August 2, 2020

YOU Give Them Something to Eat
Pentecost 9, Proper 13, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman

Change. Yikes. If I had to give a theme to 2020, “Change” would be one of the top contenders. The entire planet is has experienced it, a lot of it seemingly chaotic. Some of it is was planned, though, such as my retirement. I’ve been working on that for a couple of years. More on that later.

It may be that, as an Air Force brat, dealing with change is in my blood. My young life was full of adventure, new people, and new places – especially new places: before I got married at the ripe old age of 21, I had lived in some twenty places on three continents. Change is something I grew up with. Yet, one of the things that military brats yearn for is a sense of place, a sense that we BELONG somewhere, a home base where our personal history has some permanence.

I’ll never forget the time that, because I was born here, in Winter Haven, Florida, I claimed to be a native Floridian. A friend – a good one – whose family had lived in Miami for generations – likely had no idea how much it hurt when he said, “Nah, you’re not a Floridian. Your family isn’t from here.” But, still, this state has been a home base for me throughout the decades.

About 12 years ago, Gus and I took a vacation, a road trip. and I thought we’d try looking at a couple of places in Florida that were important to the story I tell me about myself. We saw the house my folks lived in when I was born, then went to over to Cocoa Beach, Florida, on the east coast. Cocoa Beach is where Gus and I met, way back in 1975, on Spring Break. Yes, it’s true: your pastor went . . . Where the Boys Are – and she met a dilly! But, maybe it wasn’t so wild . . . we met at my grandparents’ vacation house in Cocoa Beach. It wasn’t a grand house – no A/C, with old furniture and ratty towels, but it could hold the entire family and lots of friends – some 25 of us. A cousin brought Gus with him one year, and the rest is history.

For years, it was a place anyone in the family could always go. But, after my grandparents both died in the mid 80s, the house was sold. We still had friends in the area; when we’d visit them, we’d drive by the house and remember and tell stories about the great times in that house at the corner of Third St. South and South Atlantic Ave. I guess I always dreamed maybe, some day, the family could get it back – if one of us cousins won the lottery or somethin.

Anyway, on our road trip in 2008, Gus and I went to Cocoa Beach, to the corner of Third Street South and South Atlantic Ave. No one will be buying the house, ever. It was torn down, and the entire huge lot was cleared. It was desolate. A sign said dozens of townhouses were on the way.

When we got back in the car, Gus saw my dejected face and said, “Were you surprised?” I said, “rationally, I guess I knew development was inevitable. But I was shocked by that empty lot; a part of me has been lost.”

Well, thank you, 2020, for making us all feel shocked and lost. Our rational minds know that pandemics and economic collapse can happen – they’ve happened before. For some of you, my retirement plopped on top of all that is just an unpitted cherry on top of a cabbage and turnip sundae.

When we are faced with change, we can try to stop it, keep trying to control things to force them to stay like they used to be. OR, we can give up even trying to be responsible adults, and just eat, drink and be merry, fiddling while Rome burns. OR, we can ask ourselves what opportunities lie in this deserted place.

In my humble opinion, the ship has sailed on the option of trying to control all the changes 2020 has thrown at us. We just don’t have that many hands. Just as my grandparents’ house is gone, so is our blithe naiveté that what happens to people far from here won’t affect us. Our globe is now way, way too small for that. The second option, of giving up, brings only the bitter harvest of selfishness: the loneliness and despair that result when no one cares about anyone else.

The third option is the one I’m going for, because it’s what Jesus taught his disciples: that no matter how deserted the landscape, how isolated the landscape, we’re all in this together and, together, we ALREADY have what we need to meet the challenges facing us – and to THRIVE.

Read the full sermon text HERE.

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