One Great Hour

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.

Do you remember the old fable called Stone Soup? There are many versions of this story, but essentially, it’s about a hungry traveler who came upon a village carrying nothing but an empty cooking pot. Upon his arrival, however, he discovered that the villagers were unwilling to share any of their food. So, the traveler hatched a plan. He filled his pot with water, dropped in a large stone, and placed it over a fire. Now, one of the villagers became curious and asked him what he was doing. The traveler answered that he was making “stone soup.”  “Stone soup,” he said, “tastes better than anything else in the whole world and that he would be delighted to share it with the entire village.” “But there’s one problem,” he continued, “it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor.”

Now, the villager, who anticipated enjoying a share of the soup, didn’t mind donating a few carrots. And as the story progresses, we see the same thing happen over and over again, as more villagers become curious about the soup pot, each, in the end, adding another ingredient. Finally, when the soup was ready, the stone was removed, and the delicious pot of soup was enjoyed by traveler and villagers alike. What’s the moral of this fable? The value of sharing.

Now, in a very real sense, this is also the moral of our gospel text for today. Looking at the immediate context, the verses previous to our reading for today, we see Jesus convince 5000 people to share their provisions with each other. The generosity that Jesus inspired among those crowded on the wilderness hillside that day is the real miracle that this narrative points us toward.  

Now, bearing this in mind, we come to today’s narrative. Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake, only to find that the crowd had followed them there. When they approached him, he abruptly accused them of seeking “food that doesn’t last.”  In a sense, he said they followed him not because of the miracle of generosity they had witnessed and participated in just the day before, instead, Jesus accused the crowd of following him only because their tummies had been filled. In other words, they were focused on their personal needs, their immediate gratification, rather than the health and wholeness of the entire community. This is why Jesus was upset with them.

So, what does this mean for us? Well, I would contend that we sometimes fall into this trap as well. We sometimes, individually and historically as a nation, we have sometimes focused on our immediate gratification, on our personal gain, rather than the health and wholeness of the “other” whoever the “other” may be.

This is why God’s grace exists. This is way Lent is important. Grace exists and Lent is important because it provides us with the opportunity to reflect, realize our shortcomings, and then turn around, correcting our way of thinking, and in turn, our behavior.  

The most relevant and current example of this is the “American Rescue Plan.” Now, before I continue, it’s important to understand that I’m not promoting one political party over the other and I’m not saying that this 1.9 trillion dollar stimulus package is perfect by any means. No bill passed by either party is ever perfect or contains every things they wanted. But, that being said, this is the first legislation in my lifetime, or in a very long time anyway, that prioritizes the poor over the rich.

And this is big! Why? Because over the course of many, many years, we, the United Church of Christ and both of our local congregations, have participated in acts of justice. We’ve literally fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the lonely, and comforted the grieving. We’ve generously donated our time, our talent, our hearts and souls, and our wealth to help people we know in our communities and people across the nation and globe whom we will never meet. And today, we are invited to participate once again in the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. OGHS demonstrates for us the value of sharing our resources and what it mean to be the Church beyond ourselves.  

The American Rescue Plan, however, represents a step beyond what we can do and individuals or even as congregations. It moves past local justice efforts, and begins to address the issues of social justice. It’s like the vison statement of both the Cable and Delta churches says: “United in Christ’s love, a just world for all.” This is a good reminder of who we are and what we stand for. Remember, in addition to that vision statement, we also adopted purpose and mission statements along with a proclamation that coincide with the UCC statements adopted by the General Synod.

Our purpose is “to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.” Our mission statement is “United in Spirit and inspired by God’s grace, we welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all.” And finally, we proclaim that to “be the Church” we must “protect the environment, care for the poor, forgive often, reject racism, love God, fight for the powerless, embrace diversity, share earthly and spiritual resources, and enjoy this life.”

Share earthly and spiritual resources. Isn’t this reflective of Jesus message? Isn’t this the moral philosophy that the stone soup fable offer us? And isn’t this finally what the majority of the American Rescue Act is all about? The value of sharing?

My friends, as the pandemic continues to subside, and as our economy continues to recover, I pray that all of you are safe, well, and continue to move in the direction of justice, both on a personal and congregational level, and by advocating for a wider social justice, seeking equality, health and wholeness, for all people and all of God’s beautiful creation.

Amen and Amen.

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