HOMILY by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached on November 18, 2018 Thanksgiving Sunday
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
In the Market Basket meat section, a woman is picking over all the frozen turkeys. And she's angry. Just steamed. "I swear," she mutters. "These are the smallest, puniest, tiniest turkeys I ever have seen! No way will any of these feed my family."
Just then, a stockboy shuffles by. He's a gawky lad, pencil-thin.
"You there," snaps the woman. "Stockboy!"
He turns slowly. "Who, me?"
"Young man," says the woman, "I am so frustrated with this selection of turkeys. I mean, really! I've looked over them all, and each and every one is unacceptably small! For Heaven's sakes! Don't they get any bigger?"
The stockboy thinks a minute, glances over at the freezer, where they're all piled high. Then says, gently, "No, ma'am. They don't. All these turkeys are dead.”
Like a turkey who isn’t going to grow larger, or a soup that has only a stone for flavoring, we often feel as though we simply don’t have enough to share.
We are on the brink of Thanksgiving. A not so beloved Thanksgiving tradition in my house is for my husband and I sit down to talk about what we don’t have enough of. It’s pretty demoralizing. Our conversation starts like this: “We don’t have enough money to buy the children Christmas presents this year, much less the adults. We won’t have enough saved for vacation this summer. We don’t have enough chairs for Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving turkey might not be big enough for 20 people. We don’t have enough room in the refrigerator. We don’t have enough wine, or Zoloft, to survive the dinner conversation. I don’t have enough energy to clean and decorate the house for guests. I don’t have enough time to do all the things we need to do. I certainly don’t have enough patience for pie crusts.
My iPhone app keeps reminding me I’m going to die. I mean, does any of this even matter? Let’s just skip it this year.
This conversation invariably leads to a fight, and my husband and I had the first fight we’ve had in many months on Thursday. This makes sense. When you begin a conversation with “we don’t have enough,” it raises anxiety, fear, and dread. It causes shut down, blaming and shaming.
For religious professionals with divinity school degrees, my husband and I have so little faith.
I see this happening all over the nation right now: conversations about resource scarcity that begin with “We don’t have enough,” and ending with blame, shame, and fear.
The conversation about an unarmed caravan of refugees begins out of a place of scarcity and fear instead of abundance and faith, so it encourages a militarized response. The conversation about immigration in general begins out of a place of never enough, so it encourages wall-building instead of bridge building. The conversation about the poor begins with “they churn out kids on my hard earned dime” which encourages hatred and disdain of the children of God who need our help to survive, especially children. “There’s not enough,” we are told all the time, which scares us, and we are easily scared.
For a religious nation, we have so little faith.
We cannot move toward the mystery of God without first moving toward the mystery of our neighbor. The psalmist says, “I have no good apart from God.” We can have no good apart from each other.
The disciples are having a conversation about scarcity of resources when we find them on top of a mountain with Jesus. Passover was nearing—a time of feasting and festival for the Jews. Word had spread about Jesus’ ministry, so a large crowd of 5,000 was gathering. The crowd had heard that this teacher could heal people. So the crowd contained those who were desperate and sick and disabled and spiritually lost and poor and depressed and refugee and outcast.
And they were hungry.
Jesus’ friends weren’t anticipating this crowd, and they didn’t have enough. They didn’t have enough for themselves to eat, much less enough to feed all of these high needs people. They had just one barley loaf and two fish for the passover meal. So they started to panic and bicker.
“We will never have enough. Our offerings are unacceptably small, and they aren’t going to get any bigger. There are so many hungry people approaching. And I am hungry too. If they come here, they will take my food and my money and my job and my healthcare. There will never be enough for me, much less all of them.”
For followers of Jesus, the disciples had so little faith!
Jesus tests them by asking a rhetorical question: “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?”
The disciples fail the test. They answer Jesus’ query with a budget concern. “Not even six months salary will buy us enough,” they say.
They just don’t get the kind of God that they serve.
So Jesus says, “Make them sit down.” Then Jesus takes the loaves, and when he had given thanks to God, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” There was so much food that they had left overs.
Some people just think this is a story about Jesus’ ability to perform miracles, and, well, it is. But I often picture the crowd gathered looking in their coat pockets and saying, “Oh! I have a potato, which isn’t enough for everyone, but it’s something, and I have a celery stalk, and I have a carrot! And I have a little spice, and some garlic,” And I picture the moms fishing in their purse for an old piece of gum, or some peanuts they saved from last month’s airplane ride coming home from Florida. And I picture people shaking hands, and saying “how do you do?” instead of eye-ing each other with suspicion. And I picture that the real miracle that happens here is the realization that together, we have everything.
Jesus teaches us this: If you have less than what you think you need, give thanks to God for it. And invite all those who hunger to dine with you anyway. Build a longer table, not a higher fence. The crowd responds with generosity instead of fear.
We believe in a God who creates this kind of abundance from scarcity; who can build a soup from a rock. A God who says, “not enough is the best place to begin.” A God who reminds us that none of this is ours, and that the correct response when someone’s tummy is rumbling is to say, “I can help!”
This God reminds us that we can’t go it alone. We need one another to make the feast. That’s why there’s more religion at a church potluck than in the worship service. At the church potluck, we start with just our puny offering—a sad bag of scoops Tostito chips from Appletown Market (which is my go to). And like magic, when people bring their potato salads and jello salads and pasta salads and cookies and pies, it expands into a feast of carbs to ruin a thousand people’s Keto diets.
Our offering may be unacceptably small, but together, we have everything.
Alice Walker, in the Color Purple, says, “Have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”
Beloved, we come here to share God, not find God. if you’re waiting around for God to show up, just look around this room and share. Look at your neighbors, and friends, and the people you haven’t met yet, and the children and their tired parents, and all the grammys and grampys. If all you have to give them is a smile and an encouraging word, that is more than enough. Forget your perfect offering, just share what you have.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the ways you share God with me, beloved. Thank you for bringing God’s abundance in with you, because it means my puny, already dead contribution is enough for a feast. I have no good apart from all of you.
Happy Thanksgiving and amen.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.