Three years ago, my first summer at St Michael’s,             I went with a group of high school students to Chicago. We had lined up a series of service projects to do while we were there The first was that we spent two mornings at a child care center for low-income families. It was a mixed experienced. Some of our youth really connected and had fun with the kids. But the adult leaders at the day care center were sick of working with a never-ending series of volunteers, and they didn’t really need us,             so most of our group felt useless and uncomfortable. The next project was to make dinner at a Ronald McDonald house near U Chicago hospital. It was fun – buying the groceries and taking them to the house in a shopping cart borrowed from the market, working together to make yummy tacos. But most of the residents of the house did not come at dinner time – so we cleaned up, left the food for people to help themselves when they came in from the hospital, and left hardly having met or talked to anyone at the house.  So we were feeling a bit discouraged the morning of our last project – to help at a church in a black neighborhood in South Chicago which served 2 meals a day six days a week. We were slow getting ready, slow getting our breakfast, and arrived late at the church –             where we were immediately met and put to work             by the force of nature who ran the kitchen. She had been waiting for us, we had a lot to do before lunch could be served, and within minutes she had each of us assigned to tasks – opening cans, mixing batter. Francesca and I were asked to cut up chickens for frying, and the knives were not very sharp, and we were embarrassed to find that neither of us could do a very good job at it – finally the young man who was getting ready to fry all the chicken took pity on us,   took our knives, and gave us other jobs. We prepared lunch – fried chicken and bread and various salads – and then the youth took places at the serving line to the give food to 50+ people who came for lunch. It felt good to really be needed, to really help. What’s more, we were all touched by the stories of the “regulars,” who volunteered there day after day to feed people less fortunate than them. The young man who fried the chicken had had a rough youth, had been shot, survived,             and told us he worked there out of gratitude to God, who had spared his life and given him a chance at a new life. To our eyes, he was nearly as needy as those who came for each day for food –             and his gratitude for his life and all he had was a witness to us. I was reminded of all this by an article a friend sent me this week. It’s written by Sara Miles, the Director of Ministry at St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal church in San Francisco. ** Some years ago she started a food pantry there – a rather extraordinary neighborhood food pantry, which is described in Sara’s first book, Take this Bread. She began the article talking about the requests she receives each summer from groups like ours – youth groups who are coming to San Francisco and want to “do something for people in need.” Sara says she has mixed feelings about such groups, partly because it’s a small food pantry,           ably run by neighborhood folks, many of whom are or have been recipients of food. They don’t really need help. But the other reason brings us around to title of the article, which Sara borrowed from theologian Samuel Wells – The Most Important Word in the Bible.” What do you think the word is?  Jesus? Love? Grace? Mercy? Spirit? Sara Miles, with Samuel Wells, suggests that the most important word in the Bible is . .         with. The Bible is all about “with.” God with us. In the Covenant with Israel, in the incarnation – God is with us. Jesus promises – I will be with you always. And God invites us to be with one another. Love one another, Jesus says, as I have loved you. Love your neighbor as yourself. Walking with, eating with, living with – the disciples, the outcasts, the sinners –             Jesus spent his life being with those people who were most in need of God’s love. In the gospel story today, Jesus sends his disciples out, two by two. He sends them to share the good new –             The kingdom of God is among you! God is here! He sends them to heal and cast out demons in his name. And how are they to do this? Mostly by going out to be with people. To stay in their homes. To share their food. To live alongside them, sharing what Jesus has shared with them. Eugene Peterson’s contemporary Bible paraphrase, The Message, says it like this:

            Jesus sent them out with these instructions:             Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this.             You are the equipment.             Keep it simple.  

Jesus came to be with us. Jesus sends us to be with others. It sounds simple enough. But it’s not easy. It’s easier to be helpful. It’s easier to be useful. It’s easier to say and do the right things,             and to be seen saying and doing them. This “being with” requires vulnerability. Jesus asks his disciples to be utterly dependent on those with whom they stay. That story seems far away from our reality. We might wonder what good it would do anyone for us to head out into the world             to preach and beg for our supper. But Sara Miles shares a story which, I think, brings it closer to home. I want to share it in her words, as she wrote in her article, and share the conclusions she draws:   . . . .    
The most important word in the Bible, Sara concludes, is the most important word in our lives: and it is a word made flesh. God lives with us, just a Jesus lives with the Father, and we with one another, and the Holy Spirit, the very breath of life, lives with us all. In seminary pastoral care class, we learned about something we called a “ministry of presence.” It means we don’t always need to say the right thing, or do the right thing –             that sometimes, what we need to do is to show up. To be there, with a presence that says – I am with you, and God is with you. And you know what? It doesn’t require a seminary degree. It doesn’t require special equipment, or programs, or funding. It simply requires letting ourselves be vulnerable Giving up the idea that we are the ones with the right answer, the solution to the problem,             and being willing to just abide, helplessly but faithfully, with another person’s pain.     I’m not suggesting we give up the valuable, important ministries we carry out –             at our church an in our lives –             to help one another in tangible, practical ways. But we must always remember the importance of being with other people,             not just doing for them – of seeing and hearing them,             recognizing them as people with gifts and needs and challenges and joys,                         not as problems to be solved. And then to remember, when we are helpless before another person’s need or pain,              to open ourselves to be with them – trusting in the power of a God whose grace is sufficient for us all,             even when we don’t know what to do.

Jesus sent them out with these instructions:             Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this.     You are the equipment.
Amen ** Miles, Sara,  “The Most Important Word in the Bible,” The Episcopal Café website, July 21, 2013. <>. St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church Albuquerque, NM

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