Sunday, November 11, 2018

Of Scribes and Widows and a penny or two! Mark 12:38-44

I want to share the story of a humble priest…some of us read a little bit about him in book study Father Charles Coughlin he was an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt's new deal.  In 1926, Coughlin began his radio broadcasts on station WJR, in response to cross burnings by the Ku Klux Klan on the grounds of his church. The KKK was near the peak of its membership and power in Detroit.
In January 1930, Coughlin began a series of attacks against socialism and Soviet Communism, which was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church. He also criticized capitalists in America whose greed had made communist ideology attractive to many Americans.[10] He warned, "Let not the workingman be able to say that he is driven into the ranks of socialism by the inordinate and grasping greed of the manufacturer."[11] Having gained a reputation as an outspoken anti-communist, in July 1930 Coughlin was given star billing as a witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
For a few years, the American public responded strongly: "Contributions which have flooded into his bank account as a result of these talks run into thousands of dollars weekly." This literally built the shrine. 
The tower built out of cement has a giant crucifix upon it. He is quoted as saying it is a cross the KKK couldn’t burn.
He eventually slowly drifted his stances into more and more antisemitic language and was eventually reprimanded and told to stick to being a parish priest and nothing more, which he did till his retirement.
Coughlin was mentioned in a verse of Woody Guthrie's pro-interventionist song "Lindbergh": "Yonder comes Father Coughlin, wearin' the silver chain, Cash on the stomach and Hitler on the brain." Not the greatest light to be remembered in…
Today's Gospel set the scribes in similar light I would say
Walter Brueggemann reminds us that; “A single scribe, like the one who asked about the first commandment, might be commended (12:28-34), but the habitual behavior of the scribes as a group comes in for severe criticism. Their pretentious practices-strolling about in long robes, seeking public acclaim, taking the best seats at the synagogues and local banquets, lengthy prayers-mask their ruthless exploitation of poor people, widows, who in a male-dominated society are left without defense. Jesus' denunciation of the scribes is reminiscent of the prophets who attack religious leaders for similar practices (for example, Isa. 10:1-2; Zech. 7:10).”[1]
The scribes here, with their ostentatious robes and prayers and their insistence on being first have lost their tether to the demands of God. Mark's Jesus has already told us that whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all (10:35), Jesus’ argument against the scribes here is well documented in Marks gospel.
Mark uses rather dark imagery here “by saying that they "gobble up" or "devour" the house of the widow. Mark tends to pair together technical words that help associate disparate passages in his gospel. He does this with the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the veil of the temple. He also uses the same word to describe the young man who flees in the garden and who sits on the empty tomb in chapter 16.
Mark uses the word devour in a similar way. In 4:4 it refers to the birds who "gobble up" the seed that the sower has thrown on the ground in the parable of the sower. These birds are interpreted by Jesus as Satan.”[2] I cannot help but believe that for Mark, this is very intentional, and it is very poetic and subtle. He does not hurl insult but instead weaves in a slight that only a contemporary reader or a careful reader today may catch.
Now for us this story is divided into two parts the scribes and the widow however as one commentator points out
“Sometimes the headings in English Bibles hinder us from seeing necessary connections.
The break between Mark 12:40 and Mark 12:41 with captions such as “The Widow’s Offering” or “A Poor Widow’s Contribution” or “An Act of Faithfulness” prompt readers to read 12:41-44 as a separate, distinct story from what precedes.
But this was more than a story about faithful giving. Yes, this widow “put in everything she had.” Yes, this woman, in this act of giving, acts unselfishly (even if unwisely). Yes, this unnamed character did what she thought she needed to do.
Furthermore, Jesus made the act of giving the point of his teaching. While he may not have concluded the observation by saying, “So, should you give all of your possessions,” he did seem to imply such an idea with his comparison to those who gave only some of their abundance. Yet, the story seems to be about more than that. Rather, this was a story -- especially in Mark’s narrative order -- that exposed the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. And, it may just expose us all!”[3]
I am going to let you in on a little-known secret. Many of us pastors fear exposure. Throughout seminary and in many conversations since with fellow clergy there is this under lying fear that at some point someone is going to say, “You fraud, you do not belong her get out!” Because we are human, because we know we fail, I know I fail. But you see that is the difference between the good scribe and the scribes mark is criticizing here.
The scribes here place themselves on a pedestal, lift themselves up as the example of how to live and more than that proclaim no one is better more righteous more holy than them.  Yes, they are literally holier than thou! 
“They get the center of the meat, cushions on the seat
Houses on the street where it's sunny
Summers by the sea, winters warm and free
All of this and we get the rest!”
The scribes and Jesus were in tension throughout Mark’s Gospel. This tension was established right in the beginning of Mark’s story. A group of people classified Jesus’ teaching as possessing an “authority” the scribes they knew didn’t have. Oftentimes the scribes mistrusted Jesus’ various activities. In return, Jesus and his disciples questioned the influence of scribal teaching. At one point, the disciples, without Jesus’ around, argued with scribes over an ailing child. As his mission continued, Jesus recognized their antagonism, predicting that they would “reject” him and, eventually, “condemn him to death.” So, Jesus’ public critique, in 12:38-40, fit into the larger pattern of conflict that Mark portrays. Within this portrayal, the only exception to the theme was the one individual scribe who agreed with Jesus over the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor.[4]
“We'd like to identify ourselves with the widow of verses 41-44, but most of us North American Christians are the scribes of verses 38-40. Even when we live simply, we enjoy products and infrastructures whose provision devours the lives of the poor in the world. And no length of prayers can hide us and our love of what we have and what we've accomplished.”[5]
I believe this reality is staring us in the face today.  Our accusers are in the fellowship hall. The artists from around the globe who handmade items are being sold. Being sold at fair value. Which honestly is rarely the case.
“Serrv International is a nonprofit dedicated to fighting global poverty through fair and ethical trade.
Poverty remains a terrible reality for many of our world's citizens. While it exists everywhere, it's most severe in developing countries, where more than 700 million people—half of them children—live on less than $1.90 a day.
At Serrv, we work to fight poverty and improve lives through handwork. Behind every fair-trade handcraft, we sell, there's a story of positive change. And after nearly 70 years, we've seen what trading fair can do. Marginalized artisans and farmers who are empowered by sustainable employment, fair wages and safe working conditions find security and dignity in their work. They create stronger and healthier communities. They send their children to school. They hand down traditions of cultural craft.
History & Impact
One of the first fair trade organizations in the United States, Serrv was established in 1949 to help displaced refugees trade their handcrafts for income after the Second World War. As a founding member of both the World Fair Trade Organization and the Fair-Trade Federation, we've steadily increased our impact in the fight against global poverty. Today we employ and empower nearly 8,000 artisans and farmers in 24 countries.”[6]
I know this sounds like a commercial for our fair-trade fair but, what I am trying to do is draw in the lesson we are supposed to be paying attention too.  It is not about the gifts…It is not about the shopping experience…it is about working to create a fair and just world…
Each and every item in there was hand made by an artist, crafts person, skilled labor that is getting a fair wage for the art they create.  These are not sweat shops…these are not factory mass produced appropriations of someone’s culture. These are items made one at a time with love care and pride that allow people to provide for their families.  They create out of their need to survive we shop because in our abundance we can help monetarily but also spiritually.
One of my favorite items from fair trade is my terracotta candle holder that is inscribed upon it “I am Dipali Rani Paul. My father is the late Sachindra Chandra Paul. From my childhood I was inspired by seeing my father’s devotion to his work with terracotta.  I am dedicated to keeping up my father’s reputation. Today on his blessing I live on making terracotta goods. The trade keeps us alive.”
As we look at the story Jesus uses the example of the widow to continue his condemnation of the Scribes for she has nothing left to give but her last two coins. She stands in direct contrast to the scribes who seek praise who seek honor and glory. The widow gives out of her want.  She supports the church out of her need. Trusting that God will support her.
Notice id did not say trusting the Church would support her. Walter Brueggemann again asks a few poignant questions. “Does the story explicitly praise the widow’s actions?
“And sitting opposite the Treasury, he was gazing at how the crowd threw their change into the Treasury. And lots of wealthy people put in lots. Then there came a single destitute widow-woman: and she threw in two tiny. [coins], a farthing.
And summoning his disciples, he told them, ‘Amen I tell you: this widow, the destitute woman, threw more than all who threw [money] into the Treasury. You see, they all threw [in] from their surplus. But everything she, from her poverty, threw [in] everything she had, her whole life.'”[7]
I have heard sermons about giving out of our abundance just as the widow gave out of her need but, the question asked does the story explicitly praise the widow’s actions?  I must answer no…her actions are used to condemn the others, to condemn the scribes who devour widows’ houses.
The questions go on; “Why would she be commended for giving to a Temple whose destruction was at hand? Does she not rather serve as a concrete example of how innocent people are victimized by the Temple authorities? Jesus’ comments about the widow are really a lament about her plight and continue the denunciation of the scribes, who instead of caring for this woman as the law directed them to do are robbing her of her last dime.”[8]
When it comes to applying this today, how do you judge someone's intentions? How do you know a long prayer is for appearance rather than genuine piety? How do oyu know when someone is giving out of surplus or out of need?  Who are we to judge anyway? I do not think these are the questions we should be asking instead, what seems clear is Mark's intention to reevaluate value. In the Kingdom of God, what is valued and important is different from that of the human kingdom(s).
You see in this short story; the offering of the rich people is rendered unimportant or insignificant. It is budgeted there appears to be no effort or thought behind it. Yet, A poor widow, who gives everything she has, Jesus holds up as an example. Does this mean everyone should give everything they have? Maybe.
Remember much of Marks writing is about God’s Kingdom. When we view this part of the Gospel through this lense we see that Jesus is saying: where you put your money will show your allegiance. In other words, if you think it really belongs to Caesar, then go ahead and give it to him. Or if you think your money should be going to an institution that is hypocritical and ignoring its own commandments or better yet ignoring the greatest commandments. Love of God and Love of Neighbor then go ahead and throw your money away.
“This text isn't necessarily saying that everyone needs always to give everything. Instead, the widow has decided that her money, what little of it she had, belonged to God. This text, then, consistent with Mark's overall agenda, is about perspective and reevaluation. Those things that are valued in the kingdom of God differ from that in wider society.”[9]
The woman can represent those who see past the church’s failings, see past the buildings and the worship and the coffee hours. She sees and trusts in a church that represents God and God’s Kingdom here on earth.
“The things that are valued in the Kingdom of God differ from the human realm. Should we give our money to fund a new air-conditioning unit for the church? Should we give money so that our name goes on a plaque inside the door as a cornerstone giver? Are those the things valued in the kingdom? Or, should money be given to relief organization? Food pantries? Homeless shelters?”[10]
This is why we are a 5 by 5 church.  Yes, our money goes to the practical stuff but more importantly our money goes to our Churches wider mission. We are both practical that we need to keep up our place of worship we need a place to gather as community and yet… we need to reach out and serve our neighbors in need.
Finally, what may be more of an interesting challenge is well as they say “Time is money. What if, for us today, it is our time that is analogous to the widow? Helping those in need, doing something constructive with all of our resources, not just our money, might be a better way to embody this text than simply filling out a direct-deposit slip”[11] 
Talk about a penny for your thoughts…
This is a dualistic lesson it condemns the high and mighty and yet says to the high and mighty there is a better way… a different way it says though you have abundance you can still be on the right path.  I pray htat this community continues its wonderful journey of finding ways to meet the needs and the call of the community around us.
May we each find our own path to walk the way of Christ and to bring about Gods kingdom here and now amen.

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. Pg. 584
[7] King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.
[8] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. Pg. 584
[10] Ditto
[11] Ditto

Sunday, November 4, 2018

For the Love of neighbor - Mark 12: 28-34

The two greatest commandments of all time…as I write this I am feeling angry, sad, fearful and at the same time I am at peace, full of Joy and full of love of our God. 
This past week has been hard with the shooting at the synagogue “Eleven lives were taken Saturday (October 27th) morning. Two other worshipers were injured and four officers also were injured. Among those killed: Middle-aged brothers, an elderly husband and wife and a grandmother nearing 100. Many of them had gathered for a naming ceremony, which marks the beginning of a baby's journey in the Jewish faith.
Those killed were Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.”[1]
It is important to say the names and honor those who have passed…Love your neighbor as yourself…
“Before his life was so senselessly taken this past Saturday during the anti-Semitic terrorist act at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Jerry Rabinowitz, M.D., spent much of it adhering to the mitzvah calling on him to care for the sick around him and never to stand idly by the blood of his fellow. In a Facebook post made shortly after his death, ACT UP New York volunteer Michael Kerr memorialized Dr. Rabinowitz, detailing the compassion with which the doctor cared for people living with HIV in Pittsburgh at a time when many physicians either refused to accept them as patients or treated them with a toxic mixture of fear and judgment.

"In the old days, for HIV patients in Pittsburgh, [Dr. Rabinowitz] was to one to go to," Kerr wrote. "Basically before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest. He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always always hugged us as we left his office. . . . [T]hank you Dr. Rabinowitiz [sic] for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life. You will be remembered by me always."”[2]
“He was taken to my hospital and he’s shouting, ‘I want to kill all the Jews’,” Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, president of Allegheny General Hospital and a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue, told ABC. “The first three people who took care of him were Jewish” …
Another nurse, whose father is a rabbi, “came in from a mass casualty drill and took care of this gentleman.
“We are here to take care of sick people. We’re not here to judge you. We’re not here to ask ‘Do you have insurance or do you not have insurance?’ We’re here to take care of people who need our help,” he said.
Cohen says he and Bowers had a brief conversation at the hospital.
“When I stopped in, I asked him how he was doing. Was he in pain? And he said, ‘No. He was fine,'” Cohen said.
Cohen says Bowers then asked him who he was.
“I said I’m Dr. Cohen, president of the hospital. Then I turned around and left,” he said. “The FBI agent who was guarding him said, ‘I don’t know if I could have done that.’ And I said, ‘If you were in my shoes, I’m sure you could.”
This how we love our Neighbor as ourself…

 “A gunman who killed two people at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Ky., on Wednesday (October 24th) tried to enter a predominantly black church minutes before the attack, the police said on Thursday.”[3] “A church member sitting in the parking lot saw the suspect banging on and pulling the door, trying to get inside, the affiliate reported.
"To think that an hour and a half earlier, we had 70 people in the church," church administrator Billy Williams told the affiliate. "But by the time he came through, all doors were locked, and there were probably eight or 10 still in the building."[4]
Again, we must say the names, those who were shot were Vickie Lee Jones, 67, and Maurice E. Stallard, 69, our hearts go out to their friends and family.
“Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf said the shooting has shattered a community that values its sense of family.
"We are kindred spirits no matter our walk of life or how we worship or what we look like. We take pride in that," he said.”[5]
We are kindred spirit and holding this up in the face of tragedy and hatred is exactly how we love our neighbor
I just read a story of a man who works with a religious non profit that is affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist church called no more deaths. I have walked with no more deaths.  They work out in the hottest and most cruel part of the dessert.
“The mission of No More Deaths is to end death and suffering in the Mexico–US borderlands through civil initiative: people of conscience working openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights. Our work embraces the Faith-Based Principles for Immigration Reform and focuses on the following themes:
Direct aid that extends the right to provide humanitarian assistance
Witnessing and responding
Consciousness raising
Global movement building
Encouraging humane immigration policy…
No More Deaths maintains a year-round humanitarian presence in the deserts of southwestern Arizona. We work in the remote corridors into which migration has been pushed, where people are walking 30 to 80 miles. Volunteers hike the trails and leave water, food, socks, blankets, and other supplies. Under the direction of our medical team, volunteers provide emergency first-aid treatment to individuals in distress.”[6]
Our government has raided their offices and arresting nine employees and they arrested a “35-year-old college instructor, with a doctorate in geography and a history of academic and humanitarian work along the border, was found in a building known locally as “the Barn,” in the company of two young undocumented men from Mexico.
Accused of supplying the men with food, water, clothing, and a place to sleep…”[7]
Love your neighbor as yourself…Despite what our government may be doing…This organization in the past was given the same respect as the red cross…providing humanitarian aid…now our government chooses to treat them as criminals
Love your neighbor as yourself
There once was a great philosopher who has my sentiments worded better than I can myself…
“There's a local paper rolled up in a rubber band
One more sad story's one more than I can stand
Just once how I'd like to see the headline say
"Not much to print today, can't find nothin' bad to say", because
Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD'ed, nobody burned a single buildin' down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today”[8]
God bless Anne Murray
Sometimes I feel like the young man who came to Jesus a few weeks ago and asked; “what more can I do?”… he walked away feeling sad and rejected...we can feel so powerless so overwhelmed
In times like these it is sometimes hard to love God…I am sure there are some family and friends of those people who are down right angry with God…you know that is okay too God can take it…God can take our anger, God can take our pain, God can take our dismay.  God can take it and take it and take it again. And then, when we can give no more away, when we are exhausted, and all angered out, when we have wrenched out every drop of pain to the point we have nothing left to give
God fills us back up.  God renews us. Gods spirit surrounds us protects us and holds onto us till we remember that we belong to God…Till we can sing todays psalm again

Praise the Lord.[a]
Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8     the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
I do not know about you but I feel like I would like to see a bit more of that frustrating the ways of the wicked thing…although in the recent case of the attempted bomber maybe God has because not one bomb has detonated
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. [One] experiences [oneself] . . . as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of [one’s] consciousness. . .. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. —Albert Einstein”[9]
What we truly need and long for is the presence of God…Especially in times like these.
“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness. Little do we realize that God’s love is maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. As we take another, it means that God is choosing us now and now and now and now. We have nothing to attain or even learn. We do, however, need to unlearn some things.
To become aware of God’s loving presence in our lives, we must accept that human culture is in a mass hypnotic trance. We’re sleepwalkers. All great religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. Jesus says further, “If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light” (Luke 11:34). Religion is meant to teach us how to see and be present to reality. That’s why the Buddha and Jesus say with one voice, “Be awake.” Jesus talks about “staying watchful” (Matthew 25:13; Luke 12:37; Mark 13: 33-37), and “Buddha” means “I am awake” in Sanskrit.
Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It’s a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even enjoying the Presence. The contemplative is not just aware of God’s Loving Presence, but trusts, allows, and delights in it.
Faith in God is not just faith to believe in spiritual ideas. It’s to have confidence in Love itself. It’s to have confidence in reality itself. At its core, reality is okay. God is in it. God is revealed in all things, even through the tragic and sad, as the … cross reveals!
All spiritual disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be more fully present to what is. These disciplines exist so that we can see what is, see who we are, and see what is happening. What is, is love, so much so that even the tragic will be used for purposes of transformation into love. It is God, who is love, giving away God every moment as the reality of our life. Who we are is love, because we are created in God’s image. What is happening is God living in us, with us, and through us as our unique manifestation of love. And each one of us is a bit different because the forms of love are infinite.”[10]
So in these times that feel so surreal let us always remember to stop and place ourselves in the presence of God.  Allow yourself to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Let us Love ourselves as God loves us so that we may be that presence of love to one another. Amen!

[8] Songwriters: Rory Michael Bourke / Charlie Black / Tommy Rocco
A Little Good News lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management, Words & Music A Div Of Big Deal Music LLC, recorded by Anne Murray 1983
[9] Albert Einstein, Condolence letter to Norman Salit (March 4, 1950). Reprinted in The New York Times, March 29, 1972,
[10] Richard Rohr’s Daily meditation Oct, 29 2018; Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 12, 25.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Who is the last/Least? Bread for the world Sunday Mark 10:35-45

Today's scripture is ominous to say the least, I know I would not want to be promised the same cup nor the same baptism of Christ.  That is a hard call.  If I should end up there yes fine for my prayer is thy will be done.  My prayer is not let me know ahead of time. Thank you.
Then the rest of Jesus ‘ apostles start to grumble and get angry at the sons of Zebedee for making such a request…Again proof that the disciples just don’t get it, so Jesus says you do not understand what it is you are asking for… and finally once again Jesus reminds them those who are first shall be last and the last shall be first….who are the last?  Who are the least?
Today we celebrate or lift up bread for the world. It is not a celebration so I want to explore who are the least here in our own country
More than 5.5 million Indigenous people live in the United States from more than 560 Indian Nations. Many are part of federally or state recognized tribes. They include Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. Indigenous communities live in pueblos, tribes, and communities, in rural reservations as well as cities, across 33 states, including Alaska.
34 Indigenous communities have some of the highest hunger rates in the United States. As a group, one in four Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are food insecure which is defined as not having regular, reliable access to the foods needed for good health. Hunger among Indigenous communities is a direct result of poverty and of systemic inequities through racial and gender discrimination. While the United states has a poverty rate of 12.3 percent, Indigenous communities have a higher poverty rate–25.4 percent. The poverty rates are even higher among female-headed households (54 percent) and on some reservations (almost 40 percent). Indigenous populations are more likely to lack access to nutritious food
• 90 percent of U.S. counties with the highest Indigenous
populations (40 percent Indigenous or higher) are also
among those with the highest food insecurity rates.
• Many reservations are in rural food deserts, requiring indigenous people to travel to cities, sometimes a distance of 100 miles or more, to purchase food. Many Indigenous people living on reservations lack employment opportunities. Indigenous people are twice as likely to be unemployed as the general U.S. population, and more likely to hold low-wage jobs with few or no benefits.
• Many Indigenous people who do find employment earn below poverty wages. One in three Native American and Alaskan Native households live on less than $25,000 a year.
Education can predict a person’s future earnings. Due to racially inequitable policies, Indigenous students are more likely to attend lower-resourced schools, with less support for their future success.
• Almost 40 percent of Indigenous students attend high poverty schools, compared to 8 percent of white students.
Hunger damages health, and in turn, poor health makes it harder to become food secure.
• Almost one-third of all Indigenous people were uninsured as of 2013.
Indigenous communities are policed, sentenced, and incarcerated at higher rates, which deplete community resources and increase hunger.
• Nationwide, Native American and Alaskan Native youth are imprisoned in state prisons at twice the rate of white youth.
From 1887 to 1934, the United States acquired more than 90 million acres of Indian Nation land—leaving Native Americans with only one-third of their original land. The continuing struggle over land, as well as historic racial inequity and trauma, has strained the relationship between the federal government and Indigenous communities.
The U.S. Constitution recognizes Indian Nations as sovereign governments, meaning that they have the power to self-govern. Indigenous people are citizens of their tribe, their state, and the United States.
• Land and wealth loss has made Indian Nations vulnerable to hunger.
• Anti-poverty programs have had less success in Indigenous communities, partly because policies often do not consider geographic, cultural, and linguistic differences, historic trauma, or the implications of being a citizen of a sovereign nation.[1]
All these statistics come form bread for the world and it truly breaks my heart. Trust me it is no accident that many of these lands that the united states have left to the indigenous people are purposely set apart in barren and rural areas. One just need to look at our history…it is a wonder we do not all walk with our heads hung in shame.
Who are the last? Who are the least?
While hunger and poverty declined among African Americans in 2017 (most recent available data), food insecurity has still not dropped enough this past year to match the one percent increase African Americans saw in 2016. Consequently, an additional 56,0001 African Americans are still food insecure compared to 2015 numbers. While this is lower than the 187,000 additional African Americans who fell into hunger in 2016, targeted policies that prioritize racial and gender equity need to be implemented to reduce hunger at faster rates.
The higher rates of poverty and hunger among African Americans are direct results of systemic inequity through racial and gender discrimination. While the United States has an overall poverty rate of 12.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census, within the African American community, the poverty rate is 21.2 percent. This rate is even higher in African American female-headed households at 30.3 percent.
African Americans are more likely to lack access to food.
             Only 8 percent of African Americans live in areas with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites.
             Almost 94 percent of the nation’s majority African American counties are food-insecure.
Since poverty rates are much higher and income levels are much lower in African American female-headed households compared to the general population, we expect that food-in security levels are also much higher among African American female-headed households. This would suggest that strengthened support systems and dedicated efforts to dismantle racial and gender discrimination would reverse this reality and help economically empower African American individuals and families.
Lack of nutritious food causes serious medical conditions, including obesity and diabetes. Healthcare expenses lead to higher debt levels and worsen financial stress.
•55 percent of African Americans have out-of-pocket medical costs on credit cards because they cannot pay in full.
•34 percent of African Americans did not see a doctor when ill for financial reasons.
African American leaders on the local, state, national, and international levels continue to do their part to fight hunger and poverty in their communities. [2]
Ok that was a lot of statistics, but it brings this issue of hunger home.  People are hungry, living in food insecure areas here in the united states. We often think of bread for the world working in some far off country but they are working for the world.
“Some of the first-century churches started their worship with an actual dinner that led into the Lord’s Supper. But in the church at Corinth, some people ate and drank to their fill while other people went hungry. St. Paul tells them that if they ignore the hungry people in their midst, their sacrament is sacrilege.
You can’t be connected to God and ignore hungry people.
Worldwide, there are about 800 million hungry people in the world. In these families, many of the children die young, and people don’t have enough energy to be fully productive. In our country, one in six children lives in a home that sometimes runs out of food. The intermittent and relatively moderate hunger that usually characterizes hunger in America cripples’ young children for life and causes health problems for adults, too.
I think the most important thing to know about hunger is that the extent of hunger is declining. According to the World Bank, the number of extremely poor people in the world is less than half what it was in 1990. In the United States, the number of people in poverty has, roughly, been cut in half since the 1960s. So we have made progress, and more progress is possible.
this is something for which to give thanks. The great liberation from material misery that is underway is like the biblical exodus—an experience of our loving God in the world. And God is asking us to be part of it–to help move it forward.”[3]
We do that with our participation in the redwood empire food pantry.  We do that with gas cards and food cards for people in dire situations. Some of you have made your careers in service to people in need. Some of you give more of your time than anyone could ask for to support those in need in our community. We do that through the united church of Christ. Today we are asking once again to make the last first on this bread for the world Sunday.
Reverend David Beckman tells us two stories of bread for the world people.  The first story he shares is Pat Pelham, which started almost 20 years ago he explains “She was a young mother in Birmingham, Alabama. In her prayers one morning, she felt a strong call to do something about widespread hunger in Africa. She didn’t know what to do, because she had young children, and her husband’s job was in Birmingham. Her pastor suggested she get involved in Bread for the World.
At that time, many of the poorest countries in the world were struggling with impossible debts, and some church groups were organizing a campaign to get some of that debt reduced. Birmingham’s member of Congress, a conservative Republican named Spencer Bachus, was chair of the House committee with jurisdiction over this issue. At my suggestion (Rev. David Beckman’s suggestion), Pat and several friends from her church came to Washington to meet with Bachus.
Surprisingly, they convinced him, and he became a champion on this issue. Over the next several years, they organized in lots of ways to give Bachus credit back home for what he was doing. Many people across the country weighed in with their members of Congress, and the U.S. government eventually supported international debt relief.
The recipient governments were required to use the opportunity to take actions to reduce poverty, and a number of African governments dramatically expanded primary education. Over a ten-year period, the number of African children in school increased by 50 million. A whole generation of girls learned to read and write, add and subtract. About half the countries in Africa have sense then enjoyed continued progress against hunger and poverty.”
The other story rev. Beckman shared is that of Dave Miner, “Dave Miner is an anti-hunger activist in Indianapolis. He has worked for years to involve other people in service and advocacy for hungry people.
This year (2017), President Trump and Congress are pursuing an unprecedented attack on virtually all the U.S. programs that help hungry and poor people in our country and worldwide. President Trump’s budget would cut $2.5 trillion from programs that help people of limited means in our country and internationally.
$2.5 trillion is a big number. Dave decided to focus on just one proposed cut in the budget of the House of Representatives. They want to cut $150 billion from SNAP (food stamps). Dave calculates that this just this one cut would translate into the loss of 50 million meals for kids, seniors, and veterans in Indiana. So he has embarked on a long fast. He is giving up 50 meals–that’s 16 days of not eating–one meal for every one million meals that the House budget would take away from kids, seniors, and veterans in Indiana.
Dave’s fast (received) press attention, especially in Indiana, and he has so far been able to share his concern directly with his state governor and one of his senators. And I share his story with you, because Dave’s fast dramatizes for all of us just how dangerous the current political assault on hungry and poor people is.”[4]
You don’t have to fast for 16 days to let your members of Congress know that you want them to keep our country and the world moving toward the end of hunger.
Connect with Bread for the World, by going to their website,
Today we have a special collection and I will let paul speak to that …I hope I did not steal all his thunder.
It is important to know where our leaders stand on hunger and the programs our government is involved in.
It is essential, if you cannot donate food, if you can not make a small additional offering today. You can pray.  You can pray for our world leaders to be come wise and generous. It is possible to end hunger by 2030 but it will take a spiritual shift in our world, that can only be achieved through prayers. And I pray Lord thy will be done, and we all take time to make ourselves last so that the other may be first.

[4] Ditto

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Let's Thread that Needle - Mark 10:17-31

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…ok let’s thread this needle

Today’s Gospel story is one rich in tradition.  It has been taught and preached and interpreted for centuries. I believe Jesus meant, if you can, give up everything and follow him.  Jesus means for us to be spiritually poor or “poor in spirit”.  Jesus literally meant give up everything and if you can’t… well that’s why the catholic church invented the indulgence…
“Often the Bible acts as a mirror, throwing back to us reflections of ourselves or of our culture in the characters and conversations on the page. The questions asked, the attitudes exposed, the priorities held seem amazingly modern. Certainly, this is the case with the figure traditionally called the rich young ruler (though Mark does not indicate that he was either young or a ruler). He could easily be dressed in contemporary garb and re-presented as a product of a mainline Protestant church. His religious heritage, his prosperity, and his sincerity are admirable qualities. It is interesting to observe the contrast between his noteworthy traits and the little children in the previous story, who come to Jesus as people without rights and recognition (compare Mark 10:13- 16).”[1]
This has become a story of the poor, this has become a story of the rich, this is rarely seen as the story of the loved…
“The rich man has to be taken at face value and not made into a proud, self-righteous caricature. In coming, he kneels before Jesus and raises an existential question. When Jesus asks him about the commandments, his answer ("I have kept all these since my youth") is straightforward and need not be taken as an arrogant or presumptuous reply. In no way does Jesus' treatment of the man challenge or mock his integrity.
The key is 10:21: "Jesus, looking at him, loved him." Seeing him clear through, Jesus does not rebuke or discipline him, but loves him. It is more than admiration or respect or sentimentality. It is the gut-wrenching concern one has for a loved one about to take his own life. All that is important in a moment like that is to get the gun out of his hands and help him discover a reason to live. "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Whole­ hearted discipleship cannot take place until the ties to the man's possessions are broken, ties so intense and so enslaving that he can only hang his head and walk away grieving.”[2]
It is interesting, at least to me, when I look at this line “Jesus looked at him, loved him and said…” I often thought of Jesus as having the kind of love that is said in my head “oh bless your heart, you actually believe that this list of do’s is all there is…aren’t you sweet” well …I stand corrected.
I also just going to throw this question out there why do we assume he is rich?  Maybe he is sad because he feels he has nothing to sell or give.
One commentator sees it this way “: Mark says that “Jesus loved him” (something not repeated in Matthew or Luke). This is an echo of the greatest commandments of loving God and Neighbour. Jesus obeys in His love for the rich man and yet the rich man cannot give up all he possesses and follow Jesus. He cannot put love of man before love of things.”[3] So again I ask why do we assume that he is rich? What if this is about something else?
It is easy to take the man’s grief and inability to transform his life into something new and generalize it.  Oh, wait Did I mention this is a call to transformation.  This isn’t always about giving up wealth, this isn’t always about practicing the law.  This is about practice and change and growth.
The young man has a good spiritual start “you know the commandments do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie about someone, honor your parents…
Jesus emphasizes this as the guidelines as the beginning to a good spiritual practice and good way to live the young man has done all these.  Day in and day out…followed the commandments lived a good life…okay says Jesus I want you to go further.  If this practice is down pat, you got the commandments all lined up and done then let’s do more…. we can always do more…we can always go further
Sell everything you own, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow me
But you see the man finds it too hard to transform, to hard to change that much so drastically and he goes away sad.
Jesus did not tell him he could not get into heaven as a matter of fact if, after Jesus listed the commandments, the man could have walked away happy knowing he was set to get into heaven.  He could have just said oh ok thank you I will do that.  But the man had a beginning of something already happening for he knew there had to be more…or else why ask… the spirit was moving him to go further, to explore his call, where the spirit might be leading him…
Yet when he explores the challenge of the spirit he is resistant to the finale…selling everything and following Jesus…that’s too much he went away sad…
I wonder what if Jesus had said start a practice to minimize your possessions…prayerfully and intentionally get down to just what you need get rid of all the extra stuff that is holding you back…not all at once a little at a time…make it a spiritual practice….
Would he had walked away so dejected?  Would this had made it easier?
Walter Bruggeman reminds us that; “It is true that in a sermon the man's problem can be generalized and identified as anything that claims our highest loyalty, our ultimate concern, and prevents an uninhibited following of Jesus­ not only wealth, but ambition, education, religion, and the like. But the conversations that follow with the disciples and Peter warn us about leaving the topic of money too quickly. Possessions have a peculiar and insidious way of becoming our masters. Precisely because they hold the potential for good as well as for evil, they easily seduce us and make us their slaves. Thus, money remains the topic of conversation.”[4]
You see the disciples watched this guy walk away sad and are confused.  This lesson is for them.  Jesus is rather blunt with them concerning wealth and the kingdom of heaven. The statement “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter heaven” goes against their contemporary Jewish faith.
“the disciples, no doubt are thinking that riches are a material sign of God’s blessing ( a notion occasionally expressed in Jewish literature and certainly alive and well in western Christianity), are thoroughly perplexed by what they hear, and ask in exasperation, ‘Then who can be saved?” Jesus replies that it takes a miracle for a rich person to be saved – maybe one of God’s hardest miracles!”[5]
“Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Jesus kind of just turns on its head what he has just told the young man.  It is still not enough to sell everything and follow Christ…For mortals to get into heaven is its impossible…but in God, through God, in the gift of grace is the key to the kingdom…
But then we must follow and answer the call that God places upon our hearts.
“How hard is it for the conservatives…because there is a kind of resistant regularity that keeps us safe;
How hard it is for the liberals…who know themselves to have all the right answers and want to cram them down the throats of others;
How hard it is for the whites…or blacks…to move beyond racial wounds to trust, when we have learned for so long about hurt and fear and mistrust;
How hard for the entitled to recognize that others have a fair claim on our abundance;
How hard it is in our busyness to take time for what matters.”[6]
This reading is saying it is hard even impossible for a mere human to get into heaven and yet…it is not for with God all things are possible…
With God a conservative’s rules and regulations can bend…
With God a liberal can take a loving and humble approach to their brothers and sisters
With God we can explore white privilege and begin to move beyond racial wounds…
With God those gifted with abundance can seek equity for all...
With God we can slow down and take time for what matters…
“As you know, it used to say, "For men it is impossible." Now it says, "For mortals it is impossible." In our male generosity the men have now invited the women as well to think about the impossibility. For all of our resolve and good intention, it is hard ... how hard! Hard to let go, hard to move on, hard to be transformed.
And then Jesus says, because he will not leave them there: "For God, all
things are possible!"
Listen for that! It was impossible, so long ago, for a baby to be born to old mother Sarah in the Book of Genesis. It was impossible for the slaves to break out from the demands of Pharaoh. It was impossible that Jews would come home to a new Jerusalem. It is impossible that a Friday death should be broken open by Easter newness. It is impossible that God's spirit would blow newness beyond all of our tribal affiliations to create a new community. It was impossible that Apartheid in South Africa would end. It was impossible that the hate would stop its authority in Northern Ireland.”[7]
It is impossible that we will ever see a completely just world.  It is now impossible to see an end to hunger, war or disease. The world is full of the impossible. Yet “we are a people who hold onto the miracles worked by this Easter agent.”[8]
“Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."[9]
Then Peter has to lift his voice…it sounds almost as if he is arguing or defending himself and the others “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
“But many who are first will be last, and the last shall be first” (Mark 10:31)
“Think of that…last/first…first/last…dead/alive…humiliated/exalted…hungry/fed…guilty/forgiven…lost/found…the word of the gospel is big and strong.  We do not need to turn away in shock and grief. God is among us, doing the impossible work of transformation…all things new…how hard…all things new!”[10]
All things new…perhaps this transformation and giving up of one’s riches depends on one’s point of view…It would be hard to walk away from everything…some of us simply couldn’t even if we wanted to. We have dependents, work, health, responsibilities…heck we have a life and to give up everything just isn’t our calling and yet…let me share a few items that Bob shared at bible study this week…
A poor man asked the Buddha, "Why am I so poor?" The Buddha said, "you do not learn to give."
So the poor man said, "If I'm not having anything?" Buddha said: "You have a few things,
The Face, which can give a smile: Mouth: you can praise or comfort others; The Heart: it can open up to others;
Eyes: who can look the other with the eyes of goodness: Body: which can be used to help others."

Such simple gifts and yet it is something that any one of us can give…your smile may just be another person’s treasure for that day.
(St. Basil) If each kept only what is required for his current needs, and left the surplus for the needy, wealth and poverty would be abolished...The bread you keep belongs to another who is starving, the coat that lies in your chest is stolen from the naked, the shoes that rot in your house are stolen from the man who goes unshod, the money you have laid aside is stolen from the poverty stricken. In this way you are the oppressors of as many people as you can help. No, it not rapaciousness that is condemned, but your refusal to share.
For those wondering what rapaciousness means it is “Having or showing a strong or excessive desire to acquire money or possess things;” I confess I am guilty of this, …not so much intentionally, but, I have a huge drawer filled with t-shirts…how many can I wear in a week?  How many are actually sentimental in any way? Do I need all those t-shirts? I can weave them into rugs but am  I really going to do that or just buy t-shirt yarn?
Leonardo Boff, former Franciscan) Anyone who is not poor may become so through solidarity and more, through identification with the poor. One feels full of compassion and gentleness for the inhuman situation that afflicts the poor and decides through love, to live together with them, participating in the hope and bitterness.... This was the way of Jesus. He who ' was rich, became poor for us· with the aim of overcoming the difference between persons, some in affliction and others in consolation, so that there 'might be equality" (2 Car. 8:9-13).
We can choose to learn more about what it means to be poor.  In different societies that means different things.  In San Francisco one could walk with he night ministry for an evening or two.  Here in Petaluma one could volunteer at Cots or perhaps at the senior lunches offered by Petaluma people services. Roughly 10-13% of people in Petaluma alone live below the poverty level.  Who are they what can we do to make a difference?
(Dorothy Day) The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.
“Making ourselves poor in giving to others” …this is a call to humility.  One can not go into charitable work, can not attempt to walk with the poor with an attitude of supremacy and/or chivalry.  We are not the saviors.  We are not the great hope.  We do not give out of a sense of guilt or superiority. We do what we can in the humility of Christ. We do what we can knowing this is what we are called to do. For many of us we are but a paycheck or two away from being the one who may be in need. We give and care out of solidarity with the one whom we are called to follow, Christ.
(Henri Nouwen) Jesus, the Blessed One, is poor. The poverty of Jesus is much more than an economic or social poverty. Jesus is poor because he freely chose powerlessness over power, vulnerability over defensiveness, dependency over self-sufficiency. As the great "Song of Christ" so beautifully expresses: "He ... did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself', ... becoming as human beings are" (Philippians 2:6-7). This is the poverty of spirit that Jesus chose to live.
A poverty of spirit as Jesus chose.  A unique position that each one of us can work towards.  This is much more than being human it is a spiritual empathy, an understanding of the true human condition and a realization that in each person there is a spirit that we are called to meet , greet, lift up and make first in this world. That the we who may be considered first become last so that those looked upon as last/least may be first.
(Joan Chittister, Benedictine) In a world where the accumulation of goods, money, power, and property denies millions the basics of life­ their wages, their resources, their education, their health, their future­ Benedictine spirituality confronts that kind of engorgement with the principle of sufficiency. "It is written," the Rule says, "Distribution was made as each had need." And, "Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble because of their weakness .... Benedictine spirituality simply confines us to what is necessary-so that we can help to sustain those who cannot earn the money they need to take care of themselves.
For Joan this is a spiritual practice in community and yet easy enough to adopt in one’s own life. It speaks of a practice of taking our needs, evaluating them, and restructuring ourselves to just what is necessary. For each of us that may be something different. In all humility only each one of us can decide what that means for us. What is Necessary? How much do we really need? This isn’t about starving oneself it isn’t even about denying ourselves something fantastic or special now and then.  It is about developing a spiritual practice of contemplation, evaluation and action.
Contemplation…spiritually look at our lives, our position and how we move through this life as Christians.
Evaluate…are there somethings we can live without?  Are there a better practices we can engage in around money, food, conservation?  What would happen if we changed our eating or shopping habits?
(Richard Rohr) How blessed (or "happy'? are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. -Matthew 5:3 "Poor in spirit" means an inner emptiness and humility, a beginner's mind, and to live without a need for personal righteousness or reputation. It is the "powerlessness" of Alcoholics Anonymous' First Step.  The Greek word Matthew uses for "poor" is ptochoi, which literally means, "the very empty ones, those who are crouching." They are the bent-over beggars, the little nobodies of this world who have nothing left, who aren't self-preoccupied or full of themselves in any way. Jesus is saying: "Happy are you, you're the freest of all."
Our prayer may be just as Richard reflects lord make me as the very empty ones.  Help me to get out of the way, lose my ego and let your work within me begin.  Help me to seek you first and foremost so that I may begin to build a just world for all. Amen

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.p.546
[2] Ditto, p547
[4] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.p.547
[5] Ditto
[6] Brueggemann, Walter. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. p.320
[7] Ditto
[8] Ditto
[9] Carroll, Lewis, and John Tenniel. Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There: With Fifty Illustrations by John Tenniel. London: Macmillan, 1887. Chapter 5
[10] Brueggemann, Walter. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. p.321