Wednesday, August 2

Sermon Proper 12 (17)

2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Bike Ride.

One of the things I did for a living before taking the big plunge and returning to seminary was to work for the AIDSRide.  I don't know how many of you are familiar with the AIDSRide, but most simply it was a large fundraiser for local AIDS service organizations.  This particular ride went from the Twin Cities to Chicago, five hundred miles in six days.  My job was to train and encourage a certain number of participants in their fund raising and their training.  The most I was ever responsible for was around 800 people...and from all walks of life. 

As athletic as this even was, the people who participated were often not at all athletic.  For one reason or another the disease AIDS had some claim on their life.  Either they themselves suffered with the disease or they knew someone who did; a brother, sister, friend or lover...and for those reasons the training leading up to the event was very emotional.  Every day I would receive e-mails and phone calls from people who were ready to give up, who did not feel they would ever be ready for the Ride.

"I don't have time to train."
"Please help me.  I can't raise the pledge minimum.  My friends are poor actors."
"How am I supposed to spend eight hours in a bike seat every day for six days?"
"I miss my brother."

At this time of the year, I cannot help but think of this event.  I rode one year and spent three more years working for the company that produced the Ride.  Summers to me are still about the AIDSRide.  My body remember the heat and the humidity.  It is almost as if my body has stored up that emotional energy and habitually releases it in the summer.  It is incredibly vivid...

       corn fields...
             bike grease...

There were months of preparation for an event of this size.  As a "Rider Representative" I would help with fund raising parties for participants.  I would speak at recruitment events.  As a production team, we would wrangle with property owners and local government to secure the proper permits to place 40 port-a-potties on someone's lawn.  In the end 2,000 riders would ride.  Perhaps even twice as many volunteers would crew the event. 

About a month before the Ride, panic of a kind would set in.  The nervous phone calls that I mentioned earlier would pick up.  But there would also be a growing sense of the even taking on a life of its own.  I would start getting phone calls from people to tell me that they had reached their pledge minimum and I did not need to bother them anymore.  Check, Steve is done!  Another call might be from someone who just rode their first 100 mile training ride...a century.  Check, cross Mary off the list.  And there would be amazing stories of generosity and charity.

"I went on a training ride with Bob Smith and he showed me how to change my flat and how to spin when I peddle!  He's great!"

"My grandmother's best friend just mailed me a check for $1,000."

"I met someone who had reached their pledge minimum, so he gave me some of the extra pledges he received."

There was one man who seemed to have all the best connections.  And he was an avid cyclist.  I never had to worry about him.  But I always heard stories.  He helped people learn to ride when that had not been on a bike since they were twelve.  He would be present at registration to hand out pledges to people who had not yet met their minimum.  The stories about him were amazing.

Then we would be at opening ceremonies.  5:00am in a stadium in the Twin Cities and no one has slept.  People are nervous and tired.  And there we would watch 2,000 people get on their bikes and ride.

A typical day on the ride looked like this:
          get up and pack the tent
          eat breakfast
          ride 15-20 miles to the first pit stop
          ride 15-20 miles to the next pit stop
          repeat until you get to the evening camp
          pitch your tent, shower, eat, sleep

This lasted for six days.  Then we would find ourselves at closing ceremonies.  Riders would have ridden to a holding area at the park downtown in Chicago so that they could all ride together to the ceremony on Balboa.  2,000 people would ride in together.  By this time the emotions were so high, so close to the surface that there were few dry eyes.  Those of us who produced the ride were no exception.

And then the riders would share their stories. 
        "I can't believe I made it!" 
             "I rode the whole way, every inch!"

It was incredible...miraculous.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Choir.

One of the down sides to working this event was that it was seasonal.  I would be without employment for a couple months or more each year.  I was not so wise and did not prepare for this.  The second year I was laid off, I was sitting at choir rehearsal at church and a man came up to me with a bag of groceries.  In the bag were vegetables from his garden and "Omaha" steaks.  I had never eaten so well!  He looked at me and said "You look peaked."

Only then did it occur to me that this was a miracle and the ride I had helped produce was a miracle.  I had though that all of the phone calls and the sleepless nights and the fundraisiers and all of that was what actually caused the Ride to happen and be successful.  It would seem that I was wrong.  I had to receive a miracle of charity to see what else was miraculous.  The smallest gesture of kindness and my eyes were opened up to the miraculous. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a hillside picnic.

    It is founded in God.
    It is revealed in community.
    The true miracle is shrouded in the ordinary.

John Calvin suggests that the nature of the miraculous is not in the supernatural even that may or may not signify it...though he certainly would have believed in the supernatural.  Instead, it is found in the beneficence that it brings.  The true miracle feeds people.   It feeds them spiritually and physically.  And, like with the gift from the young boy, it is often founded upon the simplest barley bread or a bag of groceries from someone's garden. 

Calvin says that the reason why the miracle of walking on water is terrifying and that the disciples wanted to make Jesus their king is that humanity encounters the miraculous and cannot see beyond it.  We only see the supernatural.  And that obsession is idolatrous.  Again, the miracle is that some good was done...on the hillside, in the choir room and on the AIDSRide.

The church is the body of Christ.  The church is the person who stands on the hillside and blesses the smallest offering and by doing so brings the miraculous to the fore.  It understands that and teaches that the miracle is never the point of the story.  It only points the way to God.  That is all.  And, perhaps, if it does not feed us, it is no miracle at all. 

Go forth into the world and be the Body of Christ.