One Spirit, Many Gifts
Milwaukee Diocesan Convention
by Katharine Jefferts Schori
What's your idea of the heavenly banquet? Sushi? Filet mignon? Or maybe Death by Chocolate, French vanilla ice cream, and strawberry shortcake? Perhaps you'd prefer a Las Vegas buffet - all you can eat for $9.95. I don't think any of us could eat the same thing for eternity and still find it appealing. Remember what happened to the Israelites, wandering in the desert? They got tired of manna, and whined for meat. God promised them quail, but only quail. Their dissatisfaction had consequences:
God tells them, "You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month - until it comes out of your nostrils [and becomes loathsome to you - because you have rejected the LORD who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?'" (Numbers 11:19-20)]
The variety of a buffet or a potluck is what makes it so enticing. Yet very few of us are sane about our food choices if we're offered that abundant variety at every meal. College freshmen gain weight because of that unlimited variety.
Jesus is telling his disciples to eat what they're offered, even if it's not their immediate preference. In other words, don't go next door and ask what they're having for dinner. I can remember childhood friends who would ask what was for dinner before they called their parents for permission to stay - and I don't think it was a commentary on my mother's cooking!
Yesterday I mentioned St. Lydia's Dinner Church, which started out meeting in homes in Manhattan. Now the people gather in a Lutheran church on Sunday evenings to cook and share a sacred meal, tell their stories, and build community together. They certainly don't serve the same menu every week. Even if they did, different cooks, ingredients, and happenstance would mean a different result each time they gathered. The same thing happens when we gather at this holy table - the community varies week by week, even if the wine and the bread don't. But I heard a wonderful tale from the dean of a cathedral a few weeks ago about how they change the wine with the season - a more acid red during Lent, and champagne for Easter!
Variety isn't just the spice of life. It's the nature of creation, according to both theologians and scientists. That variety is an expression of free will - and free will doesn't just apply to human beings. All of creation exhibits a certain level of unpredictability, which is what the science called chaos theory is all about.
Healthy communities of all sorts exhibit diversity. Think about a farm field that's been carved out of a prairie. In its original state, there were probably dozens of kinds of plants within an acre, and many, many different insects, worms, birds, and mammals making their living from that abundance. In order for a farmer to grow a crop in that space, especially the same crop year after year, it takes major inputs of fertilizer and insecticide, and probably substantial use of herbicides. The original prairie is almost certainly far more productive - in terms of the sunlight converted into calories - even if human beings can't digest the grasses and insects directly. Creation is meant for diversity, and communities are healthiest when that diversity is encouraged.
One of the gifts of the body of Christ is its multiplicity - none of us is the whole body; we need the varied gifts of each to become whole. Not all of us are gifted musicians or dancers, TV anchors or deer hunters, Rotarians, Elks, or Lions. We need school teachers, nurses, bankers, farmers, fishers, and priests. None of us can do it all. Each one has a part in God's mission to heal the world.
The task of the body of Christ here in the Diocese of Milwaukee is to use the variety of gifts you've been given, to love God and your neighbors around here - and "around here" stretches out to encompass all of creation. Loving our neighbors with the gifts we've been given is an essential part of how we love God. The dream of God's - that heavenly banquet - needs the gifts of all members of the body - left little toes and right elbows, as well as frontal lobes and eyes. We will not live that dream until all parts are working together as God intended from the beginning of creation.
That's the feast Isaiah talks about - his vision of the heavenly banquet - he calls for an end to hunger, with rich foods and well-aged wines, along with an end to death, tears, and disgrace. That divine and blessed meal is meant for all people and all nations, not just this group or this continent. Last time I checked, that vision was a long way off. Yet there are abundant signs of hope - if we peek in the kitchen, we'll see glimpses of the menu being prepared. Cooking up that feast needs the gifts of all sorts of chefs, bottle washers, hunters and farmers, truck drivers and advertisers.
Early this week I was in Washington, DC and got to meet several very remarkable people. One of them is just 30, and three years ago she and several other equally young women started the FEED foundation. She spent the first couple of years after she graduated from college working for the UN World Food Program, working to see that school age children across the world got fed. She decided that a business model might raise more money than she could get out of governments. Her business sells bags, like the one I saw that said Trick or Treat for UNICEF on one side and FEED on the other. FEED has sold half a million bags, and school children have been fed 55 million times.
In 1997 the second person and a partner started something called Endeavor. Its focus is supporting entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Linda Rottenberg got the idea when she met a taxi driver with a Ph.D. in engineering who wanted to start a business but couldn't afford to rent a garage. Today he runs one of the biggest businesses in Argentina. In exchange for the support of Endeavor, these emerging-market entrepreneurs are expected to mentor others, to return to others the investment of skill, wisdom, and funds made in them - to share their learnings in their communities and beyond.
The third was Warren Buffet, who talked about the part of business people in making the world a better place. He ended by saying that he and others like him should be paying higher taxes, sharing in the work of building community. You probably know that he's given most of his billions for that same work.
Each one of us has abundance - gifts, strengths, attitudes, abilities. Those are tools for building the reign of God. The only difficulty is that we tend to see those assets as private property, rather than gifts which we steward for a purpose. A complicating issue is that we still tend to talk about ministry as what people with collars do inside church buildings. Our baptismal covenant reminds us that we are engaged in ministry in every moment of our lives, if we're conscious about it. Paying the bills, voting in elections, guiding children toward maturity, relating to colleagues in the workplace, playing on a sports team, the discussions over the dinner table and the decisions about what to eat are all part of living as friends of Jesus. Each act and decision can be a step toward that heavenly banquet. And it needs us all - the short and tall, blonde and dark, conservative and progressive. Each one made in the image of God, each one called beloved of God, each one sharing in the heavenly banquet. Come share the cooking, and enjoy the feast prepared from the beginning of the world!
[Taken with permission from the website of The Episcopal Church.]