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Ecumenical Advocacy Days preacher urges participants to take Jesus’ advice to ‘go and see’

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie stirs crowd during opening worship

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Ecumenical Advocacy Days continues online through Thursday.

LOUISVILLE — Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie opened Ecumenical Advocacy Days on Tuesday with a rousing sermon in which the biblical story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 became a rallying cry to be courageous, persistent and compassionate in a world where it often seems there aren’t enough resources to go around.

McKenzie, interim president and general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, more commonly known as the National Council of Churches, primed the mostly church crowd for the work they will be doing at the conference — and beyond — by asking thought-provoking questions like, “Do we send the people away, or do we do something about what the people need?”

Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) is an annual gathering that brings together Christian advocates and activists to learn about current issues as they prepare to take their concerns — and voices — to Capitol Hill on Thursday, which is EAD’s Lobby Day.

The theme of the virtual conference, which includes plenaries, workshops, and the participation of several staffers from the Presbyterian Mission Agency, is “Swords into Plowshares: Achieving Enough for All and Pursuing Peace.”

Using the gospel of Mark 6:33-38, McKenzie told the story of how Jesus’ disciples wanted to send a crowd of people away to get their own food, but Jesus encouraged the disciples to feed the hungry folks themselves. Despite only having five loaves and two fishes, the disciples were able to feed the 5,000 and still have some left over, with Jesus’ help.

However, before the miracle occurred, the disciples did a little protesting, noting that it would take too much money to feed such a large group. Undeterred, Jesus replied, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.”

It is the directive “go and see” that McKenzie hammered home time and time again as she motivated the EAD crowd to keep working for positive change. She also could have been speaking to anyone trapped in the grips of scarcity.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie

“Beloved, whenever you start to believe that you don’t have enough, that’s when those pesky thoughts pop up, the ones that make you start to think that not only is there not enough, I’m not enough because if I was enough, I would have enough, because somewhere along the line, we believe our ‘enoughness’ is validated by what you have,” McKenzie said. However, “Jesus says, ‘Go and see.’”

McKenzie, who became the 117th bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2000, also hit on the importance of having the right perspective, noting the disciples didn’t see the crowd in the way that Jesus did. “All they saw was a problem and they wanted the problem to go away, just like us sometimes,” she said.

Bringing humor into her message, McKenzie noted the frustrated disciples were having a five-loaves-and-two-fishes kind of day. She went on to describe how, long after biblical times, people are still experiencing those kinds of days, including times of great sorrow brought on by tragic events like the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“A five-loaves-and-two-fishes kind of day is the kind of day when you find out that every day is a blessed day, and at the same time, realize that evil doesn’t take any days off,” McKenzie said. “Five loaves and two fishes, where you must do the work that others deem impossible, but only becomes possible when you put them into the hands of God. Five loaves, two fishes day, where it looks like someone got their knee on your neck, a knee on your finances, a knee on your career, a knee on your future. It’s a day where it feels like everybody’s trying to wipe you out.”

After years of advocacy, there are still too many coffins, and too many children going to bed hungry as well as too many oppressive policies and hate-fueled acts and actions, McKenzie said. She also lamented that this is a country “where your ZIP code can determine your lifespan.”

Instead of giving up, however, it’s important to go and see what amazing things Jesus can do when people move beyond “what is” to “what could be,” she said.

“What would your organization look like? What would your ministry look like? What would your advocacy group look like? What would your nonprofit be doing right now? What telephone calls would you be making? What plans would you be formalizing? What would our city, what would our community, what would our country look like — if we’d ever take the holy dare of Christ to just go and see? See what you have. See what’s at your disposal.”

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2023 continues through Thursday online. You can register throughout the event.

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