It’s astonishing that stories written down more than 25 centuries ago, stories about two humans and a tree in a garden or a king who realizes he’ll need wisdom to rule well … it’s amazing that these stories speak so clearly and directly to life in a nuclear age of quarks and quantum computing and all the rest. What they ask is, “Do you have the wisdom, the moral discernment, to be entrusted with the knowledge or authority or power that you possess?” And too often, from that moment in the garden, to the U.N. climate report just last week, the answer has been a sobering, “No. No we don’t.” Too often we haven’t possessed the wisdom, or even the humility to ask for that wisdom, to use our knowledge or power to bring our lives and our world back into the wholeness we long for. The wholeness something in us knows we were made for.
I don’t suppose you could argue successfully that Memphis is on any kind of mountaintop, but it is on a bluff above a mighty river; and that is not nothing. What I not only believe but know is that there have been many transfigured moments within the life of this community—moments when light has shown brighter than any darkness around. I believe that pairing our founding with this sacred story from scripture is appropriate and more importantly that it is inspirational for us these nearly 200 years after the birth of this wonderful parish.
The brilliance of the story is that we’re all Davids. It’s so easy to see what’s wrong in someone else. Nathan shows David to himself only by making him think he’s looking at someone else. Someone at whom all of David’s righteous indignation and moral superiority is aroused to set things right. And then, what may be the most unbelievable thing in David’s whole unbelievable saga happens. Nathan’s fable works. David actually sees that he’s the man he’s just judged. More importantly, he sees himself in a way that may just be truthful enough for him to begin to see the people around him for who they are too.
Jesus is teaching his disciples, the 5,000 gathered, and us that in this new kingdom he is bringing about, nothing is lost. Nothing is wasted. And he is not just talking about food. He is talking about people. All our lives have significance and purpose. And just as he gave instructions to gather every last crumb, Jesus will not abandon any of us.
It might seem like what would open us best to surprise would need to be strange and unfamiliar, but it doesn’t. Our worship tradition, our hymns and organ pipes and tower bells, our chalices and vestments and wobbly brass crosses are more like idols if they only settle us reassuringly into the stability of the past. They’re meant to be objects carried through the wilderness of so many centuries to startle us into a present hope that God can make something new, not only of us, but of our world. They are relics and reminders from lives and times in which God has done just that.