The following is a sermon preached on Thanksgiving morning 2013 at St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville, FL.
(Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Ps 100; Phil 4:4-9; John 6:25-25)
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I want to share a story with you of something that happened at one of our Sunday services.
A new gentleman arrived as we were setting up and asked what we were doing.
He appeared quite downtrodden in spirit and quietly found a place to perch, by himself for the service.
Soon others began arriving;
we had about 70 altogether that day.
A group from a large Episcopal parish brought our lunches.
One of the women from the parish sat down next to this man.
She began to speak with him, and in the process he blurted out:
“Why are you sitting with me?”
Clearly he wasn’t used to anyone taking an interest.
“I don’t know why,” she told him.
“Maybe God wants us to sit together.”
As their conversation developed,
the man then revealed that
he has a hard time dealing with anger.
He told her that the pain of this anger
he carries is excruciating.
“It hurts all the way through my entire body,” he explained.
Then woman called over a couple of young boys
from her parish and addressed one of them:
“Bobby, you have a hard time dealing with your anger, don’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he responded.
“What is that like for you?” she asked.
“It’s awful,” the boy replied.
“It’s like it hurts all the way through my entire body.”
The man and this boy had exactly the same struggle.
So much so that they chose the same words to describe it.
They cried together, and they prayed together.
“You must be an angel,” the man told his new friend.
Each person who witnessed that event was fed
in an unexpected but very real way.
When we gather as this “church without walls,”
it has nothing to do with ‘the have’s feeding the ‘have not’s.
It is about “hungry feeding hungry.”
That is how Gordon Lathrop, a beloved professor of mine,
defines the essence of Church –
“hungry feeding hungry.”
He describes what we do when we gather as meal fellowship.
We come together at regular times.
We are served and receive the Gospel of Jesus.
In a few minutes, we will focus on the Bread and the Cup.
We will give thanks for Christ who became both server and food
when he gave his life for us — his friends.
A number of you have visited our
“Church without Walls” ministry,
either at our weekly Morning Prayer and
Coffee Fellowship outside at Clara White Mission
where we gather on Wednesdays.
Or you have visited our outdoor Sunday service
in the diocesan parking lot.
Please be assured that this concept of “Church without Walls”
is not a criticism of what we do inside our churches with walls.
We, the Body of Christ, are a “church without walls.”
We are called to be Christ wherever we go.
What happens here in this place–
deep worship and prayer;
praise and music that lifts the rafters;
teaching and study and fellowship –
this all happens to nourish and build us up as a community
so we can go out into the world!
For most groups or individuals who choose
to participate either in our Sunday worship or
at our morning prayer fellowship,
the first time is marked with a little apprehension.
It doesn’t matter who the person is or
where they come from,
the first time for anything is always marked by
at least a little bit of uncertainty.
Following Christ – going out and about in the world as he does—
requires a willingness to risk.
Being the church without walls calls us
out of our comfort zone.
It invites us to encounter those who are like us
as well as those who are different –
We are called to enter into community with those
who “belong” and with those who are “aliens.”
We find out that we aren’t so different.
We find out that we are one and the same.
Something extraordinary happens in the
parking lot across the way,
Perhaps it is because our gathering is so simple.
No frills, just the basics of bread and cup,
of open hospitality.
But when we become willing to come together,
to cross artificial social boundaries,
we experience what we all long for:
We see Jesus in the face of the other.
When we become “hungry feeding hungry,”
we encounter the living Christ in our midst.
Several weeks ago, I visited with Bishop Howard,
to keep him posted on the ministry.
Careful not to waste his time,
I delivered my report and then rose to leave.
“Sit back down,” he told me, and of course I complied.
“I want to tell you how this ministry has changed me.”
He proceeded to tell me a story about a man whom
he had encountered as he was driving to work.
The man teetered along as he pushed a cart across the street,
causing the bishop to wait even though the light was green.
“I was irritated at first,” he said.
“But then I realized that could be one of our people.
I’d better be nice.”
The thing is – everyone we encounter –
they are all our people.
We belong to each other.
Each of us was knit together in our mother’s womb
by the One who created everything that is.
This same God longs to knit us together in a new way.
God calls each one of us to a place of ongoing conversion –
to a place of greater and greater intimacy with him.
He calls us to a place of Becoming Friends.
Friends who sit with one another and
listen to one another.
Friends who bear witness to one another’s joy
as well as one another’s sorrow.
It is in this place of true fellowship that
we no longer need to beg for signs
because we encounter Jesus for ourselves.
Even today – especially today – when we gather together,
when we create space for connection and community
wherever we may find ourselves in the world:
May the True Bread come.
May it give life to us and to the world. Amen.