March 6, 2016
Farewell to Tom Jones
Anthem: Scenes from GethsemaneSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The apostles have returned to Jesus from their mission trips. They had been sent out with no supplies, no traveling comforts, with only the Good News, and authority over unclean spirits, and the admonition to shake the dust off their feet when they left any place that would not accept them. By all accounts, it was a success.
They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
The jury is still out as to which is more exhausting, success or nonsuccess. Each exhausts differently. So they come back to Jesus and they tell him all the cool stuff that happened. And he says, “Good. Good. Now let’s go somewhere so you can have some Sabbath time, too.” They had not even had a chance to grab a veggie burger in the drive thru.
But they are too well known. And the crowds follow. Like sheep without a shepherd. Even here in the wilderness, in deserted places.
We know some places are deserted because there is no water, no good arable land, no place to plant a crop or graze some flocks. Other places are deserted because the systems and the powers and the principalities have deserted the people there, the water has lead in it, the needs of the market have forgotten the needs of our humanity.
But here is a deserted place, a wilderness place. And Jesus brought the apostles here because he was going to feed them. And to Jesus, what are a few thousand more mouths to feed?
- But Lord, it is late…
- Let them go buy some food…
- Wages for 200 days of labor would not feed all these people…
- Lord, we are exhausted…
- Lord, have we not done what you asked and more? Why now this?…
- Lord, we cast out many demons and cured many, and now you want us to be food service?…
- Lord, all we have are five loaves and a couple of fish…
Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the living water. Jesus is the one who feeds us.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.
He took bread, he blessed it, he broke it, and he gave it to them. The Last Supper was not the first supper. The work of Jesus, the gift of Jesus, the meal of remembrance of Jesus, the sacrament of the presence of Jesus, is in bread that is taken, blessed, broken and given.
How many tribes are there in Israel?
How many baskets of leftovers are there?
This bread is not just for the five thousand or so that have come to this deserted place. It is abundantly overflowing, enough for all the tribes, enough for all who hunger and thirst, and all who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Tom has been here longer than I have. And if you throw in two sabbaticals, you definitely have a better attendance record than I do. Coming back from the time given to me and my family around Patrick, we stood at the table of communion, as we have done so many times together, and you leaned in and whispered to me, “Bread first.”
I was still in a fog. I was still on my way back from a deserted place. And you kindly guided me to do things decently and in order, as your Presbyterian background would put it.
And you and I have walked in some deserted places together: from funerals to hospitals, from moments of a shared look in the midst of a meeting, to one of us knocking on the other’s door and saying, “Got a minute?” And we have also walked in some glorious places together.
And I know that I am not the only one here who had walked with you, or fed the hungry with you, or gathered up baskets with you.
Nor am I the only one who is saddened by today. Transitions are difficult. Cars turn towards old routes without us thinking about it. New calendars are hard to get used to.
But we are not just a people of grief. We are also a people of resurrection. Tom, as much as I hate to see you go, I also know that you are landing in a place where you will make more bread. I mean that both spiritually and secularly. (Counseling pays better than ministry!)
As someone who has been in counseling following Patrick’s death, and I am so grateful for your referral to my therapist, I know that those who come into a therapist’s office are often in a deserted place, in a wilderness, in need of nourishment. And in our anxious, pretend everything is okay, overwhelmed world, that need is not going down!
And I know that you are bread for their journey. For this I give great thanks.
But I also give thanks for the seeds you have sown here in our congregation, seeds that may yet sprout and grow into oaks of righteousness.
- A deep concern for the poor and the poor in spirit
- A deep concern for those who are at the margins
- A deep concern for the planet on which we live, from which we get our food, to which we owe respect and care
- A deep concern for the hearts of the people, that we would not just do what is good and right and true, but also do it for good reasons
- A deep concern for this community, both the church and beyond its walls
- A deep concern for health – in body, mind and spirit
As our church works to put our house in order, these commitments, these concerns, these ways in which you have poured yourself out on our behalf, will not be forgotten, nor should you think that your efforts have been in vain.
Whatever the future holds, know that you have fed us on good bread. You have offered us living water. And I for one give great thanks for the journey we have walked together for these years.
And I wish all God’s blessings upon you, upon your family, upon your continued ministry of bread in deserted, wilderness places.
Thanks be to God.