The Good Old Days
Remember the good ol’ days?
Everyone’s got some time in the past that seemed the best of times.
Whether it’s the carefree days of high school or a growing family;
Perhaps it was in a particular job or at a time when the living was easy.
Everyone has a time they are nostalgic for.
For me, it’s the early years of raising my kids.
After Stephanie, my second child, was born, I paused my work life and stayed home with the kids.
This was of course an opportunity to spend more time in direct care of my children;
But it was more than that for me.
I had three goals when I stopped working: 1. Join a gym, 2. Take singing lessons, 3. Make a new friend.
I did all three, but the best of all was becoming friends with my neighbor Maris.
Maris and I did everything together: watched our children, cooked each other meals,
Double dated with our husbands at each other’s houses with the children sleeping upstairs.
It was idyllic.
Except that when I really stop to think about those days, I realize I omit certain things from my memory:
The diaper genie and the mountains of gear that accompanied me everywhere
The shrieking banshee my baby turned into when she outgrew the dose of reflux medicine
The restlessness of putting my calling aside and the self doubt about my abilities
After being away from ministry for so long.
I feel so fond about those days, that it makes me think my memory has a revisionist streak,
editing out the stuff that isn’t so pleasant.
It seems that people in the bible had a revisionist streak, too:
In our Old Testament lesson for today, the Israelites just escaped from the Egyptian army days before.
They left Egypt because the Egyptians had forced them into hard labor and killed their babies,
But now, faced with hunger in the wilderness, all they remember is the food that they had in Egypt
Whoever thought they’d be nostalgic for slavery in Egypt?
Sometimes nostalgia gives a skewed version of the past.
It can also blind people to the gift before them.
That’s what’s going on in the Gospel lesson today.
The crowd that Jesus fed in the feeding of the 5000 continue to follow him
Because, as Jesus says, they “ate [their] fill of the loaves.”
In other words, they were interested in keeping that free bread coming.
They had precedent in their religious tradition for thinking this is possible:
God fed the Israelites in the desert with manna, the bread from heaven.
But now God was giving them Jesus, the bread that gives life to the whole world.
The crowd’s desire for what used to be prevented them from seeing Jesus’ true purpose.
Jesus gave them the loaves and fishes not simply to quell their physical hunger,
But to point them to the Source that could cure all their hungers permanently.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “whoever comes to me will never be hungry
And whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus himself is the bread from heaven, who gives life not to a few but to all.
In him, all needs are met; all wounds are healed; and all desires fulfilled.
The people looking for the loaves couldn’t see it.
They were too busy remembering how it used to be-- the manna, the loaves and fish.
Now, to be clear, there is a difference between remembering with gratitude the gifts of the past
And getting stuck in nostalgia.
Remembering the gifts of the past, especially God’s role in providing these gifts,
Is actually an important spiritual discipline.
Remembering God’s blessings in the past and how God has cared for us
Keeps us looking at the world with faith filled eyes
The more we see God providing for us, the more trust we have that God will provide again.
We face challenges with more ease, because we are not as anxious remembering God’s care in the past.
Gratitude cultivates awareness of God’s gifts, many of which we would otherwise blip by,
So that our lives become ones where we can relish blessings large and small.
It’s a temptation that can happen in the church just like anywhere else.
Things may have been better some decades ago when pews were full and there were no Sunday am sports.
But getting nostalgic about those times may mean missing how God is moving now
That people are praying with apps on their phone
And building spiritual muscle through service opportunities.
People are learning to translate their faith into new language for a secular world,
Talking afresh about forgiveness and prayer, and connecting it to secular practices like yoga and mindfulness.
When we balance our gratitude the gifts of the past, and trust that God is also working in the now,
We begin to be able to receive the gift that God wants to give us in this time and place.
Here at St Matthew, I continue to be reminded of how much change you all have navigated in the past two yrs.
This month marks the second anniversary of Pastor Carter’s retirement.
Since then you have also said goodbye to Pastor Hille and Mary Rose,
And welcomed myself, Michelle, Pastor Bill, and Roy to the staff.
Right now we are changing again, with Michelle moving on to a new position,
And hiring a full time staff person or pastor, as well as a new musician.
It adds up to some exciting prospects for new gifts and new growth in our community,
But it also requires flexibility and patience as people take time to acclimate.
Times of change are like wandering in the wilderness- you are not always sure where you are headed.
The terrain can seem unfamiliar and strange.
Taking the time to reflect with gratitude on what we have shared
And what was meaningful in the past is important—
It honors what has been.
I am here to listen as you and other members of the congregation continue the process the current changes
And the changes of the past two years.
No one turn back the hands of time, but we can pray and witness the blessings of the past together.
Together we can pray that we see with new eyes what God is doing in this community of St Matthew.
You who are here can play an important role, too.
Some have stepped back a bit in the past two years in the wake of what seems jarring and unfamiliar.
Who haven’t you seen in a while?
Can you reach out to them, let them know you are thinking of them?
Let them know that together we can take time to listen to their story and to honor the past.
Let them know we are still here for them, and invite them to come back when they are ready.
Acclimating to change takes repeated exposure,
And there is no timeline on a person’s process in accepting loss and change.
Our stories today from scripture point us to the truth that God makes a special effort
to feed us in the wilderness times.
God gave the Israelites manna and quail on their journey;
God gave bread and fish and Jesus himself to the crowds who followed him.
Perhaps in the difficult times, God makes a dramatic display out of caring for us;
Or perhaps it is simply that when we are struggling, we are more aware of our need
And therefore more grateful when they are fulfilled.
In feeding of the 5000, 12 baskets are recovered from the broken pieces.
It is no coincidence that the number is 12—it is a reference to the 12 tribes of Israel.
Gather up the broken pieces, so that nothing may be lost, Jesus says.
No matter how far we feel from comfort, no matter how much things change,
No matter how far into the wilderness we find ourselves,
No one is lost to God.
Remember the good ol’ days?
God was there, providing for us, feeding us with Jesus, the bread of life.
That same God is feeding us now, tending our souls, and filling us with the food that endures for eternal life.