculture.pdf
2http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/14/canada-gay-man-paralyzed-_n_4097004.html
3http://www.supportscottjones.com/

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