Growing up, I lived between what can be best described as the tale of two families. As a small child, I thought my paternal grandparents were the wealthiest people in the world. My grandfather was what one would call a self-made man. The son of a carriage driver, he began his career in the mail room of a stock firm on the day the market crashed in 1929. By the time his sixty year career came to an end, he had worked his way up to being a senior vice president of the firm. My brothers and I looked forward to visiting my grandparents. When we arrived in New York from Dallas, Grandpa would pick us up in his Lincoln Continental. From our perspective, this was quite the luxury car complete with power windows, a rarity in the late sixties. The week with them would be spent swimming at the nearby tennis club with the highlight of the week being the day we had lunch with Grandpa at the men’s luncheon club he belonged to in New Haven. For this event, we would have to wear a jacket and tie and because my grandmother would be with us, we would have to eat in the “Ladies Dinning Room”, as the main room was reserved strictly for gentlemen dining.
As I look back at the time I spent with my paternal grandparents, it is clear, they lacked for nothing. But you wouldn’t know that speaking with my grandmother. After having raised a young family during the depression, my grandmother always seemed worried about money. And it never seemed, despite all she had, as if she ever had enough.
My maternal grandparents were the opposite. My maternal grandfather was raised in an Italian orphanage and immigrated to the United States when he was sixteen. Five years later he married my grandmother when she was sixteen. Together they raised five children which my grandfather supported through a series of jobs. For a while he worked as a photographer in New York City and then as a tailor in New Haven. He and my grandmother lived modestly in the small house they managed to buy in the forties. Neither ever learned to drive.
One of my father’s favorite stories of my grandmother was how she cashed her Social Security Check every month and then pulled out an old shoe box filled with envelopes, each marked with a line item from her budget and there she would divvy up her cash to pay each bill as it came along. I don’t think my grandmother ever had a credit card, in fact, she may not have known what one was. As I look back on my maternal grandmother’s life, I realize now how tight money must have been for her, but growing up, I would have sworn she was a wealthy as my Paternal Grandparents.
When I was with my maternal grandparents, you never got the sense money was tight. Instead the feeling was just the opposite, it seemed life for them was one of abundance. No we didn’t swim at the tennis club or go out for fancy meals, instead, meals were home grown and produced in great abundance in my grandmother’s kitchen. Swimming adventures, were trips to my aunt’s very modest cottage on the Milford shore. Life for my maternal grandparents was tight but good and there always seemed to be more than enough to share.
In today’s gospel, we heard Matthew’s account of the feeding of thousands. When Jesus realized the crowd needed to be fed, he ordered the disciples to feed them. Of course the disciples, knowing the size of crowd and realizing what it would cost to feed so many, balked and did their best to change Jesus’ mind. But Jesus held firm, then blessed the five loaves and two fish before ordering the disciples to distribute the food. As we all know, the story ends with everyone being fed and enough scraps being found to fill twelve baskets.
This story speaks to the abundance of God’s kingdom and God’s ability transform a little into a lot. As Christians we are called to live our lives in the same way my maternal grandparents did. We are called to live our lives as if with abundance by celebrating and sharing what we have and not worrying over what we don’t have.
When we are able to live our lives as if with abundance, then we can freely offer the generosity of God’s kingdom to others. It allows us the confidence to share all that we have knowing with God there will always be more than enough.
On one level this is what this story is about. It is a reminder that we as baptized Christians have been given the gifts and the bounty of the heavenly banquet and like the disciples we are commanded, not just called, but commanded by Christ to share that gift with everyone. Again in today’s Gospel, the writer takes the opportunity to write that there were 5000 men plus others. All were fed, not just the men who had status or happened to be Jewish, but everyone, worthy or unworthy, in or out. Thus the kingdom the writer is trying to convey is for everyone, not just those for whom we wish it for.
As a community, we have always been good at sharing our abundance of God’s love with others within the community. At Doris Haile’s service on Thursday morning, her daughter Christine thanked the congregation for our ongoing support of Doris these past few years as her sight and physical abilities began to wane. As Christine said in her remarks, St. Luke’s was both the spiritual and social centers of Doris’ life. We could count on Doris being here most every Sunday morning as well as being at every social event. Doris never lacked a ride to church. And in these last few months, it seemed there was always someone discreetly checking in on her. Doris was able to live life on her terms and stay in her house as long as she did because of the generosity and love she received from this community.
As we live more fully into the story of the feeding of the five thousand, we are challenged to spread our generosity beyond the bounds of our intimate community, and we do that well here in Camillus. With so little, our garden this year is producing a bounty for Meals on Wheels, and many are able to put food on their table because of our generous donations to the St. Charles Food Pantry.
Soon we may be asked to stretch ourselves even further by literally providing for the “alien” in our midst as unaccompanied children fleeing from poverty and violence in Central America may soon be housed at the old Maria Regina convent. Since I began discussing their possible arrival three weeks ago the outpouring of support from this community has been wonderful. The desire to help these children speaks volumes to our willingness to live into today’s gospel, to not only see these children as part of our own community, but more importantly, like so many others, as part of the 5000 Christ has commanded us to feed.