by Rev. Joan Kessler
This past week saw us take some significant steps towards preparing to reopen our church building. In order to do this, a safety plan was written and approved by Council. We also decided to create a short video with hopes that viewing it will give some sense of what to expect when we arrive back here in the building for a Sunday service or small group gathering. And if there is a sentiment that I can say summarizes my past week it would be gratitude. Making the video, walking through the steps of the safety plan, ensuring we hadn’t missed anything… I was so grateful that we are in a position to consider reopening. I think whenever one combines the concepts of Safety with Plan, you are prepared to do some adjusting and changing along the way. Everyone has a different idea of what Safe looks like and our experience of COVID has proved to be no different.
What this week has brought home for me, along with a sense of gratitude, is the inter-dependence and web of inter-connection we experience as being part of the large family we call humanity. If we didn’t notice it before, the presence of COVID has drawn our attention to our mutual-dependence. So many things in our daily lives, like going to Save-On for groceries, going to a dentist appointment, ordering something online… all remind us of our mutual inter-dependence. Most everything we enjoy, the things we need to live and to thrive all come from something or someone else.
With the arrival of September we are officially in a time known as the Season of Creation. This ecumenical celebration of creation sees us join with our sisters and brothers around the globe in prayer and action for our common home. It is a time to remember that the resources of the earth do not belong to us. But perhaps nothing actually belongs to us, we only have the use of these things. That’s a hard concept to accept if not seemingly impossible. I’m reminded of a talk a Friar once gave to a group of students on living the life of a vowed monk. One of the students asked about the vow of poverty. The monk replied, “Poverty is simple. We don’t have money”. A collective gasp could be heard throughout the room as the students absorbed this piece of information. “We don’t have money,” he continued. “We only have the use of it. This was not to imply that a monk or anyone else for that matter wasn’t to take responsibility for their money. But rather none of us actually owns anything, we only have the use of it.
Another example which makes this idea of ownership perhaps a bit clearer is when your child comes to you and says, “Mum, I want to make you a birthday cake but I don’t have any of the ingredients. Can you help me?” Or your older child might just come right out with it and ask you for the money so they can go and buy you a birthday present. In either case, she is motivated by her desire to give you a gift but has no means to do so. It’s apparent that the child has nothing except what has first been given by you. And what I have to give to a child or another, what I have to buy… my car, my condo, my other daily necessities I have earned by working and saving. And I work to earn by using my gifts. We didn't bring anything into this world, and we won't take anything with us when we leave. We could say that’s the naked truth for today.
A young boy is our teacher of this truth this morning. Maybe he was on his way home from school and hears a crowd of people so he stops to take a look. Thousands were listening to the stories of one man, saying things even he could understand. But as the afternoon wore on the people grew hungry… no one had planned a potluck or a catered banquet. So the boy looked at what was in his lunchbox and he had some meagre portions of bread and fish. He didn’t know if it would be any help to this massive crowd. But he was motivated by one thing at that moment… to share all he had. He says, “Here you go, Jesus, take what I have and do with it what you will”. And then we hear that everyone sat down on the grass and had a massive picnic thanks to the gifts this young boy shared without expecting anything in return and here we find our miracle for this day. Somehow, the spirit of generosity is more than enough… everyone ate their fill and the leftovers were gathered up when it was all over… Jesus’ economy is not based on empirical standards of bigger is better or supply and demand price-setting. No, Jesus’ economy is based on pure gift… to give thanks for all we receive as well as to share and pass on to others. This is the economic exchange… it’s giving… receiving…thanksgiving… sharing. What is willingly and freely given multiplies in the giving. What we withhold and bury for ourselves shrinks and withers away.
As we come back to a building, I find myself thinking about how nothing belongs to us, we only have the privilege of its use. We share our gifts without condition. Every time we give someone else an hour of our time by doing a chore or an errand, a listening ear over a cup of coffee, or any simple act of kindness, we are participating in this economy.
I have one more poignant story to share with you this morning about a farmer and his corn crop. This farmer was known for his prize-winning corn he produced year after year. A newspaper reporter interviewed him, hoping to learn something interesting about how he grew it. What the reporter discovered, much to his surprise, is that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.
“Why on earth would you share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition alongside yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“If I want to have a good crop,” the farmer answered, “I have to do this. You do know, don’t you, that the wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I want to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
May it be so. Amen and Amen.