Sunday, July 29, 2018

From Scarcity to Abundance John 6: 1-21

Fred Craddock shares a story of manna…as story of feeding … a story of unexpected glory…you see he had gone to Winnipeg to give two lectures the first lecture went off without a hitch but the second lecture well…
            Friday Night as he left the lecture hall it was beginning to spit a little snow. He was surprised, and his host was surprised as well because he had written, “It’s too early for the cold weather, but you might want to bring a little wind breaker, a little light jacket.” The next morning when he got up there was two or three feet of snow piled against the door. The phone rang, and his host informed him that everyone is surprised by this, the lecture had been cancelled and no one could get to him to breakfast and the airport is closed.  He gave him directions to the bus depot around the corner that has a café.
Fred explains;
            “I said; ‘I’ll get around’ I put on that little light jacket; it was nothing. I got my little cap and put it on; It didn’t even help me in the room. I went into the bathroom and unrolled long sheets of toilet paper and made a nest in my cap so that it would protect my head against that icy wind.
            I went outside, shivering. The wind was cold, the snow was deep. I slid and bumped and finally made it around the corner into the bus station. Every stranded traveler in western Canada was in there, strangers to each other and to me, pressing and pushing and loud. I finally found a place to sit, and after a lengthy time a man in a greasy apron came over and said, ‘What’ll you have?’ I said, ‘May I see a menu?’ He said, ‘What do you want a menu for? We have soup.’ I said, ‘What kinds of soup do oyu have?’ and he said soup. You want some soup?’ I said, ‘That was what I was going to order – soup.’ He brought the soup, and I put the spoon to it –Yuck! It was the awfullest. It was kind of gray looking; it was so bad I couldn’t eat it, but I sat there and put my hands about it. It was warm, and so I sat there with my head down, my head wrapped in toilet paper, bemoaning and beweeping my outcast state with he horrible soup. But it was warm, so I clutched it and stayed bent over my soup stove.
            The door opened again. The wind was icy, and somebody yelled, ‘Close the door!’ in came this woman clutching her little coat. She found a place, not far from me. The greasy apron came, ‘What do you want?’ She said, ‘A glass of water.’ He brought a glass of water, took out his tablet, and said, ‘Now what’ll you have’ She said, ‘Just the water.” He said, ‘You have to order lady.’ ‘Well, I just want a glass of water.’ ‘Look, I have customers that pay- what do you think this is, a church or something? Now what do you want?’ She said, ‘Just a glass of water and some time to get warm.’ ‘Look there are people paying here. I f you’re not going to order you have to leave!’ And he got real loud about it. So, she got up to leave and, almost as if rehearsed, everybody in that little café stood up and started to walk towards the door. I got up and said, ‘I’m voting for something here; I don’t know what it is.’ And the man in the greasy apron said, ‘All right, all right, she can stay.’ Everybody sat down, and he brought her a bowl of soup.
            I said to the person siting there by me, I said, ‘who is she?’ He said, ‘I never saw her before.’ The place grew quiet, nut I heard the sipping of the awful soup. I said,’ I’m going to try that again.’ I put my spoon to the soup – you know, it was not bad soup. Everybody was eating this soup. I started eating the soup, and it was pretty good soup. I have no idea what kind of soup it was. I don’t know what was in it, but I do recall when I was eating it, it tasted a little bit like bread and wine. Just a little like bread and wine.”[1]
            Fred Cradock in this story shows how a greasy apron moves form scarcity to abundance and in so doing a noisy café on a very cold morning moves form a place earnest refuge to a church. A Awful cup of soup is transformed into bread and wine.
            Walter Bruggeman reflects on Psalm 145 which I used as our opening reflection.
·         In Psalm 145:15 it says, “The eyes all look to you.” But the voice of fear says there is not enough oil and we better send the fleet somewhere.
·         Verse 16 says, “You satisfy the desire of all things,” but the voice of fear says there is not enough food for everyone, so don’t worry about the “food desert’ without Kroger in some parts of the city.
·         Verse 17 says, “The Lord is kind in all his doings.,” but the voice of fear says, there is not enough healthcare and we should practice triage on the poor.
·         Verse 19 says, “He fulfills the desire of all who fear him,” but the voice of fear says, there is not enough education to go around, so we have a new kind of “separate but equal.”
·         Verse 19 says, “He hears their cries and saves them,” but he voice of fear says there is not enough support for all, so no immigrants.
·         Verse 13 says , “He is gracious in all his deed,” bu the voice of fear says there is not enough of truth, and surely Islam does not have any.
·         Verse 20 says, “The Lord watches over all who fear him,” but the voice of fear says there is not enough grace to share it with the gays.[2]
            Though this reflection was written in 2012 it still rings true today.  This is a concept of scarcity verses abundance.  This is the concept and the heart of today’s Gospel . His reflection on the voice of fear is heard loud and clear in our society today by conservative and Liberal alike. The fear of not enough is kind of the basic mantra here in the USA but the mantra of humanity in most places is  not yet enough, we have never seen enough! It is a mantra of anxiety and fear it is a mantra of scarcity.
            And right in the middle of this fear and anxiety comes todays gospel. He comes upon a hungry crowd. Walter Brueggemann argues that when he asks Phillip how we shall feed them Phillip represents the Church. “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
            “But John tells us this is a trick question that Jesus puts to Phillip.”[3] He wanted to see whether Philip understood. He hopes that Phillip by now would understand that Jesus is to enact God’s gift of abundance in the world. Where Jesus comes, life overflows with wellbeing. But Phillip – the church- does not get it. Philip is thinking in old-world categories of there is not enough.  He tells Jesus I would have to work for 6 months to pay for the food. We just can’t afford it. We can’t feed all these hungry people but “Jesus already knows his own capacity for abundance; he knows the source of bread for the world. He knows there will be more than enough! But his church still is trapped in scarcity”[4]
Of course, we humans love to rationalize this miracle by saying what really happened was an act of generosity that the crowd pulls out food they had tucked away and they share it. I think this minimizes the Gospel and its message John is pointing out “God's amazing power to completely "transform human expectations"; instead, we modern, self-sufficient types think it's up to us humans to handle things, to help ourselves.”[5]

One commentator “observes the power not of God but of shame in this interpretation, that is, getting people to share out of a sense of guilt: "God is no longer a miracle-worker unbounded by human laws, but a social manipulator who reminds people to share. Behavioral modification replaces amazing grace as the core of the story.”[6] This is a response that grows out of an attitude of scarcity in which our response becomes that we must be in control all the time.
Jesus is not held down by this interpretation, the Gospel of Christ cannot exist in the disciple’s response. Jesus moves us beyond a simple understanding of the way the world works. He tells the crowd to be seated. Jesus says come to the table he blesses bread. “Jesus gives thanks (the word is eucharisto; Eucharist! Imagine a meal called ‘Thanks!’)”[7]
Then all were satisfied, and he tells the disciples to get the leftovers …he didn’t ask if there were any, he knew. Jesus knew in his abundance there would be plenty left over. 12 baskets full, a basket for each of the tribes of Judah! “John tells us this is a new reality right before our eyes. Jesus enacts a new world.”[8]  A world of abundance! In that old world of scarcity there is not enough, and we must cringe and save and protect and not share and not let anyone get a free lunch ( or a free cup of soup) be cause we might run out.”
But we can see the abundance! We are witnesses to what cast out s our old fears and shows us a new way to live in this world! The old ways can no longer hold us captive by fears for we know of an abundant grace that overflows. At the end of the Gospel reading we see Jesus showing up in an unexpected place and he says to them “be not afraid” because the world is now working in a new way!
I know our society has taught us to get more and keep more and do not share for it could be gone tomorrow. The old refrain of fear and scarcity will return to our heads and hearts daily but remember Jesus has changed the narrative “We are the people who have witnessed and know about the abundance of bread among us, for the world. The church is a pump station for abundance that overflows.”[9] We do not need to check the economics of it. We do not need to explain it. We need to stand in witness to the truth of Christ that all our fears which lead to scarcity have been conquered by the God of abundance. Be not afraid step out boldly in faith and live abundantly in the grace of God!

[1] Craddock, Fred B., and Mike Graves. Craddock Stories. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001.
[2] Brueggemann, Walter, Samuel Wells, and Thomas G. Long. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Vol. 2. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Pg 188
[3] Ditto, 189
[4] ditto
[6] Ditto
[7] Bruggeman, 190
[9] Ditto, 191

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Come away and Pray mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The disciples had come to Jesus and told Him all that they had taught and done and Jesus says…Come away to a deserted place all by your selves and rest for a while.  I need this…you need this.  This is sabbath.  This is a different than Sunday sabbath, but this is sabbath.

Jesus prays some 30 odd times throughout the scriptures, but this is different there are 4 direct instances where he went off alone to pray.  “Continually Jesus withdrew from people, daily life activities, and the demands of his ministry to be alone with the Father and pray. Jesus’ solitude and silence are a major theme in the Gospels…The priority of Jesus’ solitude and silence is everywhere in the Gospels. It’s how he began his ministry. It’s how he made important decisions. It’s how he dealt with troubling emotions like grief. It’s how he dealt with the constant demands of his ministry and cared for his soul. It’s how he taught his disciples. It’s how he prepared for important ministry events. It’s how he prepared for his death on the cross.”[1]

Jesus is teaching his disciples his practice.  His practice of retreat.  These moments of going away to a deserted place and pray are mini retreats. In this instance though the retreat actually occurs on the water, for the crowd follows them around the bank to where they are headed and are ready for them when they arrive.

But this concept of getting away to rest and pray had me thinking about how do we pray? What do we pray for? Sometimes I am cautious in my words even up here.

As a clergy I am asked for prayers.  I often see people on Facebook who are asking for prayers. I may run into someone somewhere and suddenly they will mention a family member or friend who is not doing well or is on a job hunt or who has lost themselves and needs prayer.

I make a promise of prayer and I often keep it there on the spot so as I do not forget it. But a part of me always wonders just what people are hoping for, what are they expecting, when they ask for prayer?

A UCC Minister shared this experience

“In July I had dinner with a long-time friend, also a UCC minister, who retired not long ago. It was wonderful to see him; it was sad to see him. Since his retirement he has had significant health issues, some of which seem to be resisting any and all medications. His immediate future, health wise, is very uncertain. As we parted, not sure when or if we would see each other again, I told him I would hold him in my prayers. But again, what did I mean by that? What exactly will I be praying for? What do I want my prayer for him to accomplish? In fact, is accomplish even the proper word to use?”

Every week in our worship service we lift up joys and concerns during our prayer time. But when we ask for prayer for a friend suffering from illness, for a family member stricken with grief, for ourselves as we face a surgery or a situation we fear might overwhelm us, what are we asking for… what do we hope will happen?

“Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”

Wonderful words, comforting words, but do we believe them? What do you suppose they mean?
Do you recall Huckleberry Finn’s experience with prayer?

“Miss Watson, she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray everyday and whatever I asked for, I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish line but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work.”

I think of all the times I have prayed to catch that one big fish!”

He goes on to share another story a church member had shared with him

“A bar called Drummonds in Mt. Vernon, Texas, began construction on an expansion of their building, hoping to grow their business. In response, the local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from expanding, using everything from petitions to constant prayer. About a week before the bar’s grand re-opening, a bolt of lightning struck the bar and burned it to the ground.

Afterward, the church folk were rather smug, bragging about the “power of prayer.” And so the
angry bar owner proceeded to sue the church on grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the destruction of his building, “through direct actions or indirect means.” Needless to say, the church quickly abandoned the “power of prayer” argument and instead insisted it had absolutely no responsibility for or connection to the destruction of the bar.

The judge read carefully through the plaintiff’s complaint and the defendant’s reply. He then
opened the hearing by saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to decide this, but it appears from the paperwork that what we have here is a bar owner who now believes in the power of prayer, and an entire congregation that does not.”

What do we believe about the power of prayer?  How do we let prayer into our lives?  What do we expect when we pray?

 Former UCC executive minister Steve sterner once wrote;
 “I think our problem with prayer is not that it works sometimes, but that sometimes it doesn’t. We truly struggle with the efficacy of prayer when it doesn’t seem to work. It is easier to believe totally that prayer does not work than it is to reconcile in our own hearts and minds why it doesn’t seem to work sometimes.”

“Ask and it will be given to you…sometimes; seek and maybe you will find?” That doesn’t
sound particularly comforting…does it?

Samuel wells speaks of three different kinds of prayer[2], the first kind is the resurrection prayer when you are just praying so hard for that miracle.  Jesus alive from the dead, Lazarus walks out of the tomb. No matter what all the doctors have said… the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear…can I have just a little of that?

This is the prayer that comes from the deepest of despair, from the very wells of faith, that mustard seed that we have been told can move a mountain…well lord we do not have a mountain to move but if oyu could give us this one miraculous cure…

This prayer is the prayer that says God you have the power to fix it… so fix it, make changes, take action, restore health! I want to pray it, but there are so many times when it is even hard
to pray for healing, for the miracle, because healing just isn’t going to happen, at least not physical healing.

I am not saying miracles aren’t possible nor that a miracle won’t happen. Miracles all the time even now the simple fact that this bunch of cells can breathe and walk talk and think is a miracle. But when the resurrection prayer is lifted this is not what is expected nor understood.

More often than not I find myself praying what Wells calls the prayer of incarnation.  “It’s a call for God to be with your friend or loved one. It’s a recognition that Jesus was broken, desolate, on the brink of death, and that this is all part of being human, part of the deal you sign onto the day you are born. Our bodies and minds are fragile, frail and sometimes feeble.

There is no guarantee that life will be easy, comfortable, fun or happy. The prayer of incarnation says, ‘God, in Jesus you shared our pain, our foolishness and our sheer bad luck. You took on our flesh with all its needs and clumsiness and weakness. Visit my friend, my loved one, and give them patience to endure what lies ahead, hope for every trying day and companions to show them your love.’”[3]

This is the prayer that reminds us we are not alone.  God is walking beside us and sometimes carrying us for through Christ, God knows deeply what it means to be human and companions with us in our journey.

Beyond this sacred companionship there is a third type of prayer that Wells describes, this is a prayer of transfiguration, of transformation. This is a prayer that asks God to give us, our friend, our loved one a vision of the reality within, beneath and beyond what we understand. Wells says that this is a prayer that, in our times of bewilderment and confusion, asks that God might reveal to us a deeper truth to life than we have ever known, reasons for living beyond what we have ever imagined and an awareness of grace and love that we have never known before.

Wells says this prayer is asking for just a glimpse into the great mystery. Help us to see, help our minds through this problem, this pain, this trial to see perhaps just a glimpse of God’s glory.

 Wells says; “Maybe this is our real prayer for our friends, our loved ones, ourselves, a prayer for God to make this trial and tragedy, this problem and pain, a glimpse of God’s glory, a window into God’s world, even into God’s heart: ‘God, let me see your face, sense the mystery in all things, and walk with angels and saints. Bring me closer to you in this crisis than I ever been. Make this a moment of truth. Touch me, raise me, and make me alive like never before.”[4]

Fred Craddock, shares an experience with prayer of transformation:

“When my sister Frieda, my only sister, was dying of cancer, I had gone back to visit and knew that the time there would be the last time I would see her. She asked me to help her prepare her funeral service, which I found extremely, extremely difficult to do. When we finished preparing the service, she asked me to pray, and this is what I did. I located myself straight in front of the throne. Before I closed my eyes, I wanted to make sure I was in front of the throne, because what I wanted was God on the throne, God the power, God the almighty. All things are possible with God.

When I had positioned myself straight in front of the throne, I bowed my head and
prayed for her relief and for her healing as intensely and sincerely as I could, and I closed with Amen. I lifted my head, opened my eyes, and there in front of me was Jesus, the bleeding lamb. Now who wants that? And she died.

            There it is. God the power, God the one who identifies with us and suffers with us. You won’t find a better picture in all the bible than here.”[5]

 For Fred the prayer for a miracle became the prayer of transformation a glimpse into a deeper truth, a new reality, indeed into the very face of God. His sister died, but for Craddock, there was healing and new hope.

When Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given you,” he does not exactly say what will be given. And when he says, “Seek and you will find,” he does not exactly say what we will find.”

We live in a mystery and we seek to touch that which we cannot comprehend perhaps the hardest part of prayer is just resting in this mystery. Allowing our attempt at control to slip away,. Learning to allow and rest and be still in the spirit of God but not only in times of need and despair but also just for ourselves.

You see in the everyday life of loving community we need to pause, be alone with God so we have the spirit the energy and the wisdom to walk when called, to pray when called, to seek the mystery and allow God to be in control.

As Steve Sterner says, “Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of prayer is surrendering to the mystery of that to which we pray.” No, our prayers may not be answered in the way we wish, may not achieve the results we hoped for. And yes, there will be times when we simply are not okay with that. I’m quite sure that God is okay with those time when we are not okay with God. But, as Craddock discovered, as we are persistent in prayer, it is often we who are transformed, we who are changed, we who begin to see life and reality and God in a whole new light. And, disarmed of our demands and expectations, we just might find ourselves able to welcome the acceptance, love and other blessings that we didn’t even pray for.” No, I have no final answers for you concerning prayer and the power of prayer. But I do want to urge you to trust the process, regardless of what comes of it, because the process itself, the prayer itself, gives us life.

[3] Ditto
[4] Ditto
[5] Craddock, Fred B., and Mike Graves. Craddock Stories. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001. Pg 125

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mark 6:14-29 Children will listen

Stephen Sondheim wrote the great lyrical finale of into the woods with these words…

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me”

For some odd reason those are the words that first came to me as I walked with this gospel today. I cannot help but wonder what this strange request did to this young girl.  I wonder if she even had a concept of what she asked for?  We do not know for she is not mentioned again. Now Herod on the other hand.

“Mark chose this opportunity, after Jesus sent out his disciples on their first formal mission, to report the death of John the Baptist.  Mark hinted at this political death earlier in the story when John was arrested (1:14) but saved the full report until chapter 6.  Interpreters who choose to think that Jesus' life and mission were disconnected from the socio-political affairs of his first century context must view this account (John's death by Herod) as an aside.  Using intercalation (i.e., the "sandwich" technique) once again, Mark placed this account between the commission and the return of the disciples to intimate its significance for the expansion of Jesus' mission.”[1]

Mark is intentional of putting this message in between the moment Jesus sends out his disciples two by two and before they return. Now this translation is a little weak on just how much Herod enjoyed the company of John.

In Nicholas Kings direct translation it says this about Herod.
“and Herodias had it in for him and wanted to kill him. And she couldn’t, for Herod was afraid of John, knowing him a just man and a saint. And he protected him, and when he was listening to him he was greatly puzzled. And he used to listen to him gladly.”[2]

It is a bit more of a gentler kinder image of Herod. He actually enjoyed being puzzled by John’s teachings and he truly did want to protect him as best he could.

Now Herodias Philips ex-wife and now wife to Herod seems to be the point of contention she is the one who doesn’t like John’s objections to the marriage and plots to be rid of him and sees an opportunity with Herod’s Birthday party. So she gets her daughter to dance for Herod.
Her daughter has become famous for her dance what was her name?... what was the dance??

Well actually we do not know her name is not mentioned except for in some writings where it is the same as her mother’s name.  What kind of dance did she do htat so pleased the king?  We do not know? It might have been a simple little girl trying to impress her daddy. Over the centuries there is more legend than anything substantial around this dance.

 So “What was Herod’s fear all about? He could not have been happy with John’s judgment against his adultery. There is no evidence that Herod repented. Yet we are told that Herod knew John to be righteous and a holy man, and Herod liked to listen to him. Was he like we are sometimes, sensing a hard truth about our lives, uneasy but not ready to accept it? Why risk offending God by harming John; he could be a true prophet after all. Was that it? Or was it also fear, as the ancient historian, Josephus, claimed, that the power of John’s message might stir a rebellion….

Herod was not loved by all. His more zealous enemies considered him a collaborator with Rome. Herod, a small-time ruler, not actually a king, was beholden to Rome and vulnerable at home. As the drama played out, he was vulnerable to his wife as well. Beguiled by his daughter’s …dancing and its effect on his guests, Herod makes a rash promise. Herodias leverages his need to appear resolute in front of his politically important guests to get her wish; John is beheaded. Conflicted within himself about John’s message but surrounded by manifold political and family pressures, Herod does what he knows is terribly wrong. He is deeply grieved.”[3]

Herod is deeply grieved as are Johns followers and, I would imagine, John’s family which is Jesus’ family.  John "a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" (Mark 1:1-3) It John we celebrate as this wild uncontrollable spirit that comes out of the dangerous wild places proclaiming one baptism of repentance and a forgiveness of sins.
John is the one who points past himself, a lesson for all of us preachers and teachers, John proclaims; “The stronger one than me is coming after me, of whom I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. ( Mark 1:8) Jesus is baptized the heavens open, the holy spirit as a dove descends upon him, and a voice is heard saying this is my son in whom I am well pleased. Then Jesus is hurled out into the desert. It is after John has been handed over to Herod that Jesus returns and starts his ministry.

John starts the Jesus story whether it be at the baptism or by a simple stirring in his mother’s womb we have no Jesus without John…I mean we could have, Jesus might have still had a great ministry and message without John and yet John is essential to our story…this is our sacred story…this is our sacred text.

So yes, we grieve the loss of John, but we do not celebrate how he died or even why for that is a bit confusing, but we celebrate the life he lived.  The wild man in the desert telling us to make ready the way for our lord.

Just as much as Herod is part of our sacred text. In the best of storytelling anytime we see or hear Herods name we want to boo or hiss.  Herod is a villain and yet in the circumstances that play out is he a villain or is he trapped by his own circumstances? Remember “Herod makes a rash promise. Herodias leverages his need to appear resolute in front of his politically important guests to get her wish”[4] so is he a patsy or is he some political parable in the midst of all of this?
One commentator point sout that;

“It is tempting to see in Herod a parable that speaks to leadership in government, economic and institutional life in our own time. Persons in positions of power are subjected to powerful pressures that pose a threat to their own security. Personal pride, greed for gain and prestige, and the influence of ambitious intimates can also play a role. Under the sway of these encroaching forces, the courage to serve truth and the common good can flag. The results may not be as gruesome as John’s execution, but the damage can be even more extensive. Even exemplary leaders who are devoted to the welfare of those dependent upon them frequently find themselves mired in a morass of conflicting forces that stymie their best efforts. Certainly there are prophetic voices like John’s today also. Yet, the impact often seems minimal. When wealthy interests can now influence the presidential election by giving anonymously to non-profit “social welfare” organizations, citizens without such economic power might wonder if their needs are being served. Indeed, one could feel a bit like the Baptist’s disciples: nothing left to do but bury the body.”[5]

But we are called to be more resolved and invested in life.  We are called as disciples of christ to stand in the face of such opposition and call it out as what it is..we are called to be the faces of hope beyond hope..

“So why does Mark tell this story: the longest of the Gospel’s anecdotes and its only flashback? Aside from the Golgotha plot and discovery of the empty tomb, this is the only tale in which Jesus never appears. Its villains never reappear. It’s a strange story about John in which the baptizer himself never appears. Even stranger: beneath this story of John is the story of Jesus. The flashback is a flashforward. Mark tips us off in “King Herod heard;for his name had become known. And he said. ‘John the baptizer has risen from the dead, and that’s these reason these miracles are at work in him…. That fellow I decapitated, John-he has risen’”(Mark 6:13-15)[6]

 In this turn of events Herod foreshadows Pilate in the same way that John foretells of Just like Herod, Pilate is amazed by circumstances surrounding an innocent prisoner, swept up in events that fast spin out of his control and unable to back down after being publicly outmaneuvered Like John, Jesus is passive in his final hours and is executed by hideous capital punishment seemingly dying in order to placate those he offends.

As I was wondering how I might tie this into today what we see here is a governor who knows better but is trapped by the politics and expectations around him.

I found one commentator that brought me to tears.  I am going ot share just a part of commentary as he reflects on this gospel and today…

“Connecting to present times

One such story from today’s headlines goes like this:

When he landed in Michigan in late May, all the weary little boy carried was a trash bag stuffed with dirty clothes from his days long trek across Mexico, and two small pieces of paper -- one a stick-figure drawing of his family from Honduras, the other a sketch of his father, who had been arrested and led away after they arrived at the United States border in El Paso…

An American government escort handed over the 5-year-old child, identified on his travel documents as José, to the American woman whose family was entrusted with caring for him. He refused to take her hand. He did not cry. He was silent on the ride “home.” The first few nights, he cried himself to sleep. Then it turned into “just moaning and moaning,” said Janice, his foster mother…

He recently slept through the night for the first time, though he still insists on tucking the family pictures under his pillow …

Since his arrival in Michigan, family members said, a day has not gone by when the boy has failed to ask in Spanish, “When will I see my papa?” They tell him the truth. They do not know. No one knows … José’s father is in detention, and parent and child until this week had not spoken since they were taken into the custody of United States authorities. He refused to shed the clothes he had arrived in, an oversize yellow T-shirt, navy blue sweatpants and a gray fleece pullover likely given to him by the authorities who processed him in Texas.1

I, Cláudio, have a 6-year-old boy and I am an immigrant citizen, foreign and citizen at the same time. I could not read this biblical story of John the Baptist without thinking of stories like José and the loss of his father. To have José separated from his father is like having one’s head cut off. The story told in Mark 6 has no redemption. John the Baptist had his head cut off. That is how hundreds of families are now living, with their heads cut off, parents without children and children without parents.

If John announced the coming of Jesus Christ, these kids and parents announce the horrendous cruelty of the immigration policies of this country. On behalf of these families, we must stand up like John the Baptist, who told the governor of his day: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Just as Jesus came in the footsteps of John the Baptist, we must show up as Jesus Christ to these families.”[7]

We must show up like Christ…Just as John started a ministry and Jesus came in fulfillment and yet not completion for you see the ministry goes on.  The apostles stepped up, the disciples stepped up and we a re called to step up as Christ to keep the ministry going. We are called ot be Christ to our immigrant brothers and sisters.  We are called to be Christ to our homeless brothers and sisters.  We are called to be Christ to those suffering from illness.  We are called to be Christ to each other any time and all the time. If not us than who?

  We are the United Church of Christ a united and uniting church living to maker this place heaven on earth for all. So I will leave this sermon as I began…

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

That's a Fine Howdy Do! Mark 6:1-13

It has been an interesting week this week… As I am in the process of finishing up my dissertation on pastoral care with Long term survivors of HIV the church received an email.  It was titled “Read and Heed” very ominous sounding. It really is a chain letter. A piece of mail of ancient fears arising. It warned of a movie due to come out this summer, a movie about Jesus and well let me quote; “The movie "Corpus Christi "is due to be released this June to August. It is a disgusting film set to appear in America later this year which depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals! As a play, this has already been in theaters for a while.   It's called "Corpus Christi" which means "The Body of Christ". It's a revolting mockery of our Lord.  But we Christians can make a difference.”
We Christians can make a difference…yes, we can…but since when is it we Christians Job to spread fear and hatred and lies? 
I debated about addressing this email but sooner or later something about this would come to light, so I thought I better do it.
First a little bit of history from Scopes fact checking…
“This piece about an upcoming “gay Jesus film” is one of those examples that demonstrates a good petition never goes away, even when the issue it addresses has long since been settled (or was never really an issue in the first place). The “gay Jesus film” petition first hit the fan in 1984, and by the end of 1985 more than a million Christians had written protest letters in an attempt to have the non-existent movie it referenced banned.
Yes, non-existent. There never was such a film in production,”[1]
This is the wording form the first petition… “Modern People News has revealed plans for the filming of a movie based on the SEX LIFE OF JESUS in which Jesus is portrayed as a swinging HOMOSEXUAL. This film will be shot in the U.S.A. this year unless the public outcry is great. Already a French Prostitute has been named to play the part of Mary Magdalene, with who Christ has a blatant affair. We CANNOT AFFORD to standby and DO NOTHING about this disgrace.”[2]
That was 1984 and you can hear the fear and outrage this was intended to bring about.
This brings me to 2006, a small church in north Hollywood that welcomes all, including a young man named Nic Arzen…His story is amazing and I want to share his words with you today.
“(RNS) As a Catholic boy growing up in Iowa, I was always drawn to Communion. There was something deeply powerful about the act of rising from our seats together and all taking part in the same ritual. I guess it made me feel safe to be bound, to these other people — that I wasn’t alone in the world.
But by the time I was in my teens, those warm feelings began to sour.
The idea that Jesus was reserved for those who were found worthy enough to receive him was such a contradictory notion to me and felt elitist. I became confused, angry and judgmental — seemingly a perfect Catholic! But I could never be a perfect Catholic. I was hiding that I was gay, and it was made abundantly clear there was no way I was going to heaven.
I was embarrassed for who I was and ashamed that I had failed. Mostly, though, I was sad. I was sad that I let my parents down, and that I learned so many wonderful things about being good, but no matter how hard I tried I could not rid myself of the flaw that would damn me to hell.
I was devastated that I would no longer be allowed to walk down that aisle as a welcomed member of the parish, that I would never walk down that aisle to marry the person I loved.
My relationship with the church was over, for it would not love me as I loved it, or as God made me. I left, feeling that I was no longer a part of this community, and sincerely believed I would never find true love. I would miss both communion and Communion.
I spent my 30s struggling to figure out who I was and why I was so destructive in my relationships. I was lucky enough to find a patient partner and start a family. That was about the time that the play “Corpus Christi” came into my life.
In “Corpus Christi,” playwright Terrence McNally reimagines Jesus as a gay man growing up in 1950s Texas. It opened off-Broadway in 1998 to angry letters, bomb threats, and massive protests. The spectacle drowned out the play’s central message: that the church should be a place where all are welcomed, including gays and lesbians.
In 2006, I launched a new production of the play. The play was scheduled for only nine performances.  Amazingly, our production went on to tour the world for six years and counting, performing everywhere from Ireland to Texas.
Whatever resistance we faced wasn’t enough to impede our performance. Our troupe was taking the kind and powerful words of Scripture to audiences around the world through the very same “gay Jesus play” that so many had rushed to denounce as blasphemy.
The production inspired a documentary, “Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption,” which chronicles the journey of the 108 Productions cast and crew. Yet it also asks two central questions: Where do gay men and women belong at the table of spirituality?  And why would they want to come back to religions that so often pushed them away and made them feel unworthy?
What I didn’t expect, and what turned out to be the greatest gift of all, were the audiences we were privileged to interact with along the way. Every location provided new stories and new healing.  As they healed, we healed. This was where we learned the true lesson of the play: It is by our communion with others that we find ourselves.
When we open to them, and they open to us, and we feel connected to more than just a play. We feel connected to the world, and realize we will never be alone. That’s where Jesus still lives, and why “Corpus Christi” can culminate in a crucifixion but end with hope.
We learned to listen to these strangers and quickly found they were not strangers at all. We returned from every trip with a feeling of connection, a sense of being a part of something bigger than we could imagine or describe. You might even call it communion.
“Corpus Christi” has become much bigger than us. We’re just a part of it, and the people we’ve met along the way are the ones who are truly taking the lead. And that, to me, is the ultimate communion with the Spirit.”[3]
Gay writer James Langreaux, who viewed the play several times, wrote about an event that happened in a performance in Hollywood. He speaks about a heterosexual married friend who believed that Jesus could change your sexual orientation from gay/lesbian to straight. He brought his friend to a performance of Corpus Christi:
…my friend jumped out of his seat and ran to the foot of the stage, (“Oh my God, Ian...what are doing?) With reckless abandon and utter humility, Ian leapt up on the stage and fell on his face where he wept loudly and kissed the actor’s bare feet.[4]
Ian’s dramatic and emotional reaction stunned the cast and audience.  Many started to cry as well as they witnessed the scene. But there were hundreds of profound and less dramatic emotional responses of audiences, who heard the carnal story of Joshua and his troubled relationship with Judas and institutional religion. For eight years, the cast, mostly non-affiliated with institutional religion, became an ecclesial community with a story about same-sex love and fighting against homophobic bullying. They made a documentary “Playing with Redemption,” now on Netflix, detailing their experience and the transformation that they derived from the play. The cast became a post-modern church with a mission to fight for marriage equality and against homophobic bullying.[5]           
Why am I sharing all of this?  Just because of a little email?  Why is this in the sermon? Well Did you hear todays Gospel?  Did you hear the indignation of his home town?
“the power of God at work in Jesus, in the Gospel reading from Mark, is not something the people of his hometown of Nazareth could wrap their minds around. He's just returned from a road trip, a fairly successful tour in the area surrounding his hometown, and they've undoubtedly heard about the spectacular things he's been doing. That sort of news travels fast.”[6]
I get it, I mean who wants to hear from the kid that was raised right there with them?  Who wants to hear from the son of Mary…Notice I said son of Mary not Joseph…Jesus was a bastard and you can bet the whole town knew it! How can a bastard…nothing more than a carpenter, with no theological training be doing all these things? Where does this authority come from, they ask?
“Richard Swanson sees their reaction in a slightly different light than pure disapproval: we should, after all, expect some pushback, some questioning from a people named after Israel, that is, Jacob, "the one who wrestles with God." Swanson actually sees both respect and faithfulness in the synagogue crowd's response: "The congregants honor Jesus with an argument" (Provoking the Gospel of Mark).”[7]
I think that is a bit of a stretch though I do like the concept of being honored with an argument.  Unfortunately, in Jesus home town this quickly turns from argument, to taking offense, to rejection. That’s a fine Howdy do! No home town kid makes good!  No parade!  Not even a dinner thrown in his honor. It is often pointed out that this is the last time that Jesus will preach in a synagogue, at least in Mark.
“Jesus takes his ministry of proclamation out to the people, on the road, so it's no surprise that he instructs his disciples to do the same. (The Reverend Otis Moss III calls this approach "iPod theology"--mobile and more effective than waiting for the people to "come to us.")”[8]
In a sense this is what Terrence McNally did with his play Corpus Christi;
“Corpus Christi is a passion play. The life of Joshua, a young man from south Texas, is told in the theatrical tradition of medieval morality plays. Men Play all the roles. There is no suspense. There is no scenery.  The purpose of the play is htat we begin again the familiar dialogue with ourselves: Do I love my neighbor? Am I contributing good to the society in which I operate or nil? Do I, in fact, matter? Nothing more, nothing less. The play is more a religious ritual than a play. A play teaches us a new insight into0 the human condition. A ritual is an action we perform over and over because we have to.
Otherwise we are still in danger of forgetting the meaning of that ritual, in this case, we must love on one another or die. Christ died for all of our sins because He loved each and every one of us. When we do not remember His great sacrifice, we condemn ourselves to repeating its terrible consequences.
All Corpus Christi asks of you is to “look what they did to Him. Look what they did to Him.” At the same time it asks you to look at what they did to Joshua, it asks that we look at what they did one cold October night to a young man in Wyoming as well. Jesus Christ died again when Matthew Shepard did.
Look. Remember. Weep, if you will, but learn. And don’t let it happen again.”[9] – Terrance McNally 1998
The thing about this play…It does what Jesus does…It takes the story of Gods love for all, the Message of Jesus and moves it out of the churches.  This play reaches those who are marginalized, alienated from the Church, cast out by family and friends and looks them in the eye and says you are Loved and now go out and love some more.
Jesus rejected by the synagogue and religious leaders takes to the streets.  He walks with the outcast.  Jesus heals untouchables.  Jesus moves the hearts of roman guard, tax collector and Samaritan alike.  Jesus sends out fishermen…simple uneducated people and what happens? What Happens?  The redeeming Love of an all loving God reaches more.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
Jesus was indiscriminate in his ministry and very much so visible in contradiction with those in authority. Today’s modern United Church of Christ does the same when juxtaposed to other denominations.  How so you may aske, by being the open and affirming denomination we proclaim God’s love for all.  As Christian we proclaim that we are made in the image of God.
As a congregation you are seeking a pastor… “This minister will be comfortable talking to the young people as well as the 90-year olds. Likewise, they will assist us with reaching out to the Latino community, LGBTQ communities, the homeless communities, homebound community, people suffering with mental illness, and varying ecumenical groups.”
You are describing Jesus’ ministry and why he actually had to leave the synagogues behind.  This is why Jesus’ disciples were itinerant ministers on the road going from town to town because these people were often only reached on the streets through likewise loving and open mined people. 
I am Glad for that email that arrived in our office.  I am happy to have addressed this here today because it so speaks to our Gospel reading. I trust that the email was shared out of concern though perhaps misplaced. I am sure there was no understanding of the pain it could inflict. I hope my words and reflections only offer comfort or the opportunity for argument.
I do not believe there is a need for me to shake the dust from my sandals…. But perhaps, it wouldn’t hurt to remind ourselves who we are called to be as a congregation
The congregation of the United Church of Christ in Petaluma declares itself to be open and affirming of all God's people. We commit ourselves to nurturing a faith community where all people who seek the love and grace of God are welcomed and loved, regardless of race, ethnic or national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, economic condition or marital status.
We openly welcome and invite all to join in the worship, fellowship, membership, employment and leadership of our congregation, and to participate fully in the life of the church.
In affirming the value of all God's people we:
             Recognize we are all created by, loved and accepted as God's children;
             Believe God's children are gifted by God with unique talents and attributes;
             Believe we are born with God-given dignity, and that all people share the worth that comes from being unique individuals created by God;
             Respect the dignity and self-worth of all persons.

We believe we are called by Jesus' teachings to love our neighbors as ourselves. We commit ourselves to reach out to all who wish to worship and affirm their faith in God. We commit ourselves to respond to the needs of those who have experienced exclusion, prejudice and discrimination in Christian churches as well as society.

[2] ditto
[4]   James Alexand Langreaux, Gay Conversations with God: Straight Talk on Fanaticism Fags, and the God Who loves Us, (Scotland. UK, Finghorn Press, 2012, 136-137.
[5] See: Nic Arnzen and Cast, “Communion: Playing with Redemption,” in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at Table for LGBTQI Folks at Table, ed. Robert Shore-Goss, Patrick S. Cheng, Thomas Bohache, & Mona West, Santa Barbara, Praeger/ ABC-CLIO 229- 249
[7] ditto
[8] ditto
[9] McNally, Terrence. Corpus Christi: A Play. New York: Grove Press, 1999.