[Sermon given on Sunday, July 24, 2016 (Proper 12 – Year C) at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO by the Rev’d. Fr. Marcus G. Halley]
Then Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’
Give us each day our daily bread.
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, from Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Reigning Savior, and from the Holy Spirit who empowers and enlivens our time together.
Earlier this week I joked with Fr. John about the irony in God’s eternal sense of humor that mandates that I would get the Sunday where we read a piece of the narrative of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Touché, God. Touché.
The part of the narrative that we read is a prayer. More specifically, it is Abraham’s prayer for God’s mercy on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sin of being arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned about the poor and the needy. According to Holy Scripture, the sin of Sodom was its un-neighborliness.
Implicit in Abraham’s prayer – his conversation with God – is an understanding of God as the source of all mercy. In this interesting exchange, Abraham seems to be negotiating with God, trying to discern the lowest threshold of God’s mercy. With each question, Abraham presses the boundary further and further, negotiating down from 50 righteous people to 10 necessary to save the city from destruction. In the end, however, God still destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because not even 10 righteous people – people of humility, people concerned with the poor and needy – could be found in Sodom. At least as the writers of Genesis are concerned, even God’s abundant mercy has its limits.
It is interesting that we read this alongside the lesson on persistent prayer in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. In teaching his followers to pray, Jesus is giving his disciples a deeper lesson: trust and reliance on God’s abundance. For Jesus, God’s abundance is limitless, as he throws open the doors of community and communion with God and invites everyone to the table of God’s ever-widening mercy.
Prayer, generally speaking, is the space we create in our lives to commune with God. It is a discipline and a practice we are called to engage in every day. Paul suggests in 1 Thessalonians that we are to “pray continually.” Christian practice does not begin and end with mass on Sunday. We must regularly order our lives around the source of life itself, Paul Tillich’s “ground of being.” Why? Because our world is set up in a way that regularly summons us away of the abundant life of God and into the shadows of death.
Death’s siren song is seductive and alluring, and if we are not careful we will find ourselves shipwrecked on the shoals of life. As such, we need regular reminders that our true home is with God, that our true destiny is paradise, that our true nature is utter belovedness, and that our truest calling and vocation is that of Child of God.
Jesus teaches his disciples to pray thus because he knows that as sheep among wolves, they will need constant reminders of the shepherd.
“When you pray,” he says, “say: ‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.’” In other words: remember that God is the source of all things – all mercy, all provision, all blessing, all grace. Every, single thing we stand in need of flows from God’s abundance and we have to press the pause button on the busyness of our lives long enough to remember that, to remember that God set Creation itself in motion to produce abundance.
Time and time again we see what happens when we fail to trust in the richness of God’s abundance. When we hoard resources, love, and power, we eat the bread of anxiety, hate, and division; but, when we eschew acquisitiveness and commodity for a life of generosity and thanksgiving, we bear witness to the abundant heart of God to whom all things belong.
Restoring our world to wholeness and wellbeing starts with reordering our trust in God’s abundance and perhaps that starts with praying for and trusting in daily bread. Praying for daily bread is a prayer for a generous spirit that receives the richness of God with gratitude and a deep faith that there’s a whole lot more where that came from.
For the disciples, the idea of “daily bread” would’ve sounded incredibly familiar. It’s a throwback to Moses, the greatest prophet in Jewish history. When the Israelites threw off the crushing yoke of pharaoh and the anxiety of Egyptian slavery for the peace and knowledge of God, they had to be reprogrammed. They had spent hundreds of years as slaves, generation after generation knew nothing but anxiety and scarcity, so on their 40-year sojourn towards their collective identity as the People of God they had to be re-taught faith in God’s abundance.
The daily practice of collecting manna was a slow rewiring of their learned behavior. If the collected anything more than what they needed, it would spoil. Only on Friday were the allowed to collect two days’ worth of manna, because the Sabbath was a weekly reminder of utter dependence on God’s abundance – that God does not need our help to do what God does.
Our daily practice of prayer and weekly remembrance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are regular reminders that neither our daily needs nor the entire arc of salvation history are dependent upon us. In the face of a world gone mad with fear and anxiety, perhaps the Church is called to reclaim her vocation of faith in the God of abundance.
Imagine with me how our world would be radically transformed if we really believed in God’s abundance. Imagine how our relationships with one another could look if we saw one another, not as competition or opponent, but as friend, sister and brother, fellow sharer in God’s abundant love. Imagine a world where we could not help but be a blessing to one another.
There are so many narratives of scarcity among us, but I want to share a true story of abundance. Earlier this year a young black man was pulled over by a white police officer. In his car were his two children and his girlfriend. As the officer was walking back to his patrol car with the young man license and registration, he noticed that the young’s daughter was not in a car seat. When the officer asked the young man why his daughter was not in a car seat, he responded tearfully that he could not afford it. The officer asked the young man to step out of the car, a call the raised the young man’s anxiety. The young man thought he was being detained, but the officer asked him to step out of the car because he understood the pride and struggle of a young man who tried but failed to provide for his family like he wanted to. They shared stories and the officer resonated with the young man’s experience of being a young father. After a bit more conversation, the officer asked the young man to follow him to a store. Still baffled and confused, the young man did as he was asked. They got into the store selected a car seat, but when the two men got to the register the officer paid for the car seat. Both men went back outside to the young man’s car. The officer looked at the young man and said, “if you ever need anything else, you know where to find me.” The young man, still shocked began installing the car seat when he remembered to thank the officer, but when he went to turn around to find him, the officer was gone.
Beloved in Christ, compassion becomes the basis of our relationships when we trust in the abundance of God. God’s abundance invites us to see human dignity and to respond with daily bread. That is the Reign of God among us, a trust in the holiness of God’s name, and a submission of our will to the will of God. Those echoes of abundance radiate from us until the whole world is singing of God’s love.
We can sing of God’s love. We can share prodigally. We can live in God’s lavish love. We can do all of that and more because we know that God can help but be gracious.
And it all starts with adjusting our behavior and fixing our wiring. We are called to receive daily bread from the hands of God, knowing fully that whenever bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given, it feeds multitudes.
I don’t know, tell me what y’all think. I’d love about how you receive God’s abundance, and how you give it away.
 Ezekiel 16.48-50
 1 Thessalonians 5.17 (CEB)
 Luke 11.2-4 (CEB)