Foundry United Methodist Church

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

 

 

 

“God’s Delightful Abundance”


Sunday, July 25, 2010

 

 

Dean

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

 

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!   All people may take refuge within the shadow of your wings.  They feast at the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.  O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!  – Psalm 36:7-10

We worked in Zacchaeus Soup Kitchen, here in Washington, DC, on a hot July day, salvaging ingredients from donations, making and serving sandwiches and soup.  A large man in the soup line stopped before me, presenting his tray, with a coat on, carrying large bags.  On his lapel was a shiny new Hard Rock Café button. 

“I like your button,” I said. 

“If you like it, you should have it,” he said, taking it off and holding it out to me.

“Oh, no, I can’t take it!” I insisted.

“You said you like it, you should have it.”

This struggle continued, back and forth, between his generosity and my discomfort. 

“I have a button like it, back at the youth hostel,” I said, growing exasperated.  I simply could not take it from him.  I had not noticed that the line had stopped and everyone was listening.  I was jolted into awareness when someone down the line called out, “Take the button.  We’re hungry!”

I keep the button on my desk where it has companioned me for many years, a reminder of the interactivity of our life as we walk day by day with God.

I went to the Soup Kitchen that hot July day to be in mission, to cook, to serve, to help, to feed.  It had not occurred to me that I would be served, fed and helped. 

This morning we gather around a wonderful text:  verses in Psalm 36, a song within a song, expressing in beautiful poetry the expansive vision of God for us and for all creation.  We sing praises to this God, whose arms are always extended, eager to gather us in.  We sing praises to this God, the host of banquets abundant.  We sing praises to this God, the wellspring of living water.  We ask this God to gather us, to guide us, to guard us.  We sing this song in hope of extending faithful welcome, trusting always the invitation of God’s open arms.

I love more and more the central truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Grace upon grace.  God’s love poured out for us.  God’s insistence of an expansive table where all are welcome. 

I give thanks for the Wesleyan spirit present through the grace of God in my bone marrow.  My four siblings and I grew up in the “home” place, as we call it in the South.  Our father lived in the old, simple farmhouse all of his 78 years, bringing my mother there to live when they married.  It was the gathering place.  Mom cooked in big pots, large biscuit pans.  Dad made a long bench for the old kitchen table because more children could fit and be fed on a long bench than in chairs.   The home they created for my siblings and me was a home with a bias toward hospitality.  A bias toward hospitality is a bias toward the gospel.

My mother still has the crazy idea what she has is not her own.  She takes vegetables from her garden to everyone, her neighbors, her relatives, her friends, even her doctor.  As she went for a routine check-up in May, she took her doctor asparagus.  The doctor made a request of the staff as she left, “Give Mrs. Morgan her next appointment in fig season!”

This life in Christ is a great adventure of life in the world, where people are.  The life of Christ was an extending life, always reaching out, always transcending borders and fences and biases.

Jesus ate with sinners and won for God a new people by Water and the Spirit.  United Methodist were the first among all Christians to put that reality in the liturgy for Holy Communion:  Jesus ate with sinners.   This is our practice.  Notice the verb tense in the Psalm. 

How precious is your steadfast love.  All people feast at the abundance of your table.  All people drink from the wellspring of your great delight. 

The verb tense is present, not conditional, not future.  God is with us, now, here, as we live attentive to the margins.  The margin is not a comfortable place.  The margin is the “working-out” place, where the church has worked out its comfort and its calling, too often falling back into comfort but sometimes beautifully living forward into its calling to be the abundant feast, the wellspring of delight, the place of life and light. 

In John Wigger’s new biography of Francis Asbury, American Saint, the Methodist impulse is clearly revealed:  We take good news to people beyond those who have heard and heeded the Gospel.  In Asbury’s words, “Take the resources from the center to the circumference.” 

The center is more comfortable than the circumference.   Pastors begged to stay where there was a church community.  Asbury embodied the mission, never owning a home, constantly traveling, lodging with Methodists in intimate circumstances, connecting through his presence and personality, demonstrating through his own life the power of holiness and compassion and generosity. 

John Wesley, in Sermon on the Mount IV, wrote “This is the great reason why the providence of God has so mingled you together with others, that whatever grace you have received of God may through you be communicated to others; that every holy temper, and word, and work of yours, may have an influence on them also.”

I give witness this day:  the richest blessings come in the intermingling, in moving from the center to the circumference.

Our church in Raleigh, North Carolina, was a founding member of Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network.  With a dozen other congregations we formed the Network, identified a Day Center, identified a Director.  Everything was accomplished except the scheduling.  A new member of our church, who described herself as “knowing only a few Bible stories” while having a heart for God and learning more of those Bible stories day by day, volunteered to go the meeting.  We agreed and provided her with a list of convenient dates. 

Early the next morning, she called, very distressed.  She stormed into the church, too agitated to sit down.  I wondered what could be wrong.  She described the process of scheduling and her own dismay.  “Nobody would take Christmas!  We were all Christians and no one would take Jesus’ birthday!  Was he not without a home at Christmas?  I do not know many stories but I do know that one!” 

I became worried.  Where was she going with this story?  She continued her rant.  “I got so made I hit the table with my fist!  I said “I go to a church that loves Jesus.  We will take Christmas this year and every year!’”

“You what?”  I stammered, thinking of our Advent and Christmas schedule, already printed on a lovely brochure.  But what do I do, confronted with a prophet?  So I heard myself say, “Let’s do this...you tell them on Sunday....”

She did.  She told them simply and directly, “We get to welcome children and their families this Christmas.  Children like Jesus, without a home.  If you want to help, meet me in the foyer.”

At the conclusion of the service, her posterboard was full of volunteers.  People were thrilled.  “We had dreaded Christmas, this first Christmas without our loved one....”  “We have a way to teach our children that there is more to Christmas than gift lists....”

It was a glorious Christmas.  The first week in the new year the Baptists called, “Can that wonderful person you sent to the scheduling meeting come to our church and train our volunteers?”  Four years later the Presbyterians called, “it is not fair that you always get Christmas. . .”  Six years later, my husband and I heard Joey, 6 years old, gathered in through the Network, now a part of our church family, walking with a 6 year old guest.  Joey was saying, “It will be OK.  I lived in a car too.  We got help here and now we will help you.”

This is life at the circumference.  This is life intermingled.  This is life abundant.

It takes great focus and perseverance and energy to keep our attention here, at the edge.  The natural default position of human community is toward the center.

In Dave Eggers wonderful novel What is the What, Achat tells the story of his walk with other lost boys across the landscape of the Sudan.  From burning villages they fled, lost boys falling in with the weary company, children headed toward the horizon, seeking a place to be.  The number reached over 100.  They walked by day, scavenged to survive, lay down to sleep at night in a huge pile.  Achat, a leader among the boys, found a place in the center where he was protected, warm, and safe.  He fell into a deep sleep for several hours.  He awoke, alone, cold, afraid.  Jumping up, he saw in the moonlight the pile of boys, literally moving across the savannah, boys at the dangerous circumference continually climbing toward the safe middle.  He ran and found a place in the middle but slept no more, alert, lest he be left alone and vulnerable.

This is a haunting image.  It is a picture of human community, of basic instinct.  It can be instructive for the church of Jesus Christ.  We are an alternate community where those of us who have found strength and safety go of our own volition to the dangerous edge, the circumference where the good news meets the dangerous world.  It will take faithfulness, strength, courage to be there.  Let us go to the edge, taking the resources from the center to the circumference, confident of the powerful presence of God in that place where the church meets the world.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!   All people may take refuge within the shadow of your wings.  They feast at the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

May we carry this song in our hearts today, tomorrow, onward, all our days. 

 

 

      

           

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