Letting Go and Showing Up

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If I say that there is something missing in Mainline churches today, I’m not expressing a new thought. I’m merely echoing church critics everywhere. If I say that I’m tired of the things that divide us – religion and politics – I’m just adding my voice to a lot of others whose exhaustion might be tipping into apathy. After some prayer and some reading (Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian and Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward), I’ve come to the conclusion that we are missing. We only show up half way and ambivalently expect God to fix what we have broken. In short, we focus on how God loves and values each and every human being without giving a thought to whether or not we love God and what that might mean.

We don’t so much love God in progressive Christian circles. We’re so worried about being politically correct and not offending anyone that it’s become uncool to love Jesus with our whole hearts. We want assurance of God’s love for ourselves (and maybe some of our neighbors), but we don’t want to think about loving God simply because God is. Because we don’t think about our love for God very deeply, we miss out on passion and mix up the Truths of scripture with the desires of society and end up with a very bland, watery version of the Gospel.

There is nothing wrong with leading with God’s love for all of humanity. It’s a positive, healing message. But why does it matter? Why do we care? It isn’t likely because we want to go to Heaven or avoid going to Hell. These are vague notions in progressive churches. Is it because we want saving from our own self-destructive tendencies? We want a better way? Or at least a way that is less troublesome and painful? What if we sought a relationship of mutual love, or at least as mutual as the limits of our humanity allow?

God loves me and God wants only goodness for me. If I love God, then I want only goodness for all of God’s creation. If I love God, then I trust that God’s ways are better than my ways, than human ways. I trust God enough to let go of everything I’ve held too close. If I love God, I want to be my very best self, I want to live into the vision God has of me. Loving God means allowing God’s love to define and guide me in all that I am and all that I do. That’s so scary! I have to let go of so much pain and accomplishments and possessions and everything I think defines me if it is not love…

In light of all that is happening in the United States and the world that is anything but love, loving God means listening and praying differently. James urges believers who are hurting or struggling to go before God in prayer and assures us that prayer leads to divine healing. If we are only focused on ourselves and having enough faith to earn God’s favor, then are prayers are not an opening but a small fissure in our egos. When prayers are uttered without being grounded in a mutual love, how are we to recognize when God answers? It becomes far too easy to blame the one who prays when our prayers are not answered exactly in the way we ask. Healing comes in many forms when we love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.

It’s time to show up and be church more fully. Yes, God loves us. Do we love God? If the answer is yes, then why do we continuously worry so much about what others are doing or what others might be thinking about us? If we love God, then shouldn’t be motivated by love and not by fear, anger, or hatred? If we love God and seek to serve God by serving our neighbors then oughtn’t we be able to let go of a need to read scripture as if it were an inerrant book of history rather than the collection of sacred stories of mythic Truth?

Church, it’s time we show up with our whole selves and stop worrying about whether or not everyone who calls themselves a Christian shows up the same way. Love God. Trust God’s love for us. Stop supporting a culture of wealthy white male dominance and believe those who tell their stories of victimization and oppression. It’s time we stop talking so much about how God loves everyone and start demonstrating just how much we love this amazing God of ours.

We are the Body of Christ at this moment in history. Now is not the time for fear, hatred, or apathy. Now is the time to let go of some of the foolishness that we call Tradition and embody Christ in a way that transforms those who are vulnerable, victimized, or dismissed. The world does not need the watery ambivalence we sell as good news. The world needs sure and certain evidence of a Love that is steadfast and enduring, even when offered by human hands. Let’s stop paying lip service to faith and start living fully in mutual love with the One who has never let us go.

For sermon help you may want to try here or here.

RCL – Year B – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 30, 2018
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

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The Truth about Greatness

***Trigger Warning:  The following references sexual violence. It does not describe any events in detail, but names things that could be difficult for some readers.***

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Jesus valued what society dismissed. He didn’t care which of his disciples could most accurately quote scriptures or put the most in the offering bucket or walked the longest distance. He didn’t care if Peter could say with this lips that Jesus was the Messiah and he didn’t care that they had all left something behind to follow him. What mattered to Jesus was how they served each other and those around them. Did they see the least among them? Did they gain power by taking it from someone else? Did they disregard the outcasts of their day or did they seek to bring hope and healing?

I don’t remember the first time a man demeaned me with inappropriate comments or actions. At seven I was told that girls don’t play baseball and at nine the wolf whistles began. I was bullied because I cried easily, among other things. At twelve a photographer told me I would be beautiful if I lost a few pounds. It got worse from there.

I’ve been sexually assaulted and raped. I’ve been propositioned by teachers, professors, family friends, and strangers. I’ve been dismissed by potential employers because I’m a woman. I’ve been paid less than my male colleagues by most of my previous employers. I’ve lost friends because I was ordained and, according to them, women shouldn’t be ordained. I lost more friends when I divorced because, even though the relationship was very unhealthy, divorce was not Christian. More friends walked away when I came out because what’s worse than being a divorced, ordained woman? Being those things and not being heterosexual, apparently.

Men have stalked me, propositioned me, hurt me, abused me, dismissed and devalued me for most of my life. I don’t talk about these experiences often because I am more likely than not blamed for what happened to me. Surely, I wore the wrong clothes, said the wrong thing, led the man on, didn’t have the proper qualifications for employment, or whatever else gave men permission to treat me badly. The funny thing is that none of it was my fault.

As it turns out, girls really can play baseball and it wasn’t my fault that puberty struck when I was nine. Being a sensitive child shouldn’t be a defect; where else do poets and artists come from? And no, I didn’t need to lose weight when I was twelve; I was beautiful as I was. And nothing I did or didn’t do gave anyone the right to physically or verbally assault me or rape me. As far as the other stuff goes, woman are quite capable of doing whatever it is they feel called to do. It’s ridiculous, outdated, misogynistic, social conditioning that says otherwise. Worse still is that the church has supported these dangerously foolish notions either by endorsing gender biases with an erroneous reading of scripture or by remaining silent on the issue of sexuality in general and the abuse of women and children in particular.

Too many children and women remain unseen in our society. Being unseen and unheard and invalidated with startling frequency contributed to the development of an eating disorder and a long struggle with suicidality. This happens all too often. Children who are brave enough to report abuse are seldom heard and validated. Women who report sexual assault or rape are dismissed and blamed. It’s also very likely that the perpetrator of such crimes won’t be convicted or will be imprisoned for a comparatively short time.

It’s long past the time to change this. Instead of watching women who are brave enough to report sexual assault be harassed, demeaned, and destroyed, we would do better to listen. Instead of assuming that such stories are made up or excusing the behavior of the perpetrator, we would be doing women a great service by celebrating their strength and supporting their endeavors to end victim-blaming and hold abusive people accountable. In addition, wouldn’t it be a healthier option to teach our children that all have equal value and no one’s body is a plaything for those who are more powerful? And that male or female or Trans* makes no difference in one’s value as a human being?

Jesus overturned the disciples’ understanding of greatness. He placed a child among them and told them that to be great was to be in service to all, especially those who were viewed as the least. To follow Jesus and be truly great is to be servant of all and to uphold the value of every human being, especially those who are vulnerable because they are unseen and unheard by those with power. Jesus saw the value in children and women centuries ago. He saw them and offered them wholeness and abundant life. When will we?

RCL – Year B – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 23, 2018
Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1 or
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 or Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

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Changing the Answer

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It is human nature to reject that which we fear or do not understand. We want to protect ourselves and those we love from pain, illness, suffering, and, really, all forms of distress. We desire life to be clear and easy, preferably with assurances of getting to heaven. While these desires are understandable, they can be dangerous. Our need to be on a safe and right path can lead us to reshape God in our image. Who we say Jesus is matters today as much as it did when Jesus walked the earth.

When Jesus asked his disciples who people thought he was, it wasn’t a simple question. They were in the heavily Roman-occupied Caesarea-Philippi and the answers given could be treasonous. What did the disciples know? How much were they willing to risk? They answered in predictable ways, repeating the talk they had heard. Jesus was seemingly unimpressed. Okay, so most people had no idea. Did the disciples? Surprisingly, they did, or Peter did. Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah. Maybe Jesus was surprised by this and maybe not. I’ll bet Peter was expecting a different sort of Messiah, the kind that would literally liberate the Jewish people from Roman oppression. This proclamation was definitely treasonous even if Peter didn’t quite understand the liberation Jesus would bring about.

After this, Jesus has a few challenging words for the crowd. Being a follower of Jesus is no easy path and ought not to be undertaken lightly. And it isn’t about individual salvation. If we live too much for ourselves, we lose our way, lose the very essence of life. We can’t follow Jesus if we are too worried about our own personal safety and our own seat on the bus to heaven.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and National Suicide Prevention Week will end on September 15. As we contemplate our answer to Jesus question, “Who do you say that I am?” we would do well to remember our surroundings. Our answers might not put our lives at risk and they might not be treasonous, but they might not be welcome, either. Before we utter our response, think for a moment about the church, the body of Christ.

There are branches of the church who will say that suicidality is a result of demon possession or it is a punishment from God. These branches of church will also blame the individual who struggles with thoughts of suicide for not having enough faith or not praying enough or not pleasing God enough. They will want to put distance between the body of Christ and those who suffer with suicidality. At the same time, they will affirm that Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Suicidality and other symptoms of mental illness know no boundaries. Faith does not keep one safe from depression, PTSD, bullying, grief, or other mental health challenges. Depression is not likely to dissipate from prayer alone. Having thoughts of suicide is not indicative of lack of faith, or demon possession, or displeasing God. Suicidality has many contributing factors (untreated or ineffectively treated mental illness is a significant one), though insufficient faith isn’t one of them. In fact, faith can help heal those who suffer from suicidality and other symptoms of mental illness.

Who is Jesus? My Lord and Savior or the one who came to teach us how to Love, to show us how to be one Body, and to lead us in creating God’s Realm here on earth? The first response is the traditional response. However, it might too narrowly define who Jesus is and have the result of leaving a few people out, not overly different from Peter’s response. If the answer is something like the second, then Jesus demonstrated the path to salvation for all of us. A path that insists on Love and errs on the side of mercy. A path that requires we journey together, supporting those who are vulnerable, helping to bear the suffering of those who struggle in body, mind, or spirit, and making room for all.

Suicidality is a symptom of a mental health challenge and there is hope for those who suffer. Hope lies in medical, psychological, and spiritual treatment. Being the church, the body of Christ, means embodying Christ’s love in a way that leads to life. It means offering radical hospitality and unconditional inclusion to all.

Who is Jesus? For practical purposes, Jesus is you and me and everyone who claims to be Christian. Let’s be the body of Christ that brings hope, healing, and life to those who suffer.

For more information on responding to suicide or suicidality with faith, my NSPL_Logolatest book The Lifesaving Church:  Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention, Chalice Press (2018) is available at Chalice Press and Amazon.

RCL – Year B – Seventeetn Sunday after Pentecost – September 16, 2018
Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19 or Wisdom 7:26-8:1
or
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-9
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

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For the Love of God

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Sometimes when I read scripture, I lose all hope for humanity in general and the church in particular. It’s easy to let myself believe that life now is so much better, easier, more enlightened than it was in biblical times. Humanity has come so far in the last two thousand years, haven’t we? We have figured out how to fly, how to share information instantly, how to cure many diseases, how to predict the weather, and so much more. We’re good, right?

No. Not really. On the flip side of the advances are the horrors. We can fly but we can also shoot planes out of the sky. We can share news as quickly as we can share hatred. We can cure so many illnesses and we can weaponize disease or withhold treatment from those who need it. Yes, we can track storms, but we also deny or ignore the climate change that is melting polar icecaps. I think our capacity for self-centered thought and action remains the same, it’s just our technology that has advanced. This is why I lose hope when I read some scripture passages.

Some time in the late first century, a man named James wrote to Jewish Christians urging them to pay attention to who they claim to be and how they act in the world. It’s pretty clear that Christians haven’t changed all that much in the years since. The people to whom James wrote tended to favor rich people over poor people, especially when a rich person showed up for worship. James’ audience also seemed to pick pieces of the Law to follow while ignoring the rest. It’s also possible that these early Christians would offer words of prayer or blessing for those who were hungry, thirsty, and in need of shelter without doing anything to help. They might have believed faith-filled words were enough.

Unfortunately, the words James wrote nearly two thousand years ago, could be written today to many of us who call ourselves Christians. We’ve gotten very comfortable with a faith that has few close-up works. We can send money to organizations or feel good when we volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen, but are these actions indicative of faith? Is it enough to pray for people with significant needs? Is it enough to say we believe God loves all human beings? Is it enough to gather for worship with those who are like-minded? Is it enough to say we are not like others who condemn people who are different from themselves? James would say no.

It’s likely Jesus would also say that words alone are not enough. Words will not end the fear mongering and divisive hatred perpetrated by the current administration if no action is taken. Words will not stop white supremacists (many of whom claim to be Christians) from boycotting Nike and others who take a clear stand against racism if we do nothing in support of what we say. Words will not end discrimination in our systems of education, law enforcement, healthcare, employment, justice if we don’t use our votes to support what we say. Words will not save the life a bullied child if we add no supportive action. Our words, no matter how sincerely they are spoken, without our actions will not change anything.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we did not need the words of James to wake us up? Wouldn’t it be great if after two thousand years we could finally get what Jesus was all about? Jesus came with a message of love, the kind of love that is revolutionary and liberating. It was so radical that it spread rapidly around the world, even though every community struggled with how to embrace and embody the message of life-saving love. The message continues to be radical, revolutionary, and liberating. We have diluted its power with too many words and not enough action.

God’s love for humanity has not diminished over the generations. The Holy Spirit still moves in the world and in our churches. If there is hope for humanity it lies in God’s steadfast love for us. Maybe one day (and may it be soon!), we will truly love our neighbors as ourselves and act accordingly.

RCL – Year B – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 9, 2018
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 with
Psalm 125
or
Isaiah 35:4-7a with
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

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Responding to Suicide with Faith

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Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Creator, is this:
to care for the vulnerable among us in their distress,
and to keep oneself apart from the fears of the world.
(James 1:27, paraphrased)

Suicide is headline news once again. This fact alone increases suicidality and the risk of suicide for many people. How we respond to suicide can contribute to the spread of contagion or our response can be lifesaving. This week as a church in California grieves the suicide death of their pastor and a family in Denver morns for their nine-year-old child who died by suicide, what the church has to say matters. With suicide rates climbing across the country, faith communities cannot afford to remain silent, nor can they afford to speak words that could end in more death. We must speak words of life and embody hope in our communities.

The child who died by suicide at the end of last week was nine. He was gay. He was bullied. His death is tragic and unnecessary. What messaging are we putting out in the world that makes it right for children to bully a child so much that they end up dead? There are many branches of the church (and other faith traditions) that contribute to this behavior with the view of LGBTQ+ individuals are sinners, people who “choose” to live outside of what they understand to be God’s prescribed norms. A  recent study has shown that such theological views can contribute to suicidality and suicide in young adults. Church has no business endorsing theology that contributes to death. Jesus was prettying clear on this. He wanted people to have life and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10).

Our default setting of biblical literalism is detrimental to the life of the church in general and to the life of many vulnerable people. The time has come to bring reason and scholarship to our reading of scripture. It is irresponsible and potentially deadly to take passages written thousands of years ago in a particular time and place and apply them to today without questioning why and how they were written, not to mention the complications of translating ancient languages into modern English. Nuances are often missed. And some big things, too. For example, we no longer believe the world is flat and that God resides in the sky above. We also know that not every skin disease is leprosy and that physical ailments and mental illness are not divine punishment for sin or the result of demon possession. Just because the people who wrote the Bible believed that all things happened because God was either pleased or displeased, doesn’t me we have to hold to the same belief. The lens through which we read scripture should not be the same as those who accompanied Moses out of the wilderness or even those who journeyed with Jesus or Paul.

Like the biblical literalism that leads to condemnation, questioning how a nine-year-old can know they are gay is irrelevant and just deflects the real issue. We cannot afford to remain silent while children are dying by suicide. The church has no place in teaching a theology that leads to death or has nothing to say when a child is bullied to the point of suicide. Are we not taught to love one another and to care for the most vulnerable among us? Where is the Gospel for LGBTQ+ children and youth, and adults?

While we are contemplating where the Word of Life might be for LGBTQ+ folks, we can also ask where it is for those who suffer with depression and other forms of mental illness. If we remain stuck in biblical literalism, more people will die. The pastor who died by suicide in California is not the only person who cannot reconcile his faith with his lived reality of symptoms of mental illness. Clinical depression and other forms of mental illness are biological diseases, diseases of the brain, and need to be treated as such. For the best possible outcomes, symptoms of mental illness need to be treated with a combination of medicine, therapy, spiritual practices, and social supports. Demons do not cause mental illness. Mental illness is biological with biological causes. Faith and prayer will not protect us from mental illness nor will faith alone heal anyone. However, faith can be beneficial to those who live with symptoms of mental illness in general and suicidality in particular.

We also need to be careful with how we share messages of love and hope. Jumping immediately to the proclamation that one who has died by suicide is at peace, with Jesus, or in heaven increases the likelihood that others will engage in suicidal behavior or die by suicide. Nor should we endorse the old idea that the person who died by suicide is condemned. This is not safe messaging for those who struggle with thoughts of suicide. The truth is that we do not know how God responds to suicide. What we do know is that what God wants for anyone is a future filled with hope and good things, not suffering (Jer 29:11). What Word of hope can we offer those who live in despair and experience the bleakness of feeling unlovable and unwanted? Yes, we can pray for God to be merciful and loving with the one who died by suicide. We can also pray that God will shape us into the Body of Christ that shares Love and grace with all we meet in such a way that saves lives. This might mean that we are challenged to let go of some long-held beliefs in order to travel on the holy way, a way that embodies Love and has room for all, without exception.

Church, we can do better. An ever-increasing number of children, youth, adults, and elders are dying by suicide. We must ask ourselves how we can safely offer a message of love, value, and belonging to those we have historically left outside our doors, particularly LGBTQ+ individuals and those who live with symptoms of mental illness. If one person among us suffers, then the Body of Christ suffers. We are all members of one another (1 Cor 12:12ff). If one among us has a mental illness, then the Body of Christ has a mental illness. If one among us is queer, then the Body of Christ is queer. If one among us is suicidal, then the Body of Christ is suicidal. It’s time we accept this reality and love without condition. We are the embodiment of Christ and Christ was all about saving lives with the power of Divine Love. May we have the grace to do the same so that shame and stigma are no longer welcome in the Body of Christ.

NSPL_LogoIn the meantime, know the indicators that someone might be at greater risk for suicide. If you suspect someone you love is suicidal, talk to them and get help – 1-800-273-8255 or check here for more options. If you are suicidal, please tell someone or call the hotline; you are loved more than you know. If you are being bullied, please tell someone who can help or try here for support; your life is worth living. If you are not experiencing a mental health crisis and would like to share your thoughts or experiences, you are welcome to email me rachael@beachtheology.com.

Beloved, let us love one another.

For more information on responding to suicide or suicidality with faith, my latest book The Lifesaving Church:  Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention, Chalice Press (2018) is available at Chalice Press and Amazon.

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 2, 2018
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 with Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 or
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 with Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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Cleaning up God’s House

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When I was very young I thought God was the “man in the moon.” I had heard people talking about the moon having a face and referring to it as the “man in the moon.” I don’t think I’ve ever been able to make out the face that is supposedly visible in profile on the quarter moon, but I was an imaginative child. I had a whole story about how God lived in the moon. When there was no moon, God had either gone to bed early or was out visiting friends. When the moon was full, God was having a party with Mother Nature. I liked to sit at my window and talk to this faraway, but friendly, God.

As I got older and started attending church, I realized that God couldn’t possibly live in the moon. God was closer to people than the moon would allow. As I learned more words to describe this all-powerful, ever-present, somewhat scary being that was God, I started to think that God was much more likely to be the ocean than the man in the moon.

My nine-year-old brain was very active in sorting this out. God was always there, always powerful, always a little different with each encounter, always moving between life and death. Growing up on Cape Cod with ocean all around, I thought these words all described the ocean with all it’s mystery and moodiness. It sustained life and swallowed life. If God was too huge to be the man in the moon, then maybe God was the ocean. This thinking was the beginning of the beach becoming sacred space for me.

These memories surfaced as I read through account of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to the Temple and, essentially, inviting God to dwell there. This story has me remembering my childhood beliefs and wondering where people think God lives today. The psalmist tells us that God’s dwelling place is “lovely” and that a day there is better than a thousand years anywhere else. I know God doesn’t live in the moon and God is not the ocean, nor did God live only on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. I’m not sure we spend enough time thinking about just where God lives today.

Jesus, of course, spoke about abiding in God and God abiding in him, and in his disciples. I’m not sure how seriously we take this. We seem to forget far too easily that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that together we make up the body of Christ. When the writer of Ephesians tells us to be put on the “whole armor of God,” it seems all we can hear is the militant metaphor and say, “No, thanks!” far too quickly. If God abides in us such that we are temples of the Holy Spirit individually and the body of Christ collectively, don’t we need some protective armor?armor-1709127_1280.jpg

With the evil generally afoot and wreaking havoc, and atrocities committed by world leaders daily, and the human rights violations near and far, and everything else that contributes to our apathy, our fear, our sense of powerlessness, and the spread of hopelessness… With all of this, don’t we need some protective spiritual armor, the kind of armor that will hold us up and enable us to withstand the horrors? That belt of truth doesn’t sound so bad in the era of fake news, does it? That breastplate of righteousness might come in handy when confronted with heartbreaking news of more violence and we are tempted to give into that sense of powerlessness that lurks in every corner. That footgear that readies us to spread the gospel of peace sounds pretty enticing when we remember how much war and destruction truly exists right now. How about the shield of faith? I could do with one of those for those moments when the plight of refugees makes my knees weak and my stomach sour. And the helmet of salvation might be useful for all those times when we are told just who is going to hell for some “biblical” reason. I’m not sure about the sword of the Spirit, but I might like to have it nearby just in case it’s needed to cut through the gaslighting nonsense.

We might all benefit from these protections, if not as individuals then as the body of Christ. If God dwells in us, then some spiritual armor to protect the fragile, fickle human parts would be very helpful. If we aren’t able to put on the whole armor of God as the body of Christ (not to do harm to others but to protect and uphold the vulnerable among us), then we might as well turn away from Jesus like so many did on that long-ago day Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Bread of Life.

Where does God dwell? Not in the moon or in the ocean or in anything made by human hands. God dwells within and among human beings. It’s time for some house keeping and maybe time to dig out that old armor because it isn’t as useless and outdated as we thought it was. We should polish it up and try it on to see how it fits so that we can withstand the evils of our day. Maybe if we pay enough attention to God’s dwelling place(s), one day we won’t need any armor, the real kind or the spiritual kind. Might be worth a try…

RCL – Year B – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 26, 2018
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 with Psalm 84 or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 with Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

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Sharing Jesus

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Many years ago while I was in my first call, I had the privilege of teaching the Sunday School children what communion meant. About 100 children from the age three or four through age fifteen or so gathered in the social hall while the adults worshiped in the sanctuary. I went through each part of the worship service and carefully explained what it was and why it was included in worship. The anticipation and excitement built as we neared the time for communion.

It was all fairly routine until I said the Words of Institution and the Prayer of Consecration. At this point the youngest children were on their feet jumping up and down because they were going to be able to participate in communion. They could not contain their enthusiastic excitement. It was a joy to watch them take pieces of bread and then the tiny cups of juice with such innocence and reverence.

When the service ended and the parents came to collect their children, the little ones couldn’t wait to share what they had done. There were many shouts of “Mommy! Mommy! Guess what? I got communion! Bread and juice!” These children literally could not contain their excitement and passion about being included in the sacrament. And, on some level, they understood what they had done. I overheard more than one child explain a little impatiently to a parent who had asked what it all meant. The children all said something like, “I got to be like the grownups and share Jesus.”

From where I stood, these kids were not like the grownups at all. The newness of participation in the sacrament awakened something in them that radiated outward. To this day, I’ve never seen an adult as excited by the prospect of “sharing Jesus” the way those children were. For most of us, the sacrament of communion has become routine and mundane. We have lost touch with the excitement, the passion, and the power of sharing bread and cup.

I can’t help but think that Jesus would have welcomed some enthusiasm for eating and drinking, for “sharing Jesus” when he tried to teach the crowd that they needed to have a faith so active that they lived in him and he in them. There was no jumping up and down in anticipation that day. Most seem to have been perplexed by Jesus’ invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood. What they wanted was actual bread in their bellies, never mind the Bread of Life stuff that confused them to no end.

We’re confused, too. While we agree that Jesus isn’t inviting cannibalism, we aren’t really sure what was talking about. Many folks want to make it all about the sacrament of communion and use it to underscore their particular theological beliefs and practices. Other’s want to say that Jesus is talking about Incarnation and how we can participate in it. Most of us read through the passage in a hurry to move on to something more concrete. Yet, we might benefit from lingering in discomfort for a bit.

If you have made your way to a communion table and you’ve eaten the bread and drank from the cup, is there any evidence in your life that you have done this? Is your faith active and alive enough that others can tell that Christ lives in you and you live in Christ? I know these are weird, discomforting questions. Yet, this is what Jesus was inviting that ancient crowd to do – intentionally make room for the indwelling Holy Spirit. Eat the Bread of Life, drink the Cup of Blessing so that you are transformed by them. You are not just you, but you are also Christ alive in you. We need to be grownups and share Jesus, internally and externally in the world. We don’t need to do this to save anyone’s soul, but because there are lives out there that need saving.

We are the Body of Christ. Together we are the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing and we should be jumping up and down with excitement and enthusiasm because we get to share Jesus in ways that can transform the world.

RCL – Year B – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 19, 2018
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 with Psalm 111 or
Proverbs 9:1-6 with Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Photo: CC0 image by manseok Kim

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