Today's Featured Reading: John 6:1-15
Most of us have someone in our lives who represents a heroic presence for us. For me, that person is a woman who – for confidentiality purposes – I’ll call Susan. Let me take a few minutes and tell you why Susan is a hero of mine.
Susan was married to a man by the name of David. David was one of a handful of private business owners who lived in our small town when I was growing up. David not only owned one business – he owned several SUCCESSFUL businesses. Susan and David had five children: Paul, Harold, Jeannie, Mark, and Scott. Most folks in our town looked at Susan and figured she had a charmed life!
And then – in the mid-1980’s – things began to change dramatically in Susan’s world. Susan’s only daughter Jeannie got pregnant during her senior year of high school. Things like this never happened in our idyllic community so people weren’t sure how to react; so they did what many people in small towns do: they talked behind the family’s back.
Two years later, Susan’s second child Harold was hit by a car while he was out biking. Harold was in a life-threatening situation for many months. Through the strength of his will and the love of his family, Harold managed to hold on for quite a while. A year later Harold finally succumbed to those injuries – passing away at the age of 23.
The following year Susan’s third child Mark was working for one of his father’s companies – unloading a freight car – when something went horribly wrong in the loading area. The load of freight tipped and fell upon Mark – killing him instantly.
In the span of just five years, Susan lived through the unexpected pregnancy of her teenage daughter and the death of not one but two of her children. I wish I could say that Susan’s trials ended there, but they didn’t.
Within 18-months of Mark’s death, Susan was diagnosed with an advanced case of breast cancer. And in the midst of her difficult treatment regime, her husband filed for divorce.
By the time 1995 rolled around, Susan was totally shell-shocked. Any remnant of the world she had known just 12 years earlier was either gone, or permanently changed.
So what does all of this have to do with today’s Gospel reading from John?
Well, let’s see if I can help you tie the two together.
As I thought about Susan in light of this morning’s story, I thought there were a couple of places where I saw evidence of Susan’s presence. First, I thought initially, I could see Susan as one of those individuals in the story that scampered up the hillside to be a part of the crowd near Jesus - for like them, Susan was in desperate need of healing and restoration. But that location didn’t capture the fullness of Susan’s story. So I thought about the possibility of seeing Susan in the person of Phillip. For as Susan sat back and surveyed the landscape of her life, there is no doubt in my mind that she – like Phillip – must have thought: “I don’t have enough resources to get through this.”
Now if I stopped at this point in my telling of Susan’s story, you might wonder what it was about Susan that made her into such a heroic figure for me. For to this point, she had done nothing remarkable other than endure a series of tragedies.
But Susan’s story didn’t end there. For every morning thereafter, Susan did the most heroic thing imaginable. She kicked her legs out from the covers, sat up on the edge of the bed, put her feet on the floor, stood up, and faced a new day. After much thought I finally figured out where Susan was in this morning’s story. She was the little boy. For every day, Susan did what the little boy did. She got up, offered all that she had, and trusted that it would be enough to see her through.
And you know what?
Not once, for instance, did Susan allow herself to look at her grandchild born out-of-wedlock to her teenage daughter and see that grandchild with anything but love and total devotion. Not once did Susan allow the pain of losing not one but two children to overwhelm her. She found ways to be there for her three surviving children. Not once did Susan define herself as a victim of cancer. Susan instead defined herself as a person living with cancer. Not once did Susan allow a broken relationship to call her self-worth into question. Instead, Susan brought a renewed sense of vigor and wholeness to the other relationships in her life. That is why Susan is a heroic person of faith in my book.
Friends I say all of this not to toot Susan’s horn. For if you knew her, you’d know that Susan is the last person on the planet who would want her horn tooted. Nor do I share the story as an example of personal one-upmanship: to set into motion a chain of events where we share competing stories of who do we know who has had it harder. Instead, I share Susan’s story as a lived example of what it means to face difficult times – times when we wonder if we have enough to go on – and come through those days with more than just a few crumbs left over.
I can’t say that I know exactly what lies ahead for you: the magnitude of the challenges and transitions before you – the limited amount of resources you think of as having available to you. So I can’t tailor make my message to your specific circumstances.
But this morning, I can tell you this. No matter how big the challenges you face may seem, no matter how scarce your resources might seem: you will have enough to see you through.
Even better. You’ll have leftovers.
That, in a nutshell, is the good news of our gospel. Thanks be to God!