Meeting the face of Christ in interesting places………

John 6:1-21

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

What a wonderful prayer Paul has given in his letter to the Ephesians, to remind us of our true calling and our opportunity to receive the many gifts that our Lord bestows upon us as the result of the power and promise of his resurrection. This morning, we hear the two familiar stories of Jesus challenging the disciples to go beyond their imaginable resources to feed a multitude of people and that second story of Jesus challenging the disciples to allay their fears during life threatening weather while in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Coming off a week at Camp Beckwith with 114 3rd & 4th graders and their counselors and as I sat in the Mobile Expo Hall yesterday along with the 150 others or so, knowing that I was needing to have a sermon ready this morning, I experienced many moments in the past week where the Lord Jesus tested me just as he tested Philip that day – my imaginable resources as well as my capability to fear. As you know Camp Beckwith occupies a special place in God’s creation known as Weeks Bay. What began as a retreat for Bishop Beckwith who was provided a horse and buggy and $1,000 dollars per year to care for the priests and churches in the Diocese of Alabama has now become a resource of spiritual nourishment for all people, young and old, rich and poor, black and white and every color in between.

If you are skeptical about the world or if you have come to believe that the message of our Lord Jesus’ love is no longer relevant to the world, you need to go and experience summer at Beckwith for yourself. Between the counselors who give not only their time but so much of themselves and the campers who suck that place up like a dry sponge, I promise you will have hope that Christ’s mission continues. It seems I always enter summer camp with a lot of doubt and even a little fear; I ask myself the question, “what in God’s name could I say or do to not only get the attention of the campers, but to share the message that God loves them?”

Children arrive with great excitement. And on the first night, what is known as the Dean’s program is pretty much non-existent as far as what I am supposed to do. Most of the first night of what is my responsibility is eaten up with details that are supposed to last for five minutes but end up taking an hour and a half. So Jackie and I sit on the floor with the rest of the kids. On this particular opening night, I am sitting next to this little boy who has more twists and turns than any worm I have ever seen. And he was just about to drive me crazy. We will call him little “Nick”. Eventually I placed my hand on little Nick’s leg and slid him back to me and we had a little conversation. I asked him to sit still and that lasted about fifteen seconds.

Nonetheless, I had a wonderful experience even though I began to have my doubts. Just when you assume that these young ones aren’t hearing anything you are saying, something happens. At camp, I am known as “FR”, a nickname I picked up a long time ago; in case you can’t figure it out, it is short for Father Reid. On the second night, as I was instructing the sunburn faced children during my program, I made the statement that when their parents came to pick them up, right then I was interrupted by one little boy jumped up with a worried look on his face and blurted out, “FR, they can’t come here yet!” At that moment he realized everyone was listening, so he lowered his voice and in almost a whisper, he said, “I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here.”

After the program on the third night, another camper walks up to me and says “FR, thank you so much for what you said. I will never forget you showing and sharing the Bible stories with me and I really liked your science experiment.” As much as I was excited for this young man, how the Lord was reaching this precious soul, he had no idea how he served, he had no idea, none, he served as the face of Jesus for me.

On the last night, the experience of having a closing Eucharist, where I placed the altar right in the middle of the chapel. I invited all of the little people at the table. And they were so close, that if I raised my arms, I could not put them back down, they were that close. And as we said the Eucharistic prayer and said the Lord’s Prayer, we all experienced the face of Jesus in each other. As we were distributing the bread, I came to see little Nick reappear. Seems he had bumped his head and was taken off to the infirmary. He suddenly reappeared, holding an ice pack on his head, almost in tears. He runs up to me and says, “FR, I missed getting my bread. I want my piece of bread. Can I please have a piece of bread?” Of course, it was not too late.

That’s when you realize that Jesus has opened at least one young person’s heart and softened the heart of one old priest who was doubting that he could reach a fourth grader. Beckwith is a special place. Many of the counselors this summer were once campers there, including the camp director James Lawrence, who also serves as our diocesan youth coordinator. James began as a third grade camper and now the Lord has called him into this special ministry. I am so thankful for James.

You may not be aware that Russell Kendrick, our Bishop as of yesterday was also a camper at Beckwith. He would be the first to tell you that he was formed as a Christian by the work and ministry of this diocese. What began at St. Simon’s in Ft. Walton, continued to a formation process that included Camp Beckwith, Cursillo at Camp Beckwith and continued as he discerned a call to the priesthood. And now the Lord has called him to serve us as our Bishop.

There is no way to describe my experience of Russell’s consecration this weekend. We began with an intimate Eucharist where the Presiding Bishop celebrated and preached with the clergy of our diocese. Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori preached on the day that we remember Thomas a Kempis’, a spiritual giant from centuries ago, known as the “little hammer”; Kempis demanded that we seek to serve as the image of Christ to the world, to not get caught up in the entrapments of self-importance and hierarchical and organizational hell that we are capable of becoming as we attempt to calm our human fears when we define Church as a place where we build walls of delineation instead of opening doors to the love of Christ.

We continued with a gathering a clergy with our spouses, including the spouses of the deceased clergy of our diocese. It was the deceased clergy spouse who gained my personal attention. These were people who had watched their husbands and wives serve the Lord until the day they had met our Lord. I couldn’t help but stand in awe at their bravery and wonder what was going on in their hearts as they continued in their longing to be sitting next to their partner and companion in that room.

That evening, we gathered on a hot and muggy Mobile evening on the Cathedral grounds, where we reveled in the moment and received food and drink from the various churches around the diocese, who shared their gift of hospitality beyond imagination. The Presiding Bishop, the Presiding Bishop elect Michael Curry, the 14 or so other bishops, colleagues of Russell from the Diocese of Alabama, parishioners from his previous churches and people from all over our diocese joined in the moment of fellowship and laughter.

What touched me most was meeting the eyes of the man who I had only met one time before; he was the spouse of one of our search committee members who had come as close to death as imaginable but who was now on the healing path; he was the recipient of the prayers and support from so many of us whom he did not even know. It was a privilege and affirming moment of God’s healing love to touch someone for whom we had prayed for months. That’s where God’s love often resides – in the moment of riotous hoopla and cacophony, like that field of grass where thousands are hungering, Jesus meets the eyes of the familiar and unfamiliar alike, Jesus also takes us to the quiet corner of a room where the healed hearts and souls relish and thank God for simply being alive.

On Saturday, with all rehearsals and instructions complete, we processed into the Expo Hall at 2PM yesterday afternoon. Walking through the midst of the congregation gathered, meeting the eyes of the unfamiliar and familiar alike, you could not help but feel the excitement of new possibilities that the Lord has in store for us.

As much as this was Russell’s consecration, this was your and my consecration, the moment in time when we offer ourselves to the ministry of our Lord Jesus, trusting that, in spite of our human tendency to limit our imaginable resources and our ability to expand our fears when we experience something as common as blowing wind and rain, that you and I are strengthened and empowered by our Lord’s enduring love, presence and guidance in the days ahead.

That music, hearing the word of God sung, spoken and preached is who we are and where Jesus provides the resources we cannot imagine having and the fears we do not believe can silenced in our minds.

The Love of God was in that place and is here in this place, and is in this community and in our diocese. The Love of God is found in the faces of little children in this church and in places like Beckwith as well, children who grow into the followers of Christ and the lovers for the people of the world that hunger and thirst; there are people like little Nick who hunger for the bread of life all over the world; people who become camp directors, deacons, priests and even bishops and people who seek and find their ministry as a lay person and share it with their families friends and neighbors and those who are alone, destitute, sick and dying as we pray for them and for each other.

The Gospel this morning is the story of accepting the challenge to not limit the Lord’s abilities or resources, but to see the possibilities that we have when the Lord is with us – to not question, but to enter the ministry of feeding the multitudes and sharing the witness of the overabundance after everyone is fed. The Gospel this morning is the story of us getting in the boats that the Lord has called us to enter and waiting to see him walk toward us in our moment of fear and questions and to be at peace knowing he is always with us.

As we continue in our ministry together, I pray that we never forget that we share in Russell Kendrick’s consecration not only yesterday but into eternity – that you and I are joining Russell and essentially offering ourselves as a consecration of ourselves to the ministry of Christ, inspired to the point that each and every person we reach will have the fire in his or her heart and soul to say – “I don’t have to go home, I don’t want to go home because I am already home; I have felt the love of Jesus and my basket is overflowing.”










  1. paggie mcspadden says:

    Thanks for serving at Beckwith. Happy that you had an overall good experience. It is so wonderful to be renewed through the eyes and faith of the “little ones”.

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