Sunday, September 16, 2018

We are made of Earth!

Today is Humanity Sunday in this season of creation…So what do we look at differently or what perspective on humanity do we take that is different from other Sundays?  What does this season call to attention?  There are 3 assigned readings for today
Genesis 1:26-28
The message reads this verse this way…
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and yes, Earth itself,
And every animal that moves on the face of the earth.”
God create human Beings they were created godlike, Reflecting God’s nature.
God created them male and female
God Blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill the Earth! Take Charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
For every living thing that moves on the face of the earth.”[1]
Then in Genesis 2:7-8 then the lord God Formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east; and there God put the man that God had formed. 2:15 God took the Man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order or in another translation to till and keep it.

How should human beings relate to Earth, our planet home?  Does Scripture give us the right to dominate and subdue creation as many have claimed in the past.
If you read this, it doesn’t quite sound that way. In my hearing we are called to be co-creators with God. God Planted a Garden and then humans are established in the Garden to continue Gods work.
This concept of the right to dominate has even been used as justification for suppressing Indigenous peoples as mere animals!  As it stands, Genesis 1.26-28 reflects the language of royalty, of ruling and subjugation.  But should we be satisfied with that text as the basis for our relationship with Earth and the creatures of Earth. 
There have been several interpretations around this.  We have evolved in our understanding;
In God’s Image…How does being formed in God’s image make humans unique in creation? Interpreters have answered that questions in many different ways. Their answers typically relate to how they themselves view human nature.
Early Christian interpreters believed that having God’s image made humans like God gave humans a soul. For example, Augustine believed the image of God referred to the rational soul, placed by God in the human body. Thus, God and humans were spiritual beings, while all other life was merely material. However, this division between soul and body, or spirit and matter, is a later development in Greek thought. The idea of a soul is not shared by the OT writers.[2]
We spoke of this a bit last week.  It out of this concept that we hear these theologies that give humans an excuse to dismiss the earth. This is also what gave permission to dismiss others as not human.  By claiming others did not have souls gave certain races permission to subjugate other races.
A different answer given by interpreters from ancient to modern times is that being made in God’s image gives humans special dignity. According to this interpretation, the divine image refers to worth of all human beings. In this view, all persons carry God’s image and are to be treated with equal respect. This understanding of human nature focuses, as genesis does, on the whole person rather than on the soul alone. It has given powerful support for those demeaned, marginalized, and oppressed.[3]
This calls us to recognize the dignity in each person.  As Christian it calls us to see the face of Christ in any and all persons. We are called to treat each with the respect called for as if we are meeting Christ matter how they may treat us. For in each human is the face of God.
Recent biblical scholars have looked in ancient cultures around Israel to understand this idea of the image of God in Genesis 1. Egypt and Mesopotamia described reigning kings as the image of particular gods. The phrase designated a ruler as a certain god’s special representative on earth. So by adapting this expression, the writer of Genesis 1 identifies human beings as the representatives of divine rule on earth.
This interpretation of humans as representatives of divine rule matches what comes next in Genesis. God says that humanity is made in the image of God so that humans can take charge of animals (gen 1:28). So, when read in light of its literary and ancient culture contexts, the image of God describes humanity’s prominent position in the world. It shows humanity’s responsibility to rule creation as God’s representative. Human beings are thus considered mediators of God’s presence in the world.[4]
So let me ask the question again, Does Scripture give us the right to dominate and subdue creation as many have claimed in the past? No! because we are smarter than that. We know better. No! Because the very next chapter (2.15) reinterprets this relationship!   Rather than being hailed as a ruler of Earth Adam, our ancestor, is given the responsibility of ‘serving and preserving Earth’. It is time to confess that we, especially in Western Christianity, have often abused our role as human beings by assuming we have the right to dominate the rest of creation without considering the word of God that calls us to serve and preserve what God has given us as our home.
We must confess we have yet to treat each other with the respect that is called for by these verses in Genesis. Daily we degradate, subjugate, segregate and mistreat people in the name of well, pick it, in the name of greed, in the name of corporations, in the name of governments, in the name of religion!
We have used and abused sacred text for so long that we sometimes do not see what we have done or what we are doing.  This is why we must focus on humanity during this season of creation.

Todays Gospel of how we are called to be servants
The message interprets the reading this way;
Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”[5]

This text from Mark is often cited as a guide to the way we should live as disciples of Christ, serving others rather than dominating them.  Jesus reminds us that among the Romans of his day, the aspiration of leaders was to dominate and control, to have power over others.  Jesus declares that his way is just the opposite.  His followers are to serve rather than rule.  The language used here reflects a reversal of the language in Gen. 1.26-28. Those who follow Christ are not rulers, but servants.
Marjorie Suchoci, reflects on this in her own context in the Methodist church
Muse a while on the seeming oxymoron of “servant
leadership.” We have lost the shock value of Jesus’
words and actions that specify that true leadership involves
serving others, not ruling them. Yet, in many ways we have
reversed Jesus’ reversal by accepting the term servant leader
but reinvesting it with the trappings of power and privilege.
…If we truly valued servant leadership, wouldn’t pastors vie
for appointments to rural or inner city or poor churches
where leadership would indeed be sacrificial? In Mark 10
Jesus explicitly reverses the social position of leader from a
place of power to a place of sacrificial service, even to a place
he calls slavery. His crucifixion sealed this reversal where
the Highest suffered with the most lowly for the sake of
saving the lowly. We are followers of Christ.
(By Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki from The Upper Room: 60 Days of Prayer for General Conference 2016) [6]

I love this for I live by the belief I will go where I am called, and I will be called where I am needed. I confess I do not have an inkling what that will look like and or where it will be yet. This is true for our relationships with creation and the creatures of Earth as well as our relationship with other humans.  In short, Jesus’ words make it clear that the way of serving Earth (in Gen. 2.15) is more consistent with the way of the cross than the way of domination (in Gen. 1.26-28). 
The ways humans have treated each other and continue to do so is disturbing history even here in Petaluma we cannot ignore what has been done to our indigenous people and what we have don to this land.
I was reading an article from KCET titled the last woman form Petaluma I want to share just some of her story
Her Indian name, or at least one of her Indian names, the only one any of us know, was Tsupu. She was my great-great-grandfather’s mother, or my great-great-great grandmother, and, again as far as any of us know, the last native of Petaluma, not the city we know today, but the ancient Coast Miwok village of the same name….
Though the village was abandoned once and for all after the 1838 smallpox epidemic claimed its remaining citizens and though American farmers demolished its large midden, using the centuries-old refuge of decomposed shells for fertilizer, eradicating any trace of the village, Tsupu never forgot it. The last time she visited she was completely blind, yet nodding with her chin to an empty hillside, she said “there,” as if she could see Petaluma plain as day, tule huts and fire smoke.
The village was atop a low hill, east of the Petaluma River, located about three and a half miles northeast of the present city of Petaluma. Petaluma in Coast Miwok means “Sloping ridge,” and, as was often the custom, was no doubt named after that distinct feature of the landscape associated with its location.
Petaluma, a thriving community of at least 500 individuals, was a major village of the Lekatuit Nation,…
The Petaluma Valley region was prized for its enormous herds of deer and elk as well as for its productive groves of valley oak and black oak. Coast Miwok elder Maria Copa (from Nicasio) told anthropologist Isabel Kelly in 1932 that “deer and elk used to be plentiful in the valley this side of Petaluma [present city] -- just like cattle there [and that] Nicasio people got acorns from the Petaluma Valley.” Ducks and geese flew up from the Petaluma River and its tributaries so thick as to obliterate the sun for an hour at a time, and seasonal swarms of monarch butterflies passing through the Petaluma Valley a mile wide, several miles long, forced the Lekatuit there to take refuge for sometimes a full day.
When Tsupu was born, by any estimate about 1820, the village of Petaluma was in crisis. At least a third of its citizens had died within the last ten years of European diseases — smallpox, pneumonia, syphilis — to which the natives had no resistance; and the great herds of deer and elk, frightened by blasts from Spanish muskets, were scattering, migrating north, replaced by mission livestock — cattle, horses, sheep — which spread foreign seed in dung, giving rise to oat grass, among other invasive species, which supplanted the native bunch grasses and sedges. The Lekatuit, like other California aboriginal nations, had had an intimate relationship with their environment, specifically a seasonal schedule of harvesting, pruning, controlled burning and the like, from which a particular and sustainable ecology had evolved over 5,000 years or more. With fewer individuals to tend the landscape, or garden, as we liked to call it, and with a major disruption of native animal and plant habitats, the valley began to appear “wild.”[7]
This is only part of a much longer tale.  Yet it gives pause.  In Sonoma county Indigenous people are only 2.2 % of the population.  It is sad note when you think that at one time they were the only people who lived here. What happened to the very people who lived here was because one group of people believed they were better, worthier, than another.  What happened here was the land scape and the natural life of the valley was changed forever because humans transformed it.
The dominant human population, no matter what race or where they are, have a history of coming into a community and instead of learning from them we subjugate, control, enslave and kill. This culture of we are superior, and we know better is what causes pain, distrust and down right anger even here in the united states.
MY heart aches when someone tells me we cannot fly the rainbow flag because then we have to fly all flags.  My heart breaks when I hear someone say all lives matter because that diminishes the meaning and the movement of Black Lives Matter.  My heart breaks when I see images of people burning Nikes because they have an add that features Kaepernick.
I saw a post that sums up the taking of the knee in professional sports
It was never about the anthem, it was never about the flag, it was never about the military.
It was about: Patrick Harmon 50, Philando castile 32, Alton Sterling 37, Sandra Bland 28, Anthony Hill 27…the list goes on and on it was about due process of the law it was about justice….
It sad that today its almost a weekly event that someone, usually white, is calling the police on people of color for living. people have reported black people for sitting in Starbucks, shopping at CVS, mowing lawns, playing golf, staying at an Airbnb or napping on a couch in a college dorm, and selling lemonade.
Of course, most recently a man was shot and killed for being in his own home…. This is humanity Sunday and we as humanity have a long way to go…But we are making strides In Petaluma alone you can find a number of organizations making a difference.  Like our book group you see education is always the first step in making a difference.
There is hate free Petaluma -We stand together to promote inclusivity and respect for all
Petaluma blacks for community development - through various programs and events we share black history and culture within the Sonoma county community
Onepetaluma -We are a group of Petalumans committed to encouraging and creating peace, justice, and equity in our community.
It won’t happen here -We raise a call to the officials of Sonoma County to protect the community from discriminatory orders and law
Interfaith movement for human integrity - We pursue justice and equality; honor holistic approaches to well-being; cherish peace building traditions; uphold the dignity and sanctity of every human life

We confess to the fact that human beings over the centuries, even in the name of Christianity, have exploited creation and abused the Indigenous people of Earth, we must reclaim one of the messages of our faith that we have missed.  In Genesis 2 it is clear that all human beings are made of Earth and the breath of God, the Spirit.  We all have a kinship with nature, both physical and spiritual. We now must claim and act upon a spirituality that celebrates our common kinship with creation and each other.  We have a spiritual bond with the Earth, the creatures of the Earth and all of Humanity. We must surrender our us versus them attitudes, we must surrender our “God Given Right attitudes and become humble and walk and live in servitude to each other and to the planet when we all can start doing this healing will begin.

[1] Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003.
[2] The CEB Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2013.
[3] Ditto
[4] Ditto
[5]   Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

“A soon as you open John's Gospel you are aware that you are breathing a different
air from that which you encountered in Matthew'. Mark and Luke. It has often
been described as 'a magic pool, in which an elephant may swim and an infant
paddle ‘. My sense of it is that it is a journey into the mystery Of who Jesus is,
inviting us ever deeper, as the story unfolds. One aspect of Jesus' identity that the
reader might' find 'helpful is to think of him as a being. Who performs on two stages:
the heavenly stage ('up there'), which he leaves for a while to walk on the earthly
stage ('down here'), from which he returns, but taking with him all those who
belong 'up there'.
The reader will do well to remember that this is a very rich Gospel, whose
meaning emerges slowly, over a Lifetime of reading.”[1]

The first chapter of John’s Gospel connects Christ with creation in a most spectacular way. John informs us that all of creation, including planet Earth, is the result of the impulse of the Word from God (1.1-2). That Word is here identified with God.  That Word, which precedes creation, is the impulse to create everything, whether it be the physical world or unseen worlds.

It is sobering to contemplate that in today’s world many sects of contemporary Christianity makes peace with environmental degradation even as it claims the gift of special revelation of God’s “goodness” in Christ and creation. I suspect that that many of us, upon hearing in the prologue to John’s Gospel that the light of the world came into the world but “the world did not know him” and did not “accept” him, take comfort in a kind of ironic hindsight: while the world of Jesus’ time rejected him, surely those of us who have inherited two thousand years of the church’s proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” would not make such a mistake!  At least that is what we like tell ourselves. But if we Christians do not look upon creation and see first and foremost the divine intention that such creation bear enduring testimony to God’s goodness, then are we not even more worthy of blame than those who rejected God’s testimony in the first place? The more we claim to worship the Creator God and the Incarnate Word yet treat the material environment as something less than God’s good creation through which God intends to be honored, the more hollow our testimony becomes.

There has been among Christian culture an ambivalence—concerning the goodness of creation. There has been a pattern of viewing creation as less good than the non-material, spiritualized “heavens.” Such favoring of a nonmaterial heaven over the created Earth informed an eschatology of escapism, in which the culmination of the lives of individual believers as well as the Earth itself results in the end of creation and the advent of a totally spiritual “heaven.”

This may be translated into some contemporary theologies such as “Only visiting this planet” or “This world is not my home.”  This idea that we belong to heaven and not of this earth allows Christians to toss care and love of the earth aside.

As scholars such as Barbara Rossing, N.T. Wright, and Norman Habel have insisted, this escapist “tradition”—which arguably remains the single most dominant eschatological ( or end of times) mindset present among Christians of all denominations, no matter how liberal or conservative—completely misrepresents the biblical witness, beginning with Genesis and culminating in the book of Revelation (where the author bears witness to God’s renewal of the face of the earth). Fidelity to the scripture—a hallmark of much theology and preaching—requires that we be no less celebratory of creation (and no less vigilant against that which would degrade creation) than are the Bible’s own texts.

We need to recognize as central the affirmation of creation’s goodness. The popular belief among Christians that the point of earthly life is to make it to a nonmaterial “heaven” (at which point the earth can be dispensed with) should make one thing clear: the fight to honor creation as part of our Christian faith in our time is, among other things, part of the church’s ongoing fight against this concept that creation is lesser in our culture and in our church. The church fathers thought that fight was worth winning for the sake of God’s church; similarly, we feel that the fight is worth winning for the sake of God’s world.

The theologian Stanley Hauerwas has pointed out the importance of “preaching as if we have enemies.” While many of us might wish to think of the default setting of Christian rhetoric being peacefulness, Hauerwas’ point is that bad theology has real consequences—for the church and, by extension, the world. We see that in the ways in which escapist Christian theologies have aided and abetted Christian apathy towards environmental abuse. [2]

Today we celebrate, the Word that precedes creation as it is identified as the second person of the Trinity.  In Genesis One life first emerges from Earth on Day Three.  In John One life, in all its dimensions, is located in the Word, the creative impulse of God that initiates creation.  In a special way, this Word that brings light into the world, recalls the mystery of Day one.

“and the earth was invisible and unformed; and darkness was upon the abyss, and the spirit of God was rushing upon the water. And God said let there be light, and the light came to be! And God saw the light that it was Good; and God divided between the light and the darkness. and God called the light day and the darkness was called night and there was evening and there was morning Day one.”
Actually, thinking of it, what does genesis say about creation

God saw the light, that it was good
And God called the firmament heaven and God saw that it was good
And God called the dry land earth and the system of waters he called seas and God saw that it was Good.
And the Earth brought out herbage of grass, sowing according to its kind and according to its likeness and a fruit bearing tree which yields fruit, whose seed is in it according to its kind on the earth and God saw that it was Good.
 And as Genesis speaks of the sun and moon to rule over day and night and to divide the light and the darkness and God saw it was Good
Here is something we do not pay attention too much “And God said ‘Let the waters bring forth creepy-crawlies, that have living souls… and God saw it was Good
And God made the wild beasts of the earth according to their kind, quadrupeds, and creepy crawlies, and the wild beasts of the earth according to their kind. And God saw that they were good.
And God saw everything that was made, and LOOK! It was very Good. (Genesis1:1-31 abbreviated)

“And all of this came into being through the word and apart from the word nothing at all came into being” (John 1:3)

By this evidence we can see the earth as nothing less than sacred…Holy Ground, Holy sky, Holy creatures all created Good…All created through The Word; The Word which was, is, and will always be Christ.  We have at times lost our way.  We have forgotten how to care for the land and the air that we may live in harmony with it.  We instead have tried to control and manipulate it so that we can benefit from it with no consequence and yet, we are learning there are consequences to all we do.
One fine example is here in the bay area…

“From the Gold Rush until the 1970s, San Francisco Bay shrunk by about one-third, due to diking, dredging and filling to build highways, airports, farms and neighborhoods. Although modern environmental laws stopped that practice, scientists, government leaders and local officials have been on a slow campaign to enlarge the bay and bring back fish, wildlife and public access over the past two decades — a mission that also includes restoring wetlands to help protect Bay Area communities from sea level rise as the climate continues to warm.”[3]

“Wetlands are important features in the landscape that provide numerous beneficial services for people and for fish and wildlife. Some of these services, or functions, include protecting and improving water quality, providing fish and wildlife habitats, storing floodwaters and maintaining surface water flow during dry periods. These valuable functions are the result of the unique natural characteristics of wetlands….

The combination of shallow water, high levels of nutrients and primary productivity is ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and feed many species of fish, amphibians, shellfish and insects. Many species of birds and mammals rely on wetlands for food, water and shelter, especially during migration and breeding.

Wetlands' microbes, plants and wildlife are part of global cycles for water, nitrogen and sulfur. Scientists now know that atmospheric maintenance may be an additional wetlands function. Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Thus, wetlands help to moderate global climate conditions.”[4]

Just Monday we took a ride out to point Reyes. We passed salt marsh, and wetlands and the natural wonders that our unique landscape of the bay area creates. Being good care takers of the earth isn’t just to preserve these natural habitats for their beauty but also in the long run it protects the environment in which we live.

It is a little overwhelming to speak of the earth as a whole, for no one as experienced the earth as a whole. We know what we experience. We know the land we walk on, we know the land we visit, we know the field we care for.

So during this season of creation I will attempt to make things relatable to us here and now as we live in the bay area. This is why today I am speaking about the wetlands. Many of the foods we enjoy come from wetlands.  Did you know “Most commercial and game fish breed and raise their young in coastal marshes and estuaries. Menhaden, flounder, sea trout, spot, croaker and striped bass are among the more familiar fish that depend on coastal wetlands. Shrimp, oysters, clams, blue and Dungeness crabs likewise need these wetlands for food, shelter and breeding grounds.”[5]

Many of the foods we love come form the areas we are trying to restore so we as consumers benefit from caring for the wetlands as well as all the earth.

As I was seeking resources and inspiration I cam across a web-page that had a list of things we can do to care for the earth.

Things we can do to care for the earth:

- Respect all as God's gift; the earth, all species, people, property.
- Reduce, reuse, repair & recycle.
- Ask "Do I really need this?" before buying it.
- Use recycled paper wherever possible eg kitchen & toilet rolls.
- - Compost kitchen waste.
- Recycle glass, cans, plastics, cardboard, office paper, newspaper.
- Recycle paper to save the rainforests.
- Choose environmentally more friendly washing & cleaning products.
- Don't leave electrical appliances on standby. (This is a hard one)
- Switch off lights when they are no longer needed.
- Use only as much water in the kettle as you need.
- Use cooler washes, shorter cycles & fuller loads in washing machines.
- - Shop locally and buy local produce.
- Buy organic fruit & vegetables.
- Buy 'Fair Trade' products. (fair trade Christmas boutique is November 10th)
- Grow your own vegetables organically or grow herbs in pots.
- When buying electrical appliances, choose the most energy efficient.
- Recycle non-rechargeable batteries or dispose of them safely.
- Walk, cycle or use public transport wherever possible.
- Use a fuel-efficient car with low CO2 emissions.
- Moderate car speeds cause less pollution than fast speeds.
- Consider installing renewable energy systems into your home.
- Donate old clothes, furniture, toys & books to charity shops.
- Learn to identify the wildlife species around you.
- Learn how environmental issues are linked to poverty.
- Become active - walk daily & connect with nature around you.[6]

The climax to the reading from John One is the amazing Christ connection in verse 14.  This eternal Word that precedes creation becomes part of creation.  This Word, that is the very God who brought Earth into being, becomes part of Earth as ‘flesh and blood”! This God that caused Earth to be born out of primal water, is now born from the waters of a woman.  

So, the Earth story continues.  God becomes part of Earth to redeem the creatures of Earth. The dwelling of God in this piece of Earth whom we know as Jesus is described using the language of God’s glory ‘dwelling’ in the tabernacle in the wilderness.  That glory or presence of God is now revealed to be present in a human being, and part of Earth.

I have avoided use of the term Global warming…do you want to know why…because it doesn’t matter the simple sacred story is this earth is sacred and God sees it as Good therefore we are called to care for it and care for it better than we have been. This is not a matter of science but a matter of faith!

May God bless you and each of us as we seek ways to be better stewarts of this sacred space, this earth this Holy Ground Amen.

[1] King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.
[5] Ditto

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

My Hands are Clean... Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

My hands are clean…but I am about to get them dirty!
It is interesting to note that every commentator I have researched all start with the same concept…

“Welcome back to Mark! After six weeks in John’s “bread of life” chapter, you’re probably more than ready to come back to the extended story Mark is telling about Jesus.”

Whew that john text was hard and now we do not have to hear it again till three years from now.  So we are back in mark and it is so much easier right…it is just about washing our hands.  How simple is that. I mean whew have all heard it …did oyu wash your hands before you sat at the table young man.

For me this was annoying I would get up from the table in a huff and rush off run my hands under water and wipe them off on my jeans and sit down again…
Of course, then came the next question…Did you use soap??? Ugh maaaaaa!

You do not get to eat until those hands are clean now go!

At the age of 15 I started working in nursing homes and then in care homes and schools for the developmentally disabled believe me my routine around clean hands changed very quickly.

“That can’t surely be what’s going on in this passage, can it, an argument about washing hands before eating that has probably been repeated in each and every one of our homes? Yes and no. Yes, it really is about the practice of washing hands. No, as is often true in such arguments, there is often more going on beneath the surface than initially meets the eye. With our kids, maybe they just forgot. Or maybe they’ve decided that even though Mom and Dad think this hand washing-thing is important, they don’t, and, while they’re at it, maybe they’re tired of all the rules Mom and Dad are making. So maybe not washing their hands, in this case, is less about forgetfulness and more about testing their parents’ authority.”[1]

A very similar thing is happening here.  The Pharisees are getting all in a huff because the disciples are not following tradition.  “why don’t you follow the tradition of our elders?” Their tradition and the tradition and the law must be upheld.  How can Jesus’ authority usurp that of the law??

“And at this point, it’s nearly crucial to put back in the verses the lectionary omits. Because it’s not simply about authority, but authority linked to behavior. Our everyday, ordinary, decisions about how we treat each other. Which is why Jesus throws the “tradition of the elders” thing back in their faces. Want to talk about tradition? Jesus asks. Then let’s talk about the tradition – make that a commandment! – of honoring our parents. Seems pretty straight forward to me, and yet you’ve found a religious loop-hole by which you can declare your wealth an offering to God and thereby not have to share it with your parents!”[2]

“Jesus knows, of course, that when the scribes and Pharisees ask why some of his disciples do not wash their hands, the question is not an innocent one. It is meant to indict Jesus. Asking why some of his followers "do not live according to the tradition of the elders" (Mark 7:5) is really accusing Jesus of not following the law himself, of acting as if he believes himself to be above the law. Knowing this, Jesus responds with a rebuke from Isaiah (Isaiah 7:6-7), which changes the direction of the conversation: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Mark 7:6b). Jesus calls them "hypocrites (Mark 7:6a)," because they "abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition" (Mark 7:8). This reproach is more than a condemnation of empty worship practices; it is a condemnation of the scribes' and Pharisees' distortion of tradition in order to circumvent the law. Jesus is not rejecting the law; in fact, he is rebuking them for their failure to uphold it.

Mark 7:9-13, which are not a part of the lection for today, clarify Jesus' point. Jesus condemns the scribes' and Pharisees' use of Corban: a practice of willing assets to the Temple, assets that may no longer be used for the family's, including elderly parents', care. Such a practice, Jesus asserts, violates the commandment to "honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12), for it enables the denial of support to parents who are in need. The scribes and Pharisees are allowing people to circumvent the moral and legal imperative to care for their parents through the use of Corban and are "thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on" (Mark 7:13).”[3]

To me , what I am hearing is …you do not get to pick and choose how or if  you will follow quote “the Law” end quote.  You see…

“The question raised by the Pharisees in 7:5 is apparently a sincere one, and the narrator tells us why in vs. 3-4. Ritual purity is an essential dimension of Pharisaic religion, an effort to claim Jewish identity in a world that was much happier with a polytheistic style. The pharisees argued that the practice of eating with undefiled hands was an obligation imposed not on Temple priests only, but on all Jewish people who sought to be the holy nation they had been called to be. To heed a stipulation of the oral law (“the tradition of the elders’) like this was not to escape into trivialities but to demonstrate how seriously the law of God is to be taken.”[4]

These purity codes where basically traditions used to say who was in and who was out. Who are the proud members of the Jewish faith?  They are the ones who perform outward signs that they belong so all who observe know they are good faithful practicing Jews. But where the pharisees missed the boat was the opportunity to care for the elderly, the sick and the widows. Basically they were picking and choosing just which purity codes to follow...  Which traditions to follow.

It raises some interesting questions…

“Jesus is challenging them as to how their traditions contribute to them fulfilling their mission. And I think this is just where this week’s sermon might bring this odd passage to bear on our shared life. I mean, maybe we don’t seem at first blush quite as fussy about tradition as Jesus’ opponents did, but what if you were to suggest tinkering with some of our own traditions? Perhaps changing worship in order to make worship more understandable and accessible to a younger generation? Or what if you were to drop the lectionary in favor of moving through the narrative of the Bible? Or what if you were to cancel all committees in favor of a more nimble way of governing the congregation? Or what if you were to suggest getting rid of pews to make the sanctuary space more flexible so you could offer it to some community groups? Or what if each fourth Sunday folks didn’t come to church at all but rather were engaged in community service throughout your county? Or what if…?

You probably get the idea. We each have traditions that are more than traditions. They are markers of what has been accepted as right and wrong and thereby serve to lend us a sense of stability. (Never mind that our traditions do in fact change over time – what’s important is that they appear unchanging in the moment!) This passage serves both to relativize our traditions – should we really hold them sacred? – while also pushing us to the far more important concern of the law to help us care for each other. ”[5]

The broader context into which this interchange between Jesus and the pharisees occurs presents an interesting backdrop. On the one hand, there are two generous feeding of the hungry multitudes (6;30-44; 8:1-10), and an extravagant summary of Jesus’ healing s in and around Gennesaret (6:53-56).  They pose a sharp contrast to the restrictive issue of washing the hands before eating. On the other hand, the interchange of the Pharisees is followed by the stories of the persistent faith of the Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin, who asks only for the crumbs and her daughter is healed. And the restoration of hearing and speech to the deaf man living in the gentile are called Decapolis (7:24-37). It is as if Jesus’ critique of Kosher laws (“thus he declared all foods clean,” 7:19) is then documented by the healings of these non-Jewish people.”[6]

It is not what we put in our bodies but what comes out of our hearts and lips. Proclaiming that the kingdom of God belonged only to the Jewish people who followed only certain rules and regulation as opposed to offering peace, healing, food, welcome, to those beyond their borders was what was wrong. You can keep your traditions as long as they are not interfering with the work of Gods kindom here on earth.

Letting people know they are loved welcomed and cared for isn’t always easy. Sometimes it contradicts our own “traditions.” We are called as Christians to grow, study , learn…as a result we have ONA churches. “Open and Affirming (ONA) is the United Church of Christ's (UCC) designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the UCC which make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”[7]

We have immigrant welcoming churches. “In a world becoming increasingly globalized, more people are leaving their homelands to seek better lives and opportunities in new countries. Their reasons for leaving are diverse and complex: economic necessity, war, or persecution. The U.S. has long been a nation of immigrants and we have consistently been conflicted about this. We gratefully welcome immigrants and their contributions, and we exclude them, discriminate against them and, at times, inflict grave harm upon them.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. The Bible is unambiguous in calling us to welcome aliens and strangers in our land, and to love them as we love ourselves. In these times, let us listen to the voice of the still-speaking God. We will learn how to respond to these new sisters and brothers residing among us.”[8]

We are an earth Justice Denomination

Since we are about to enter the season of creation and many are marching this Saturday September 8: Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice in san Francisco I would like to share this video

It is time we got our hands dirty …The church needs to strive to be a place of welcome, education and partnership as we seek to mirror the kindom of God here on earth …amen!

[2] Ditto
[4] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.,pg. 492
[6] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.,pg. 492

Sunday, August 26, 2018

John 6:56-69 Feasting Upon the Word

Oh Lord this reading is hard…we have been talking about this for weeks and yet Jesus goes on speaking about the bread of life, about him being the bread of life and how we must consume that bread and drink his blood.  Ugh! Does he have to be so graphic?  Why is this so hard to hear?  Why do his own followers walk away?

I have to tell a story Now this is kind of telling on someone, but we had a congregant back in NoHo who stopped coming to church because at communion we were eating of the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ and that was cannibalism.

One commentator believes we need to move away from the metaphor...

“In Jewish culture, the idea of ​​eating meat with blood was taboo. In fact, it was a prohibition given to humanity in general after the flood in Genesis 9: 4. The Law repeats this prohibition to the people of Israel (Lv 17:11, 14; 19:26; Dt 12:23). In addition, blood and fat were the parts of the animal that were to be given exclusively to God in the sacrifices (Lev 3: 16-17; 4: 18-35; 9: 18-20). Thus, the reference to the flesh and blood in these words of Jesus has nothing to do with the Eucharist (although historically it has been interpreted that way and some believe that this section about flesh and blood was added to the original discourse) , but with the sacrifice of the tabernacle or the temple that restored or celebrated the communion between the believer and God. Truly, we must not concentrate on the metaphors of bread / meat / blood that Jesus uses throughout the chapter, but on what is done with those elements: eating. To eat the manna in the desert was to receive life. To eat the separated loaves for the priests of the temple was to have communion with God. Also to eat the sacrificed meat on the altar was, for the believing Jew, to have communion with the same God. Eating is synonymous with accepting, receiving, believing, trusting, welcoming, staying, etc., all words that the Gospel of John uses repeatedly to describe the challenge with which Jesus confronts us-the obligation of the true disciple or the true disciple. to remain faithful to the Lord and to remain in communion with Him. And given the context of sacrifice in the words "flesh and blood," the nuance here is that we must accept Christ, not only descended from heaven but also raised on the cross (Jn 3:14). In this approach, according to which the person and the way of Jesus are understood both through the cross and through the resurrection, all the gospels are in agreement.”[1]

I like his explanation sort of but for me it robs John’s Gospel of it s approach though he does keep the heart of the message.
How does Johns Gospel open?

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
This [Word] was in the beginning with God.
Everything came to be through [the Word],
And apart from [the Word] nothing at all came to be.
What came to be in [the Word] was Life,
And the Life was the light of human beings.
And the Light shines in Darkness,
And the Darkness did not master [the Light] ….

The Genuine Light, which enlightens every human being, was coming into the World.

He was in the world,
And the world came to be through [the Light];
And the world did not know [the Light].
[The Light] came to his own,
And his own did not accept him.
But as many accepted him,
He gave them power to become children of God.
[They were the ones] who believed in his name,
Who were not born of blood,
Nor of will of flesh,
Nor the will of man,
But of God.

And the word became flesh…[2]

The commentator wants us to move away from metaphor and struggle with the literal concept of consuming that which feeds us with God at table. But I hear something different if we listen to how John opens this Gospel with Metaphor as Jesus being the Word of God with us from the beginning through which all things are made then the word became flesh and walked among us ministered to us taught us and then returned to heaven leaving us nothing but…His word.  We are called to feast upon the word of Christ. We are called to feast upon the Gospel.

“Eating is synonymous with accepting, receiving, believing, trusting, welcoming, staying, etc., all words that the Gospel of John uses repeatedly to describe the challenge with which Jesus confronts us-the obligation of the true disciple or the true disciple. to remain faithful to the Lord and to remain in communion with Him.”[3]

I suspect some people in Jesus’ crowd heard these words with this exact interpretation some did not but those who were challenged by Jesus words used the excuse that his words are too hard. Much like the young man asked how to get to heaven…he was already doing what was easy for him. Keeping the Sabbath…Tithing, feeding the hungry…So Jesus says let’s go a step further sell all you own give it away and follow me…the man went away sad because the call was too hard….

“Throughout this chapter's discussion about the bread which gives life, Jesus' words have been greeted with misunderstanding, confusion, and objection from the crowd, referred to either simply as "they" or "the Jews." In verse 60, we hear about the reaction from the "disciples" (in John not to be equated with "the twelve"; see verse 67). We may expect better things from them. After all, they were the ones who sat together with Jesus at the beginning of this text, who followed Jesus' instructions in gathering up the leftovers of the bread and fish, and who were rescued from the storm at sea by Jesus. Perhaps most importantly, we expect that "the disciples" belong to "us," and not to "them."
Thus we may be stunned when we hear that the disciples are now the ones who are bothered by what Jesus has said. We may have been tempted to simply write off the rest of the crowd as stubborn and obtuse, but the reference to "the disciples" sounds uncomfortably close to home. In verse 61, the disciples begin to grumble (NRSV "complain"), just as "the Jews" did in verse 41. Here, the problem seems not so much that the disciples have difficulty understanding what Jesus is saying; they understand quite well but cannot believe and follow what Jesus has said. How often do we find the same to be true about ourselves?

As has been Jesus' habit throughout this conversation, he meets objections by sharpening the point of his message, raising the offense rather than softening it, and thereby bringing the conversation to a crisis. In verse 62, Jesus points to his "going up" (NRSV "ascending"). We may think first of Luke's ascension scene, but we need to remember that this is John's story, and in John's telling Jesus returns to the Father by being lifted up on the cross.”[4]

Some of the followers of Christ can already see where all this is leading there have been a few hints along the way as Jesus has upset some of the Leadership of the community. This is too hard…others just hear the literal as opposed to the metaphor and do not even try and dismiss Jesus. Others are still seeking literal food not understanding that they will just be hungry again and not fulfilled.
Another commentator reflects;

“The text tells us: "Since then many of his disciples went back and no longer walked with him" (v. 66). Why did they stop following Jesus? Is it because they did not understand the way Jesus offered the eternal bread? Is it possible that some have believed that Jesus would give them a bread that literally would not end? In a society of scarcity like Jesus, the idea of ​​endless sustenance would undoubtedly have attracted many. But we see through the scriptures that God's plan has never been to serve as a food-providing machine. The earth in its fullness has always been able to supply humanity and the creatures of the world with what is necessary. But human greed has created systems of inequality that favor a few and leave most people in a state of need.”[5]

This statement made my mind jump my train of thought often jumps the track but this time it is on track, I hope, for this lead me to think about feeding the hungry and what it means especially since one of the greatest inequalities in this world remains food!

The First Sunday of every month, our communion Sunday, we collect food for the redwood empire food bank.  The canister to drop dry goods off is in the fellowship hall.  This month we had the canister over half full.  It is not a lot when you go the warehouse and see their huge shelves just waiting to be filled but it helps. Every little bit helps.

But what does it mean to be hungry? Bread for the world explains it this way.

 “Everyone feels hungry on a daily basis. Most people are able to satisfy this craving and need. Even if not immediately, they can count on having a meal or snack within hours. This is not the type of hunger that Bread is concerned with.

People who suffer chronic hunger don’t have the option of eating when they are hungry. They do not get enough calories, essential nutrients, or both. People who are hungry have an ongoing problem with getting food to eat. They have a primary need — how to feed themselves and their children today and tomorrow. They have little energy for anything else…

It is commonly known that the cause of hunger in the world is not a shortage of food but rather access to food.

Some people are hungry because food is in short supply in their area and for a specific reason. It may be because they can’t afford to buy enough food. It may be both.

Some countries have a “hunger season” every year. It's when the previous harvest is gone, and the next harvest is not yet ready. It can last as long as three or four months.

The U.S. doesn’t have that kind of a hunger season, but for many families, some weeks are hungrier than others. These usually come toward the end of the month, as families run short of food before they have money to buy more. People can’t simply decide to spend less on rent, but if necessary, they can spend less on food.

For many low-wage workers, retirees, people with disabilities, and their families, even careful planning cannot stretch the grocery budget throughout the month. Less expensive — and less nutritious — filler foods can keep children’s stomachs from growling, but they can’t provide what children need to grow and learn. Adults who are missing meals because they can’t afford to buy food can’t concentrate as well at work…

People in certain conditions, whether they live in the developing world or the United States, are extremely vulnerable to hunger. A month of bad weather for a farmer or an illness for a worker and a loss of income can mean less food and the prospect of hunger.

Food insecurity is the more formal term for this condition. People living with food insecurity lack a stable, reliable means of getting the meals they need.”[6]

Since we are collaborating with the redwood Empire Food bank who work to eliminate hunger and food insecurity in the area I thought I could share some of their statistics with you as well.
First off where does the food bank get their food well 55% is donated fresh produce, 17% is donated groceries, 10% is purchased wholesale, 15% comes from USDA commodities, and 5% is through community Food drives.[7]

That puts our donation in that 17% of donated groceries that may sound like a little but as I said every little bit helps. The food bank delivers that food through 12 of their own innovative programs and the rest is distributed through a 170 partner organizations which are in 27 cities. Here in Petaluma they distribute food through...

Assembly Apostolica Church
COTS Committee on the Shelterless
Elim Lutheran Church
Petaluma Christian Church
Salvation Army Petaluma
Sonoma County Independent Living Skills Inc..

They also had special distribution sites during the fires here in Sonoma county.
As we feast on the word of God…Literally as we share in the table of remembrance called communion we also share a table with those who around us are hungry for real food.  In October we will look at an opportunity to reach out to the world and partner with bread for the world on their bread for the world Sunday.

 You see “God's plan has always been to live in communion with his people; God is still waiting for us to create a world that reflects the image of God-in love, justice, fulfillment, mercy, equality, etc. We see it in Genesis, when God created the human being to share in the work of creation. We see it in the Law, according to which the sacrifices have in mind a companionship between God and the person and community. We see it in the Prophets, who insist on the responsibilities of the people to form a just society. And John, at last, tells us that the Word that created the world became flesh to call people to a community opposed to the values ​​of the Roman Empire and any political or economic system that dehumanizes the being”[8]  Jesus is always calling us to be an anti-Imperial, anti-hierarchical society in which its members, are empowered by the Spirit that Jesus emphasizes in the fourth gospel, live in communion with God and with one another. We are called to Feast upon the word and share in communion as one people, one spirit, and the one body of Christ. Amen

[2] King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.