This past week I spent helping out at the Summer Day Camp at the Episcopal church, Resurreccion, in Mount Vernon. It was a scene of loving chaos, as volunteers from Grace Church, Bainbridge and St. Michaels and all Angels, in Issaquah, arrived full of energy and enthusiasm and way too many chief cooks and bottlewashers.
As I watched the campers come in, and the teen and adult volunteers swarm around, I was reminded of Jesus and his disciples and followers that we hear about in today’s reading. Today’s Gospel skips over verses 35 thru 53, which include the feeding of the 5000, Jesus walking on water, and the calming of the storm. There is just so much going on for Jesus, his friends and all the suffering people of his time! Resurreccion’s Summer Bible Camp seemed like that. When it was time for getting the children two meals and a snack, it seemed like there were 5000 mouths to feed. And these children of immigrant farmworkers needed so much healing!
A young boy named Edgar arrived reluctantly, and late, the first day, and he didn’t want to stay. He was afraid. His mother started to leave, and he broke into a heart-wrenching scream. I tried to tell him it was okay, but he was not convinced. And so 15 year old Hailey came over bringing with her a wonderful furry puppet of a fox. Edgar had missed the puppet show of Noah’s Ark. But he was intrigued by the soft, almost full-size fox. Slowly but surely, gently and patiently, Hailey convinced Edgar to stay, with the fox clutched tightly to him.
Now Edgar is from a poor immigrant family. He sleeps on the floor at home beside his 5 older siblings. His father was deported to Mexico this past winter, and their mother cares for them all, working and just scraping by. Edgar lives in fear, not understanding where his father has gone and wondering if his mother or brothers or sisters will disappear any day like his father did.
Hailey, the 15 year old, is unsure of herself, living a pretty sheltered life, but has come to have a new experience, helping to design and lead this day camp. She speaks no Spanish, much less the indigenous language that Edgar’s mother speaks. But she is learning to become an empathetic leader and to share God’s love across the barriers that divided her from her young campers.
When I went for the final closing on Friday, there was Edgar, happily participating and singing new songs. I’m pretty sure Edgar went home with the stuffed fox. But more than just a really cool puppet he was part of a reaching across barriers . Knowing, feeling the love of these teenage leaders. Experiencing reconciliation.
Today’s readings seem relevant to my experience of the chaos and confusion that swirled around the Summer Bible Camp. Of that wild coming together of different cultures, of ignorance of each other’s culture, and the eventual reconciling of those disparate worlds by the end of the week.
It also reminds me of the way that we are separated and divided today. Paul assures us that in Christ we can overcome our divisions. Of course, Paul is referring to the divisions between the Jews and the gentiles, or as he says, ‘the circumcised’ and ‘the uncircumcised’. The ‘us’ and the ‘other’.
Paul says, “’Christ’ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one, and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. [Christ]… has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
In our time I would say ‘one humanity’ in place of the many fragmented groups. I pray daily for that peace of God to overcome the hostility whirling around us. Preferably soon, not so slowly, but we know it will be in God’s time.
I am struck by the many different settings in which I hear that public prayer for an end to the hostility. For peace and an end to discord, chaos and hatred, from all sides. From people who voted for one political party and from people who voted for another party. From people who fear immigrants and from people who love immigrants or are immigrants. From people who fear losing the world we knew, and those who fear the new world that is charging at us. We all share a passion for our rights of free expression. But we also share a passion for peace. Peace in our family. Peace in our communities. Peace between countries. Peace between people of different religious faiths, races, and genders. Peace among all God’s beloved children.
Theologian Brian Pederson says, “Jews and Gentiles were separated by a painful and often violent history, by divergent cultures and convictions, by mutual hostility and suspicion.
“This is what sin does” he says, “– it divides us from one another. But now they[we] have been made part of a story which moves from exclusion, hostility, and deprivation to welcome, reconciliation, and God’s overflowing gift.”
Jesus was concerned for his close friends, the disciples. Concerned that they were getting burned out, that they had bitten off more than they could chew, that they were not getting enough quiet time of prayer and physical renewal to be able to truly understand the meaning of God’s presence with them in Jesus, and to fully take in the power of God’s love in their lives. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” he says.
The summer Day Camp at Resurreccion was chaos, but loving chaos. It was joyous noise, not terrifying noise. The chaos we face as a nation and as a world, is not so benign.
We need to take care of ourselves, so we do not get burned-out. We need to recognize that God created all of us, and that our life’s work is reconciling the chaos and the violence and the sin, bringing it all before God so that Christ can give us peace and reconciliation. Jesus wants us to speak truth, to pray and meditate, – and most of all to love. We need to be witnesses and living examples of that love.
I rejoice in the hope that Paul offers us today. He says, “remember that you were at that time without Christ, being …strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” We do have hope. In our baptism we became partners with God in those covenants. A better day will come, with God’s help.
I invite you to open your prayer books to page 833 and join me in saying the prayer attributed to St. Francis, prayer #62:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is
hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where
there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where
there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where
there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to
be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is
in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life. Amen.