The Land of Plenty


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Whether we feel blessed, privileged (or both), what are we to do with the relative abundance in this country? As we celebrate Independence Day, Rev. John Weems considered what Jesus called his followers to do with the plentiful harvest.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Luke 10:1-11

“After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

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A few days ago, I ventured out to get my family a healthy treat.

I took the orders from our sons and their friends—jelly donuts, Boston Cream, and I had my heart set on an apple fritter. These weren’t going to be just any donuts, but Dunkin’ Donuts at the Bay Area’s first location in Walnut Creek! For those who have spent time on the East Coast, you know that Dunkin’ is an institution. The donuts and coffee aren’t exceptional—I much prefer Bob’s here in the city—but many East Coasters consider Dunkin’ a comfort food.

As I approached the door, I could see a small crowd. It looked tame in comparison to the store’s first day when people lined up at 2:00 am for a 5:00 am opening. I could see pink boxes and shelves with donuts. The smell of flour and butter and sugar filled the air. I was just steps away from acquiring treats that would require me to buy larger pants when a manager stepped out.

“I’m really sorry,” he said. “A man came by earlier and was so upset we had run out of jelly donuts that he became abusive we had to call the police. They’ve forced us to close while they investigate.”

I have heard of road rage. This was my first exposure to jelly donut rage.

While this man is an extreme case and I trust that the jelly donut was a trigger for bigger problems in his life than craving carbs, he is a reminder of an all-too-common American mindset.

We expect to get what we want when we want it with very few exceptions. Though we can judge Jelly Donut Man, many of us have lost our cool at some point because we felt entitled to something.

Beyond the trivial treats, we tend to fall into a scarcity mentality on many fronts. Some here today are rightfully worried about having a place to live or food on any table.

Whether you have abundant resources or very few, too many of us seem to stress about money, time, parking spots and bus seats. Some worry about the availability of certain types of kombucha and kale.

We live in a land of plenty, but we can struggle to feel like it.

Whenever I take a mission service team to another country, at least one person says something along the lines of, “They have so little, but seem so happy.”

Why is that?

In today’s Scripture reading, Jesus is commissioning 70 people to spread the Good News, heal, and feed in God’s name.

Before he sent the 70, he gave instructions to his original twelve disciples.

I invite you to read with me from Luke 9:1-6

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.”

For today, I’d like to focus on three consistent focal points in the instructions of Jesus to the twelve in Luke 9 and the 70 in Luke 10: faith, hospitality and The kingdom of God. In both passages, he stresses the importance of taking nothing for the journey—no money, no food . . . nothing.

Can you imagine this? Most of us can’t even fathom leaving our home without a cell phone. Jesus was openly sending his followers out into dangerous territory without so much as a crumb.

Justo Gonzalez, an accomplished biblical scholar and liberation theologian from Cuba, explains that “. . . The problem is not with the bread or with money in themselves, but rather in trusting in one’s provision rather than on the support and guidance of the Lord.”[1] Jesus knew that the disciples would be tempted to use their power and authority for their own benefit. Thus, he insisted that they have faith and set out on the journey with nothing.

This is where the hospitality comes in. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) God’s people received manna bread and quail and water. In today’s story, Jesus insists that the disciples’ provisions come from fellow humans. In Luke 10:5-6, he tells them, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” He knows that not everyone will open their hearts and their homes. Some will hold on tight, saying “I barely have enough for myself and my family. How can I possibly share with you?”

Jesus wants his disciples—and us—to know that when faith is alive, profound hospitality is present. When faith and hospitality meet, we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are called to do more than say we love Jesus to punch a ticket to heaven. When we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . .” what are the next words?

“On Earth as it is in heaven.”

We are not on standby waiting to fly. We are already on the plane.

Will we allow our scarcity mentality and fear to prevail?

In a recent poll by a real polling company, 13 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for a giant meteor to destroy the Earth before they would vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.[2]  Supporters of Giant Meteor can even order a bumper sticker: “Ready to Make an Impact, Tough in Putin and Iran.”

This is more sad than funny.

I’ve heard people from all political angles talk about how they’ll move to Canada or New Zealand or somewhere else if the election doesn’t turn out how they want it to.

I do not believe that God loves this country more than other countries any more than God prefers the Giants to the Dodgers. I know that is difficult for some of us to hear.

At the same time, we are blessed and privileged.

What will we do with our gifts?

Last week I had an opportunity to take a walking tour of the Tenderloin with a world-changer named Del Seymour. Del was speaking to a group of students from MissionBit, a non-profit led by Calvary friend Stevon Cook that teaches San Francisco public school students the vital skill of coding. Del founded and heads up an organization called Code Tenderloin, preparing homeless and at-risk people to enter the workforce. Del shared his own experience as a military veteran living on the streets of the Tenderloin for 17 years. He was candid about his addictions and struggles.

I had been around the Tenderloin a fair amount back in the day during my law school stint at Hastings and on occasional volunteer projects. I saw people shooting up and smoking various substances, prostituted people selling their bodies. I witnessed despair and struggled to see beyond it.

Del could see something else.

He took us into the Phoenix Hotel where artists including Prince have stayed. He pointed out Hyde Street Studios where artists from Sinatra to the Grateful Dead to Tupac have recorded. We entered a cutting edge computer lab and training center at St. Anthony’s. And we finished the tour in the backroom of an unexpected location–Piano Fight, a bar and venue at Taylor and Eddy. Piano Fight provides space for Del’s Code Tenderloin project to teach public speaking courses, resume workshops, and conduct mock interviews with people who haven’t had someone believe in them for a long time.

Del provides faith and hospitality in an environment in which hope can be all too scarce.

One part of Del’s tour included a stop at St. Boniface Church on Golden Gate Avenue. As many of you know St. Boniface hosts the Gubbio Project, making space for 300 unhoused neighbors to sleep in a pew from 6 am to 3 pm. The harsh physical and emotional realties of not having a safe space to sleep take their toll on our neighbors.

Del said that on one of his tours, a young woman became very distraught. He explained that the reality of seeing so many people in one space can be overwhelming and people sometimes have to step outside. Del said that when he went to comfort the sobbing woman, she was overwhelmed with good reason. “I saw my mother in one of those pews,” she explained. “We’ve been looking for her for ten years.”

I don’t know what happened after this unexpected reunion, but I do know this.

Our sisters are in those pews. Our brothers are in those pews.

As we were walking out of St. Boniface, Stevon asked me, “Do you think Calvary would ever do something like that?”

Good question.

I have previously shared that I believe Calvary is called to do something significant for God’s kingdom. Our leaders are working on future plans for a Calvary Center downtown years down the road.

I do wonder what more we could do now with what we already have.

I don’t have a specific agenda to push here, beyond inviting us to pray for vision that becomes tangible action.

The Gubbio Project at St. Boniface is named for an Italian town in which St. Francis legendarily brokered a peace agreement between terrified residents and a hungry wolf. As the story goes, St. Francis helped resolve the conflict “ . . . by recognizing that with communication they could find common ground.”[3]

We have many hungry wolves in this city and this country and this world.

We have many reasons to be frightened and to retreat into a scarcity mentality.

In the name of Jesus Christ, we will not do that. As Jesus rose from death to life, may he fill darkness with light.

May we reflect his light.

As we prepare to come to the Lord’s table for Communion, may each morsel and drop fill you with faith that leads to hospitality and a foretaste of God’s kingdom.

[1] Justo L. González, Luke (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 112-13.

[2] Public Polling Policy, June 30, 2016. Available at http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2015/PPP_Release_National_63016.pdf

[3] http://thegubbioproject.org/

 

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