Deep within me there is a pot of anger on slow boil. Sometimes it boils up and threatens to overflow. There are a lot of injustices in this pot, some personal and others not. I know that what heats this pot is pain. I’ve accumulated this pain over my lifetime. Again, some of it is personal and some of it is not. At the core, this pain is about being devalued, dismissed, judged, and shamed. Like many, I’ve lived through these experiences and they are part of my story. The kind of pain left behind is easily triggered when I see someone being devalued, dismissed, judged, or shamed. This is where my anger comes from.
This week I’ve had a hard time keeping the proverbial lid on it. Just today I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio and the story was all about suicide in jails. Yes, it is a tragedy that suicide is the number one cause of death in jails and certainly the story needs to be told. But I wanted to scream at the radio host. He connected this story to the death of Sandra Bland. How dare he? Even if her death was caused by suicide (and I do not believe for a second that it was), this should not be the focus of her story. She should never have been in a jail cell to begin with. Her cause of death was racism and that wouldn’t change whether her cause of death was murder or suicide. Systemic, horrific racism should be the center of the story. The issue of safety and mental health crises in jails and prison is another story.
This is where my head is at when I read the texts for this week. I also can’t help but think of the person who recently said to me, “Why do we bother reading the Bible? It’s not like there is anything relevant in it.”
So I take a deep breath and I read. I am struck by two of the readings in particular. There’s the prayer in Ephesians that couldn’t be more relevant if it were penned today:
I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
If all Christians prayed this for and with one another, the world would be a different place. People like Sandra Bland would not be imprisoned because the racism of the officer that arrested her would not be tolerated. When will we learn that every person on earth is a beloved child of God and deserves to be treated as such? Perhaps this prayer is a good place to start.
From this beautiful prayer I move to John’s Gospel and the feeding of the five thousand. This is a familiar story that is has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Today I am less concerned with whether the miracle was one of multiplying bread and fish or softening of human hearts than I am with the overall message of the story.
Jesus asked the disciples to feed the crowd. They were tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed. They had no idea how to go about such a task. Jesus likely had some idea of what he would do and what would happen once he put his plan into motion. After all, there’s biblical precedence for this kind of thing (2 Kings 4:42-44). Everyone ate and leftovers were collected.
There’s a reason Jesus asked the disciples to feed the gathered crowd. In a few short verses Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He has every reason to proclaim this. He is the embodiment of the Great I Am. If I Am is the bread of life, then Jesus also is the bread of life. The disciples would become the early church, the body of Christ. They needed to know how to be the bread of life, they needed to learn to meet the needs of the broken, the dismissed, the hungry, the hurting, the unseen, and shamed of the world.
This is our legacy. We are the body of Christ, the embodiment of I AM, the bread of life. We need to know how to bring love, nurture, grace into the world. We need to offer an alternative to the hatred, racism, and violence of the world. Jesus did not devalue, dismiss, judge, or shame anyone. He did not send away a crowd seeking healing, mercy, and sustenance. It is time for us to be Church, to be the Bread of Life.
I am taking another deep breath and getting the lid to settle back on the pot. Sandra Bland’s story is not about suicide; it’s about racism. The Christian story is not about apathy and hatred; it’s about love and nurture. Christians can no longer afford to remain silent. Feeding, nurturing, the hungry crowds means taking a stand and speaking out when anyone is devalued, dismissed, judged, or shamed no matter who they are, what they have done, the color of their skin, their country of origin, the God they worship, their economic status, their age, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their physical health, their mental health, or their intellectual ability. It’s time for us to embody Christ and be the Bread of Life that will feed the hungry crowds before more innocent people die.
RCL – Year B – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2015
2 Samuel 11:1-15 with Psalm 14 or
2 Kings 4:42-44 with Psalm 145:10-18
Altar photo by Rachael Keefe.
Bread photo from Pixabay. Used with permission.