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Musings Sermon Starter

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

Top Photo: CC0 image by Patricia Alexandre

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Alina Kuptsova

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Musings Sermon Starter

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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Musings Sermon Starter

Bread with Nutritional Value

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One of the first times my beliefs entered into the “real” world happened when I was fourteen. It was a rainy afternoon and I was babysitting in a new place. While the little girl slept, someone knocked on the condo door. I opened it to two young men who identified themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had no idea what that meant, but they were kind and seemed interested in what I knew about Jesus. I told them I went to church and they asked me if I knew the prayer that Jesus taught. I nodded and they handed me a pamphlet. As I looked at the version of the Lord’s Prayer written there, they asked me if I was willing to forgive others so that I, too, could be forgiven. I said, “I think so,” and they said they would pray for me and left me with the pamphlet.

Before that moment, it never occurred to me to think about what the Lord’s Prayer really meant. I suddenly found myself fearful that I would not be forgiven because there were people I wasn’t able to forgive. You know, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” I wasn’t sure if it meant forgive us at the same time we forgive others or in the same manner in which we forgive others. I continued to wrestle with the meaning of this prayer for years. More importantly, the encounter I had with those two young men taught me to ask of any scripture passage, “What does this mean now?” It’s this question that has served me well.

In the midst of all the “bread” passages this summer, this question is one that seeks an answer. It’s all well and good to say that Jesus is, indeed, the Bread of Life. But if we leave it there, with just the statement, we miss an enormous part of the lesson. Jesus wanted people to walk away with something more than full bellies when he kept telling them that he is the Bread of Life, the bread that means life for the world. These words sound good, but what do they really mean?

The truth is that these words mean nothing if we do not give them substance. If we, as church, do not embody the Bread of Life, then Jesus’ teaching is just words on a page, an ancient story that has lost its power. Jesus made a point of saying that once bread was given to the people of God in a particular time and place, but he, Jesus, was giving bread to all the world – all people everywhere – so that they may have life. Today that means no one is going to know about this amazing bread unless we share it, unless we become it.

What if we all asked ourselves if the way we are living or what we are doing in the moment brings life to the world? Does remaining silent while immigrant children remain separated from their parents bring life to the world? Does allowing the government to diminish the rights of LGBTQ+ people provide anyone with the Bread of Life? Does ignoring when police officers shoot People of Color satisfy anyone’s hunger? Does sitting quietly in our pews on a Sunday morning without responding to the cries for justice create a path to eternal life? If we are church members, then we are part of the body of Christ – we are the Bread of Life for the hungry of this world here and now.

Somehow, the question of what Jesus meant becomes more urgent when we think of ourselves as the body of Christ alive in the world today. We cannot bring life if we are only focused on our own needs, if we fail to attend to the hunger and thirst that is all around us. What do we do now?

First, we remember that we are not alone. We are bound to one another by the power of the Holy Spirit. The psalmist reminds us that with God there is steadfast love. Trusting God’s steadfast love for all of Creation, we can breathe deeply and keep reaching for the justice that seems always just beyond our grasp.

And while we are reaching forward empowered by steadfast love, we will remember that we are to be “imitators of God” by living in love with all our neighbors. Jesus showed us what this looked like. Jesus taught us how we can accomplish this. The Bread of Life feeds all who come to the table with hunger and thirst, without exception. How do we live by this example? How do we stop saying who is and who is not welcome at the table? How do we feed all who hunger and thirst with a bread that will bring the world to life?
The answer is simple: We love. We love one person at a time if need be. We love and nurture and claim all who advocate for the vulnerable among us. We cherish the vulnerable and the strong among us with the same fierceness with which God claims us.

I thank God for those two young men who knocked on the door that long-ago day. They opened my eyes to an important question to ask of any biblical text. What does this mean now? What does it mean for us now that Jesus is the Bread of Life. It means that we, by extension, are the Bread of Life. The world is hungry for food that will sustain and nurture. Let’s remove all the additives and preservatives and flavorless ingredients and get to offering bread with nutritional value. You know, bread that can sustain life. In other words, let’s figure out how to love as Jesus loves and let the rest go. Then, and only then, will we be the bread that brings life to the world.

RCL – Year B – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 12, 2018
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

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Musings Sermon Starter

Toward a Worthy Life

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“Live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” writes the author of Ephesians. I can’t help but wonder if we have all forgotten that we are supposed to be living a life worthy of the love and grace we have been given. I don’t see much evidence of people striving to live in ways worthy of all that we have been given. We are lost, more so than the ancient Israelites ever were. We look back at history and don’t even recognize where and how we’ve been held in captivity. Instead, we long for what used to be good, or at least enough. The manna is dry and the quail is tough. Life used to be so much better back before all this chaos and pain. It’s as though we are in the desert with Moses and only thinking that in Egypt our bellies were full while choosing not to remember the taskmasters who left misery in their wake.

The current Administration wants to “Make America Great Again” and the church wants to recreate the attendance and activity levels of the 1950s. How can we possibly hold up only what we think of as “good” about the past and just bypass all that was awful? At no point in church history has the church lived in a way worthy of its calling. Yes, there have been individuals, those bright prophetic lights of hope, but on the whole we have hunkered down and sought to preserve our way of doing things. Our history is riddled with fear and hatred. Do we really want to go back there?

Jesus promised that hunger and thirst would end for all who followed him. The problem is that we have been poor followers. We’ve picked who we will love and who we will condemn. We routinely marginalize those who are different from us or who make us feel uncomfortable. Worse yet, we run to scripture and take a verse or two out of context and use them to justify the mistreatment of others. Where is the unity of body and spirit?

Over the last few days, I’ve read through the hundreds of names of people fatally shot by police since January of 2015. It is deeply distressing. In the area where I live, eight People of Color have been killed by police in the last three and a half years, the last one on June 23, 2018. Some of them were completely unarmed. Some were mentally ill. All were innocent of capital crimes. None of the police officers involved were charged. Hundreds of people have gathered in protest and at rallies to demand justice. At the same time, too many times church folks have complained about the inconvenience of roads shut down or disruption to community events. How have we failed to see the body broken and blood poured out right before our eyes?

In Ephesians we read the beautiful image of the church as one body, “joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Will the day ever arrive when we are able to live this way? Will we ever be able to love as Jesus loves? White privilege and white supremacy have no business in the body of Christ. Have we forgotten that Jesus had a brown body? Have we forgotten that all the prophets and people of faith who came before Jesus, had brown bodies? How many bodies have to be broken, how much more blood needs to spill before we recognize that we are living lives very far from the lives to which we have been called?

God has told us again and again what is required of us. God has given us clear demonstrations of how we are to live. God has covered us with grace and wrapped us with fierce, steadfast love. Yet, we resist. We tell ourselves that our history was perfect and glorious and life will be wonderful if we can go back to what was. That didn’t work for the Israelites and it won’t work for us. Do we really want to go back to the 1950’s? Think of what we would not have in society and in our churches. Think of all that remained hidden behind closed doors, strings of pearls, valium, and martinis. That was a time of great fear and anxiety hidden behind rules and routine. If you are a person of color, a woman, an LGBTQ+ person, a person with mental illness, or a person with a disability there is nothing to go back to and nothing worth recreating.

We all come to the same table. We eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of blessing. Perhaps the time has come for us to lead one another out of the desert. We can stop looking back at a whitewashed history with nostalgic longing and, instead, look to the present and future. We have an opportunity to do something the church has yet to do. We can unite as one body to demand justice for those bodies still being broken. We can be the ones who proclaim love and show the power of God’s continued presence. We can hold hands with all our neighbors and move forward into a future that is defined by love and grace rather than fear and hatred. It isn’t too late. We can live lives worthy of our calling, lives that value and respect all of our neighbors, near and far. It’s time to move out of the desert and leave all false memories of Egypt behind.

RCL – Year B – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 5, 2018
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

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Musings Sermon Starter

What Kind of Christian are You?

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“I am not that kind of a Christian!” She insisted. Others soon joined in. A whole group of people identified themselves as Christian, but not that kind. They go on to declare a whole list of things they don’t do and don’t believe. I nod with sympathy and understanding. I get it. I understand what they are trying to say, but it occurs to me that there is a better way to say it. What kind of Christian are you, then? Because as soon as you say you aren’t “that” kind you’ve just defined yourself as someone who is judgmental and, possibly, quite angry. Surely, there is a better way. Surely, after a couple thousand years of practice we can say what kind of Christian we are without participating in the very judgmental divisiveness that we want to overcome.

About 800 years before Jesus, the Prophet Elisha walked the earth. His very name pointed to the saving power of God. According to 2 Kings, Elisha did something pretty amazing during a drought. A man came from a foreign place bringing to Elisha the first fruits of the harvest. It was just twenty loaves of barley and a few ears of grain. Elisha told the man to give the food to the people, but the man protested. The meager offering was not enough to feed 100 people. Elisha insisted that this is what God wanted. Sure enough, the people ate and there was food left over.

To those of us familiar with Jesus feeding 5000 men plus women and children, this seems like nothing much. There is more here than we might realize. The man who brought the food offering to Elisha was from Baal-Shalishah, no doubt a place dedicated to the worship of Baal. Of course, in a time of drought, making a sacrifice to another God was a good way to cover all the bases. One God or another wasn’t happy so best to try to please them all. At any rate, Elisha could have turned the man away because he was not one an Israelite. Instead the miracle that takes place is more than appears at first glance.

The God of the Israelites accepted the food offering from the scant harvest. The drought didn’t disappear, but the food became more than enough for the hundred men. In other words, God provided for those who were not even counted among the chosen people. On that day those gathered witnessed the abundance of God, an abundance that included those who worshiped Baal.

Fast forward several hundred years and Jesus does something similar. He feeds thousands with a few loaves of bread and couple of fish. All who were gathered ate and were satisfied, and there was enough left over to fill twelve baskets. I do not doubt that there were foreigners in that crowd and many who worshipped other gods. Yet, God’s abundance met their needs and provided (at least symbolically) enough to continue to feed the people of Israel.

In both stories, God’s abundance was not limited by the faith of those who hungered. God fed the ones who knew they were chosen and the ones who didn’t know with no distinction. Is it not time we all learned that God’s abundance (of love, grace, forgiveness, etc.) is not dependent on human belief. God nurtures and sustains and saves those who follow Jesus and those who follow a different path, or even follow Jesus differently. God doesn’t distinguish those who have it “right” and those who have it “wrong.” That need to separate ourselves and be “right” while judging others “wrong” is a human thing. God seeks unity not division. God yearns to feed all who hunger without waiting for “right” belief.

As Christians, as the church, as the body of Christ, isn’t it time we seek to share God’s abundance without hesitation, knowing that there will always be more than enough? Instead of defining ourselves over and against others, shouldn’t we be defining ourselves by what we say and how we live? What if we start saying things like, “I’m a Christian who seeks to feed all who hunger”? There are other ways, too: I follow Jesus by seeking to love all my neighbors. Jesus calls me to love with my whole self everyone I meet. I’m a Christian who sides with those who pursue justice. I follow Jesus by caring for Creation.

You get the idea. If we really believe in the abundance of God, then we believe it is for everyone without condition. Neither Elisha nor Jesus required everyone to subscribe to specific dogma or doctrine before they ate their fill. Learning from these accounts of miraculous feeding, we don’t need to define ourselves by saying what we are not. We can define ourselves by embodying God’s abundant Love for all whom we meet. Church, maybe it is time for us to put our tables together so that there is more than enough room for all who are hungry and in need of sanctuary.

For more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – July 29, 2018
2 Samuel 11:1-15 with Psalm 14 or
2 Kings 4:42-44 with Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

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Musings Sermon Starter

No Distinctions

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Welcome. Inclusion. Hospitality. These are all church words, words we try to embody to the best of our ability. Yet, not everyone feels welcomed. Not everyone experiences inclusion. Not everyone receives hospitality. There are limits to our being church, aren’t there? We aren’t perfect and we sometimes get it wrong. True. However, what about that Spirit who tells Peter “not to make a distinction between them and us”? I’m not sure how well we do this. Quite recently someone asked me why nonmembers have the same status as members and shouldn’t members be given some sort of preference.

In late October 2008 I moved from Massachusetts to NH to work as a clinical chaplain at the state hospital. On the first Sunday in November, I went to worship at a church where I didn’t know anyone. I was newly divorced, just moved away from my friends, starting a new job, and in the first semester of a DMin program. Worship was the place I needed to be for healing, for renewal, for building new relationships.

bread-399286_1920.jpgI found a church that had an 8:00am worship service so I could worship before going to work to lead services of my own. People were friendly and welcoming. The worship service was great until communion. I think it was World Communion Sunday so the pastors had planned this beautiful procession with all kinds of bread being brought to the table. There were several loaves of bread in different colors and shapes. And the message was a very clear “all are welcome” to the table, no exceptions.

However, I was the exception. I was not able to share in that simple, beautiful feast because I have Celiac disease and multiple food allergies. The church I had been serving prior to moving was a small, new church start where I made the communion bread so that all could share one loaf. I knew that I couldn’t receive communion in most churches, but for a variety of reasons the exclusion from that particular table hit quite hard. It was unexpectedly painful and I sat crying in this place where I knew no one and no one knew me.

As unintended as my exclusion from the communion table was, that morning in worship I felt the pain of having been rejected by church again and again. The early questions of whether or not I as a young woman should go to seminary… the later questions of the propriety of a divorced pastor continuing to serve a church… then the clear rejection after coming out… So many times I had been excluded if not completely rejected. On that November morning in a new place, feeling so alone, I sought the welcome, hospitality, and inclusion of church. Instead of experiencing these things, I felt the old pangs of unworthiness vibrating deep within.

Peter wrestled with some of these issues in his dream. What food could be shared and with whom were valid questions of the very early church. There was an “us” – those who had been Jews – and a “them” – those who were Gentiles. Peter was very clearly informed that his way of thinking about us and them was not going to work. He was to meet the people who came to him and accompany them along the way without distinction. No doubt this was a hard thing for Peter to learn, but it was necessary for this movement that would grow into the church.

It’s a lesson we would do well to pay particular attention to in this era of radical changes within the church. Remember that Jesus didn’t seem to pay particular attention to traditions and rules when people came to him with particular needs. He nearly always met the person where they were at and gave them what was needed. His words to his disciples after their last meal together summarizes this, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When it comes to the body of Christ, there should be no “us and them.” This is how we love as Christ loved. If one has need, all have need. If one cannot, all cannot. That church in New Hampshire quickly moved to offering communion bread that accommodated my needs and the needs of others with food allergies. For me it was a huge step toward welcoming me and including me as “one of them.”hands-684499_1280.jpg

I cannot help but wonder who is feeling unwelcome and excluded from church now. Who could benefit from the hospitality we are capable of offering? There were no limits or qualifiers on Jesus’ love. When will the welcome, inclusion, and hospitality of the Christ we embody stop making distinctions between “us” and “them”?

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 24, 2016
Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Top Photo CC0 image by Petra
Middle Photo CC0 image by Sabine Schulte
Bottom Photo CC0 image by Axelle Spencer

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Emerging Church Musings Sermon Starter

Wait! Jesus Said What?

This week John’s gospel gets weird. As one colleague pointed out, Jesus says something that will make the adolescents in and among us giggle. Beyond that, though, is the question of just what exactly is happening here. Surely, Jesus didn’t just say that!

bread-821503_1920Taking a closer look means asking what Jesus really meant when he said “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Early Jewish hearers wouldn’t be pleased by this. Blood was the part of the animal offered to God; it was not to be consumed by humans. Yet, here is Jesus inviting people to eat flesh and drink blood. There’s an invitation here that ought not go overlooked no matter how weird it sounds.

Metaphorically speaking, to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is to remove the barrier between God and humanity, the barrier that required animal sacrifice. Through Jesus people come to God, experience God’s forgiveness, love, grace directly. When the breaking of bread and drinking of wine becomes ritualized, it symbolizes (among other things) God’s willingness to be with us around our tables, to break bread with us. There is a mysterious beauty here that we would do well to pay attention to even if we do not quite understand it.

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On another level, Jesus is offering his whole self to the people – body, mind, and spirit.
There’s something powerful in this simple offering. What does it mean for us to be consumers of Christ? If we accept the idea that Christ lives in us as we live in Christ, then we are the body, mind, and spirit of Christ. That’s quite a transformation when you think about it. We go from being the hungry, clamoring, clueless crowd to being holy, sacred, beloved. Bread of life, indeed! And if the world needs anything right now, it needs life-giving bread.

Think of how understanding ourselves to be the embodiment of Christ can change the way we think about social justice. If God breaks bread at our tables, then God breaks bread at everyone’s tables. I am no more or less the embodiment of Christ than you are. This understanding takes all the foolish things we use to separate from one another and reveals instead divine equality. In other words, if we ignore those who suffer injustice, then we are ignoring Christ.

As the news is filled with the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the one year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, and the marking of one year in the war in Ukraine, I have to ask when we will take seriously these strange words Jesus spoke? When will we break bread with our neighbors and not care what country they have come from? When will we welcome the stranger and not care about their gender identity? When will we offer hospitality to the traveler and not care that their skin color is not our skin color? When will we care for those who suffer and not make judgements about their economic status? In other words, when will we become the Bread of Life that Christ offered freely and completely?

people-730790_1280“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

 RCL – Year B – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2015
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

Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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Emerging Church liturgy Prayer

Confessing the Need for More Bread

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Litany of Confession

One:  Holy One, you call us to a life of loving-kindness. Yet, very often, we resort to violence with our words or actions forgetting our responsibility to love our neighbors and ourselves.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we are self-absorbed.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Gracious God who comes to us in the sound of sheer silence, we admit that we don’t seek you very often. We get caught up in busyness and storms, choosing to ignore how much we need stillness.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we are so easily distracted from what really matters.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Ever-living God, you have shown us how to live a life of peace. Somehow, though, we lose our way and fail to offer your grace and forgiveness to those whom we meet.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we create more discord than peace.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One: Steadfast God who claims all of us as Beloved, turn our hearts from hateful, ignorant ways. Open us to a life that excludes all hatred and racism.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for failing to notice you in our midst.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  God of all nations, you created us all in your image and called us to live in community with our neighbors. We seem to forget that your kindom doesn’t have borders, developed countries, language barriers, or economic preferences.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for drawing arbitrary lines to determine the value of nations and peoples.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Patient God who came to us and lived among us, you spoke peace that challenged the powerful and love that healed the hurting. We often desire to be powerful and to dismiss those who hurt.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we neither hear nor listen to your Word.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One: Loving God, you offer us a life of abundance, a life filled with forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. How often do we overlook your blessings and fail to express our gratitude.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for the many times when we have dismissed the joy of life in the Spirit.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

RCL – Year B – Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Categories
Emerging Church Musings Sermon Starter

Stumbling Toward a Worthy Life

How many of these names do you recognize?jail-395304_1280

Sandra Bland
Rexdale Henry
Kindra Chapman
Samuel Dubose
Joyce Curnell
Ralkina Jones
Raynette Turner
Sarah Lee Circle Bear

If you live in the United States you should know these names as well as you know that the lion killed in Zimbabwe by a Minnesotan dentist was named Cecil. I’m betting that most of us only know one or two names on this list. I admit that I didn’t know all of them until I did a little research. Seven of them died in holding cells and the eighth was shot by a university police officer. Five of them are Black, one is Choctaw, and one is Lakota. They all died between July 13th and July 28th. These are the names I found with a cursory internet search. I’m betting there are more.

Why is it that when one fool kills a lion for fun, people are vocally outraged and petitions and Kick-starters pop up all over the place? But when People of Color are dying in police custody or are shot by a police officer, the names slip by with little fanfare?

I used to tell myself that it was easier to feel compassion for animals who were killed, abused, or neglected because they are dependent on human beings for so much, especially domesticated animals. However, I’ve come to see the flaw in that thinking. This kind of thinking is born out of a “blame the victim” mentality that I really cannot stand. So I’ve stopped doing it and hope that others will, too. While I do believe that life is sacred, all of it, I cannot grieve more for a lion than I do for the people I have named. These were people who had friends and family who loved them and they did not deserve to die. They all would likely have gone on living if they had not come into contact with the police. Is this not more horrifying than the idea that Cecil would have gone on living if he had not come into contact with a hunter?

In this week’s Gospel reading Jesus clearly states, “I am the bread of life.” This is a message that many have failed to hear or take to heart. We have a tendency to hoard this bread for those who look, sound, and live like us. We have yet to learn how to live it and give it away. I know several clergy who are grumbling about the lectionary spending so much time on “bread.” Clearly, given the state of the world, we need these several weeks of readings and, probably, a few more as well because we have not been living out the truth of these passages.

Jesus fed the crowds and the disciples. He did this not just because they were hungry but also to show them how to feed themselves and others. Jesus knew that his followers would be the ones who would continue his work. I’m not sure how well we’ve done that.  People are starving to death – literally and figuratively – while we do everything in our power to make it someone else’s problem, particularly blaming those who are so very hungry for justice.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians implores us to “live a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.” Paul wrote these words while imprisoned for living out his faith. Even then, he implored people to live a life of love, a life in which all gifts were used and no one person was more valued than another. In other words, we are called to live lives that build one another up and value each person as a wonderful gift from God. We are not called to sit back and watch violence and hatred destroy and injustice destroy our neighbors.

Whether we agree with all of Paul’s views or not, it is clear that he followed Jesus and in so doing risked everything to proclaim a transformative way of love. What are we willing to risk? At what point do we take an active stand against the racism that makes the murder of People of Color acceptable? At what point do we stop ignoring the deplorable living conditions on the reservations of First Nation Peoples? When do we stop accepting that education and medical care are based on economics and skin color? How many have to die before we decide that Black lives really do matter? Are you and I willing to risk everything (or anything) to live out a life of transforming love?

Jesus is the bread of life. We are the body of Christ. Therefore, we are the bread of life and that means we have tremendous responsibility. As much as we are part of the hungry, needy crowd, we are also those who must respond to the need. If we do not offer the bread of life, a way of peace, in the face of hatred, then who will?

Have mercy on me, O God,breads-387544_1920
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

RCL – Year B – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2015
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35