Tag: Communion

The Whole Armor of God

Ephesians 6:10-20 armor.jpg
John 6:56-69

I have an issue. I have a fatal disease called life. Someday, it will kill me. Every day, it takes its toll on me and ages me more. Breaks my body down more. And leads me closer to my grave. Whether from TMB, too many birthdays, or another cause, some day, I’m going to die to this fatal disease.

And that issue, my mortality, weighs heavily on me. I do a lot of things to try to ignore it, cheat it, or prevent it.

I prevent it by wearing my seat belt, brushing my teeth, eating healthily.

I cheat my death by ‘fake’ dying… riding rollarcoasters, or watching scary movies, or getting into other situations where I can consider death… but I don’t actually die.

And I ignore my mortality. I get on with my life, enjoy the moment, and don’t think about if I’m wisely spending every tiny little second.

But this fatal condition influences most aspects of my life. It makes me eat, makes me drink, makes me sleep, makes me look both ways when crossing the road… it also makes me fear, and hate and be depressed.

Consider, the EPA is rolling back regulations on coal power plants. This means that about 1000 extra people will die a year due to the carbon particulates in the area. Just 1000, but a whole lot of financial savings. It sounds measly, right?

But that fatal condition tells me that those 1000 people could be, and statistically will be, me. Ohio produces a lot of coal power. We usually have pretty poor breathing air. And an asthmatic like me is really sensitive to what I’m breathing. Is my life worth those dollars saved? It is for most of the USA. But, personally, I’d rather be living. I’m kinda invested in my life and living… more than I am invested in two cents or so cheaper electric.

This makes me depressed. Sad. It makes me anxious because I feel there is little I can do. It makes me fearful of tomorrow, of the very air I breathe. It makes me hate policy makers and cooperations and even my fellow Americans who think this is okay.

My fatal condition leads me to view the world as threatening and scary, and I get full of negative emotions.

The same process of mortality leading to fear and hate and depression is occurring to the Ephesians that Paul writes. They are very mortal. In fact, I am 100% sure every single Ephesian Paul was addressing (and even Paul himself) are now dead. They saw their faith siblings being put on trial, and killed, for being Christian.

And the same is occurring to the disciples Jesus addresses in our reading. They see war and starvation and oppression from Rome and the local powers, everywhere they turn.

All of us are facing our own mortality. Each of us are going to die.

This disease called life has only been put in remission three or four times, and only beaten once, that I’m aware of.

Jesus tells his disciples that if they eat his flesh and drink his blood, this mortality is cured. They are given life eternal. As we spoke about over the last few weeks, Jesus is saying something completely scandalous. First the educated complained about this teaching. And today, we hear Jesus’ own disciples complaining.

“This teaching is difficult! Who can accept it?” It is offensive that Jesus is telling us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It sounds sacrilegious. It sounds scandalous. It clearly is not the words of a military king. Now not just the people, or the educated, but Jesus’ own disciples are beginning to second-doubt following this rabbi.

And how can anyone cure mortality? Besides a few, like Elijah, everyone else has died, is buried, and their bones eventually turn to dust. After a few thousand years, that person not only is wholly physically gone… but even the memory of them is gone. How can eating flesh and blood cure death?

Jesus tells them, “You think this is offensive – what if you see me taken up to Heaven? How offended will you be then? What kind of a challenge to your faith will happen then? Think about this: The Spirit gives life. Not flesh.”

In other words, our bodies may be alive, but they don’t have the divine spark of a soul. That soul, that Spirit, is from God. So literally eating Jesus will not give you life. Literally drinking Jesus’ blood won’t give you life. The Holy Spirit gives you life. That Holy Spirit is in the words and teachings of Jesus. There is life and Spirit in the words he speaks.

Without the Spirit, our bread and our grape juice are just that — bread and grape juice. They become a sign of God, a remembrance of Christ, and a uniting sacrament because of the Spirit. In that Spirit, we gather. In that Spirit, we pray. In that Spirit, we respond to God’s invite to the table. In that Spirit, we receive eternal life.

So is communion, the literal bread and drink, necessary and essential for eternal life?

Consider this… as the fatal disease of life progresses, it makes some of us unable to eat and drink. What happens to someone if they cannot take communion any more? If they have a feeding tube, or are allergic to wheat and wheat bread if offered, or are a recovery alcoholic and only wine is offered? What happens if you’re in a service where communion is denied to you?

In all of these cases… are you cut from the vine that is Christ? Are you now denied eternal life?

Absolutely not!

Jesus says, “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”

In our denomination, we understand that a person can partake of communion without physically drinking or eating. Sometimes, for any of the reasons mentioned or another, people cannot physically eat the bread and take the cup. But, Spiritually, they partake. Spiritually, they take inside themselves the life, the eternal words, the life-giving bread and ever renewing drink. This is because the flesh, the physical food and physical drink, isn’t what is important about communion. What is important is the Spirit of God uniting everyone, the Holy One of God, our Christ, remembered and presiding over the Table, and our Creating God recreating the world anew through the unity we find in the sacrament.

Jesus is saying that eternal life is not living in heaven in the future… but it is also living fully now. It isn’t waiting for the world to be destroyed, or hastening that destruction so that Christ will come again and save us… eternal life is living the words of God through Christ. It is making Earth the place in which God’s kindom is fully experienced, and the rule of God wholly known – that rule of love and grace and mercy – just like it is in heaven.

Every Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and pray that Earth becomes like Heaven. That the eternal life of Heaven, the rich and fulfilled, the loving and peaceful, the understanding and merciful, the harmonious and whole life of heaven is also lived here. “Let thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Here, Jesus offers the balm of Gilead, the solution to our fatal disease: a well lived life. A Spiritual life. A life that doesn’t end when we die – die to greed, die to fear, die to hate, die from TMB or any other cause – but a life that continues on abundantly now and into heaven. And that complete, healthy, whole life is available for those who eat and drink Christ.

For we are what we eat! When we eat and drink Christ, we become like Christ, we do his words, and we live our lives in the eternal manner.

But death still happens. Fear still happens. Our bodies still break down, and still die. Bread still molds, drink still sours, and the physical passes away. So what are we to do when the fatal dis-ease, fatal – not- at – ease comes and makes us fear the future, hate our siblings, get depressed over the present, or defensive of our self, wealth, and lives?

That is what Paul is writing about.

When we feel threatened, war will not defend us. Swords will not be a comfort. Armor will always have weak spots and gaps. Walls will be circumvented. Every security measure misses something. Home-grown terrorism is a thing that banning people from nations with terrorist active will not prevent. Random acts of violence, random deaths by freak accidents, and even meaningless cruelty happen no matter who you are, where you are, or how Godly and Christian you are.

Evil is real.

Evil happens.

Evil always slips in, somehow.

So Paul reminds us that we’re not fighting enemies of flesh and blood. He reminds us that immigrants and refugees, transients and transsexuals, Muslims, Jews, skin-heads and Anti-fa, Republicans or Democrats and Capitalists or Socialists are not the enemies of Christians. These are people. Humans. Children made in the image of God. Somebody’s little daughter; someone’s beloved son. People with souls.

And people are mixed bags with good qualities and bad qualities all tossed into one body.

No; pointing out a group and labeling every member “My enemy” or “God’s enemy” is not Biblical. We’re not fighting physical people!

Instead, we are fighting systems. Fighting the status quo. Fighting the way things are. Our enemy is the world system that has policies which turn a beloved child into a terrorist. Our enemy is every government order this is cruel and inhumane. Our enemy is poverty. Power inequality. Greed.

Our enemy is the cosmic powers of this present darkness – the spiritual forces of evil. You don’t have to believe in Satan or the devil for there to be evil. Evil – intentional harm – is a cosmic power. A power outside of ourselves that is infused into our current world. A spiritual darkness bred out of our fatal disease of mortality makes us fear, and hate, and do harm to one another. Why are we greedy? Because the more we have, the more secure we are, and the further death feels from us. Why are we cruel? For the same reason. It makes us feel powerful. Like we can cause death on others but no one can cause death on us.

Our enemy is death, and all of the negative and hurtful things we do out of fear of death.

So Paul reminds us that death is defeated. Death has no sting. Death has no victory. Christ has saved us, redeemed us, made us no longer prisoners to all that the fear of death inflicts on us.

When we feel we need more protection, we’re not to pick up more arms and weapons. We’re not to build stronger borders and stronger alarm systems. We’re not to point to specific people and say ‘He is the Anti-Christ!’ or ‘She is pure evil!’ We Christians are to focus on boosting our Spiritual armor… for we are in a spiritual war. A war over the negative, life-stealing emotions that the fear of death inflicts in us.

So Paul writes: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day,” when fear and hate and insecurity invoke the devils and temptations in you to sin. “And having done everything” to be spiritually strong, “to stand firm” in your commitment to love and peace. “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

This is the armor and arms we’re to have – truth, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, righteousness, and the words of God. All of these to be living in peace rather than living in fear.

“ Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”

Pray for one another! Pray peace for yourselves. Pray peace for your enemies. Pray peace for the world. Pray peace and the only arms and armor we will ever need is the whole armor of God.

Amen.

Advertisements

Say what?!

Proverbs 9:1-6 saywhat
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Be wise, be wise, be wise! Wisdom calls to us – come in! Eat my bread, drink my wine, sit at my table, and become wise!

Be wise, be wise, be wise! Understand the will of the Lord and don’t be foolish!

The wise sought out the Lord, he fed them miraculous bread, and the wise wanted him to be the new King of Israel. But the Lord ran away. The wise sought him out again, and the Lord said you are foolishly seeking bread that perishes. Seek the everlasting bread from heaven. The wise asked, “Give us this bread!” The Lord said, “I am this bread.”

The wise began to murmur… who is this man? He is saying he is from heaven? No he’s not… we know his parents and siblings. He is a mortal.

The Lord replied, “Don’t murmur. The only people following me are those who God has sent me. But the bread is here for everyone. Whoever eats the bread, my flesh, lives.”

Now the wise go from a murmur to distress. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

A cannibalistic king… or vorarephiliac king… a king who wants us to eat his flesh… does not sound like a wise king. And only foolish people would follow such a king.

Jesus hears them arguing. So, he fans the flames. Our English Bible says “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood,” but in Greek, Jesus has changed verbs here. First he politely said eat me. The second time, he says, “Nom, crunch, chew my flesh and slurp my blood.” It is very graphic language.

This is too much for the wise. We’re told after today’s passage that many people left following Jesus. Being a cannibal — even a cannibal for Christ — is going too far.

Today, some of us will consume blood in the form of raw steaks, or blood pudding, blood sausage… or just any meat that isn’t wholly drained of all its blood. But we’re the strange ones. Today Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians alike all refuse to eat or drink blood — even that left over in something like a steak — because our scripture. In Genesis 9:3-4, God tells Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

This is elaborated later in Levitius 17:10-14 when God tells Moses, “If anyone of the house of Israel or of the [foreigners] who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any [foreigner] who resides among you eat blood. And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

Quite, quite clearly, in the old ancient world, people understood that our bodies are alive because of blood. Blood is life. Life is blood. They are synonymous. And with science, today, we know that is pretty close to the truth. Your arm is alive, but if circulation is cut off to it… within four hours, all the cells in our flesh will die without the nutrients, oxygen, warmth, and LIFE that blood brings. A stroke is so deadly and damaging because it is a part of your brain that lacks blood – and the brain cells rapidly die. Six minutes without new blood to the brain, and the brain dies.

What’s more, science tells us blood is alive… inside blood are cells. These continue to be alive after they have left your body. Once in a great while, our blood transfusions go badly. Our blood cells attack the new blood cells.

We also know how many infections we can catch from blood! Jesus’ time didn’t have AIDS, but that’s just one of so many things we can catch.

So when Jesus starts telling people to DRINK his blood and EAT his flesh… isn’t that disturbing?

It was for the early Romans. Surviving documents from early Rome accuse Christians of meeting in the dark to worship their dark god by sacrificing a child and consuming the baby’s flesh and blood. Our church father Tertullian mocked the claims, “Come! plunge the knife into the baby, nobody’s enemy, guilty of nothing, everybody’s child. . . catch the infant blood; steep your bread with it; eat and enjoy it” (Apol. 8.2).

Augustine, another great ancestor of our faith, “argued that the words of Jesus refer to “the validity of the mystery, not to the visibility of the mystery, given to the one who eats inwardly, not outwardly, one who feeds his heart, not one who chews with his teeth.” The bread and wine are “signs,” said Augustine, and “the signs of divine things are, it is true, things visible, but … invisible things themselves are also honored in them.” (De Cat. Rud. 26.50). A thousand years later the Council of Trent would thus describe a sacrament as a “visible sign of an invisible grace.” ((https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20120820JJ.shtml))

Countless Christians were murdered in Rome under charges of cannibalism.

You’d think the argument would have ended since then… but it really hasn’t. WHERE Christ is in our Eucharist, in our communion, is a sticking point among our denominations. Does the bread and wine become literally the flesh and blood of Christ? Yes, say the Catholics. No, but Christ is infused into them, say the Lutherans. As Reformed, most of us say ‘No’, Christ is in the whole act of the sacrament.

That’s one example how the real world is still being influenced by this ancient debate…

… Another is with our medical laws. When you go into the hospital for surgery, you’re often asked to sign a paper permitting a blood transfusion. This is “eating” or consuming blood to some faiths. And therefore, it is banned.

The same when you go in for your license. Are you signed up as an Organ or Flesh donor? Is receiving a kidney consuming another person? Is donating your skin for grafts after you die considered permitting another to eat your flesh?

Bioethics, biological ethics and religious concerns with medicine, struggle today just like the wise struggled with Jesus back then.

Our easy answer is Jesus was not speaking literally. Jesus was never literally a vine, literally a gate, and never literally meant for us to eat and drink him.

Yet every communion we remember Jesus saying “This is the cup of the new covenant, in my blood” and “this is my body, broken for you.” And we have a cup. And broken bread.

Where is the line between literal and figurative? Symbolic and metaphorical?

Other Christians believed Jesus was using signs to point us towards God. The eternal, everlasting life is the life we have now, enjoyed with God, and the life we will continue to have, after our last day. The bread and wine, or flesh and blood, from Jesus is his life and life-giving qualities.

Many of us take a symbolic and metaphorical approach… but not all of us.

Context matters. It helps us understand what these words mean. For example, the Bible does say in Psalm 14:1, “There is no God.” But in context, it says, “The fool says in their heart, there is no God,” and then goes on to sing praises about God.

Context matters! Throwing Bible versus around out of context gets us things like,  “…then he went away and hung himself,” “and Jesus said, ‘Go away and do likewise.'” (Matthew 25:5b; Luke 10:37c.)

So when you read your Bible, or someone’s quote, ask yourself: what is the context?

Who said this?

Who did they say it to?

Why did they say it?

When? What was going on at that time?

What was said before this?

What was said after this?

And then you can understand the context, and better how this verse, or phrase, or quote was intended to be understood.

The context of “eat my flesh and drink my blood” is very different between church and a horror film.

So where do you stand? What does your God-given wisdom say?

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.

Something to Eat

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Jesus-touched-woman-touching-Jesus-Divine-Healing
Mark 5:21-43

What lengths would you go for healing?

For yourself?

For your child?

For today’s unnamed woman, she was willing to risk everything. She’d already paid all her money. She’d lost all her dignity as doctor after doctor and healer after healer failed to help her. Twelve years ago – maybe from childbirth – she began to bleed from below the waist and for twelve years the life has leeched out of her. This has meant for 12 years she has been dead, cut off, unable to attend religious functions or be among the community because any woman who is bleeding is supposed to stay home until she stops. It was customary – a way to keep the community clean. Much like today day cares say you should you’re your kid home for 24 hours if they have a fever, or hospitals ask if you’ve traveled out of country recently, and if so, isolated. These are preventative measures to keep the community clean.

But imagine if that temporary cleansing time wasn’t a few hours or days… but lasted months… years… over a decade of isolation. Over a decade of people avoiding you so they wouldn’t be contaminated and need to be in isolation too.

And here this woman is. In the crowd. Contaminating all these people, per se. She doesn’t tell them. She sneaks. Who would let her through to embarrass the rabbi with lady problems? Who would let her make him ritually unclean?

If caught, what will happen? Will they stone her, kill her, for violating the social rules? Will they cast her out of the city and make her a beggar, or made to wander the desert until she died of thirst? Will they arrest her, take her from her family, and deport her?

She risks it all just for a chance at a better life.

Just for a chance of healing.

Chance of grace — unearned favor.

She touches just the hem, the barest edge, of Jesus’ clothes and feels — FEELS — the change in her. Just that smallest touch has brought her back to life and among the living!

Jesus FEELS the change, too.

“WHO HAS TOUCHED ME?”

“Everyone is touching you, what do you mean ‘who has touched you’? It’s a crowd! It’s crowded!”

And Jesus glared at the crowd.

So much for not embarrassing the rabbi. So much for keeping his honor intact. So much for sneaking in the crowd and not letting them know of the unclean, unwelcomed one among them. So much for getting away with her newly given life. What will the crowd do to this woman – now that she’s stolen from the rabbi AND contaminated him? Death will be merciful.

She so easily could have ran away then. Saved her life. But she chooses to give in, and in giving her life away, saves it.

She falls down before Jesus and tells him the whole truth – every gory detail – every failed doctor, every penny spent, every place she’s been not welcomed. She tells him way, way too much until the people around him are uncomfortable. She confesses her theft, and guilt, wholly to the one she offended, the one she is indebted to.

And he forgives her debts. Forgives her sins. Her trespasses. “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Faith – trust – confession – reconciliation –has cleansed her of her sins. It is well with her soul. “Go in peace and be healed.”

With a full confession, this woman is given more mercy than she ever dreamed was possible. She is not just physically healed, but spiritually, too. And directly forgiven by the one she did wrong to. She is wholly returned to life after 12 years of dying.

But that’s not the whole story today.

Jesus in this crowd had been heading to Jarius’ house where his 12 year old daughter is deathly ill.

How far is Jarius willing to go for healing for his child? What will he risk?

Everything.

He comes to the folk healer Jesus, whom Jarius’ own peers are ridiculing, to save not his first son or any son — but a daughter, a child that is considered not to have much worth in society. And not any daughter who has given him grandsons… but his 12 year old daughter, who is just ready to begin her menses, not even a full woman. See the ties to the previous woman, here? Jarius will risk his job, his reputation, and therefore his livelihood and life to save the life of his little girl.

But it is too late.

Jesus paused, helped an outsider, a stranger, a thief… and now the little innocent girl is dead.

Can you feel the crowd’s anger? Don’t bother the rabbi.

Over at the house, the crowd is crying. Hope is lost. The miracle was stolen by that dirty woman.

Jesus, however, tells them there is no need to weep – the girl is only asleep. He tells Jarius “Do not fear, only believe!”

But the crowd laughs him out.

To the sound of their jeers, Jesus takes the little girls’ mom and dad, and his closest friends, into the house. Over the sound of the crowd mocking, maybe getting angry with that woman, or angry with Jesus for being too late, over all that chaos Jesus goes into the quiet room with the dead child. And he touches her — breaking the social taboo of not touching the dead. Making himself unclean. An outsider. And he whispers to her not in some strange language, but in their native tongue – their own dialect – little girl, get up!

And she does. Back from the dead. Healed. Alive.

Oh death, where is your sting?

Oh God, who truly has endless grace — no one can steal another’s place with you!

God is so generous, so full of life, so extravagant that there is healing enough for all. There is love enough for all. There is life enough for all.

Don’t fear. Only believe.

Don’t be stingy, don’t doubt, don’t jeer. Be generous. Be optimistic. Be encouraging.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is telling them that the reason they are so affluent, so well off, so that they can help others. Gifts are meant to be shared! Talents are meant to be shared! Miracles are meant to be shared! Food is meant to be shared.

Around this table Jesus sets for us, we share. We share our joys. We share our woes. We share our hopes. We share our shames. We share a body – that is old and young, healthy and unhealthy, saintly and fallen. We share extravagantly and proclaim it is open for one, and all, and everyone who wishes to begin anew their life with Christ and with one another in the name of Christ. We proclaim every sin confessed is wholly forgiven for God’s mercy’s are endless. God’s welcome is endless. God’s love is endless.

How far are you willing to go for healing?

For a clear conscious and a well soul?

Are you willing to apologize to the ones you have wronged?

It’s something to chew on, to eat.

Amen.

The Sabbath

Deuteronomy 5:12-15images
Mark 2:23-3:6

Very rarely things in the world wear name tags “HELLO MY NAME IS EVIL” and “HELLO MY NAME IS GOOD.” Instead, we deal with shades of evil and good and have to decide which is the best. And sometimes, it’s just picking between two goods, or two evils.

Today, Jesus and the religious leaders and political leaders debate the gray area.

On the day of rest, Jesus and his disciples are picking up dropped wheat or rye heads as they walk along.

The religious people shake their heads and say, “Jesus! You’re supposed to be setting an example! And this is your example? Gleaning on the rest day? You should have gleaned yesterday!”

Jesus replies with a story from the Bible. King David once was in a hurry and hungry. He went and ate the bread inside the temple.

The rest of the story is implied that then the King and his companions could continue on their journey, and bring blessings to the land. If we have to pick between the evil of eating the consecrated bread, or the evil of King David and his companions starving to death, eating the bread is the lesser evil.

Picture our communion table today. How would you react if when you came in here, you saw a homeless person making a sandwich out of the communion bread before service began? What is the lesser evil? The bread being ate in an unholy way, or the man going hungry?

Religious people would say give the man different bread. Make him wait until after the service and then give him the leftovers. These are reasonable solutions. Just like it is a reasonable solution to say the disciples should have prepared their snacks the day before.

But Jesus would say – let the homeless man eat his fill and then fill his pockets with the leftovers. The Bread of Life is to be shared extravagantly. This isn’t reasonable. It’s extravagant. It’s about choosing the action that most reflects the love of God, than the rationality of the world.

The Pharisees and Jesus both heard the secondary message to Jesus’ analogy, too. Jesus compared himself to King David. The return of King David’s line is a prophecy of the Messiah.

Jesus concludes, “The Sabbath is made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” The Pharisees agree with this. But they don’t agree that Jesus is the Son of Man, or the Messiah, or as big a blessing to the world as King David was.

The second part of the story has Jesus entering the synagogue on a day of rest and prayer. They think he’ll likely heal someone, and therefore, be caught working on the Sabbath. Jesus is in the synagogue, and he notices the guy with the messed up hand. He calls the man forward, and then asks everyone gathered there: Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath? To save a life or kill?”

Everyone knows you’re supposed to do good, and to save a life. If your kid falls in a well, you pull her out of the well — even if it means work on the Sabbath. Because they agree, also, the Sabbath is for us … we’re not slaves to the Sabbath.

God gave the Sabbath to the Israelites in the desert explaining to them that they were once slaves – and had to work every single day of their lives. This Sabbath is their rest. They are not longer slaves. And this Sabbath extends to their own slaves, hired hands, animals, immigrants and aliens and everyone around them. EVERYONE deserves a day off to rest, recover, and do as they will… Even God takes this time. A Sabbath is a day of wholeness. A day of doing what we need to do to be physically, mentally, and spiritually whole.

So Jesus stands there and asks: Should you do good or harm; save a life or kill on the Sabbath?

Obviously the answer is to do good and save a life.

It means doing good by that man with the withered hand, and returning him to whole life by healing him. With a healed hand, he can provide for his family again. He can provide for the town again. He brings life to all of those around him.

But, it means perhaps violating the Sabbath and working on the holy day. The Pharisees think that man could easily wait until tomorrow. He’s likely been injured a long time. What is the rush? They are rational. They are us.

But Jesus is all about immediacy. This man has waited a LONG TIME to be healed. Why are we going to make him suffer a single additional moment? Why are we going to violate the Sabbath by refusing to do what is necessary to bring wholeness and goodness and life to ourselves?

This is a fight about which is more important — the good of a Sabbath or the good of Healing? This is an argument about thinking individually — I don’t need healed. I can wait. I am not hungry. I can wait. — and about collectively and for the other — He needs healed. We can’t wait. We are hungry. We can’t wait.

The tension between thinking “what is best for me” and “what is best for the community” is a tension that is still happening this very moment.

The Right-to-Work laws are passing more swiftly, 28 states now, and are being brought before our President. Much like the argument about what is or isn’t lawful on the Sabbath, the Right-to-Work is a debate on individual gains or community gains.

It actually has nothing about people’s rights to work. Everyone can be employed.

It has to do with unions.

Unions formed

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, men, women, and children worked 12 to 14 hours a day in factories. There were no breaks, and for lunch, you had to eat while cleaning your machine. If you got hurt, you were fired. Even if you got hurt because of your boss skipping on maintaining the machines. Wages were as low as the employers wanted them because so many people needed jobs. There was no ventilation for the machines, and so you breathed in the coal soot smoke all day. Men received 10 cents an hour, women 2 to 5 cents an hour, and children a half penny to a penny an hour. A loaf of bread was 5 cents, a cup of milk 2 cents. This meant a child barely could feed themselves… and many children were starving, malformed from standing still at factories all day, and missing fingers or limbs from the dangerous work.

Out of the condition of childhood labor, and all the children dying daily in factories, unions formed. They ran by negotiating with the factory and shop owners better working conditions and wages, or else the employees wouldn’t show up to work. It might cost a few more pennies to pay everyone a living wage, but it cost a lot more to have the factory shut down. It cost a few more pennies to enact child labor laws, safety standards, and workers compensation… but it cost less than having your whole business collapse because no one wanted to support the machines that were killing children to make goods.

Bit by bit, working conditions improved. Wages went up. It was now illegal to lock your employees into the store or factory. People had to be given breaks. And time to eat. There was a standard set of hours and time off — and overtime and holiday pay established.

Now, some places became union-only. So you couldn’t work there if you didn’t participate and join the union. This was so that the workers stood strong together. This kind of a place is called a Closed Shop. A lot of people think these still exist and you can’t work at this place or that without joining the union there. This isn’t true.

In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act said a person couldn’t be dismissed for refusing to participate in the union.

“But there was much more to this law.

The Taft-Hartley Act additionally required that employment agreements collectively bargained for to benefit union members would also be required to inure to the complete benefit of non-member employees, even though these employees elect not to join the union.” (Forbes)

“But did you know that Taft-Hartley further requires that the union be additionally obligated to provide non-members’ with virtually all the benefits of union membership even if that worker elects not to become a card-carrying union member?

By way of example, if a non-member employee is fired for a reason that the employee believes to constitute a wrongful termination, the union is obligated to represent the rights of that employee in the identical fashion as it would represent a union member improperly terminated. So rock solid is this obligation that should the non-union member employee be displeased with the quality of the fight the union has put forth on his or her behalf, that non-union member has the right to sue the union for failing to prosecute as good a defense as would be expected by a wrongfully terminated union member.

Given the fact that Taft-Hartley was providing non-union members with most all the benefits of membership without having to join up, […] it would be unfair for non-member workers to gain all these goodies at no charge while members were obligated to pay dues for the very same services the union provided.

To compensate for this, Taft-Hartley required that, while nobody could be forced to join the union, non-members would be required to pay dues to the union as if they were members. These are called “agency fees”—the equivalent of union dues when paid by a non union-member.” (Forbes)

Now, these agency fees are only for the negotiated benefits the union provides. It’s illegal for them to be used for political lobbying, or any other activities the union does. The agency fee is only for the portion of cost the union incurred while negotiating on behalf of all the employees.

So along comes the new Right-to-Work laws. These say that no one should have to pay agency fees either, but do not over turn the Taft-Harley Act. Therefore, Right-to-Work laws “permit non-union member employees to continue to get all the benefits of union representation and protection, as is still the requirement of federal law, without having to pay so much as a penny in return for these benefits.” (Forbes) AND the non-union, non-agency paying member can SUE the union if he or she doesn’t like how the union represents them.

Why in the world would any states — 28 of them so far! — sign these what seem like Right to Freeload laws?

The national Right to Work movements and political lobbying groups argue that forcing people to join unions is against some religions’ stances. That is true – but because of the Taft-Harley Act, no one is forced to join unions.

The Right to Work groups argue our freedom is restricted if we have to pay agency fees. That money we could pocket. Yes, that is true. But then there will be a weaker union. And a weaker union leads to a union breaking up. In states where Right-to-Work has passed, the average income for workers has reduced by 3% (Forbes). The medium income has increased — this is because that 3% the workers lost is going to the factory and business owners — driving up the maximum income in the state… but not the average. Medium and average are not the same thing.

So this is a case of what is the lesser evil, the greater good?

If you’re thinking as an individual, it looks like it would be better to have a bigger pay check by not paying union or agency fees. If you’re thinking as an individual, it looks like it would be better to pay your workers less, give them less benefits, and therefore have a more profitable company.

If you’re thinking as part of a community, you know that by sacrificing some of your paycheck now for agency fees or union dues, you end up with a larger paycheck over time because the union is fighting and protecting you from being exploited. If you’re thinking as a part of a community, you know if you pay your workers more and give them more benefits, they tend to live happier and healthier lives, are more productive, and more company loyal.

What way is better to think? Think individually or think collectively? For only self or self and other or only other?

Every moment of our day, every decision we make, we have to balance these choices.

Our scripture and our faith is adamant we are to think collectively and with the other. We’re to think as the Body of Christ, as many members but one body. We’re to think ‘I’m glad I have a day off,’ and think about those who are working jobs without a living wage – so much work two or three jobs to make ends meet – and they have no days off. We’re to think that low-income worker is me — for we’re the body of Christ. We’re to think we are as healthy and as strong, as well off and as whole as the least member of ourselves. We’re to think of the resident aliens, the strangers, the immigrants, the people held into slavery of debt, and know God commands we grant everyone time to rest.

We grant everyone wholeness and healing.

We grant everyone compassion and shalom…

… Because God grants it to us.

The Pharisees aren’t bad guys. Those who think individually aren’t bad guys. But Christians are called to look at the bigger picture Jesus shows us, called to think differently, called to think collectively and act generously to all.

Amen.

((https://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/12/11/right-to-work-laws-explained-debunked-demystified/3/#4499ec9e6439))

Humble Clay

Isaiah 64:1-9 maple_tree_bud
Mark 13:24-37

 

The Prophet Isaiah pleads with God – come, God, come – show the world how amazing you are. We’re dry leaves in the wind, blown to and fro about petty concerns, and chase after things which aren’t you. We’re lost in our sins.

But, God, we’re clay and you’re the potter.

God, we are the work of your hand.

God – come and remold us, rework us, repair us.

This hope is kept alive for generations upon generations. This hope keeps the people seeking and watching for the messiah – the one God will sent to gather us back from wherever we’ve blown, wash away the dirty sins, and remake us anew.

This hope brings us to the Gospel — the Good News — of the testament, the words, of Mark.

Mark remembers Jesus saying that when everything is darkest, and we’re shaken to our core — when it seems like all hope is lost…

There still is a light. THE Light. THE Word of God which will never pass away. THE God, who will not give up on us.

We don’t know when this will happen. We don’t know how or where. We don’t know when the first maple or fig bud appears – but we know it happens. We know when we see those signs of life after a long winter, that summer is near.

We don’t know what is the first sign of Christ’s full reign – but it is budding everywhere. And this long time of waiting in winter will be over, and full summer will be here.

A budding of that glorious time is happening today – with church, and with the foretaste of heaven in our communion.

A budding of that glorious time is happening all the time — all the time there is another little sign, another little bud — soon all the trees will have leaves. Soon, all people will live in harmony.

While we wait for that time, we keep the faith – keep our hope.

Hope with joy. Hope with peace. Hope in love.

For you do not hope in vain. What the potter has begun, the potter will continue to work into perfection.

Amen.