Many of you remember April 29th, 2010, when a 12 yr.-old boy was shot and killed as he returned home to Skyway after shopping for football cleats. His name was Alajawan Brown. This past Thursday I met his mother Ayanna when she stopped by the church office.
Here is a tragedy that like so many others could have faded from the news headlines and been forgotten. Well, like all news stories this young man’s death did fade from the headlines but his memory did not. In the midst of her grief his mother and others set up a foundation called Alajawan’s Hands. It’s an organization that provides tutoring for students K-12. It also provides scholarships for youth who want to participate in sports or attend camps.
Alajawan Brown’s story is not very different from today’s reading from Matthew. Now when Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. After Jesus experienced the loss of a man who was a relative, a friend and a teacher, he did what many of us would do at the loss of someone close to us. He needed some time to himself. So he withdrew…in a boat…to a deserted place…by himself. But when he arrived on the other side of the lake he found that crowds of people had followed him. Matthew says he had compassion for them, and cured their sick.
At the loss of her son, Ayanna Brown could have retreated into her own world of anger, bitterness and fear. But Ayanna Brown is a woman of faith. She found a way to work through her grief. Like Jesus, she allowed her grief to give way to compassion. For her that meant creating a way for her son’s spirit to bless the lives of many even after he was gone.
But compassion is not the end of the story. When it was evening, the disciples came to [Jesus] and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
On Wednesday of this past week—the day before I met Ayanna Brown–I was at a neighborhood public safety meeting at the Skyway VFW. This neighborhood meeting was in response to the most recent shootings in Skyway. The King County sheriff, local elected representatives and neighbors attended.
I confess that I attended the meeting with low expectations, and I know others did, too. I leaned across the table to one neighbor and asked, “What do you expect to come out of this meeting?” She replied, “They’ll probably be selling home security alarm systems.” But, we were pleasantly surprised. Several people stood and suggested after-school programs and a community center as a way of welcoming and helping young people who are struggling.
Not everyone took that view. Several neighbors asked how to “get rid of the bad guys.” That’s a common human response, isn’t it? When faced with a situation we don’t want to deal with or with circumstances that frighten or overwhelm us we just want someone to make the problem—or the people–go away. We hire soldiers or police to risk their lives so we can feel safe, or, we build more prisons so that we can avoid difficult, deeper questions that might demand something of us.
I couldn’t stay for the whole meeting but the highlight of the evening for me was hearing the words of two young men who rose to speak. One of them said, “Some people want to get rid of those who seem to be part of the problem. But they’re poor people. Some of them used to live in the Central District but got priced out by money moving in so they went to Columbia City. Then money moved into Columbia City so they got priced out and moved to Skyway. From Skyway where will they go? Kent?”
Then the second young man stood up and said, I look around this room and don’t see any young people. They need to be part of this conversation. And what they really need is jobs. And then he said, It’s easier for me to get a gun than it is to get a job.
Send the people away, the disciples said to Jesus. “They’re a problem for us. Let them look after themselves. We don’t have the resources.” And what was Jesus’ response? They need not go away; you give them something to eat! Now, in response to the comments of the young men at the neighborhood meeting some folks at that meeting might have been thinking, “Well, what can we do? Jobs! We can’t create jobs.”—which, of course is what Jesus’ disciples said! We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish. What are they among so many?
That kind of talk is what’s commonly called a “theology of scarcity.” We don’t have enough. When that becomes our focus we become preoccupied with our own worries. Ayanna Brown and Jesus himself were surely tempted to become distracted by their grief and to withdraw into their own worlds. It would have been easy for them to say, “I have enough problems of my own to worry about.” Instead, they had compassion and poured their grief into serving people in need. Even though the task seemed impossible they offered to God their “five loaves and two fish” and it was enough. When we stop saying, “We don’t have enough” and turn what we do have over to God, we make room for God’s power to bless the lives of countless people.
We’ve seen this countless times already, through ministries we’ve committed to: Luther’s Table, the Veterans Housing Center, Seattle International Church, City of Refuge Church, three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Swim Club, Garden Club, Lakeridge and Bryn Mawr schools, transitional housing, a pastoral intern, and—this week–Ukulele Camp! None of these things happened by saying, “We don’t have enough…time… people…money.” None of these things happen by saying “We need to take care of our own first.” All of these blessings have been and continue to be poured into the lives of countless people because of faithful people who have said, “Lord, we have this much. What can you do with it?”
One day long ago Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into enough for thousands of people to be fed, with many baskets left over besides. If our Lord was able to do that much with that little, imagine what he might be able to do with a handful of people and $2.6 million worth of property!
Healing happens, lives are transformed here at Lakeridge Lutheran Church, often in ways we never know. When Ayanna Brown stopped by the office this past week she said, “You know, Pastor, your church’s house is special to me. We knew the former tenants and worshiped with them in that house. Two weeks before my son was shot and killed he accepted the Lord into his life in the basement of that house.”
Loaves and fishes, folks. Blessings multiplied. Stories shared, lives transformed. It never happens by saying, “Send the crowds away” or “We don’t have enough.” It always happens when God’s people muster the simple faith and courage to say, “All that we have is yours. Take what we have and bless it, to the glory of God and the healing of the world.” AMEN