Monday, August 27, 2018

Everyone Eats

John 6:56-69
August 26, 2018

Everyone eats.
Not the same thing or the same amount.
Not everyone has the same likes or dislikes.
Some people need to take nutrition
in different ways because of health problems.
Some people have more complicated relationships with eating.
Some people love to eat, some people don’t.
But everyone needs food.
Everyone eats in one way or another.
The Last SupperSeiger Koder

Whether food scarce 
or whether its plentiful,
eating has brought people 
together forever.
People have shared food and traded food.
Societies have been formed by
how people hunted or gathered 
or farmed food.

In pre-grocery store times,
making a meal was a community act.
The cheese maker shared 
the baker’s products
baker shared the farmer’s 
products and the butchers.

The necessity of food brings people
to our food pantry every week and
out of that necessity, we’ve made
new relationships with new people
we might never have met before.

And since we all know that everyone has this
similar need, eating is a good opportunity to
gather together with other people.
So people come around all sorts of tables to do this task.

This human necessity that we all share,
makes the sharing of food with others
a sacred experience. God joins us in that moment.
Whether we’re sharing with strangers, giving it away,
or eating with our families around these tables.

And lots of things happen around these
tables while we’re filling this needed activity.
When we do come together at the table
it’s probably the most extended
amount of time people spend together.

Now, if you’re like me, you remember a lot of
of good times around those tables:
talking, laughing, sharing.

But if you’re like me, you also remember some horrible times,
bad news, cold stares, yelling, crying, storming away.

The dinner table:
The best of times and the worst of times.
That’s a good indicator when something is sacred and holy,
it can go very, very good and terribly wrong.

But the thing about food, is that we all have to eat.
The need brings us back again, and again
where we can forgive and rebuild
sometimes a good plate of spaghetti
can fix a lot of things.

Jesus knew about the power that food has,
it’s necessity, and its inherent sacredness.
So when he has that crowd together,
he showed them the power of God by
feeding them all. They were very impressed.

Then when they come looking for him,
he tells them to stop looking for bread that goes bad.
He is the bread of life, the bread that won’t go bad.
The bread that you don’t have to keep looking for,
or making again, or buying.

Then he goes a step further and says the line we hear today,
About eating the flesh of the Son of man and drinking his blood.
Which apparently is a bit too far for some people.

I think when we hear these words now, we go directly
to the Eucharist and the 2000 years of
doctrine that has gone with communion.
But there was no communion when Jesus said this.
There was no doctrine.
John’s gospel doesn’t even have
a last supper/first institution of communion in it.
What was Jesus talking about?

I would say it’s obvious that
Jesus isn’t talking about
literally eating his flesh, tucking in
and eating and arm or a leg.
Even people who take the bible literally
don’t think that.

But what I think he’s is saying
is don’t just be an observer of Jesus.
Don’t just see Jesus. Don’t just sit on the side and watch.
If you’re going to follow Jesus, go all the way.

Eat it. Eat the whole thing
Eat it. Consume it. Chew on it.
Ingest it. Make it a part of you.

The word Jesus actually uses for eat
literally means “to gnaw”.
To gnaw, gnaw on his flesh.
Not just to nibble or to taste, but to gnaw on it.

Jesus wants each of us to take in all of him.
To let Jesus life, death, teachings, resurrection
become a part of us and our life.

And that is what happens at the communion table.
Jesus body given for us, his flesh and blood
that he gave for us, that lives inside of us
the meal that we share at this table together.

We come to this table and all tables like this
to share the necessity of life with one another.
We share the gift and burden of eating,
and share the food that doesn’t spoil:
Jesus body and blood, the gift and sacrifice of God.
We consume this, it becomes a part of us.
It changes us whether we want to or not.

The necessity of this food brings us together with others too.
We share this meal with people we love and like and enjoy,
And we have shared at this table with people
we don’t like, don’t agree with, can’t stand.
We share it with those that we argue with,
those that we normally wouldn’t want to be seen with.
Jesus table, like other dinner tables,
can be the best of times and the worst of times.
But yet, this basic human necessity
brings us back again and again.

This table of Jesus challenges us, and stretches us,
being at this table with others slowly,
gradually makes us more like what we eat.

There was an Anglican priest named Father Wiggit
who ministered to the political prisoners
in South Africa in the early 1980’s.
And he recounts this story:
Every week Father Wiggit would come and share
communion with the prisoners.
They would sit around a little table in a nasty room,
and there was always a prison warden who was assigned
to come and observe the proceedings.
He would just sit there, stone-faced,
and make sure that there was no ‘suspicious’
activity happening, no secret information shared.

In 1982, Nelson Mandela had already been in various prison
labor camps for over 20 years.
And he was transferred to the prison that Wiggit served.
The first time that Nelson Mandela was there,
he joined them for communion.
Father Wiggit started the communion liturgy and
Mandela asked them to stop in the middle.
He yelled out to the warden and
asked him if he was a Christian.
The warden said “yes” and Mandela said,
"Well then, you should be over here.
Take off your hat and come join us.
Father Wiggit said he had never thought of inviting the warden,
He said he just saw him as an apartheid functionary.
But Mandela saw him as a brother in Christ.

This is difficult teaching.
We sit across the table and share this sacred
food with our enemies, those that don’t share,
that don’t believe our struggles or opinions.
Those who don’t understand us or agree with us.
Even those who keep us captive,
who treat us and others with great injustice.
This is difficult teaching.
Not everyone can live with that.

But that is really taking in the body of Jesus.
Really ingesting it, gnawing it, consuming it.

This is Jesus table, Jesus is our host
and so it’s Jesus guest list that we have to use.

And where else are we gonna go?
The need that we all share
and the food that we share,
keeps us coming back.

This body of Christ, this is the bread of life,
The sacred meal that we join together to share,
The meal that we ingest, gnaw on,
that becomes a part of us.
That has the power of reconciliation,
the power of forgiveness.
The power to help and to heal.
The power to bring us together and erase divisions.
This living bread from heaven
that has the words of eternal life.

Monday, August 20, 2018

There Is Enough

Matthew 14:12-21
August 19, 2018

5000 people is a lot of people.
It’s a crowd. A big crowd.
Actually, the biggest city in the area was
might have been around 7,000 people,
so if this hillside picnic were a city,
it would have been the second largest in the area.
Christ Feeding the 5000Eric Feather
That’s a pretty big event.

Now, I think that promoters and event coordinators and disciples 
then and now can agree on one thing:
you don’t try to feed a crowd of 5000,
at least not all at once, not without selling tickets ahead of time,
or charging up front, or sponsorship, or a big group of volunteers
and definitely not without some advanced planning.

So when Jesus asks the disciples 
where they’re going to get food for all these people,
Phillip has a reasonable response
he says “we don’t’ have enough.”
We don’t have it, don’t have access to it,
don’t know where to get it,
don’t know who would give us enough
to feed all these people.
There is not enough.

Now lots of things have changed in this world
since Jesus time on that hill,
but humanity really hasn’t changed much.
And humanity tends to think that there’s not enough.
Even if there is enough now, we worry that there won’t
be enough later.
There is not enough.
Those words have been repeated and repeated
over and over again in our world throughout time.

People who calculate these things
say that there is enough food produced in this world,
so that every person in the world could eat 3000 calories every day.
But still, around 815 million people go to bed hungry.
We’re fortunate that there is not a production problem,
But there is a distribution problem.
And at the root of it, is this fear:
There is not enough.

This is the story that the world tells:
corporations, politicians, developers, insurance companies, 
commercials, TV shows, there is just not enough for everyone.
Not enough food, money, land, jobs, time, doctors, medicine,
electricity, water, whatever else can be counted and held back.
We hear it so much, it’s repeated and insinuated,
and drilled into us and the fear is in us and drives us.
There is not enough.

This is part of many people’s issue with immigrants,
with people of color, with those who are poor.
If those other people get, there won’t be enough for me.
There is not enough.

And at its root, this principle of scarcity is a lack of trust in God.
It says there are no gifts to be given because God doesn’t give.
The world of scarcity tells us that we’re on our own.
We only have what you can get for yourselves.
We only get whatever we scrap and fight and work for.
Only what we deserve. What we have we’ve earned.
Because there is not enough. There will never be enough.

The story we’re telling today
is the same story that the disciples told.
There is not enough to feed those 5000 people, Jesus.
Send them away.

But in the middle of that story of scarcity
being told on that hillside in front of that crowd,
One boy came up and said, “I have enough!”
Even though all he had was five loaves and two fish.
And even though Andrew only saw the scarcity and said,
“What’s so little food when you’re talking about so many people?”
It was still enough.

And Jesus took what the boy had to share
he blessed it, he broke it and gave it away.
With complete trust in what he and God were going to do.

Now here is where the mystery happens.
Without a food committee, without making
an announcement of a pot luck, without tickets,
without any planning whatsoever,
there was enough for everyone in that crowd.

 Now the story is not clear on how it happened.
Some people read this and see that Jesus made more bread
and more fish right there. Enough for all to eat and more,
ex nihilo, out of nothing.
Jesus and God produced food where there was none
and the people had more than enough to eat.
Now that is a miracle of God no doubt.

But some people look at this and see something else.
they see that Jesus brought the Spirit of God to rest
on a community of 5000 people
who were inspired to trust and share all that they had.

A normal crowd of people who traveled with their own provisions,
taking whatever they had just bought at the market,
whatever they were taking along with them for their journey,
whatever they were going to eat themselves
whatever they were there to sell to this big crowd,
and they didn’t keep it for themselves.

They brought it out of their tunics and pockets
and baskets and shopping bags and let it all go
they brought it all out and they shared it
with the people around them who had nothing to eat.
And there was more than enough for everyone.
And even this, I think, is an incredible miracle.

Whichever way you see it,
Jesus’ miracles are never just miracles.
They always show us something about God.
And with that picnic meal miracle,
Jesus showed that the world is filled with God’s blessings.
We can trust in God’s abundance.
Even when all your senses tell you there isn’t enough.
There is enough.

The way that Jesus came into everyone’s life on
that hillside is the same way Jesus comes into ours.
Whenever we feel nervous, or we’re not sure we’ll make it.
Whenever we worry about the future,
Whenever all we see ahead is disaster,
whenever we’re stingy and selfish and not willing to share,
Jesus tells us, “there is enough.”

With that meal on that hillside,
and this meal that we eat every week,
Jesus is slowly reordering the world’s reality.
Not just in our stomachs, and in our churches,
Jesus is talking about the economy, the government,
the world, and our hearts.
There is enough: enough food, enough money,
enough space, enough time, enough attention, enough love.

Jesus shows us and this crowd the real story
God’s grace, God’s gifts, God’s love for everyone.
Jesus shows us and feeds us the real story
about God’s abundance.

What Jesus is saying is that when people
come together in faith and trust in God,
there is nothing that can’t happen.
There is enough.

Monday, August 13, 2018

King David 6

1 Kings 1:1; 5-31; 38-40; 2:10-12
August 12, 2018
David 6

One more drama for David to deal with.
Who will succeed him as King.

Adonijah thinks he should be king because he’s the oldest,
and it says he was handsome, so he was obviously qualified.
And he starts to behave as if he was already king.
He hosts a dinner which, only kings should be  able to do in the kings house,
and he invites all of his brothers except Solomon,
the other son in contemplation for leadership.
and he leaves out Nathan too, David’s advisor and tattle tale.

There seems to be some sort of unspoken feeling or suggestion that
Adonijah might kill those people that he sees as rivals
who he doesn’t invite to this meal of his which is not out of the question.

So Bathsheba either reminds David, or tries to trick David into believing,
that he had promised the throne to Solomon and just forgot about it.
And Nathan comes and complains to David that Adonijah
King David
Youram Raanan
has tried to become king without David’s blessing.

And David apparently doesn’t like the presumptuous nature
with which Adonijah has assumed the throne,
So he tells Nathan to make a public display and have
Nathan anoint Solomon and declare Solomon king.

10 “Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David.”
And that was the end of the life of David.

Solomon does become king, and he carries on David’s legacy in many ways.
Not in the least of which was to kill his brother
Adonijah, and then Joab, David’s military leader who had supported Adonijah,
and then Shimei the relative of Saul who had taunted David,
all within the first two chapters of being king.

Solomon also went on to build the temple to put the ark of the covenant in
and several other palaces and buildings that apparently made Jerusalem
into a very impressive city.
1 Kings pretty much gushes about Solomon’s wisdom and abilities to lead
and his financial and business skills and how he made
Israel prosperous in many ways, and how he developed a navy
and a huge military presence, how all his officials ate well and dressed well
and looked great and how impressed everyone was with all that.
How many people came from other nations to give him gifts of gold and food
and weapons, and ivory, apes, and peacocks.

Now there was a little bit of slavery and forced labor to build this wealth
and to get all this done, but most of them were from other countries, so I guess it was okay.

But then it says he had 700 wives and 300 concubines,
which I think even David would find excessive, but the problem was that many of
were from different countries and religions and because of that,
Solomon ended up turning away from the God of Israel and trying out other gods.
It says:
For when Solomon was old . . .
his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.”

So this does is give us an answer about why the scriptures hold David up so highly.

All through David’s life, through his sin and punishment, through his
tragedies and trials, through success and failure, he never left God,
he was always true to Yahweh and  never led his people away from the God of Israel.

But was David truly “a man after God’s own heart” as God claimed he was looking for?
I thought about this a lot this week and I was really having  troubled to sorting it out.

I’ve read a lot of other people’s reflections on David and what they think
makes him great and memorable and worth our time.  They seem to struggle to figure it out too.
It usually comes down to some personality traits that they think we should try and emulate:
He loves people deeply, he has courage, he trusts in God, he repents when he’s wrong,
he consults God, he tries to honor God, he gave everyone a loaf of bread and raisin cakes, the list goes on
but not for long.

But I found it really hollow to just highlight just the good examples and avoid the horrible examples.
When he’s selfish, angry, jealous, self-righteous, impulse driven,
                and especially how he turns to violence to solve his problems.
The good things don’t seem to overcome the bad things because they’re so intertwined.

There are a couple of times in the story where he was the best in the room.
But there are more than a couple where he was the worst.
And I don’t think it’s just cultural differences or the differences in the times that make it seem like that.
So I think that David’s story is not in just here so we 
can break down his character to some admirable traits
that we can try and duplicate in our lives. It has a much deeper purpose than that.
(and that goes for all the rest of scripture too.)

I told you when we started this, that we kind of have to ignore the violence
in order to not get overwhelmed by it and not see the story behind it.
But truly, the violence in the story overwhelmed me at times.
Maybe, in the end, we have to really pay attention to it.

Of all the big heroes in the bible, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David by far is the most violent.
Maybe the violence in this story is not just a background noise,
maybe the violence is at the center of David’s story.

There’s a school of thought that says that the whole of the bible is a story of violence,
sacred violence, violence that is a human tendency, but which we attribute to God.
And the scriptures are the story of God weaning humanity off of sacred violence.

David’s story might just be so violent because it’s a story repudiating violence.
And it’s about David coming to the realization that violence 
and war and domination is not a solution.
Just think about the whole story:

David starts out as a shepherd, peaceful, humble, child, innocent.
And his first act, the act that puts him into the public spotlight 
and after a time, in the running for king,
is an act of violence.

He kills Goliath, the famous Philistine.
It’s a tale of one-upmanship dominating the dominant.

And Not only does he kill Goliath with his sling, he cuts off his head.
Which is pretty gruesome, even for those times.

Before he kills Goliath, he tells them that he didn’t need Saul’s armor.
That God’s protection was enough for him.
But after he kills Goliath, he takes Goliath’s
armor as a prize and puts it back in his tent.
Once the innocent boy didn’t need armor,  now he does.

And then go a little bit forward to David’s time running from Saul,
Near the end of his time in the wilderness, what does he do?
There’s that weird part of the story where David goes and hides in Philista,
the land of the Philistines the rival enemies of Israel.
Not just that, he goes to the city of Gath the home of Goliath. 
And David serves the Philistine king.

There he and his men use violence, they incite fear into others, they pillage nearby towns.
David in essence becomes the Philistine king’s special weapon.
Once the Philistine’s great weapon was Goliath, now it’s David.
The story is showing the pattern of violence and domination.
Because he used violence, David has become what he destroyed.

Then when David becomes king, he does great things, but this violence always catches up with him.
He’s told he can’t build the temple because there’s too much blood on his hands.
He has to constantly defend his position on the throne, and he does it with violence.

Then he brings that same violence into his own personal life.
Violence and domination is the core of his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah.
Using sexual violence and actual killing to get what someone else has.
And this violence of sex and power repeats itself in his family.

When Nathan brings David his prophecy from God, he warns him,
You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword,
and have taken his wife to be your wife,
and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house.
Violence only begets more violence.
And David’s children repeat his father’s sins.

Amnon’s violence to Tamar, Absalom’s violence to Amnon, and then finally
Absalom’s attempt to take the kingdom away from his own father David.

And when David was running from Jerusalem to escape Absalom,
Shimei comes out of his house an starts throwing rocks at David.

He yells to him, “Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel!
The Lord has avenged on all of you the blood of the house of Saul,
in whose place you have reigned;
and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom.
See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood.”

Shimei is the one to see through this mask of violence and domination.
And getting a glimmering of the truth, David tells his people to leave this man be.
That maybe God is the one who is encouraging him to yell.

And finally, in the end of that battle, with Absalom and David,
David’s army wins, but his favorite son is struck down in the process.
A moral of this complicated story is that in war and domination no one wins.

This theory of violence in scripture says that violence is a human habit
which we have attributed to God and which God has been working
for all of existence to try and break us of.

And scripture, with the many examples of disturbing violence,
is the ultimate critique of the harm that dividing humanity into
them and us and then using violence to dominate
and using God to justify those acts.

The story of David shows us that even the chosen ones, the faithful, the loyal, and devoted,
can fall into the devil’s trap of using violence to dominate and overcome the other.
And even the righteous and repentant can find it nearly impossible to
extract themselves from that path once they have started down it.

We can relate to this story as a country.
Even as we can celebrate our great achievements in human rights, 
and liberty, freedom, and the arts and science,
It has been impossible to untangle our existence from the violent
and dominating history that formed us:
From the genocide of Native Americans, to African Slavery,
to the long history of wars, segregation, and economic violence.

David is not simply a hero because he had some good personality traits and was a successful king.
But neither is David simply a villain because he used the violence which was so prevalent in his life and times.

He is one of us, one of humanity, who has fallen into this trap repeatedly.
And as he still remains faithful to God, and aware and awake, and repentant,
through learning the hard lessons which God has been trying to teach humanity,
He doesn’t check out, or shut God out.  He feels his faults.
We learn about ourselves from knowing his tragedy.
As a follower of Jesus, I find this a better lens to see David through.
Because David is the King of Israel,
but Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
If David is a mirror of humanity as it is,
Jesus is a fully-realized humanity as we could be.

All of the charisma, and wisdom and love, and passion, and creativity,
without the domination and violence.
Jesus rules by serving, not by striking back,
he leads by standing firm and turning the other cheek, by forgiving
and finally, by showing the true price of violence to us
by being the victim of violence,
and dying himself at the hands of others on the cross.

David is a whole, complicated life. A metaphor for humanity.
David shows us ourselves throughout his life, and the scriptures allow us to be witness to it.
He bears both the fruits of the Spirit :
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness
and the works of the flesh:
fornication, impurity, licentiousness, enmities, strife, anger

And in spite of him taking the wrong turn down the path domination and violence.
God doesn’t leave him. God loves him,
And maybe more impressive, God seems to like him.

Which is good news for us.
As a whole people, we will bear both the fruit of the spirit and works of the flesh.
And we have and will no doubt continue to turn down the wrong path
and be a party to violence and domination.

But God will never leave us,
we will still always be people after God’s own heart.