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Stone Soup

Date: 28/04/2013/Speaker: John Cheong

Good morning church! My name is John, and I’m here to deliver the message for this Sunday. Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts be wholly pleasing to you, our Lord and Sustainer. Amen.

It is today, the fifth Sunday of Easter. 3 weeks after Rev. Yap’s sermon titled, “FCC On The Move To Commonwealth” and 2 Sundays after Rev. Miak’s sermon titled “Do You Love Me?” Both were very inspiring sermons but I couldn’t help but feel that there still was something missing that wasn’t talked about.

Rev. Yap spoke about Pope Francis and how he is welcoming a new ministry of the poor. And he went on to recount our history as a church in what we do had done for the LGBT and other minority groups. And lastly, he spoke about how we are to serve the community of the poor and aged now that we are to bear the address One Commonwealth.

Rev. Miak spoke of such a kingdom of God, more aptly named a Commonwealth of God. Using analogies of the Roman Empire and it’s dominion of its citizens, he spoke about the different kind of world Jesus taught. A Commonwealth of God, the basileia theou, a realm organized for the common good.

It is a realm that seeks salvation of all, rather than just the salvation of the self. In such a world, Rev. Miak also said that it is characterized by the healing of the sick, the feeding of the hungry and the freeing of the people from all forms of slavery. In such a world, loving relationships supercedes obedience to the Law.

After both of these sermons, I still felt unsatisfied, like how my partner describes as “ending a meal before chocolates”.

I looked to the lectionary passages to hope to find my answers. And in John 13:34 – 35, I found my “chocolate ice-cream”.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The key here is Love. Love is the hallmark of the community of Jesus. Tertullian, an early Christian writer, reports that the pagans said of the Christians, “See, how they love one another . . . how they are ready even to die for one another”. At the same time, I remembered the hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our Love”.

The natural question next is, How do we Love?

We don’t have to look far and deep within the Bible to find it. In every instance where love was shown, something was shared.

Many months ago, Su-Lin delivered a sermon which tremendously inspired me.

Su-Lin talked about the famous scene, Jesus feeding the multitudes. We are all familiar with the conventionally accepted story. Jesus took 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes, gave thanks and broke it and passed it to his disciples, who passed it on to the 5000 followers gathered. Everyone, including the 5000, ate till they were satisfied and then there were still some food left over. Nothing short of a miracle to achieve such a feat.

But Su-Lin’s interpretation is slightly different. She invited us to imagine the scene.

Jesus, gave thanks and broke bread. He took the 5 loaves and 2 fishes and passed it to his disciples who then passed it to the rest of the people gathered. And the people who witnessed such a degree of willingness to share, were touched by Jesus’ love. All of them who had some food with them to ok theirs out, broke it and passed theirs around. And it is with these people and their willingness to share what little they had that the 5000 were able to be fed. Now what do you think of such a imagination?

Jesus inspired the early Christians to live a new way of life. He taught them to love and share and depend on one another. A way contrary to what the world teaches us, that is, to want more, to accumulate, to hoard and keep and enjoy a luxurious life while we remain aware of poverty, hunger, injustice and suffering.

Miak said in his previous sermon, “We are more often than not concerned with our own well-being, not others. It is only when we think we have enough, then we seek out the well-being of others. That’s the Empire. Because it is rare that we think we have enough. Because that little charity we do helps us feel less guilty about being a participant of the Empire.”

Do we remember what Jesus said to the rich man who wants the kingdom of heaven? “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Let me have the audacity to rephrase that. “Sell your possessions and share it with the poor, and you would have a treasure in our Commonwealth. Then come, follow me.” So what are these treasures that Jesus was talking about?

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Do you see now why they are the blessed ones?

These poor ones, who do not have much, have each other. They learn to depend on one another. They learnt the richness of their relationships with those around them, and most of all, they learnt to love, and that is to share and sacrifice for each other. They learn that for themselves to be well, all of them have to be well. They learnt that one does not need much to be happy in life. One just needs love for one another. This is the treasure of the Commonwealth.

As I was preparing for this sermon, I am frequently interrupted. My phone keeps beeping because of a WhatsApp group I’m in – The Big Commune WhatsApp group.

All the organizers and contributors were just firing away in the group. People putting up with their auction items, chefs and aspiring homechefs offering their culinary masterpieces, logisticians mediating the negotiations of shared resources like cutlery and power plugs so they won’t end up fighting each other.

Despite how irrelevant it is to me, coz’ I only need cups and electricity for my fruit juice, I find myself incredibly touched by all the efforts and initiative the organizers and contributors put in.

Those who are friends with Chong Lip may have read a note that he posted on Facebook titled “Moving Milestone”.

In his note, he wrote, “initiatives that spring forth in such desert times like Danieland Chase’s “The Big Commune” (and the many others who have volunteered to assist) #4 and Ezekiel’s intention to host a drag performance in FCC to raise funds for the church touched me so much. This is the Community in FCC blossoming, in full action”

I completely share his feelings. And that is what makes me proud to be part of this community. And proud to be able to serve in FCC.

As I was thinking about the Big Commune, I’m reminded of a rather unorthodox family I’ve encountered while I was travelling in the USA.

At the hostel I was staying, there is this Negro/Hawaiian receptionist whom I sometimes speak to. She told me she lives with a single mother with an autistic child. The mother faced a terrible divorce after he kid is diagnosed as autistic. And she had to grapple with the loss of her income on top of the stress of having to take care of the autistic kid who needs frequent visits to the pediatrician and special education arrangements and other life support needs. The receptionist whom I got to know asked them to stay with her in her apartment, so she can help them save on rent and give them some income.

Eventually, they got in touch with other similar families. They also faced similar problems in taking care of the needs of an autistic child. That was when they decided to uproot their lives and move in with the other family. Together, they shared their income and housework, their responsibilities on taking care of the kids. Most importantly, they shared a common goal, which is to support each other to raise their children. They have decided to form a collective. Another word for collective is commune.

I am very heartened by their initiative, by their commitment to one another to see each other through the difficult times. To me at least, their collective is no lesser than a traditional family unit. 1 father, 2 mothers, 1 friend and 2 special children. I was immediately aware that what holds their family together is their love and commitment to each other’s well-being, and not because of complimentary genitalia.

So what about our own family? Our FCC family? Our Big Commune? How did we come so far together? Is it because we learnt to love and honour each other? Is it because we learnt to depend on one another? Is it because we learnt how to share and make sacrifices for one another? Is it because a few of us led a vision and the rest of us turned it into reality?

Jesus taught us a new way to live. A way contrary to the world.

At the sea of Galilee, perhaps he knew that he does not have enough food to go around. Perhaps he knew that he does not know how to feed all these people. But he stepped out in faith, and did what he can, which is to share his 5 loaves and 2 fishes. And then, a miracle happened. A miracle which is still present to this very day. A miracle that showed us a new way of life. A miracle of sharing and interdependence.

Some time ago, a friend of me and my partner invited both of us over to her house to have dinner. She prepared a Provencal seafood stew called Bouillabaisse. Are your mouths watering right now? At first glance, I thought of how simple such a stew is. Use some fish stock, add herbs, and add whatever you like, be it fish, mussels, scallops, prawns etc. The boil and simmer. Of course, I’m simplifying the whole preparations and the ingredients. But the idea is a simple one, add whatever you want, and boil.

It reminded me of the story of the Stone Soup.

Those who know of the story, please allow me to narrate to those who haven’t heard of it.

In this story, a monk came into a village that has been hit by a cruel harvest. He had nothing but an empty pot with him. Upon his arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food with the monk because they haven’t enough for themselves. The monk then went to the stream to fill the pot with water.

Then, he went back to the village square to place the filled pot over the fire and threw in a stone. One of the villagers walked past and asked the monk what he was doing, the monk said he was making stone soup, which would taste absolutely wonderful, although it could still use a bit of garnish. The villager said, “Well, I’ve only got some parsley left from the harvest. I can’t eat that by itself anyway.” So he went home and brought back a handful of parsley and put it into the pot. Another villager walked by and inquired about the pot, and again the monk said the soup had not reached its full potential. The villager took out some carrots and added it to the pot. More and more villagers walked by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, everyone enjoyed a delicious and nourishing soup.

The next day, the monk awoke to find the entire village before him. And with them was a satchel of the village’s best bread and cheese.

“You have given us the greatest of gifts; the secret of how to make soup from stones”, said the elder, “and we shall never forget.” The monk got up, turned to the crowd and said, “There is no secret, but this is certain: it is only by sharing that we may feed ourselves.”

If we find that we are in need, and we choose to keep what little we have, we will find that we will never have enough. However, if we choose to share what little we have, we will find that we will never be in need.

So, as a church, a family, a big commune, let us remember how Jesus taught us to live. And remember to share our life, our material things, our happiness and sorrow, and most importantly, share the cup of forgiveness and celebration with one another. We must allow ourselves to share, so that love can transform us.

Lastly, I would like to leave all of you a parting thought.

What are we going to share with those around us? What can we share with those whom are in our family and those whom we chose to be our family?