Sunday, August 3, 2014

Quality Ingredients

   Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

Fr. Stitt often says
that when he sees me working in the kitchen,
it makes him think of Ready… Set… Cook!
an old game show of which I’ve never otherwise heard. 
From the way he describes it,
cooks would compete against each other
to quickly prepare a winning meal
with whatever ingredients were provided.

I’ll admit:
I rather like the challenge of coming up with something to serve
based on the raw materials we just happen to have in the rectory
on any given day.
Lately, I’ve had a lot more to work with than usual:
in only the last two weeks or so,
we’ve received yellow beans, zucchini,
sweet peas, sugar snap peas, cucumbers,
tomatoes, green onions, sweet corn, blueberries,
ice cream, smoked salmon, several cuts of beef,
maple syrup, and a few nice bottles of red wine—
all from the generosity of family, friends, and parishioners.
Many thanks to everyone who’s shared of their bounty with us!
And, since Fr. Justin likes vegetables a good bit more than Fr. Tom did,
I’ve got a lot more room for creativity in the kitchen these days!

I got to thinking:
my work in the kitchen
is an awful lot like my work as a pastor.

You can see what I mean in Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel.
Jesus' heart is moved with pity for that hungry throng,
gathered around him in a deserted place.
He finds a way to not only feed them,
but to teach his Apostles an important lesson, too.
Jesus does what my grandmother did on countless occasions
to feed her large family in lean times:
he uses a couple very simple ingredients to make enough for a crowd,
and does so by looking up to heaven:
by trustingly placing them—and, above all, himself—
into the hands of his Father.

The work of the Church these days—
here in the North Country, at least—
is often about finding ways to do more with less.
We have fewer priests, fewer people,
and fewer financial resources than in years past.
But many of the needs we see—
and to which the Church is called to respond—
are just as big and urgent as ever.
We could easily get overwhelmed and discouraged,
as did the disciples when Jesus said,
“Give all these hungry people some food yourselves!”
Or we can roll up our sleeves and get creative,
taking what we have at hand—however meager it might seem—
and allowing God to stretch it (and us!) to achieve his purpose.

Over the past few years,
I’ve several times heard or read the idea
that God provides every parish with every gift it needs
in order to accomplish his plan.
The more I think and pray about it,
the more and more I believe that is absolutely true.
The challenge is helping people to discover
that they’ve been given those gifts—
that God has called and equipped them for a particular purpose
which he intends them to fulfill.

And when I say them, I mean you.
And when I say you, I mean everybody.

Have you ever considered
that there’s a place in the life of the Church
which, by God’s design, only you can fill?
It’s certainly a point to ponder!
We know that, in the kitchen,
the quality of our cooking depends in large part
on the quality of the ingredients with which we have to work.
When it comes to the Church,
are we bringing our very best forward?
Are we contributing “the good stuff,”
or merely our leftovers?
Is what we’re willing to give
in proportion to what we come hoping to receive?

Just think of what Jesus was able to set out on the table
when sharing a Last Supper with his disciples:
he took the very basics—a scrap of bread, a sip of wine—
and with the creative power found only in the Lord’s hand,
made them into the means by which
we can experience his abiding presence on earth
and even now get a taste of heaven.

If we could only put ourselves trustingly into the Lord’s hands—
those hands which cured the sick, 
which multiplied the loaves,
which blessed and broke and gave the Bread of Life—
just imagine what amazing things he could do with us!
Ready?  Set?  Let's cook!

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