I guess I have gathering on my mind. After spending a week in New Orleans with youth from all over the United States it’s probably to be expected. But when I read today’s gospel lesson, all the gathering jumped out at me.
First the crowd gathered. Bit by bit, from near and far, group by group, until Jesus looked up from teaching his disciples and saw them coming up the road.
We, too, gathered from all over.
We gathered, in groups large and small.
· 5 teens from New Tripoli, PA;
· 91 from Mankato, MN;
· 2 from Ridgeway, IA;
· 12 from Kenosha, WI;
· 13 from Warren, Sterling Heights, and Bloomfield Hills, MI;
· 14 from Mercer Island, WA;
· 5 from Dorchester, IL;
· 16 from Summit, NJ;
· 2 from West Columbia, SC;
· 5 from Beckley WV;
· 10 from Lima OH;
· 12 from Bexley, OH;
· 10 from Grafton ND;
· 2 From Faulkton, SD;
· 5 from Peace and 2 from Pollock, (SD).
We gathered in New Orleans, bit by bit, group by group, 35000 strong.
Jesus sees the crowd on the road and immediately is concerned with their needs, concerned with providing food for them. And so a little lunch was gathered – from a young boy who had 5 loaves and 2 fish.
The crowd may have gathered to see Jesus, but Jesus now gathers the crowd, welcoming them to his table. And he took the food and blessed it and gave it to them.
They ate their fill – all were satisfied and there were even leftovers. It was a feast.
We too had a feast. Of course there was great food in New Orleans. But better yet, Jesus gathered us to his table and served us a feast for our souls.
Bishop Michael Rinehart compared this Gathering to gumbo – with its unique ingredients combining to create a satisfying deliciousness. We are God’s gumbo, a tasty gift to a world hungering for God.
We were fed discipleship – the staples of following Jesus. We practiced worship, praying, bible study, giving, encouraging, inviting and serving.
We were fed peacemaking – a buffet of interactive activities where we learned to walk in another’s shoes, learned ways to advocate for peace and justice in the world.
We were fed justice – a lesson in cooking God’s feast where we went into the community and served – painting classrooms, rebuilding libraries, cleaning up parks and wetlands.. I’ll be honest, there was a mix-up for our group and we didn’t get to do much, but even with the mix-ups and the day some projects got rained-out, more that 400 service projects took place and we left New Orleans better than we found it!
Some of the other things we learned to cook out of God’s recipe book:
· By Friday morning of the Gathering, the Million Book Project had collected $40,000 in donations (with another 120 emails from the day before not yet opened) and 18 pallets of books had been collected, some of which we helped distribute to kids.
· 1,193 pints of blood were donated by teens and adults at the Gathering.
· 509 head were shorn to provide Locks of Love for people suffering from illnesses that rob them of hair.
· $256,000 was donated during Sunday offering.
· $400,000 was given to the 100 wells challenge (all reported as of July 26).
· Walls for 3 houses in Slidell (Habitat for Humanity houses) were built, blessed at Sunday worship and shipped.
I brought some tidbits of the feast back to share with you, a few quotes from some of our speakers:
· Nadia Bolz-Weber was the keynote speaker the first night we were there. She told the story of her journey to faith, going from hating Christians to becoming a Lutheran pastor. In part of her story she said– “Soon I began to realize that there are people that take that scripture from Matthew 25 seriously – that when we clothe the naked and when we feed the hungry, we do so to Jesus’ own self – and it ends up that they’re not magical creatures. They’re Lutherans.”
· Shane Clairborn, another keynote speaker - “There’s those moments where you throw your hand up at God and you say God, why don’t you do something. And if you listen close you hear God say, “I did do something. I made you. Get on out!”
· We heard from a young person, 18 year old Greg, who had attended the last gathering. He told us that he first heard “be the change you wish to see in the world” at the last gathering. He went on to say that “Jesus calls each of us not to read the headlines but to go and be the change. The newspaper and blog post and twitter feed are no longer easy reading but our call to action.”
· Nadia said something else – “Here’s what you need to know about this thing you have – this Lutheran liturgy, this Lutheran theology: it is a feast. It is a feast to be shared and I’m here to tell you, people are hungry. People are hungry and you have a feast entrusted to you.”
We don’t hear what happened to them. Did the disciples take the leftovers with them?
I like to think that as the crowd dispersed, the leftovers were distributed.
- Oh, you’ve got a 2 day journey – here’s some food for the trip.
- You say you have a sick mother at home – take some bread and fish for her.
- You’re meeting up with a friend who was visiting a relative – have some extra to share on the road home.
I like to think that those holy leftovers were abundance that spilled over to nourish not only those present, but the people in the world around them.
Imagine telling that friend you met up with about how Jesus fed you on the mountain top and then handing her a chunk of bread and saying, “Here’s some of the food that remained. Here, eat. Jesus gave me some to take to you.”
In a way, that’s what happens to us. Each Sunday we gather and Jesus feeds us. We feast on the Word of God, on Jesus the bread of life. And each Sunday, we are filled to overflowing with God’s love and grace and mercy – so much that we become baskets for those holy leftovers.
Here’s God’s love. Here’s God’s grace. Jesus gave freely, abundantly to me. Jesus sent me here to share it with you.
I want to share one more story from the gathering with you. We got in a head of schedule. So we decided to kill some time at a local mall until we could register and get in our hotel. Lynn and I were talking to a woman in Williams and Sonoma and she asked where we were from. When she found out that we were here for the Youth Gathering, she got so excited.
“I have to tell my daughter. She’ll be so happy to hear the people in the orange shirts are back.”
Her daughter was 6 three years ago when the Youth Gathering first came to New Orleans. She remembers us. Since then, every time a large convention was held downtown, she would ask, “Are the people in the orange shirts back?”
It’s a holy leftover from the last gathering. This young girl’s life was touched by our presence. Did someone tell her about how these strangers came to her town to do about 244,000 hours of service because of Jesus’ love in their lives? I don’t know. All I know is that there was an impact.
What are the holy leftovers from this gathering? What was carried away, carried home to be shared with family and friends, neighbors and strangers?
"Here, take and eat. Jesus gave freely, abundantly to me. Jesus sent me here to share it with you."