Angry Christians

angerEphesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

I get irrationally angry sometimes over the most silly, trivial things. I was parking the other day. There were only 2 spots left in the little lot. One in front of the other. A car went down the first lane, I went down the second. Now we’d both have the last two spots.

The lady decided to pull through – and take both spots.

I was more angry with her than the situation called for. I broke into tears. I usually cry when I’m angry. And my body tenses up. Sometimes my body shakes as my blood pressure rises. My heart beats fast and I get a sweat. I feel it all over me – do I fight, or do I flee?

It’s like I’m threatened.

I feel threatened and angry. Threatened not by the other person – they bothered me – but threatened by my own body.

My own body is betraying my emotions. It is threatening to make me yell. Threatening to make me cuss. Threatening to — I don’t know. Explode? Roar?

Lose my smile, I think. And lose my calm exterior. And lose my control.

That’s it.

I can’t control my feelings.

I get angry! And then my body reacts, and I can’t control my body. My body betrays my emotion of anger! With one unthinking park job, this woman ripped all this control from me.

I can’t be Christian and be angry, can I? For Jesus in Matthew says, (5:21-22) “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

I’m liable to judgment for being angry. And it would have been better to give her a one-finger salute than to have called her a name like You Fool, You Pea-Brain, or You… [ fill in your favorite insulting title that I’m not going to say from the pulpit.]

Even today Paul tells us in scripture to put away our wrath and anger, wrangling and slander, and malice. That these things grieve the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30-31).

So what sin have I done in my anger by sitting in my car staring at that woman, angry, crying, and asking, “What in the world is wrong with you? Learn to drive, you fool!” Am I going to hell?

Maybe I should have picked up my cross, kept my mouth shut, not gotten emotional, been serene, and kept it all inside. It would be torture. It would be somehow mastering feeling only the emotions I want to feel. I think it would be dying to myself.

I know plenty of Christians who try to live this way, and teach others to live this way.

Bottle that anger up. Better – don’t even feel it in the first place.

That’s real fine and dandy until someone takes your parking spot and you roar in your car.

WHY did I explode inside? Why did I feel so much anger? It happened so fast!

I think because “never be angry” is not possible for ANY human at all.

God gave us anger. God gets angry, a lot, in the Bible. Jesus got angry. Prophets and people got angry. Our church mothers and fathers got angry. Anger is an emotion all complex creatures feel — from the anger of a rat having their food stolen to the anger of God – and everyone and every creature in between – we get angry.

Often, the Bible talks about righteous anger. So maybe Christians ought to only have righteous anger and not selfish anger. I’ve heard this argued, lived, and preached too.

The woman taking my spot wasn’t an affront, an insult, a sin against God. So my anger wasn’t justified. Had she done something truly heinous (like purposefully harm someone, steal money out of greed, blasphemy against God )I should be righteously furious. But since this was just taking my spot, I didn’t have a right to be angry. It wasn’t right – righteous – anger.

I should be righteously angry at injustice – just like God. I should be righteously angry at evil – because that is the opposite of our good, loving God. I should be righteously angry at everything that perverts, blasphemies, harms the relationship of any with the Holy. Scripture, especially the First Testament’s stories, speaks often of God’s anger getting provoked and God taking action. But it also speaks of God being “slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm). And James has the popular phrase “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19).

Righteous anger is an anger that is educated, controlled, slowly comes to be, but quickly passes as soon as forgiveness is petitioned. An anger based out of love.

I didn’t have righteous anger over where I wanted to park my car. Was my anger the sin Paul tells us today to not have? The sin that Jesus says makes us liable, prone to, hell?

Although many Christians would say yes, I think otherwise. And I didn’t always think this way. It’s been a process of change.

As a child I saw when my parents got angry. We all do. My mother believed the Christian thing to do when angry is to not say a thing if you have nothing nice to say. Or, in Paul’s words today, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” So she kept her anger inside. An icy, steely silence would fill her when she was angry. She still smiled. She still nodded along. Usually the person she was speaking to had no idea they were crossing a line. I knew! I saw it in the way her smile was tight and thin. I saw it in the stiff way she walked. This internal anger simmered and brewed inside of my mother never expressed.

I learned to bottle my anger like she did. This or that person would minorly insult me, and I’d bottle it up. I’d not say anything. Then they would do it again. And still I would smile and say to myself I was forgiving their trespass by not speaking a word. But over time, angry drop by angry drop filled up my internal bottle. And the person I was growing more and more angry with never had a clue. Because I kept smiling. I kept it to myself. My silence was my anger. My tension in my body my anger.

I began to say little things to OTHERS about being angry with So-And-So. Over coffee. In the parking lot. Over Facebook. But not to So-And-So’s face. Oh no – I couldn’t. This wasn’t righteous anger, so it had to be sinful anger that I – as Christian – am not allowed to have.

And then one day, something happens… like my parking spot is taken… and all that anger that’s been pushed and shoved into a bottle inside me goes off like the cap on a shook bottle of New Year’s campaign. And I get irrationally angry over something stupid and silly. I get way more angry than I ought to be for the situation. I lose control of my emotions, my body, and after roaring — then sit in grief and self-hate at my sinful anger.

Sinful anger, I used to tell myself. What do you do with that? Shove the anger into that now empty bottle… and repeat the process.

Does this sound familiar to any of you? Are you a bottler of anger? Are you carrying about a lump in your stomach, or a tightness in your shoulders, that is all your pent up anger you won’t let yourself feel, or express, or even acknowledge?

I had a pastor once hand me a phone book. A big, thick one. She said, “I get angry. I get alone. I sit on the floor and I rip out big chucks of this and shred it. I yell. I do this until it all passes.”

I thought about yelling. I had a friend whose family yelled when they were angry. Loud, abusive language would flow from their lips. Insults and curses. These often were followed with belts, or hands, or sticks. While my house shoved everything into little hard diamonds of bitterness and grudges… my friend’s house spread anger to the four winds and over every relationship. Alcohol made it even more explosive there. It was a constant walk on eggshells.

Was this pastor telling me to just wallow in anger – to welcome it and throw it around like that household did? Telling me to be the pastor of a congregation ran this way?

No. Not at all. She told me a Buddhist teaching is to accept emotions as they come, feel them, and then let them pass. So when she got angry she recognized she was angry. She identified why she was angry. She felt the anger – ripping out some phone book pages – and when the anger was exhausted, she let it go.

No longer angry.

Nothing bottled.

Now she could address WHY she was angry. She could go ask the person who insulted her to not say such a thing again. She could try calling customer service again. She could look forward to her next sermon or meeting or visitation even if that was with the person who made her angry. She could re-enter a hospital situation where she has no control, cannot fix it, and is feeling nearly hopeless… and go into it being centered.

She told me today’s passage. “Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Be angry.
We all get angry. Over righteous things and over unrighteous things.
We all get angry.

But do not sin.
Don’t harm your relationship with God. Don’t harm your relationship with others. Don’t isolate yourself and remove yourself from the community; and don’t scream profanities at others or name call or slap them or harm them.

Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Don’t bottle it up, day after day, week after week, until you become a pressurized bottle ready to crack open over something silly. That bottled anger turns to bitterness, and grudges, and hate. The devil, writes Paul, settles into that pent up anger and encourages us to sin, to separate ourselves and others, more. That unspoken anger breaks relationships. The person you’re upset with may not even know what she or he is doing is bothering you. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Speak about it. Speak the truth. Address the issue. And do something to express the anger.

And then let it go.

Paul doesn’t write anger is evil, or sinful. Anger just IS. It’s an emotion, an emotion God has given us. And we are full of many emotions.

Emotions cannot be controlled.

We do control what we do with those emotions.

Psalms tells us that to control our anger — not by never being angry, but by being able to feel it, express it, and let it pass — is more impressive than conquering a city. A huge feat. It takes time and practice.

Paul advises we practice doing no evil with our emotions.

Evil is what harms, what intentionally causes hurt for the sake of hurt. Evil is what tears down the body of Christ…

Anger can be good, or bad. Holy or evil.
Anger can build us up.
Anger may be the words of grace we need to hear.

That woman who took my spot saw my expressed anger. I was more angry than I ought to have been… as I said, it is a process to learn to healthily express ourselves. But she saw my anger and backed up to give me room to park.

She saw my tears and asked me if I were okay.

I could have bottled it up. I could have continued to lie to myself about how I feel and lied to her. But I said the truth, “No. I’m not.”

That blessed stranger invited me to talk. So I did. I told her how I was there to euthanize my cat, and this was the final two spots, and the whole week had been full of stress and anger, and I’ve been trying not to express any of it, and…

In the end, I was given tissues, and volunteers like the woman in the lot helped me through my day. I was given grace and hospitality. Kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving… building one another up.

We’re instructed to do these things. Instructed to embrace one another just as we are, with all our emotions, all our feelings, and then help one another towards shalom.

Shalom is being healthy, inside and out, body and mind and soul, being whole. Shalom is peace. True peace. Not the peace of steely silence. Not the peace that is so thick you suffocate. Not the peace of a house walking on eggshells.

But true peace.

The peace where we understand and support one another. The peace where we are free to express our emotions – without judgment. The peace where we can speak truthfully to one another and, because we are in covenant, not fear one another will gossip, slander, or react with malice. Peace where we are authentic with ourselves, with one another, and know we are forgiven and loved and welcome.

Peace, Jesus tells us. Peace. Take time to savor the Bread of Life, to release the shaken up, and return to peace, to shalom.

Be angry, but do not sin – and don’t bottle it up and let the sun go down on your anger.

Amen.

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Abiding Bread

Ephesians 4:1-16 breadoflife
John 6:24-35

Meno. It’s an ancient Greek work that John uses all the time. 33 times, actually, more than anyone else in the Bible. It means to remain, abide, to sojourn, tarry, not to depart, to continue to be present, to be held, kept, continually, to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure, to survive, live, to remain as one, not to become another or different, to wait for, await one.

As in — Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that “meno” to eternal life.

The food that sojourns with you to eternal life. That waits with you for eternal life. That does not perish, that is kept, that is held, that survives, that lives, that does not waver or faint or change but is faithfully staying and remaining and enduring with you.

Food for the journey. Food that journeys.

The disciples ask Jesus for a sign, a miracle, proving they can trust his words. They clearly missed the miracle on the other side of the sea. Jesus even says as much – you’re here because you want food. Not because you saw the signs. The sign the people ask for is something like manna – like bread from heaven, just like Moses gave on the wilderness journey.

Jesus corrects them – God gave you that bread from heaven. Moses was your prophet, your mentor or pastor or leader. But the miracle wasn’t from Moses. It was from God. God gives the food. God sets the table.

And God now gives you the true bread of heaven. The meno bread. The everlasting bread. The life of the world. The bread of life.

This sojourning bread keeps you going, gives you life, keeps and preserves you. This surviving bread doesn’t perish over time like the manna did. This ever-living bread is ever-filling you up.

This is the same sermon Jesus gives to the Samaritan woman at the well about her water and Jesus’ water. Here is it bread. There it is water. Always it is about how God grants us abundant life through Jesus the Christ.

Paul’s letter today is an example of that. He is a prisoner, literally, for preaching Christianity. But he keeps living abundantly, writing, loving, and growing. He doesn’t give up. He keeps eating the bread for the journey and drinking from the overflowing cup.

This overflowing cup and meno, abiding bread, gives hope. Optimism. Determination. Resiliency. A higher purpose. Positive self-image. Truthfulness. Self-awareness. Community minded. Loving others and feeling loved. These are things that our faith gives us. Things that the medical fields and scientists note truly influence our lives.

A person who has a “will to live” tends to bounce back from setbacks more easily than a person who doesn’t.

A person who knows Jesus is with them – no matter what “lower part of the Earth” – what hell – they find themselves in is a person who is more likely to persevere than a person who feels utterly alone and isolated.

We meno, we endure and survive and live and sojourn together because of the meno bread, the bread of life, we share.

As we come to the table today, reminds yourselves that this meno, ever abiding bread unites us in one eternal (meno) life, into our one ever present (meno) God, so that we all continually (meno) are built into one body with Jesus as our head.

Amen.

Nothing is Lost

broken-bread-crumbs2 Kings 4:42-44
John 6:1-21

Lives get shattered. Broken.

And when they’re broken, they are like hard barley bread and crumbs, pieces and flecks go absolutely everywhere.

Tragedies break us. Unexpected, awful, unfathomable things. I remember the feeling of when I was ripped in two. How the world slowed to nothing. How the realization of what had happened – the unspeakable – curled in my stomach. It felt like I was falling. I did fall. It felt like I was unable to breath. I wailed. I kept trying to think and yet my brain was free spinning and unable to pick up any thought for more than a second or two.

Broken.

When Jesus took the bread at the Passover supper with his closest friends, he held it up and broke it. “This is my body, broken for you.”

Shattered. Scattered. Broken.

At a previous Passover, according to John, Jesus sat in the wildness. On a mountain or high hill. As he looked up from praying and resting, he saw the valley becoming full of people. A crowd had followed him. They’d followed the signs and seen all that Jesus was doing for the sick. Rather than staying home and celebrating, or going to the city to visit the Temple and sights, for the holiday these people have utterly left all they know and followed Jesus into the wilderness.

Jesus sees this, and turns to Philip to ask, “Where are WE to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Not – where are they going to eat? Where are they going to sleep? What will shelter them in the heat of the noon sun? How could they be so stupid to come this far unprepared? How did they let themselves get into this mess?

No. Jesus takes responsibility of his flock. WE are going to feed them. But how? WE are going to care for them. But how?

This is not asking them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Jesus sees they don’t even have those. These are the desperate. The forsaken. The leftovers of society.

The “undesirables.”

But WE are going to welcome, and care, for them.

Philip looks at the mass of crowd and is bewildered, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” We don’t have money to even properly feed ourselves – we’ve been living on charity. How are we going to feed everyone?

Philip realizes how broken the crowd is. Each of their lives are shattered in different ways.

Some are besot by the demon of mental illness. This is long before antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and psychologists. And then, just as now, people’s brains could be born with or develop illnesses. Then, as now, a stroke could steal your loved one’s memories, or even personality. It could break the family up one chunk at a time. Then, as now, Alzheimer’s Disease worked the same way. Then, as now, PTSD brought flash backs and hallucinations and panic attacks. The crowd is asking to be whole again.

Others in the crowd have been broken spiritually. Inside. In their souls. Women were told only men can work in the official religion. Men ought to be the leaders. Were told if they got unwanted attention from men, it was because they were dressing wrong. Or speaking wrong. It was never the man’s fault. Children were told to be seen but not heard. That they were too young to participate but must act like adults and sit still. They were considered the most easily replaceable. Men were told they could not cry, or show ‘woman-emotions.’ They couldn’t spend too much time with their children and it was their responsibility to protect the family. How do you protect the family from tragedy? From car accidents? From senseless accidents? The crowd came seeking to be recognized as who they are. Valuable just as they are. Loved, without needing to prove their worth. Spiritually seeking to be whole again.

The Bible tells us many sought physical wholeness. Being able to see again, or walk again, or even be alive again. How many elderly came seeking relief from arthritis? How many brought worn out hips, cavity-filled teeth, sugar issues, and suspicious growths? How many brought children born with deformities, teens suffering broken bones, and workers missing fingers or hands? Our bodies break. Shatter. We glue them back together, but with each gluing, the fragile clay pot gets weaker and weaker. People came to Jesus seeking their physical bodies to be whole again.

And instead of telling all these people to heal themselves, care for themselves, put their lives back together… Jesus says WE are going to help facilitate their healing. WE won’t send them packing. WE will feed them.

But how?

Philip is at a lost. There is so much need and so little ability to help. Who am I to take on an issue like AIDS, or homeless, or domestic abuse? How can I do anything? If I gave up 1/2 of my year’s income, these problems would STILL not be cured.

A little boy approaches and offers his basket. Andrew brings the group’s attention to the child, “This boy has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

There is a kid I know of selling lemonade and giving the money raised to Children’s Hospital for coloring supplies for the kids. But what are five dollars and two cents among so many hurting kids? Will they each get a postage stamp piece of paper and a little snippet of broken crayon smaller than their pinkie nail?

And Jesus replied – have everyone sit down. And Jesus took what was offered in the little basket, and he gave thanks. Thanks to the boy for his generosity. Thanks to God for lovingly providing for us. And then Jesus handed out the bread and fish. Miraculously the five little barley dinner rolls and the two fish not only provided a feast for 5,000 people… as much fish and bread as they could handle, until they were fully satisfied, but there was bread and fish left over, too.

How?

Some have argued the generosity of the boy inspired everyone else to share their food.

Some have argued this is a story people began to tell about Jesus later, and it didn’t happen exactly this way. As we heard in our first reading, a sign of a prophet – a man of God – is they can multiply food and feed many. Elisha does that in our first reading. He even has leftovers, just as Jesus does.

And most Christians argue Jesus fed the 5,000 with a miracle – with the power of God. If you heard, when the disciples see Jesus walking ON water – rather than parting it like Moses – they ask “Who are you?” And Jesus answers “It is I.” Or, translated another way, “I am.” I Am is the name God identifies God’s self to Moses in the burning bush. I am. I be. I was. I will be. The Great I Am. The miracle is possible because all things are possible for God.

And God is known through Jesus to us; God is known as the one who won’t turn away any who seek God; God is known as the one who will break God’s own body, God’s own heart, to feed us… much like how a loving parent or grandparent will make sacrifices to provide for their child… or how a earnest hearted little boy will give up everything in his basket for a crowd of strangers.

God is generosity. And God is wholeness.

12 baskets of leftovers are picked up after the feast. 12 is a number of wholeness, plenty, the number of Israel’s tribes in the Bible. 12 is how many disciples there are. After the miracle, each disciple has in his own hands a basket of provisions when before they had nothing to eat. When one gave his bread, his body, his life, for others… everyone had more than enough.

Whatever is in our baskets… if we share, God multiplies that goodness, so that all our needs and others’ needs are met. Call it inspiring generosity. Call it a guiding myth. Call it a miracle. Call it whatever you will, but when we live our lives serving others, we gain our lives. We gain wholeness. We gain just what we came out to the wilderness seeking from Jesus: healing. Completeness. And we come away with our baskets heaped with more goodness and wholeness to share with others.

Broken lives find Jesus. Broken people. And Jesus gathers us up. He is concerned that not a single thing is wasted. No experience. No thought. No life. Nothing is lost to God. Everything is gathered up, every little bit, and put to good use.

The little crumbs and fragments of when our lives shattered Jesus tenderly gathers and says, “Let’s put meaning to this.” “Let’s bring good out of this.” Not that being broken is good. Not that bad things happen for good reasons. No… but rather… let’s take this awful thing, and through the miracle of God, choose to bring something good out of it. Choose to take it, just as it is, broken and fragmented and leftover, and work with God to bring about wholeness, healing, and hope in the midst of the chaos.

The child giving a coloring book and box of crayons to Children’s Hospital isn’t going to give one to every child there through their lemonade sales. But to a single child – they have given the world. Our community is not going to cure world-hunger by supporting Heifer International. But to another community, we have ended hunger. Nothing but Christ’s return shall ever bring back my daughter, but I offer my brokenness, my leftovers, to Christ and beg they be gathered up and used for good. Even if that helps just one other life.

And they are. Miraculously, God brings forth goodness out of evil. Healing out of brokenness. Connectedness and community out of isolation.

We’re asked to offer what we have now in our baskets, even if we know it isn’t enough to help EVERYONE. It will help SOMEone. Offer it to the person before us now… and trust God will work miracles.

And God does.

And then nothing is ever truly lost.

Amen.

Breaking Down the Dividing Wall

Ephesians 2:11-22 ArizonaBorder.jpg
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Let me tell you what’s in the news –

– Ah. I see winces. You don’t want to hear it. It isn’t the news you want to hear.

It’s news about how our nation is being made great again. It’s news about non-Citizens suffering wanton abuse from government officials. It’s news of traitors, protests, uprisings, capital punishment, corruption and refugees and job woes and trade wars and unfair taxes and …

These are the headlines… from 62 AD.

Into this mess, Paul writes the Ephesians a letter that makes them wince and look over their shoulders with fear.

He writes, “Remember, at one time you were immigrants by birth, called illegal immigrants by the citizens – a status given to you by humans and not God – remember that you were at one time without Christ, being an alien to the land of God’s people, strangers to its laws, and without hope, and without God. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For Christ makes our nation great again. He is our peace. In his flesh, he made both immigrant and citizens into one group and broke down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments of who is or isn’t a citizen based on birth, that Christ might make in himself one new nation in place of two, thus making the nation great again, thus the peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off in other lands and peace to those who were near in this land; for through Christ both of us have access in one Spirit to the same God.

So you are no longer strangers and aliens to one another. You are no longer countrymen and women of this human nation or that. But you are citizens with the saints and also members of the house, the nation, of God, built upon the foundation of the non-citizen apostles and the citizen prophets, with Jesus Christ as your cornerstone. As your president. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple, a holy place, in God. You, listening to this letter, are also built together spiritually as one into a dwelling place, a home, for God.”

Does it make you as uncomfortable in 2018 AD as it made the Ephesians in 62 AD? It should. Paul is challenging Caesar and his claims of making a great nation built on peace. That peace is built on the back of murdering people, such as Jesus. It is built on having citizens who can do as they want to non-citizens. It is built on corruption, deception, hostility, and lies.

The Spirit is challenging our nation and its claims of making itself great again and a land of liberty. This liberty is being built on the back of murdering people who are like Jesus: who are our fellow Christians. It is built on having citizens living safely in homes while non-citizens lie on concrete floors, with aluminum foil for blankets, in rooms kept at 62 degrees or lower. It is liberty built on corruption, deception, hostility, and lies.

I am uncomfortable. Like the Ephesians, I am looking over my shoulder and wondering who else just heard what Paul wrote. Who else heard Paul claim my citizenship — which lets me tuck my daughter into bed at night — and my skin color — which lets me drive without being at risk of a cop shooting me — and my flesh — all this who I was born as — Paul is claiming my flesh is nothing. God has taken it away. I’m wearing the flesh of Christ.

I’m wearing the flesh of a Middle Eastern man who is challenging my government.

A man tortured and killed by my own government.

Paul’s news is uncomfortable. To we readers in 62 AD and in 2018 AD.

He tells me that the wall of hostility I was born into is false, wrong, and ungodly. In Christ there is only one flesh. If I am truly born again in Christ, then my body is Christ.

My citizenship is Christianity.

My brothers and my sisters are all who are Christian.

My cousins are all who follow God.

My neighbors are all of humanity.

For all who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Or, there is neither Hispanic nor American, impoverished nor affluent, male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is a wall of hostility we are called to oppose.

We are called to break down walls that divide us. Physical walls – barrier walls – border walls. And social walls – walls preventing access to medical aide, equal rights, security. We’re called to break down spiritual walls – the kind that make us hate seeing a hijab or star of David, or making room for other faiths in our schools, and jobs, our homes, and even our churches. We’re called to be citizens of a new nation that abolishes all the old laws with a new law of love. We’re called to be citizens that give up our nationalities, our own flesh, our own births, for a new nation in Christ’s body through being born again in the Spirit.

We’re called to love our neighbor.

Love our selves.

And even love our enemies.

For we are known as Christian by our love.

What does this citizenship of God look like? All we have to do is look to Jesus as our role-model to see.

Jesus today makes more political commentary. Shepherd is the image of the leader of the land. The person who keeps the sheep, the people, safe. He or she is who provides peace, provides good food and clean water, scares off the wolves, and lets the people multiply. In the reading before today, we met ancient Israel’s shepherd, Herod. He foolishly takes his sister-in-law as his wife, and promises their daughter anything she wants. To fufill this promise, he has to murder the prophet of God, John. He fed his heads of state but served his sheep John’s head on a platter.

Out among the people, Jesus sees they are desperate. They have run from all the towns and villages around the sea of Galilee dragging and carrying their sick loved ones on mats and rugs, and on their backs and in their carts, laying them out in the center of the town begging Jesus to let them just touch the fringe of his cloak so they can be healed. The center of the town is the marketplace. The place of affluence. The sick are the outcasts, the homeless, the foreigners and supposed to stay away from the rich. But they overwhelm the shops, choke up the streets, and fill the air with their petitions.

Picture if the stock market had to be closed because the trading floor was filled with the family, friends, and neighbors of people targeted by ICE all begging for their children to be reunited, their loved ones having access to food, water, and a lawyer, and asylum. There would be anger from the elite who don’t want to be bothered by this. Chaos. Government officials calling for the ring leader of this ‘protest’ to be arrested, or shot. That ringleader is Jesus, and the Spirit.

Picture the highways now in Chicago – filled with black women begging the government to stop persecuting their sons as guilty criminals until proven innocent.

Picture the 99% protests.

These are people whose mortal shepherd has failed them. And Jesus has compassion. Jesus goes among them bringing healing. Tangible healing – such as attending a protest, or paying for a sitter or sitting kids so another can go to a protest, or donating money to organizations like HOLA Ohio to bail out mothers who have sat in prison for TWO MONTHS after being picked up here in Ohio…

And Jesus brings intangible healing along with the tangible, touchable, healing. Jesus we’re, told, begins to teach the crowds. He gives education.

Education such as… did you know that HOLA Ohio has found the rules to bail someone out is different every day? Currently: “Bond can’t be posted on the same day as court for the Michigan women; bond can’t be paid after 3 p.m. in the Cleveland office; bond must be paid with one cashier’s check, not two–even if both are addressed to U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security for the same individual on the same case, and were accepted that way last week, and so on and so forth.” (HOLA Ohio July 2018 Facebook Update)

Education such as… RAICES “staff and volunteer pro bono attorneys arrived at the Karnes detention center to meet with clients and were told they couldn’t meet with anyone as Karnes was empty. Around 3:45pm two of our pro bono attorneys watched as a bus was loaded at Karnes with mothers and children. Having been lied to all day, they decided to follow the bus from Karnes to see where they were being transferred to. An hour in to the drive they call our Comms Director to let her know they had been pulled over by 3 state troopers in SUV’s for “illegally” following the bus and demanded to see their client lists. They were held for 15 minutes by police, and now continue to follow the bus which looks to be headed to Dilley detention center.” (RAICES July 2018 Facebook Update)

Detention centers where children are ordered to stand, “No sitting on the floor, no hugging your siblings, and it’s best not to cry.” Or face bleach in your water, and guards kicking you if you sit during the 16 hours a day you must be awake. Where over 1,000 reports sexual abuse have been filed against ICE agents. ((https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/14/us/migrant-children-shelters.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes; https://theintercept.com/2018/04/11/immigration-detention-sexual-abuse-ice-dhs/))

Education such as even though the government is purposefully trying to prevent lawyers and help to the refugees, groups like HOLA Ohio have volunteers who have “been spending up to 6 hours a day in the ICE office to post bonds, [paid] eight bonds to date, six bonds of $2,000 each and two bonds of $1,500 each, and arranged transportation through a network of volunteers for nine women to be reunited with their families.” A dozen more hearings are happening this week.

The Spirit of God is in us, because of our anointments in baptism in Christ, “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 18-19.

The Spirit of God is in us to tear down these dividing walls and be the good news to the poor. Be the ones paying bail. Be the ones teaching our family and friends and neighbors to open their blind eyes to see the hurt happening to the body of Christ — their own bodies. We are to use our privilege as citizens to the benefit of those oppressed. We are to proclaim the year of God’s favor — that God’s reign is now — the kin-dom is now — the nation of God is now — and no Mexican, Canadian, American, Russian, British or any other human government is going to stop us from loving one another.

Because we are citizens of heaven. Our leader is God. Our God is love.

Amen.

To Gather Up All Things

Ephesians 1:3-14 glitter
Mark 6:14-29

Sometimes our lectionary hands us readings that are very difficult to understand and fathom. I feel like this Sunday’s have given us two hard to delve into texts. One is an introductory  letter to the Ephesians; and the other is a long aside about John the Baptizer in the gospel of Mark. Supposedly, they’re related! Whoever worked on the lectionary outline believes so.

Therefore, let’s take a close look at Ephesians and see what the author is claiming, and then let’s use that like a lens, something to help us focus, on Mark’s story.

The letter to Ephesians is broke up in English into sentences, but in Greek, it is one big long sentence listing blessing after blessing that is showed upon us from God.

1. The first blessings is that before the world was built, God chose us for adoption. To be children of God, although we have mortal parents, and although most of us aren’t biological descendants of Abraham – God’s chosen. So – why did God do this? Because God is good. God chose this for God’s own good pleasure and will. Not because of anything we’ve done. God just decided God wants to create us, and create us to be loved.

2. The second blessing is God freely chose to give us God’s Beloved. Not only were we chosen to be children, but given God’s beloved child Jesus. When God created us, we were created for praise. So just living praises Jesus.

3. Our third blessings is that in Jesus, we have redemption, forgiveness of our trespasseses or sins, and this is due to the rich grace of God and again – not because of anything we have done.

4. Fourth – we know the mystery of God’s will, because God wants us to know it out of God’s love for us. We know God’s will because we know Jesus. This will is to love God and love one another!

5. Fifth, in the fullness of time, in the right moment, God will gather up everything on heaven and earth and bring us all together as one. Love unites us.

6. Sixth, in Christ we’ve been given an inheritance — a gift– from God. This is the Holy Spirit within us. It, again, is a free gift from God.

7. Seventh blessing – That Spirit works in us to accomplish everything God has planned. So when you don’t know how to love God or love another, you can pause, pray, think, reflect, and listen for the Spirit to guide you.

8. An eighth blessing – As we work for God, we live in praise and glory of God. We’re not asked to live counter to our nature or to God. We’re asked to live our lives, and in living, love. That love is a constant prayer of praise for God.

9. Nine blessings! All who have the seal of the Holy Spirit, all who have the Spirit within them, have gotten a down payment towards the full redemptive work of God. It’s a foretaste, a little snack, of the big meal to come when we’re all one in love and unity in God.

10. And ten! Ten blessings! And all of this is because God is gracious and glorious. Not because of any deed any human has done.

So what does all that mean?

It means Christianity is a weed.

You might try to get rid of it, but it comes back because God generously spreads love’s seeds everywhere. You may ignore God, but God won’t ignore you. You may curse God, but God is going to keep showering love and blessings on you because THAT IS WHO GOD IS.

Who is God? We have seen God in Jesus. What did Jesus do? Live generously; preach courageously; advocate spiritual, physical, and mental health; and confront all forces that harm others. All this he did humbly, and did not return violence for violence.

Like a weed, this movement won’t die. It just keeps resurrecting. Because the love of God is life itself. All of creation was made and is made in love. Although death is a part of reality, it isn’t the final word. Life is the final word. Resurrection. Life after death. Life continuing to beat the odds and find a way because God wants it to.

It means Christianity is a weed, or glitter (as in the kids’ chat), or fire – and spreads and spreads because it is God’s will to spread love all around!

Mark tells us of how Jesus sent out his disciples spreading the movement of God’s love. They came back with good news of the success of healing people, inviting people into God’s new age, and forgiving sins. That’s when our story begins today when Herod realizes this love won’t die.

King Herod Antipas hears of this success of Jesus’ movement too. He hears some people commenting, “Jesus is John, come back from the dead!”
Others say, “Oh no. Jesus is Elijah, come back from heaven!”
And others say, “He is a brand new prophet, but is as powerful as our ancient prophets.”

Herod, however, has no doubts. He is quivering in his sandals. Jesus is surely John resurrected. And who killed John?

Herod.

Perhaps Herod is thinking of the prophets who have wrote God says ‘Vengeance is mine, sayth the Lord.’ Perhaps Herod is terrified because he ordered the death of God’s holy man. This Jesus fellow can heal the sick, raise the dead, and has a direct line of communication with God. What is God going to do to the man who killed God’s prophet?

Herod is scared.

Mark takes a moment then to explain how Herod got in this position. Some years ago, Herod took his sister-in-law as his wife. John appeared from the desert saying, “Hey! That’s not right! You can’t take another’s wife just because you’re the king!” This is much the same situation that got King David in trouble, when he stole Bathsheba from her husband.

Now, Bathsheba hated David for doing this and killing her husband Uriah. She worked against David.

Herodias, however, doesn’t want her brother-in-law-husband to dump her. She likes being the queen. So she works against John.

The issue is… she can’t do anything without Herod’s permission… so she has to scheme a way to kill John and make it look like an accident… or convince her husband some way to kill John.

As Herodias schemes to kill John, Jesus begins to learn from John. This is the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is John’s disciple until John is arrested by King Herod just a few verses into the story. You see, Herod can keep a close eye on John in the dungeon. It is protective custody. It is saving Herod from Herod’s wife Herodias who has people out in the cities seeking to kill John.

Herod listens to John, and knows John is a holy man. John speaks and it perplexes Herod, but Herod likes it.

The first banquet of Mark is thrown for Herod’s birthday. Lots of people and guests and leaders attend. There, Herod and Herodias’ little girl dances. Her doting father is so pleased, he makes the same foolish offer as the king in Esther’s story: name anything you want, up to half of the kingdom, and it is your’s!

The little girl goes to her mother and asks, “What should I ask for?”

Her mother doesn’t waste a moment. “The head of John the baptizer.”

Picture this little girl, the word means she’s under the age of 12, dancing back out to her daddy before all the heads of state and saying, “I want the head of John the baptizer… on a platter!”

Leave it to a child to embellish their requests with ‘on a platter.’ I wonder if she did it to try to gain her mother’s pleasure. I’m certain Herodias was tickled pink.

We’re told Herod is deeply grieved. But everyone is watching. Will he renege on his oath? If he will, what other oaths will he violate? He won’t even keep an oath to his little girl… imagine the lies he’s telling the other heads of state.

So Herod sends for a guard to behead John. The head is put on a platter and given to the child. She leaves and gives it to her mother. A sneaky, sly mother and a foolish, weak father led to the death of God’s prophet.

John’s disciples hear of the gruesome capital punishment, and come and get John’s body and bury him.

Why does Mark take all this space to tell us this story? Mark – who wastes no words and who’s favorite word is ‘immediately?’

Because it is foreshadowing John’s disciple, Jesus.

Jesus will host the next banquet in the story and invite all the outcasts from the state. He will preach against the state when its leaders are immoral. Jesus will be arrested and brought before the leader Pilate. Pilate will listen to Jesus, and be perplexed, and admire him. Pilate will find Jesus to be a holy man, and not want Jesus killed. But for the sake of keeping face, and staying in power, Pilate will order Jesus’ gruesome death during a time that should be a celebration. Jesus’ disciples will take Jesus’ body and bury it.

Will that be the end of the story?

Was it the end of the story for John?

No. God kept on acting. Bringing out new voices out of the woodwork, raising up new songs from the very stones every time people were silenced.

Like a weed, the movement won’t stop appearing.

Like a mustard seed, it just keeps growing and spreading.

As told to us in the letter of Ephesians, from the beginning of time God’s been working on teaching us humans generosity, love, care for God’s garden, care for each other, and morality.

From the beginning of time, God’s been sending us prophets, messages, dreams and visions and voices to guide us.

From the beginning of time, God’s been creating and recreating our world and we, in it.

From the beginning of time, God has willed, mysteriously, goodness upon all things.

Greed and fear can’t crush this goodness. It might kill it. It might spray Round-Up on it. Greed might steal the last miter of the widow; gobble up the single-parent houses; or make orphans of refugees. But God won’t let greed win.

Fear might drive the people to mob mentalities where they cry out to crucify their very savior; abuse their fellow neighbor; and attempt to exploit the strangers who are angels in disguise. But God won’t let fear win.

Blessing upon blessing continuously and ponderously tip the scales of the world towards goodness. Generosity upon generosity, forgiveness upon forgiveness, grace upon grace continue to counter whatever evil springs forth from our hearts, moves our hands, poisons our minds, and promotes a hell on Earth in the name of security, national pride, or the economy.

God does this not because we’re good. Not because we’ve got it all together. But because God is good. And God wants good for us. God wants good for God’s creation.

Our job is to be messengers of this goodness and help spread it along. We’re the rainbow of hope in our uncertain world. We’re the chosen community working to live into God’s reign, now. We’re the children of God who have chosen to give up our citizenship to the United States of America, or Great Britain, or Canada, or Mexico, or planet Earth and take on the citizenship of the Kindom of God.

So we’re ambassadors. Bringing messages like those very first disciples of repentance, forgiveness, healing, and love to village after village. We’re a rebellion. Preaching peace in war; forgiveness to wrongs; and God’s love for all. We’re God’s children.

Greed and fear will always be attacking us, locking us up, silencing us… but we’re mustard seeds. A light on a hill. A contagious laughter filled with the Holy Spirit that is resurrected again and again again until all things are gathered into one.

Amen.

Powerful Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 81vRnmnrlBL
Mark 6:1-13

Have you been Saved? Call out the day and the hour and the minute you felt Jesus in your heart!
Have you seen angels? When and where and what did they do?
Have you been touched? What miracle did you witness?
What about out of body experiences?
What about dreams of heaven and visitations from the dead?
Can you feel the Spirit!?

In some churches, the space between this world and the unseen is very thin. They feel these great revelations and know the flow of the Spirit as strong a presence as someone right here. Sometimes it is so strong they get possessed, speak in tongues, fall into seizures, or even faint.

And for some churches, and for some people, faith and grace keeps them going. Not supernatural experiences. Not out of body moments. Not miracles.

Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, they keep on going to church, keep on praying, keep to their religion in their emptiness.

And in emptiness, we are still strong.

Mother Theresa wrote the following confessing prayer to Jesus:

“Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no One to answer–no One on Whom I can cling–no, No One.–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”

Over her life, she felt in her soul so alone, so empty, so without the Spirit in her…

… and yet, she came to see this as a gift.

She knew this is the feeling Jesus had on the cross. This is the pain that made him cry out “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” This is the emptiness that Jesus poured himself to for us.

And that is the loneliness that the forsaken and poor of our world feel from society.

She drew strength from the Emptiness

The weakness forced her to become Strong in ways she wouldn’t have known otherwise

Jesus’ weakness of being human is the strength that unites us with God.

Jesus’ emptiness of his divinity on the cross to feel death is how no matter whether we live or die, our God is with us, our Christ experiencing and having had experienced this with us, and pulling us towards the final victory over death, over sin, over separation.

There is strength in not being self contained.

There IS strength in relying on Christ.

Whether we do so with the gift of tongues and visions, or we do so with the gift of a long, dark, night of the soul where we feel spiritually dry and alone.

There is still strength in relying on Christ versus solely ourselves.

And that is what Paul is arguing today.

Paul knows of churches where the Spirit manifests boldly.

Paul knows of people who have had great visions – himself included.

But he also knows there’s people who practice their faith for minutes, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months and years and never sense anything supernatural. But that does not mean they have less faith than those who can manifest Pentecostal tongues or those who have visions. No – he knows God has said “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Christ’s presence is all we need.

When we are weak, we are strong – because then we are relying on Christ and not ourselves.

When we have times when we really feel our faith we should delight in that. And delight in others who do. And when we have times we are just doing the motions out of faith, not out of feeling it, we should delight in that too. Those are times Jesus is carrying us. And we should delight in others who are being carried by Jesus too.

Remember this is Paul who will argue that the body of Christ is made of all kinds of parts and people. Not everyone can be an eye, for we need ears. Not everyone can be an ear, for we need eyes. Not everyone will be a mystic, and spiritual; we need thinkers and doubters and questioners. Not everyone needs to be a thinker and doubter and questioner either — we need our people sensing the divine.

It is our weakness – not being able to be everything for ourselves- that makes us strong. For then we rely on one another; and rely on Christ.

Jesus’ message is the same as Paul’s. Or rather, Paul was preaching similar lessons as Jesus.

We read today that Jesus came to his hometown after having been out and about preaching and doing miracles. He goes to the synagogue and begins to preach.

Just like at the other places, people are amazed at what he is saying. But instead of celebrating the good news of God’s forgiveness and the in breaking of the reign of God… they are amazed at his audacity. They’ve always heard of great preachers and prophets as larger than life characters. Amazing people. Astonishing in person.

But this is just Mary’s son.

There’s his sisters.

And his brothers.

He’s not some super trained doctorate of religion… he’s a carpenter. Look, I’m using the chair he made last year. And Bobby over there used to make mud pies with little Jesus and Tammy there changed his diapers.

This is no miracle worker. This is Just Jesus.

Our church is no church in Corinth. No Saint Paul’s Cathedral or none-denominational mega church. This is Just Saint Michael’s.

What can we do?

The people in Jesus’ hometown thought he was nothing and so saw him do nothing. They were limited by how much they would permit him to be. They knew the human Jesus who had faults and flaws and was so mortal. And they demanded miracle workers to be fully perfect and have everything in order.

But that’s not the message of God. God loved us while we were still sinners. While not perfect, we’re called. While full of the Spirit or full of spiritual emptiness, we are included into the Body of Christ and told there is a spot for us. Those full of visions and those questioning the existence of God both are called to be saints, and to “Come be [Christ’s] light” to the world. (Jesus to Mother Theresa)

So Jesus sends us out. Sends the disciples out. Sends us out. Not loaded with everything figured out and perfect, but carrying just Jesus. He tells them to go with the bare minimum and to rely on the hospitality of strangers. He tells them to go with nothing spare. No backups. No money. Not even an extra cloak or pair of shoes. Just themselves. “Eugene Peterson offers Jesus’ instructions this way: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment” (The Message).

God never calls the equipped. God equips the called.

God never picks perfect people, perfect churches, perfect situations. God makes perfect the strength in those called.

And we, all who are Christian, are called to be Christ’s light to the world.

In your weakness, strength is made perfect.

In your need of Christ, you are filled with Christ whether you feel it or not.

In your brokenness, you are the perfect person to help another who is broken.

In your pain, you understand the pain of another.

Rev. Sally Brown applies these thoughts to our world today. She writes, “…culture is eyeing the churches these days, testing our credibility. Congregations may imagine that they cannot think about public witness until their internal problems, doctrinal and budgetary, are all resolved. But it may be precisely our internal challenges that press us into the kind of engagement with each other and with the Spirit that can turn us, sooner rather than later, away from cloying self-absorption and outward to the world God loves. Even in our weakness, maybe even because of it, we become credible witnesses of saving news in this frantic, fearful world.”

In other words… our culture is looking to us, looking to church communities, to see how to get through our trying times.

America is fractured and fighting. As we fight ourselves, we affect our world. The effects are helping raise tensions everywhere. Are we heading towards another world war?

I don’t know.

I do know, that we, in our imperfection, are called to this hurting country and hurting world. Not because we have it all together, but because we’re authentic in our tries to live together in our diversity. We are the equipment. We are the witnesses. We are the people called to say, “I wholly disagree with you, but I can still love you.” “I will not ever vote like you do, but I will share bread with you.” “I am not you, but I am glad you are my neighbor.”

Who you are now, without everything figured out, is needed now to be Christ’s light.

Amen.