This sermon was preached by Caroline McCall on Thursday, April 6 for the commemoration of the Rev. Daniel Gee Ching Wu. The texts for this sermon were: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, I Thessalonians 4:9-12 and Mark 8:1-9a.
I find that my default response, particularly in times of stress and uncertainty, tends to be no. Whether in word or action, when faced with new challenges or confounding situations, my first impulse is not imagination or possibility, it is status quo. I rationalize a negative response by saying I am tired, or that my time and resources are insufficient, or that I do not have the skills or knowledge to meet the challenge. If I am honest, I can acknowledge that I want to say no because I am afraid. That uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Fear of my own finitude, based in assumptions about limitations of my life and the inevitability of my death, create a powerful pull to keep me stuck in no.
The default to “no” rather than “yes” reflects the human tendency to move back to a point of equilibrium or homeostasis, whether that point is healthy or not. “No” is our comfort zone, offering familiarity and certainty. Even when that familiarity and certainty is heavy and hopeless, we are drawn to it over and over again. We act from fear of the unknown as we repeat the patterns that keep us in no. And yet, as Christians, we know that the Kingdom of God is a place of yes and that we are called to that Kingdom already and not yet.
The tension between the no of fear and the yes of possibility is at the core of our Gospel tonight.
It is a familiar story – Jesus is engaged in teaching and has been at it for three days. He notices that the crowd has nothing to eat and imagines what might happen if he sends them away without food. The disciples, true to form, seem to have amnesia, they just don’t get it. Two chapters earlier in Mark, the disciples were there and helped Jesus feed an even larger crowd with only five loaves of bread and two fish. They were there when Jesus acknowledged to the Syrophoenician woman that the that the “food” he offers is not just for the children of Israel, that there is enough and it is available even to the Gentiles. And yet, when Jesus shares his compassion for the crowd, and his concern that they need sustenance for their journey, the disciples respond with their default – “no.”
I have sympathy for the disciples – their imagination is limited by confusion and fear. They are traveling with their beloved leader and teacher, who insists on putting himself in dicey situations. They cannot see beyond the present, beyond their insecurity and fear. So they ask “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”
Today we celebrate Daniel Gee Ching Wu in the only commemoration we at All Saints chapel recognize during Lent this year. Wu was born in China and moved to Hawaii as a child. While in Hawaii, he met Emma Drant, a deacon in the Episcopal church who through her faith inspired him to convert to Christianity. Wu taught Drant Cantonese while she taught him English. Eventually, it was Emma Drant who called Daniel Wu to join her in the Bay Area where she had started two Chinese Episcopal Mission congregations. Wu responded to her call, enrolled at CDSP, was ordained in 1912, and became vicar of both True Sunshine Episcopal Church and Church of Our Savior These mission congregations continue to serve Chinese Episcopalians today, offering services in Mandarin, Cantonese and English.
Wu’s practice of ministry included meeting Chinese travelers as they stepped off ships into a harsh reality of immigrant life. Wu and his wife taught the new immigrants English. They were committed to assuring that the immigrant children maintained a connection to their Chinese heritage, and offered classes in Chinese and in sewing. Wu served the Chinese missions in Oakland and San Francisco for 36 years.
Daniel Wu was not flashy, he was not martyred, he did not suffer torture, he did not become a bishop. So why do we hold him up in commemoration today? Perhaps because through his low-key, committed, and faithful life, he transformed the church. Daniel Wu engaged in a ministry of everyday action and activities. It was a ministry of “yes,” undaunted by fear, discrimination, or financial hardships.
Mark’s gospel was written for a people struggling with daily cares and burdens in a time of crisis. Nero was in power, persecution was a fresh memory and a clear future possibility. I would imagine that mortal fear was both pervasive and justified. Mark is writing to counter the grip of this fear, to offer encouragement to his readers and to show them the way forward.
Mark tells us that Jesus has compassion, gives thanks, breaks the bread and feeds those in need of sustenance. At this point in the narrative, Jesus’ body is not yet broken and hanging on the cross, but we, like the earliest readers of Mark, know the importance of bread broken for us. We know the way this particular bread can feed a hunger we may not even fully recognize. And we know that through the cross and the resurrection, there is always enough, more than enough, unlimited by our finite reality.
Jesus shows us the way. When the disciples cannot imagine feeding the people with bread in the desert, Jesus tells them to give him all that they have, it will be enough.
This is a profound truth and challenge of our Christian faith. Give God whatever you have, trusting that it will be enough. If what we have is enough, the fear of finitude no longer has sway. If what we have is enough, we too can live a ministry of yes.
I believe that the cross and the resurrection demand that we move from no to yes. If we truly believe that Jesus was crucified once for all, we are free to operate from an assumption of security rather than fear, security that allows us to be creative and imaginative and to welcome the unknown. If we truly believe in the resurrection, we are called to say yes to the discomfort of change and the vulnerability of hope. We are called to say yes to the Mystery of the Kingdom of God.
I can forgive the disciples for saying no because they had not yet had their imaginative capacity freed through the resurrection. But Friends, we do not have that excuse. To live as Christians means operating from assumptions consistent with our belief in the resurrection – the belief that we are not bound by our finite reality. To live as Christians means living in yes rather than no.
This evening, at the close of a week when Bashar al Asad used chemical weapons to attack his own people, when images of evil, reminders of our mortality and finitude fill our screens in the form of small children in diapers, we are pulled toward despair, anger, blame and suspicion. In our place of privilege, we have the luxury of staying there, sharing our outrage on social media, engaging in virtual activism. We have the option of staying in no.
But we are called to a different life. It is because the suffering is real that we must find our way to yes. This is what the cross and the resurrection demand of us. Together, let us set our faces to the future, open ourselves to compassion, vulnerability and imagination. Let us live by giving all that we have to God who will make it enough if only we say yes.