On God As Sustainer And Source

On God As Sustainer And Source

On God as Sustainer and Source
August 6, 2023
Traceymay Kalvaitis

Isaiah 55:1-3
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.

Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Today’s sermon is titled On God as Sustainer and Source.

This past month I marked the five-year anniversary of my call into authorized ministry by the churches of Harrisville and Dublin. It was also the month I finished my schooling and submitted my portfolio for ordination. In looking back over the list of the fifteen classes on my transcript, I estimate that I must have read between 7000-8000 pages in my studies, and yet one of the most influential texts has been this 78-page book titled The Living Reminder, by Henri Nouwen. The book was not required reading, it was mentioned in passing by one of my professors and I ordered it immediately. With the exception of the Bible, this book has influenced my approach to ministry more than any other. The title is “The Living Reminder” and the subtitle is “Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ.” The premise of the book is this: In caring for one another, we can be a living reminder of Christ; Christ as healer, sustainer, and guide.

Today I’d like to focus in on Christ as sustainer as we consider the story of feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. My educated guess is that many of those hungry people in the crowd would have been familiar with the stories of previous instances where their ancestors were fed by miraculous circumstances. Exodus 16 recounts the gift of manna from heaven and there are two other accounts that are not as well known. In the book of Kings, chapter 17, the prophet Elijah “creates a never ending supply of flour and oil in order for the people to survive a famine.” In the book of second Kings, Elijah’s student, Elisha, “feeds 100 men with an insufficient supply of bread and there is bread left over.”* These stories from the First Testament are important because they remind us that the Jewish community Jesus served had a context for this miraculous event. They knew God as Sustainer. They knew God as Source.

The words we heard this morning from the prophet Isaiah reinforce this experience of God as Sustainer and Source. “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good. Come to me, that you may live.”

Other than food and water and air, what is it that sustains us, Friends? And what is the source of that invisible sustenance? I am sad to recall that terrible experiment in the 1200’s conducted under the orders of Roman Emperor Frederick II. In an attempt to discover the original human language, five infants were fed and bathed for almost three years with no spoken words, no exchange of communication, and very little human touch. All five infants died before the age of three. What is it that sustains us? And what is the source of that invisible sustenance?

In the Hindu tradition, there is a name for food that has been prepared while praying. It is not just food that has been quickly blessed, it is food that has been prepared with prayerful intention so that it may convey something more than just sustenance. Such food is called prasad. Prasad nourishes body and spirit. We can consider the elements of our Communion this morning as prasad. The elements have been purchased, prepared and served with prayerful intention that what is offered is more than just sustenance. Through Communion, what is offered is a reminder that there is a source of love so vast that fear, and even death, can not eclipse it. We humans have created a word to name this Source of everlasting love and that word is God.

In Matthew 4:4, Jesus quotes scripture from the book of Deuteronomy, saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” The Jewish sages knew that bread can only sustain us for so long. Without love, without something or someone to live for, we will not thrive and we may not survive. Viktor Frankl, author of the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, documented his experience in the concentration camps during World War II. Frankl, a psychologist, noticed that those who were able to sustain themselves through lack of food, freezing temperatures, and harsh physical labor all had one thing in common. They all had someone or something to live for. Frankl began to counsel others to identify something or someone to live for and he witnessed incredible outcomes; he also witnessed accelerated declines and death among those who had lost all sense of meaning in their lives. We can not live by bread alone. We need one another and we need love in our lives.

In closing, I invite us to share the extravagant love of God, our Sustainer and our Source. May the food we offer be prepared and served as if we are offering prasad, food for body and soul. In the myriad of ways we serve one another, may we allow the light of Christ to shine forth. In the encouraging words we share, may we remind one another of Christ and his love of humanity, with no exceptions. So be it. Amen.

“We need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.”

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen


Pastoral Prayer
In this stillness, we lift our prayers to a place beyond us, where the unfathomable divine workings of God are all that are. May peace replace anxiety, may love replace fear, and may assurance replace uncertainty in all we are facing in our lives. Help us, Holy Spirit, to look for the best in ourselves and in one another and yet foster in us a spirit of forgiveness, tolerance and understanding. Please be with those of us in need, those enduring illness and those in recovery. Guide us with the light of your loving presence, we pray in the name of Jesus, who gave us this prayer so long ago…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.

I leave you with these words of prayer written by Bishop Joseph Butler in 1657:
“Help us to improve to Perfection, till all partial affection be lost in that entire, universal, one and Thou, O God, shalt be all in all.” Amen.