I’m going to tell you a story. Have you ever heard the Parable of the Long Spoons? It is a story about the difference between Heaven and Hell – but the message applies well in today’s theme how much is enough, and also when I was reflecting on John’s responses to the crowd in today’s reading from Luke.
There are many versions of this parable, and I am going to share this one with you. A man arrives at the gateway to heaven. He had lived a good life, and was therefore pleased to find himself affront the pearly gates, ready to ascend into the light and love of the afterlife. Yet there was a thought he was unable to rid himself of.
The gatekeeper, being of course quite observant, noticed his trepidation, asking, “What’s the issue? You seem troubled.
The newly deceased says: I find myself wondering what hell is like. I never really believed in heaven or hell while I was alive, so I find it somewhat troubling that these places actually exist. While I am exceptionally grateful to be here, the thought of anyone suffering at all – let alone for eternity – makes my stomach twist.” “You may be surprised.” The Gatekeeper smiled. “As with all great truths, it’s not as simple as you may suppose, yet also, far simpler. Let me show you.”
With the wave of his arm, they found themselves at the gateway to hell. To the deceased’s surprise, it was nearly identical to the entrance to heaven. He could suddenly smell an array of delicious foods and hear the din of cutlery. The gatekeeper led him through, the doors opening on to a scene of opulent beauty.
It was an enormous banquet hall, so wide and so long that there were no walls to be seen, only immense pillars with intricate carvings, descending into the distance and climbing to an unseen ceiling covered by celestial clouds. Chandeliers hung over all of the ancient tables, casting a warm glow on the diners, who were far too numerous to count. The most beautiful, ethereal music wafted in from all corners and the smell of the food was so mouth-watering he could nearly taste it.
“This is Hell?” the man asked, mouth agape.
“Yes, quite,” the gatekeeper replied, pausing for a moment and nodding to himself. “It’s not what it seems. Take a closer look.”
The man did so, examining the tables with a little more scrutiny. Suddenly he noticed something disturbing – the cutlery was not separate from the guests, but actually extensions of them. Each diner had either a fork, spoon, or knife extending gaudily from their arms, the utensils so long it was impossible for them to get the food into their mouths.
With dawning horror he began to realize the scope of the situation – they were starving, in agony, surrounded by a feast of kings and unable to get any of it into their mouths, only growing hungrier by the day, yet continuing to toil helplessly.
They were famished and looked sickly. He could hear their moans and cries now, feel the desperation and hopelessness of the situation as it continued on into infinity. He shivered. “Stop. I’ve seen enough, please take me away from here.” In a blink, they were back at the gates of heaven. “Okay,” he said, “I’m ready, can we please go in?”
He followed the gatekeeper across the threshold and into heaven. To his astonishment, it was the exact same scene. The giant banquet hall, the music, the food, and – worst of all – the cutlery as appendages. He looked down. His lower arms had become a grotesquely long fork and knife, each incapable of reaching his mouth. He was filled with disgust, and was about to cry out when suddenly he felt the Gatekeeper’s hand on his shoulder, gently squeezing. “Look closer…” came the whisper.
Looking up, he suddenly noticed that the mood of the diners was in complete contrast to those in hell. There was a nearly palpable atmosphere of love, sharing, camaraderie and delight that permeated the entire hall. Noticing this, he could suddenly feel it beginning to well up in himself as well. Tears filled in his eyes.
Everyone, everywhere, was dining merrily, their faces bright and rosy, creased with laughter and warm with joy. Their bellies were plump and their eyes shone with life. They were partaking in every aspect of the feast.
How could this be?
They were feeding each other. They were reaching across the table with their long spoons and forks and sharing the food from their utensil with someone across the table. Everyone was fed. Everyone had enough. No one went hungry.
As we heard Doug read earlier in the Luke passage, John tells the crowds who came to be baptized by him “produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives.” When asked to explain what that meant, his response was share your food and clothing with those who have none.” “Don’t cheat or harass anyone.” Sharing with others so that everyone had enough – this was John’s recipe for having changed hearts and lives, for living a new way.
This week I was watching the Covid-19 update and one of the reporters said to Dr. Bonnie Henry – last year I asked you what you wanted for Christmas, and he shared with her what her response had been…. Which was “for this to be over, and for everyone to stay home.”
So the reporter asked her the same question what did she want for Christmas this year, and she went on to talk about what a difficult year this has been with the fires and the heat dome and the atmospheric rivers and flooding, and then she said “I am just again amazed and grateful for the altruism that we have seen people show each other through these hard times. What I really want for Christmas is for us to continue that. To combat this unrelenting uncertainty with relentless kindness.” I loved that line that she said: To combat this unrelenting uncertainty with relentless kindness. And then she went on to say that she wanted us all to remember that we will get through this together.
Being kind to each other, sharing our resources, looking out for our neighbours – that is how we will have changed lives and hearts as John tells the crowds.
John’s call to the crowd to produce fruit that shows they have changed their hearts and lives is a call for us to explore how we are creating wellbeing within our community and trusting and not being afraid, so afraid that I need to just look out for me and not be concerned with equity for my neighbour or that I won’t have enough.
We have seen many examples of this recently – people living with changed hearts and lives – living out God’s love in the world through the outpouring of donations to help flood victims and the opening of homes to help those stranded. At first people were afraid of the supply chain being disrupted by the road closures, and that we would run out of food. But then once people started only taking what they need for themselves, and leaving the rest for others, the grocery aisles weren’t quite so empty… there was enough. There was enough toilet paper! When there was fear of a gas shortage and our government leaders were telling us – there is enough, if we all share… limits were put in place, we stopped all rushing to the gas stations all at once, and there WAS enough.
And what John keeps showing them is no matter who you are or what you do, every day there’s an opportunity to reach out to one person. And that’s what it means to have a changed heart and a changed life.
If you have two of something, share with someone who has less. Take the food you have and share it with one person. We don’t need a large task force and an initiative with massive global funding to cure hunger. That’s not what we’re called to do in this passage. We’re called to feed people one at a time.
Sometimes the problems in the world feel so large that we feel incompetent to the task. And so we freeze, or we are not sure what to do. We know that we can’t fix it all, but we CAN do what’s right in front of us. And so part of our challenge in following John’s words from today is to find and to notice and to see what the issues are right in front of us, as a church and as individuals, and then take up John’s invitation to simply open our eyes and our hearts and extend. And in some ways, open our doors, come out of the church, see what’s happening right outside our doors in the community.
To decide what really matters. The best way to do that is open our eyes and take care of the first thing that we see. Open the door of the church and take care of the first people we see outside. And that changes lives. It’s one of the beautiful things of the Advent Season. Everything good starts out so small, it’s almost invisible.
In the story I shared earlier about the long spoons, when the people around the feast started feeding each other, they were all fed. Their lives were changed, their hearts were changed, and there was enough food for all of them.
And what does this have to do with joy? After all, this is the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy. Joy is not about being happy – it is a deep sense of wellbeing, even in moments that are difficult or times like we have been through lately. Moments of joy can happen when we have changed hearts and lives in sharing what we have. Joy can happen when amid the chaos of life circumstances, we are given what we need to get through. Joy is experienced in the resilience to have the capacity to tap into that deep sense of well-being, even at times when it seems that our life or our situation or our world, is falling apart. And as we heard in the reading from Isaiah this morning, that deep sense of well-being, comes from trusting in God. The reading says: God is my salvation, I will trust and won’t be afraid. We can trust that God is with us in these trying times. God’s love is the never ending spring, and there is always enough to go around. Especially when we approach the unrelenting uncertainty of the world with relentless kindness.
The lowly stable was enough for the Christ child to be born, to house the holy. It was enough for the Prince of Peace, enough for God’s love to be reborn in the world. We are enough to house the holy within each of us… to carry the hope, peace, joy and love of the Advent message, of God being reborn in each of us. We are enough. There is enough. May it be so. Amen.