I’m not much of a follower. I’m not. I’ve never been. Come on: You know this about me. Right? I’m an original. I’m unique. I’m interesting. Followers aren’t any of those things!
Take a look at this little thing I got hanging off the back of my head! Look at this haircut I have. You see this? Do you know anybody else with a haircut like this? You know what my barber calls me? Minister with a mullet… I can’t tell if it’s a compliment or not. It might be! Maybe not! I don’t care. My wife, Bonnie, she calls it my “rat tail.” I don’t think she’s a fan, but I don’t care! It’s my thing—for the moment. And I’m not following anybody’s fashion trends—I’m making my own, you know?
And, hey, let’s face it, you’re probably something like me. In some way, right? You probably don’t have a little minimullet, but there’s some part of you that doesn’t want to be a “follower.” Who wants to be a follower? We want to be leaders, we want to be innovators, we want to be influencers, right? There’s a whole new profession out there: social media influencer. Our status in this world is not based on how many wise, intelligent, funny, decent people we follow, it’s based on how many followers we have. We want to be in the lead.
And, frankly, I know you people by now. If you’ve been around GRCC a while, you already know, but if you’re new here I’ll tell you: You can’t tell these people what to do. We have minds of our own. We do things our own way. We’re in charge of our own business. So, no wonder “Come and follow me” doesn’t feel like a very comfortable invitation to people like me, and maybe like you. Right?
Fifteen years ago, when I was just a little minister, and the advantage of a little more youth helped me to believe even more that I could never be a follower, I was walking with a colleague in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. There was a big crowd of people gathered around some street performers—acrobats or dancers or magicians or something. We could hear them, but we couldn’t see them because of all the people. My friend said, “You wanna check it out?” And I said, “No, way! If there’s one thing New York City has taught me, it’s that you don’t want to be where all the tourists are!” Then I explained to her my philosophy of making my own way, forging my own path, taking the road less traveled, and never being a follower. And you know what she said to me? She said, “Everybody’s following something.”
Everybody’s following something… We sat down on the fountain in the middle of the park, and I started to look around, and I started to see it. It’s not just the hungry eyes of the tourists looking only where they’re told to look. It’s that hippie folk singer over there. Would he be able to be who he is, play like he plays, dress like he dresses, if Pete Seeger hadn’t sat on a box in the same exact spot with his guitar fifty years before? It’s the NYU students swarming off to class in pursuit of a dream, paying for the knowledge of experts to get them there. It’s the suits weaving through the crowd on their way to another meeting not even glancing up from their phones at the wild joy of this park all around them. The truthers sitting at an info table with a banner hanging from it that says “9/11 was an inside job,” the teenagers who are laughing at them and making fun of their flyers, the handsome sailors recently disgorged from their ships for the weekend running together in packs, the scruffy activists trying to hand them anti-war pamphlets—we all follow something, somebody. The people playing speed chess in a corner of the park—they all learned the game from somebody else. The man sitting on a bench covered in pigeons—I asked him, “How’d you get so good with pigeons?” He told me, “There was another guy who used to sit here before me, and he fed the pigeons. He died, but the pigeons were still all hanging out by the bench like they missed him. I felt bad for them. So, one day I sat down, and I started feeding them.” We’re all following somebody. The question is: What do you follow? Where is it leading you?
I remember the first time I ever climbed a mountain as a kid. Every time I came to a pretty view, I thought I’d made it. This must be the top! I dropped my pack and sat down. But my camp counselor, Mark, up ahead of me, would turn around, and laugh and say, “You call that a view? Kid, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Keep it movin’!”
How often we pretend we’ve arrived when we have not yet really arrived. How often we make believe that we have become fully ourselves, we have reached our full potential, when really we’re still just caterpillars pretending that we’re butterflies. We might say it about our country: We’re a perfect democracy! Can’t get any more free, any more just, any better opportunities, any better healthcare, any better than we are. If one of those protesters or prophets or preachers starts shouting about how there’s some higher plane up above us that we could all get to together with just a little more effort, plug your ears! Roll ‘em down the side of the mountain if they don’t knock it off. We like things just the way they are.
We might say it about our church: What more could God possibly have in store for us besides what we’ve already done? We must have reached the mark by now. We’re going to pitch our tents and stake them down, there’s nowhere left for us to go. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” As we say in the UCC, God is still speaking! And in the big picture God is always on the move. So, if we’re gonna hear what God has to say, we’re going to need to follow along.
The question is not, “Do I follow?” It’s “What do I follow? Who do I follow? Where do they lead?” The question is: Have I arrived at the fullness of being God created me for, or am I just stuck somewhere on the side of a mountain?
OK, you might be thinking right about now, sure. Nobody’s an island. We’re all being led and influenced by different ideas and people—some better than others, probably. But do I really want to follow Jesus? Jesus? Did you hear what he just said? “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Really? Deny myself? I like myself. Crucifixion? I hope that’s just a metaphor, but even if it is, it doesn’t sound particularly liberating. I don’t know if that’s a path I want to take. I want to build myself up! I don’t want to tear myself down, do I?
Otis Moss III told a story in his Beecher lectures at Yale about visiting New Orleans and stepping into a painter’s studio. He asked the artist, “How much are these paintings over here?” And the artist said, “Those are $20 apiece.” “Wow. That’s a good price for a canvas of that size. How about those over there.” “Oh, those are $1,500 apiece.” What?! Explain that to me, please. How could one painting by an artist sell for $20 and another painting, same size, by the same artist sell for $1,500? The artist explained it to him, “These over here I painted myself, but those over there, God designed. I did the work, but God gave me an assignment to paint something. Then while the paint was still fresh, God would tell me to take it outside and leave it out in a storm. When the rain beats on the canvas something unique will be created in the process.”
Here's an artist—a unique and creative individual who marches to the beat of his drum—who understands what it means to follow and who understands the power and the place of sacrifice. He sacrificed his $20 painting to God and was given the gift of $1,500 painting. Following Jesus’ way means giving ourselves to God, maybe even sacrificing ourselves (our small selves, yeah?), so our truly unique, priceless self can be revealed. That is a kind of “art” that we cannot create on our own because it’s bigger than us! It can only be done in collaboration. It can only be done if we’re willing to walk out in the storm and let God have her way with us.
On the other side of sacrifice, Jesus promises us the biggest kind of life. This world leaves us always feeling like we’re lacking, feeling like we need to be more, to have more, to win more, to impress more. And after a life of perpetually serving your own ego, you die, and the lights go out. End of story. That’s what happens when you follow this world. That’s what happens when you keep your nose in this world and you never glance up at God’s wild joy all around you. What would happen if you followed God’s wild joy? You know you’re already following something. The question is, WHO do you WANT to follow?
You don’t have to give up on being you to be a Christian. You don’t have to give up on being you to allow yourself to be led into the future. Sure, we’ve all seen friends who get a new girlfriend or boyfriend and they kind of disappear into the private room of that relationship. From our perspective, they maybe loose a little bit of themselves. But we’ve also known other people who get into good relationship, and it helps to bring them to life, to accentuate their unique gifts, to encourage them to be more fully who they truly are. Getting together with God is not about losing our lives. It’s about losing the life that doesn’t ultimately serve you to gain a life that serves everything. Now, that’s special.
In fact, who could be more of an individual than a follower—like a pilgrim hiking her way through the mountains, from village to village, kingdom to kingdom, heading intentionally and passionately, mile after mile, toward the heart of the great cathedral? Being a follower of Jesus means that I am an individual. It means I’m not going to let myself be swallowed up by this world. I’m going to separate myself out just a bit, raise my eyes a little higher. I also haven’t been swallowed up entirely by God. God gives us a choice. God calls us—calls us to follow because God refuses to just snatch you away erasing the gifts and the challenges that make you uniquely you. Jesus calls followers—but not to be automatons, mindless dependents, but to be something more like delegates of his way, deputies of his power, stewards of his Kingdom.
And I am an individual, unique and original. And so are all of you. And if you’re like me, you’re seeking and finding a way—a way whose promise moved your heart to commit yourself to a path that is bigger than you, beyond you, that will stretch you, train you, cut you down to size, challenge you, and encourage you to live the biggest, boldest, best life that can be lived—a life so full of joy and potential that we could never have reached such heights on our own.
So, Beloved, let me ask you one more time: Who do you follow? Who do want to follow?
& Mark 7: 24–37
When I look back on my Sunday School education as a kid, the overwhelming message I got out the experience was “God is nice. So, you be nice too.”
I don’t know if any of you received a similar message at some point. Maybe some of you are even teaching your kids this message today. I want my son to be nice, after all. But part of growing up and moving forward into adult spirituality, involves confronting whether this statement, “God is nice,” really captures the full picture of God. Is the God of the Bible a nice God? An always-nice God? To steal a phrase from Douglas Adams: Is God “mostly harmless?” Or is the God of the universe and the God of our hearts, a God who turns lives upside down for the sake of a vision of a better tomorrow? And can that be accomplished by niceness? By a nice God? Nice disciples?
We live a not-always-nice existence, in a not-always-nice world, full of not-always-nice people. I’m sure you’ve met a few them, right? Even I’m not always nice. Sometimes we’re just having a bad day. And there are some folks out there who are just confirmed meanies acting out their own inadequacies and fears on the rest of us. But sometimes, even the sweetest among us, find ourselves in situations where there’s no nice option, no easy answer, where the mantra “God is nice, so I’ll be nice, and everything will be nice for everyone” falls down the stairs with a THUD so loud that all we can hear afterwards is a devastating silence. Can niceness fix racism? Can niceness fix the trafficking of children? Can niceness fix global warming? Thud. Thud. THUD!
Sometimes we realize that the best or the most moral outcome we can hope for requires us to be not-so-nice. We’re going to have to be loud. We’re going to have to be demanding. We’re going to have to set and hold boundaries. We’re going to have to challenge someone, pressure them, push them, overthrow them for the good of everybody. And while it might be for the best, it ain’t gonna be nice.
In our Scripture reading this morning nice-nice Jesus isn’t very nice. I mean, Beloved, it’s more than that—he’s downright nasty. An unnamed Gentile woman—meaning she wasn’t of Jewish origin like Jesus and the disciples—asks for healing for her little daughter and Jesus tells her that it isn’t right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs. Which is an awful thing to say to a woman lying at your feet begging you to heal her little girl. What if Jesus said the same thing to you? What if God answered you this way when it was your own child you were praying for? “Sorry, no dogs allowed.”
Not only is it nasty, it’s also confusing. I mean, isn’t this the same Jesus we’ve been following along with all year? The Kingdom of God is like a sower throwing seed, he said. The sower THROWS THE SEEDS ALL OVER THE PLACE. They land where they will land—scattered indiscriminately! And if they find fertile ground, the seeds will grow! Jesus, what did you think was going to happen when you told a story like that?
Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a seed—a mustard seed—a seed that only an idiot would plant in their field, a tiny seed that takes over the farm you thought belonged to you with great bushy weeds and gives your land away to the birds—to the pests. Jesus, what did you think was going to come of telling a story like that?
We want another story like that here, don’t we? We want nice Jesus back. We want a story about some bozo who refuses to treat people equally, and Jesus floats over to him and says, “God is nice, so you be nice too.” But that’s not what we’ve got.
Instead, Jesus travels for days without explanation to Tyre, a Gentile city, and hides out in a house wanting no one to know he’s there. The sower puts his bag of seeds in the closet, locks the door, puts on a sour face, and waits. Jesus is hiding. But this Syrophoenician woman finds him. Jesus insults her, refuses her, turns her away. He is not nice, and that troubles us deeply. But, thank God, the Syrophoenician woman has discovered a faith that empowers her to be step beyond niceness and into Gospel truth telling. The power within her that told her to seek Jesus out now stands in opposition to Jesus, challenges him, won’t take NO for an answer. She rescues Jesus with his own Kingdom. And she shows us the way.
Whether he knew it before or not, the Syrophoenician woman shows Jesus that the Kingdom of God looks in part like this: A woman, a Gentile (a non-Jew), a Syrophoenician Greek living in TYRE (Tyre, of all places, that despised city, seat of Roman imperial economic and military power, beachhead of colonialism and oppression—TYRE!), a woman living in Tyre who because of her nationality should never have heard the Good News, a person who because of her religion should never have known of such grace and such healing, a person who because of her gender should not have spoken like that to a man. To this unnamed woman belongs the Kingdom of God because she has heard the Good News that God is with us so powerfully and grown the seeds so fully that she is empowered to stand up to challenge Jesus to recognize her place at God’s table. She has heard and she will not be still. She will not be deterred. She will not be quiet. And it is in her action— standing up to Jesus—that the Kingdom of God is more fully realized. She shows us the way.
Then what happens? A man who is deaf and unable to speak—though he is disadvantaged in hearing—has heard, in the truest sense, the Good News. And that Good News heals him so that he’s opened up—transformed from a person who could not speak into a person who cannot shut up, cannot stop talking zealously about the Good News, cannot be stilled, deterred, or quieted. Even though Jesus ORDERS him to tell no one, the spread, the opening, the Good News cannot be controlled.
Jesus, what are you teaching us here? That even you aren’t entirely in control of what the Kingdom is doing? Even you can’t quiet what you’ve opened? Even you can’t turn away what you’ve invited? You’ve scattered the seed and even you can’t control where it lands. It has begun to grow and even you can’t control its takeover of your fields. What if we felt the same way about our religion? Our church? Our ministry and our resources? Maybe Jesus is offering us another opportunity to follow him—Jesus who lets the oppressed, the marginalized, the outsiders (the people not here yet) change his mind, Jesus who thinks twice about slamming a door shut when someone sticks her bold foot in his holy way.
The Syrophoenician woman demonstrates to us more about what James means when he says, “Can faith save you? Faith without works is DEAD.” Christianity takes more than private belief. Sometimes, we need to stand up for what we believe in. Jesus doesn’t say to the Syrophoenician woman, “Your faith has healed you!” He says, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Being a Christian is not about being nice or feeling nice or believing that God is nice. Being a Christian means taking the Gospel or the salvation or the love or whatever you call that seed growing like a weed inside of you and translating it into activity in this world. And for us, as a church, to translate the very nice feeling of love that we feel inside of us into love on the outside of us will require us to have goals, and a vision to reach to reach those goals, and the persistence to live out that vision. And that is challenging. And when God challenges us, is God being nice? Thank you, God, that you are not always nice.
One way of reading the Syrophoenician woman’s response to Jesus, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” is to see it as a sort of consent, “Sure, sure, we’re dogs, the kid’s a little dog, now will you heal her?” But I think there is a fundamental Kingdom of God, good soil, not-at-all-nice, faith-with-works, pushy-field-of-weeds challenge in her words. Jesus says that the one true God, the only true God, the omnipotent, all-powerful God favors his people to her exclusion. An astute theologian, the Syrophoenician woman challenges the logical flaw in this belief.
If your God is truly so powerful, she says, and there is not so much as a little crumb of mercy left over for my little daughter, then your faith in your God is foolish. If you think you have bread, but you have no crumbs for me, I do not believe that you really have the bread you claim to have. The Kingdom of God that I have felt growing inside of me, she says, cannot be contained—it scatters and spills and is thrown down in the places you would least expect it. Send me away with nothing, and you will have nothing, and you will have wasted the Kingdom potential here in this moment.
Beloved, where are the crumbs? Where are the seeds? Sometimes I wonder about myself—am I sharing my bread adequately? Am I vacuuming up even the crumbs? Have I sealed the pouch of seeds inside of me to keep them safe and secure in faith? Or am I scattering them? Am I willing to take the risk of discipleship—of throwing what I have been giving to the winds? And am I willing to follow those seeds—to follow them into rocks and thorns and scorching sun? Am I willing to follow them into a Kingdom of God that is so much bigger than me?
The gospels don’t name her. But we know from other historical accounts that Herodias’ daughter was named Salome. And history has not been particularly kind to Salome. Is that fair?
Christian theologians have interpreted her as a lewd temptress (all that dancing): Conniving, cold, cruel, and feminine. Classic Western art used her as an excuse to eroticize the body of an often young girl dressed in silks, her face flushed with her exotic dancing. And Salome was frequently painted holding the platter with John the Baptist’s head on it—never Herod or Herodias—but young Salome, looking off into the distance—aloof or silly. More modern Western art has continued the trend: Salome the child has been transformed into the archetypal femme fatale. Not merely lascivious, but a sadist and a psychopath—sensually aroused by severed heads. And so Salome has shouldered the blame—as women and girls so often do.
Even though Herod imprisoned John, and even though Herod made a ridiculous promise to give Salome anything she asks for—as if he can assume it’s going to be a nice request, but then it’s not nice, but he has to do it anyway because of his manly honor— But it’s not his fault because he was deceived…by a woman. And even though it was Herodias’ grudge against John, and even though it was Herodias’ request that John lose his head, and even though Salome is a kid stuck in the middle of the great powers of her day—king father, queen mother, imperial guests, divine prophet, it is Salome (hoisting the platter in her skimpy dress, staring vacantly toward the horizon) who shoulders the blame for John’s beheading. Is that fair?
Can you imagine? You’re thirteen. You’ve just nailed your dance recital. Your number was a present for your stepdad, Herod, who also happens to be the king, who also happens to be your uncle—it’s weird! Anyway, he loves it. I mean he really loves it, and all the other men seem to love it too—it’s weird! Anyway, this might finally get your mom off your back because she’s been so stressed out about this stupid party. And then Herod says, “You can have whatever you want!” And you stop yourself just before you blurt out, “PONY!” because you know your mom’s been having a tough time. You decide to do something nice and ask her what you should get—as a gift to her now that you’ve given his Royal Highness Uncle Stepdad his gift. “My sweet girl,” Mom whispers. “Always thinking of others. Be a dear and ask for the head of John the Baptist.” Is that fair?
What would you have felt in that moment? What would you have thought as you walked in your leotard and tights from Herodias to Herod to execute mom’s request? I can imagine myself thinking something like the opening lines of our poem this morning: “There are days I think beauty has been exhausted.” Have you ever felt like that? Can you imagine feeling like it’s not just that the world around you that’s ugly, but that your participation in the world—your dance, your passion, your gift is suddenly revealed to be a part of the world’s brutality. And the ringing of the applause in your ears turns from universal praise for your art to the rally of a partisan and pitiless assault on some poor prophet in prison. And what will you do? What are you going to do?
Would you have defied your mother if you were Salome when you were maybe thirteen-years old? I don’t know. Defiance of one’s parents takes either the absolute certainty that they’re never going to stop loving you or the ability to leave them behind and to make it on your own without their support. And I don’t imagine that Salome had either of those luxuries. So, what would you have done?
I can imagine myself walking slowly and unsteadily back to the throne, unsure of myself, just torn to pieces. I’d be frantically running through my narrow options, desperately seeking for the margin of error that will let me slip free without destroying myself. But that’s not what Salome does.
I can imagine myself walking up to the throne with a lump in my throat, barely able to speak. I’d whisper to the crowd that Mother wants John the Baptist’s head. And in the commotion that follows, I’d slip out the side door. And no one would ever associate me with the death of some hairy old prophet down in the dungeons. No one would blame me. All they would remember was my dancing—my beautiful dancing. But that’s not what Salome does.
I can imagine myself defeated and empty—just getting it over with. I would walk back at an unremarkable speed, with my head held at an unremarkable angle, and repeat at an unremarkable volume the words that were given to me, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist.” But that, according to Mark, is not what Salome does!
Instead, Salome rushes back to the throne like a ballerina jeté-ing across stage and shouts—with a twist, “I want you to bring me at once the head of John the Baptist—on a platter!” A head on a platter is a bit of a cliché nowadays. But from what we can tell, when Salome came up with this it was original, and inventive, and uniquely—what? Gruesome? Beautiful?
At first blush, it’s hard to call a severed head on a platter beautiful. But then we have to wonder why it is that there are so many paintings and sculptures of John’s head on Salome’s platter filling our museums and our churches. You have to wonder: If John was just a head, by itself, rolled off into some dark corner somewhere, without a platter, would his naked, neglected noggin have inspired so much great art?
It’s definitely not the gore that’s beautiful. But that platter is a statement, isn’t it? It’s the juxtaposition of the head and the plate. The platter became the vehicle of John’s message and story in death. And it’s surprising, and gruesome, and strangely beautiful.
So, why’d she do it? Why’d she do it? Was it merely for this strange aesthetic effect? Why does an artist bring a severed head on a platter into her stepdad uncle’s birthday dinner? Salome is a performance artist! It’s not that she’s overly fond of severed heads. She’s thinking of her audience. Her mother has asked her to present her with a gift. And while Salome doesn’t see a path to directly defying her mother’s request, she decides that instead of presenting her mother with John’s head, she’ll confront the whole feasting assembly of the powerful with the brutality and the extravagance of their rule (which was the same project that John the Baptist had dedicated his life to). She does it by placing John’s head on a serving platter and having it brought into the banquet for everybody to feast their eyes upon.
And now we’re meditating on a deeper level of beauty. Because Salome, who I think at least in part is an artist and a fighter—certainly “artist” and “fighter” are better descriptors for her than some of the words that history has assigned to her. So, Salome the artist, the fighter, the angry kid is asking us what purpose beauty serves. Are the beautiful things in our lives meant to distract us from the ugliness in our world? Or does the real beauty come when we find creative, subversive ways to call out the world’s ugliness?
In our poem, Meditation on Beauty, J. Estanislao Lopez struggles with this same question. Can the beauty of our trash at the bottom of the sea being recycled into coral reefs redeem us from the brutality of our environmental onslaught. Or is it all just a human amusement as the oceans warm and rise? The poem succeeds, in part, because its beauty is not just a surface beauty—it confronts us with those devastating warming waters, with the turtle who doesn’t see the surface beauty we see, who only lives or dies by what we do or do not accomplish. Lopez’s poem is like Salome’s platter in that way: beautiful and fierce.
I’d like to make the world more beautiful. How ‘bout you? You do? Well, what do you want to do? What are we willing to do? We won’t be chopping any heads. But we may have to take account of all the heads that have already been severed, all the necks currently lined up on the block. There are so many! And they have so many fierce stories to tell. And there are so many beautiful platters! But there are so few that we want to get blood on.
So, what platters, beloved, do we have to offer? What beautiful thing do we have that we’d be willing to sink to the bottom of the ocean with a prayer? What ugliness, what brutality or sin, what trouble can we crash into like dancers transforming the stage—transforming this weary world, with a twist?
I love zombies. And if a zombie apocalypse of any kind actually does happen, you should know that I’m the guy you want to stick by when the dead rise from their graves to end civilization as we know it. I’m gonna be one of the ones who makes it. I’ve read the comic books, I’ve watched the movies and the TV shows, I’ve played the video games, I’ve done all the research. But more than all that I believe I have discovered the secret zombie antidote that no one else is talking about. It’s like the Hydroxychloroquine of the zombie plague, only I think it might actually work.
Now, sure, there are a lot of more likely contenders than zombies for the cause of the end of the world: nuclear war, climate change, asteroid strike, deadly pandemic. But for whatever reason, if I had to choose, I’d choose zombies—hands down. There’s just something about them that’s captured the dark side of my imagination. And I’m not alone in that. We have a zombie-saturated pop culture. In the 100 years since the first zombie tales were imported from Haiti, the zombie has risen to become the ubiquitous titan of both the horror genre and of our fantasies of the apocalypse. Why are we so fascinated by zombies?
Well, in the zombie masses—so mindless, so restless, so violent, so endlessly, ravenously hungry—we recognize something of ourselves, over and over again. There’s a moment in most of the great zombie stories where the audience recognizes that zombies aren’t all that different from us, or there’s a moment where a character realizes that the small pockets of humanity that have escaped being eaten by the zombie horde do not really behave all that much better than the monsters do themselves. The zombies don’t just scare us, they resemble us at our worst, and that’s really frightening.
But I think there’s something even deeper—something deeper that we’re subconsciously contemplating when our imagination is drawn into a zombie story. Which, obviously, brings me to our scripture reading for this morning. At the heart of the Christian worldview is this wacky idea—eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. It’s a little disturbing. During the second century when Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire, one of the charges that was leveled against us was that we were cannibals. It wasn’t true, but a reading like today’s reading helps you to understand a little bit where the confusion might have arisen from.
I mean, eat your flesh and drink your blood? Gross, Jesus. Also, read the room. People are not taking this well. As the story continues, many of Jesus’ followers, unable to understand the acceptability of such a strange teaching, stop following Jesus.
It’s a mystery of faith, I guess. And it’s hard to say anything about a mystery, right? That’s the thing about mysteries—they’re beyond us. But sometimes it can be helpful to look at the shadow that a mystery casts. When we see the shape of that shadow, we learn something more about whatever is casting that shadow. And I think the shadow manifestation of this mystery in our time is something we’re all too familiar with—ZOMBIES.
Zombies destroy the world. Christ, the logos, created the world. Zombies rise from their graves, killing the world and making a mockery of life with their gross, decayed bodies and their peculiar appetites. Jesus promises to raise us from the grave on the last day, giving us new life on a renewed earth. In zombie stories, hell overflows, and the damned walk the earth where all they want to do is to eat your flesh and drink your blood. And if they bite you, you become an undead zombie yourself. In the gospel, God chooses to come from heaven to walk among us in the form of Jesus asking us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and if we do, then we have eternal life—the biggest kind of life, which is the antithesis of turning into a zombie.
Zombies represent the very worst of our carnal natures. They are decaying. They are mindless. They run together in mobs. They are relentless. They don’t feel anything. They devour everything. They’re never full. They’re contagious. They are the rotten embodiment of the very worst aspects of all flesh. A zombie appears to be able to “live” it’s undead existence forever, but zombies are the exact opposite of eternal life—of the biggest kind of life. They are the horrific inversion of the idea of a loving God offering true food and true drink to us. If you want to understand the mystery of the flesh and the blood, don’t think of cannibalism, maybe don’t even think of communion, think of the opposite of the zombie apocalypse.
I tend to agree with Martin Luther who didn’t believe that this passage was about communion (either literally or symbolically) at all. That’s one way of sort of dismissing it (Ah, he’s just talking about communion), but we can do better than explaining it away. If it was that simple, why did Jesus let all of those disciples walk away from him not understanding? I think that Jesus goes so far as to command us to eat his flesh and drink his blood because in Jesus’ incarnation the full goodness of the human body, the full goodness of the world, the full goodness of creation, and of flesh and blood and resurrection itself is realized.
If zombies represent the very worst of our carnal natures, Jesus wants us to know that there is also a very best. That’s something we don’t always realize. Sometimes, we think it's all gradations of bad sloping steeply down to the zombie apocalypse. But it’s not. God made this world and made it good. God made the human form and made it good. God formed your body in your mother’s womb. And God even took on the form of a human body for herself through Jesus. A religion that believes that God came to us in the flesh is a religion of believers who are, in some way, immune to becoming zombies. Flesh is too good, too holy, to go so wrong.
When Jesus offers us his flesh and blood, he’s reveling in the goodness of all creation for us and in the goodness of our bodies for us and in the goodness of intimacy between us. We carry so much shame around bodies. We’re so judgmental about the bodies of others and our own bodies too. How often do we label as GROSS that which God simply called good! So, Jesus reminds us: To the horror of grossed-out Christians through the centuries, Jesus comes to us as with the goodness of a living, breathing, laughing, crying, chewing, swallowing, digesting, walking, running, jumping, stumbling, gendered, sexual, sneezing, sensuous, fleshy, human body. Believe that—believe it with the shocking passion of eating it and abiding with it as closely as flesh in flesh—and you might just be able to believe that the body God gave to you is holy as well.
And it doesn’t have to be gross. Cannibalism is gross, but that’s not what this is. As long as we can trust that this is really not cannibalism, we can let ourselves explore this divine cuisine. Instead of being gross, could it be intimately delightful? The poet Li-young Lee gets at this, I think, with his poem From Blossoms:
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
“O to take what we love inside!” Eating is the one thing that all people must do to stay alive and the one thing we all do to take what we love inside of us. So, Jesus offers himself up as food—first as spiritual food, but then he makes sure to remind us that he is a spiritual food wrapped in real good flesh, full of life’s blood. He is alive, truly alive, incarnate and embodied—and, praise God, so are we! “from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom to sweet impossible blossom.”
Eating Jesus is not like sipping on air. It’s like sitting down to dinner in a steak house. There will be meat to chew on, jus to savor—life is a delight and God made it good: “to hold the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into the round jubilance of peach.”
Zombies drain all the jus from the world. They bite delight. A world that can produce such monsters can’t be trusted or loved. But Jesus offers us the opposite vision—not a dead world devouring all flesh, but the living God feeding all the world, getting close to all the world, with the goodness of body and blood. A closeness so overwhelming, so intimate, so good, so delightful that we want to sing to God, in the words of John Denver:
You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again
John 6:35, 41–51
When Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life,” I think about my mom’s death—about her dying actually. When I arrived at the house Mom was conscious, but not really responsive. Sometimes her eyes opened, but you could tell that she wasn’t seeing us there in the room anymore. Her gaze was elsewhere. People who are dying, in those last few hours, usually turn their eyes away from all of us, so that they can turn them towards God. There’s a longing at the very end for the transformation of death, which is also a transformation in God.
I was there in the room with my father, my sister and her fiancé. There was so much grief and sadness in the room, but also something more that we were experiencing. There was an intimacy and (there’s no other word for it) an aliveness in the room. It was a deathbed, but it was more. We could all feel it. Mom’s eyes were on God, and we couldn’t take our eyes off Mom.
When Mom finally stopped breathing and slipped away, I did something that really surprised me. After about 15 minutes or so, I took a picture of my mom with my phone. It felt to the everyday part of my brain like a really weird thing to do. “Why would you want to remember her like this?” That’s what my brain was asking me—the part of my brain that couldn’t fully believe that faith, hope, and love are greater than death, the part that wanted to run away from the terrifying aliveness that I was feeling in that room. But the greater part of me knew that we had all come fully alive in that room together—Mom included. In that sacred mix of sadness and beauty, pain and truth, we experienced not only death, but also the biggest kind of life. And so I wanted to take a picture of Mom like that. I want to remember that.
Until you’ve experienced it, a deathbed feels like an awfully strange place to come fully alive. We think of coming alive as skydiving, new car smell, the second cup of coffee in the morning. And, yeah, all that exhilarating stuff is a wonderful part of coming alive. But if it’s possible to come alive at a deathbed, if we can even come alive while dying, maybe we underestimate the wideness of Jesus’ eternal life—its breadth and its persistence. Eternal life is not narrow, it’s not timid. We come fully alive in life’s mountaintop moments, of course, but do we need to be any less alive trudging through the valley of the shadow of death? Eternal life is a long life, obviously. But is that all it is? My mom got her threescore years and ten—not a short life, not a long life. But time is neutral. It’s not the length of a life that matters, it’s what fills that life, it’s how often in life we manage to come fully alive in the moment, whatever that moment may hold.
Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” He doesn’t say “will have, up in heaven, by and by.” He doesn’t say, “when they’re raised from the dead on the last day, it’ll only happen then.” He says HAS eternal life. If you hold the bread of life, then you possess eternal life here and now, on this earth, in this body, eternal life has arrived to us. Every now and again there’s a moment or two in this life, maybe even a transcendent moment or two when you feel God actively moving through you like a fire, and you come alive. But for most of us, those moments are few and far between. And we’re left to wonder in the long, cool stretches between them just what it is that really makes us come to life. What makes me come alive?
None of us is all-the-way, all-the-time perfectly alive. We’re only truly alive part of the time, and the rest of the time we just sort of exist. God calls us from existence to life! But sometimes we get stuck, held back. First problem: We don’t really believe in eternal life. Maybe we hope for heaven after we die, but we don’t really believe in the kind of eternal life that says this existence, this world, could be better and more meaningful than we expect. And we don’t expect much. We don’t think things can change, other than anticipating that things will probably only get worse. We don’t have much faith in people or much fondness for their foibles. And we certainly don’t believe that God has the power to turn this world upside down.
When I was in Somerville, MA we had a scrappy little church. If you could have seen that little old building. Oh, boy. Built by Scotch Calvinists on the cheap. The entire footprint of the building would fit inside this sanctuary. Even still, when they built it, they didn’t pour the foundation all the way out to the walls, so the walls of the church sat on dirt. Which may have saved a little money, I guess, but after a century it wasn’t much good for our walls. Whenever we’d sing “The Church’s One Foundation” in worship the Building & Grounds Committee would sing “The church has no foundation…” to help raise awareness of our unique plight.
It was a stucco building. Stucco in Boston? We wondered if had some special meaning. Maybe one of the church’s founders had made a mission to the Southwest or something. We looked into it, and it turned out that stucco was just the cheapest way to side a building in 1913.
The city of Somerville used to have four congregational churches. We were the last one, and no one thought we were going to make it. The denomination had written the church off. There was no budget, no savings, no endowment. At one time they got down to about 15 members.
But today it’s a thriving, growing church. People would come from all over the country and say, “How? How did you do it?” My colleague, Rev. Molly Baskette, published two books about it, trying to answer their questions. Why two? Well, we did a lot! There were a lot of technical answers. We changed coffee hour, we flew the rainbow flag, we became a testimony church, and on and on! And all those things were a part of it, but were they the fundamental answer to how or why the Holy Spirit showed up and set a fire in the heart of the church?
Looking back on it, in retrospect, I feel sure about one thing that made a true difference. When the church got down to 15 people, those 15 people believed that a church, of all places, is a place where you must expect transformation. They expected and they desired to be not larger, not richer, not prettier, not more respected but to be a church where lives are changed—where people come to experience the biggest kind of life, where they meet God, get sober, get married, get over their divorce, come out of the closet, have kids, change careers, change the way they spend their money, change who they think of as their neighbor, change who they are to the world. Church, of all places, is a place where we expect the biggest kind of life to change all of our lives for the better.
This to me is really Christianity 101. The reason we don’t expect much is because we don’t believe anymore the truth that we learned in Sunday School, “I am a child of God.” In his sermons, Howard Thurman would go back again and again to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. You remember this story: At some point the youngest son is old enough to leave home so he asks his father for an early inheritance, leaves his family behind like they’re dead, and squanders his money on loose living—nasty stuff! You know what he was up to—disrespecting himself, disrespecting others. Things get bad (as they do), the money’s all gone, he’s got to get himself a job tending pigs, and he lays down in the mud with them and eats their scraps to feed himself. And one day, covered up to his chin in pig squalor, something he was taught as a child—not even taught—something he had always known but that he had forgotten comes crashing back into his brain. He sits up the pigsty and cries out, “Am I not my father’s son?” And just that realization—that he is a beloved child of God—is the beginning of the transformation of his life. Beloved, remember, you’re a child of God. And a child of God, when she remembers who she is, expects more than the pig-scrap life. She begins to long for the biggest kind of life. That’s the first step.
At the end of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness on the way to Promised Land, Moses says to the children of Israel, “God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, bread from heaven, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This is the second step into the biggest kind of life. I was not made only to go grasping after the things of this world. Yes, I have to eat. But there’s an even deeper hunger within me. And to honor that hunger I eat every word that comes from the mouth of my God, I take the bread of life not into my belly but into my heart. I align my life to God in the same way that God has aligned herself to my true life. Yes, I still eat bread. But that is no longer my function. I am no longer a consumer, a grasper, a hoarder. I’m a believer, a giver, a careless sower of seeds—I scatter them all over the place, I don’t judge, I don’t discriminate, I don’t hide my light from anyone because I believe that transformation is possible everywhere and all the time!
Here, in the biggest kind of life that Jesus offers us, we become aware of the profundity of the grace that has saved us. What a gift we’ve been given! We recognize that no amount of our own effort could have ever resulted in such life, such freedom, such love. And yet, simultaneously, I recognize that without my effort, this gift of grace is absolutely wasted on me because I, I, I must realize that I am a child of God, who does not live by bread alone, who has been given an incredible gift, who has aligned the core of my belief to the Gospel, and who will continue the work of announcing good news to the poor, bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, and expecting transformation all around me.
When Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life,” I think about my own death—my dying one day. I hope in that moment that I will be ready to come fully alive. I hope that come that day, whatever is left of my ego and my way will be finally ready to retire completely. I hope I will have long ago left behind my demands on God for my life. I hope that when I turn my eyes to God, I feel eternal life around me already. I hope that I pray, “God, I’m ready for you to change everything again.”
Last Sunday Jesus fed 5,000 people with five small loaves of bread and two fish. The people were so impressed and so pleased they tried to take Jesus by force and make him their king. But Jesus wasn’t interested in being king. So, he ran off. Now, he’s on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But the crowd hasn’t given up. And they find him on the other side of the lake. Hey, man, we’ve been looking for you everywhere! What’d you run off like that for?
And there was a woman in that crowd. And she stepped forward. If you had seen her, you would have seen a woman dressed plainly, with patches where her bony elbows had worn the through the fabric of her shirt. She held her head up high, and she had a spark in her eye that warned of an intelligence far beyond what the world expected of her. So, she lifted up her voice for everyone to hear and spoke to Jesus. She said, “Yesterday, we ate our fill of miraculous bread! We were stuffed and happy! For a while we forgot our cares. (And you know what heavy burdens so many of us carry.) We laughed, and we played with our children on the grass. And when the sun set, we rolled ourselves up in our picnic blankets, and we slept under the stars to the sound of a distant storm passing us by. But when we woke up, our stomachs were empty again. You were nowhere to be found. And we were all saying to one another, ‘Why? Why am I still hungry?’”
Jesus is ready for the crowd. He expects them and this question. And this is Jesus’ way: Yesterday he had compassion for the crowd. He fed us, he comforted us. Today his compassion will challenge us. Yesterday there was overflowing, miraculous grace! Today Jesus will challenge us to respond to that grace.
We’re all very aware of this dynamic in our tradition. It’s often put into words something like this, “As we have been fed, let us go out now and feed others.” The proper response to grace received is action that reflects and furthers that grace. This goes all the way back to the beginning of our Bibles. After delivering them from slavery in Egypt, God gives this command to the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai: “You shall not wrong or oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, because you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” They are delivered from bondage by God’s grace, and now they carry the burden of honoring that grace in action, in law, and in responsibility.
We know this already: The first step is grace, the final response is action, productivity, justice, etc., etc. But did you know that there’s another step between the initial grace and the final response? It sometimes gets forgotten. What is it?
The crowd makes this mistake—they leave this step out. They are so eager to be full again. They want to be in control. They tried to make Jesus king—that didn’t work. Now they ask him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” In the Greek they literally say, “What must we do to work the works of God?” These people want to get to work! But there’s a mistake here. They want to work God’s works in order to get more of God’s grace, more bread. They’re not responding to grace; they’re attempting to manipulate grace. But that’s not how grace works, and it’s not how the response to grace works. There’s a missing step. What is it?
And, we should say, work is not what Jesus is looking for here. Jesus doesn’t ask the crowd to do anything, right? In fact, he tells them: Do not work! Do not work for food that perishes. Instead of asking them to work, he makes them yet another offer—an offer of food that endures for eternal life. This is the work God requires of you now, Jesus tells them, to believe in the one whom God has sent. The step between the receipt of grace and the works of grace is to believe.
The crowd runs into a problem here. There’s a man who pushes his way up to the front. If you had seen him, you wouldn’t have noticed anything much about him. He could have been any person walking past you on the street or sitting next to you in these pews. But the way he crosses his arms over his chest before he speaks—you would have noticed that. There’s strength there, but also pain, like someone who has faced hurt, who is on his guard. He crosses his arms over his chest, and he says to Jesus, “Believe in you, you mean? We might. We might do that. But, of course, we’d need a sign from you. After all, when our ancestors were led out of Egypt into the wilderness by Moses, wasn’t there bread from heaven on the ground every morning for forty years so that they wouldn’t starve? Every morning! Now, that’s a dependable schedule! If you could give us a little more of that miraculous bread of yours (on a reliable schedule), I think that’s the sort of thing that would put us on the path to becoming true believers!”
We make our belief contingent on the circumstances of our lives. We all want a sign that we’re on the right path. And we can’t think of a better sign than being perfectly cared for, cocooned from all the hardships of this world. No matter how much grace we receive today, there’s always tomorrow to worry about. Today we feel like believers. But tomorrow—well, we’ll see. Even more than the crowd, we modern people don’t know anymore what it means to be a true believer. We don’t even really understand what Jesus is asking of us.
I’ve got a friend whose little daughter called her into her bedroom. “Mommy, mommy, come quick!” When she rushed into the room there were a pair of scissors lying on the floor, and there was a great, big, giant bald spot on the front of her daughter’s head, and there was a great big clump of her daughter’s curly blond hair in the wastebasket, and (as will become relevant in a moment) all the windows were closed. And her daughter said, “Mommy, a bird flew in through the window, landed in this wastebasket, and all its feathers fell out. Then it flew back outside!” “Oh,” my friend said, “I see. And who opened the window?” Her daughter thought for just a second, and then she said, “Oh, it must have been God.”
Our world mistakes believing in God or in Jesus with assenting to (“believing in”) a difficult and complicated story that doesn’t always make sense. That’s what my friend’s daughter was asking her to do. But that is not what Jesus is asking of us. The postmodern world hears that we believe in God, and it reduces that belief down to a caricature: We think there’s a man with a beard in the sky who can open and close windows from heaven. But that is not what Jesus is asking of us.
True belief in Jesus is a commitment to a way of being throughout our lives, a total fidelity to the good news that Jesus carries within himself. It’s not about did Jesus exist or not. Did Jesus say this or that or not? Did Jesus do this or that or not? What do you think about it? Do you believe that? No. The real question is: Am I permanently attuned to God through Jesus Christ? Am I aligned to the Gospel Jesus brought? Am I committed to the values Jesus taught?
As I said last Sunday, Jesus feeding the 5,000 was the miraculous demonstration of an almost incomprehensible truth: that God aligns the abundance of heaven with the scarcity of earth. What grace! What incredible grace! And now a response is required. Since God has aligned heaven’s abundance to our needs, Jesus is asking us to acknowledge this grace by aligning our innermost core (our belief) with the Gospel. Belief in Jesus means becoming a devotee of the religion of Jesus, turning ourselves over entirely to God and to God’s purposes.
We sometimes think that all belief requires is an expression of our assent. You could turn off your brain, and it might be easier. But what is really being asked of us is to offer God the beating heart of our consent. And that is a commitment wrought hard out of every moment. God doesn’t want words or thoughts or even deeds. God wants me—all of me and all of you, right down to our motivations, our purposes, the meaning of our lives.
We confuse physical and spiritual needs. “Why am I still hungry?” I must need more bread. But that's not the way spirituality works. A lifetime of bread from heaven won’t satisfy our deepest hunger. The opposite doesn't work either. We can't be saved by our own hands. We can't earn our way to salvation. No amount of good living will open the gates to God’s Realm. So, then what are we supposed to do? We do not consume God, we let ourselves be consumed by God. We do not do the works of God, we become the works of God. That is what is meant by belief.
And that is the missing step between receiving grace and changing the world. Until we believe, we will always be saying to ourselves, saying to one another, “Why? Why am I still hungry?” God’s grace will not quiet that hunger. It merely whets the appetite. Through our good works we may attend to the physical needs of others, but we cannot quiet our own deepest hunger even in the performance of righteousness and the pursuit of justice. We will always be hungry until we hold in the center of our hearts the bread of life that Jesus is offering.
Beloved, are you still hungry? Poet Thomas McGrath wrote, “We know it is hunger—our own and other’s—that gives all salt and savor to bread. But that is a workday story and this is the end of the week.” Beloved, my prayer for you is salty, savory, end-of-the week faithfulness, where God can hold you tenderly, like bread in the palm, in the sweet spot of belief, floating steadfast in the tension between grace and responsibilities. Amen.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Jesus says that in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s one of the most profound and confounding statements made in religious history. Think about it, “Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be filled.” Does this come naturally to us? To bless—actually bless—our hunger? Certainly, it undermines every message we’re sent in our culture about pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and the definition of success being a life lived in comfort without the shadow of need ever darkening the door.
Jesus (as usual) has another perspective. Satisfaction or ease, according to Jesus, is not an enviable position. Jesus turns the world on its head—puts the first last and the last first. Jesus, with Godly eyes, looks into the face of need not with pity or with fear or with despair. Jesus is so unintimidated by need, so confident that need shall be met, that he is able to bless hunger as the prerequisite condition of true fulfillment.
It's easy to come across this line in the Sermon on the Mount and sort of just dismiss it. We want to roll our eyes a little bit at the naivete of hippie Jesus. This isn’t the way the world works. Let’s just hope it’s bit of harmless poetry. A one off. He’s not gonna bring that up again. To those of us who are full already, Jesus’ perspective can make us a little uncomfortable. Because Jesus confronts us with the knowledge that what we are full of does not satisfy us, and that we might need to divest ourselves of our comforts, in order to find the path to true fulfilment. And that is unwelcome news.
But it’s much harder to dismiss the story of the Feeding of the Multitude, the loaves and the fishes, which essentially takes that one wild line from Jesus’ sermon (“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled,”) and breathes it into a full-blown, not-to-be-ignored miracle. It takes that impossible line and turns it into an impossible-possible reality.
Other than the resurrection, this is the most central miracle to our understanding of our faith. As you all know, it’s the only miracle that’s recorded in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And in both Matthew and Mark the miracle is recorded twice. So, six times we return to this miraculous feeding. Six times. Let’s put that into a little more perspective. The story of Jesus feeding the disciples, sharing bread and wine with them at the last supper, a story we retell every time we perform the sacrament of communion, is recorded only three times. John’s gospel leaves it out entirely.
But listen again to the language John uses to describe the feeding of the 5,000: “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Does that sound familiar? It’s very close to the words of institution we speak over the bread and the wine during communion. So, many scholars believe that when John’s Christian community sat down to the sacrament of communion, instead of recreating the last supper they were recreating the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient church used by the earliest Christians near Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, which many believe to be the likely location of the feeding of the 5,000. And they uncovered an altar in this church—the altar that would have held the sacrament of communion. And on the altar is a mosaic depicting fives loaves of bread and two fish.
You cannot get away from this miracle, from its centrality to our faith, from its beautiful symbols, or from the simple presentation of its almost incomprehensible message: God aligns the abundance of heaven with the scarcity of earth. That’s an inescapable gospel fact demonstrated over and over again. It is good news for the poor, the hungry, the powerless, the mourners, and a caution for the rest of us. As Mary sang when Jesus was still in her womb: “God has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich God has sent empty away.”
God aligns the abundance of heaven with human need. As I mentioned in the children’s sermon, the disciples do not yet recognize this reality. We don’t have enough money to feed them! Well, we got some bread and fish, but what good is so little in the face of such need? Jesus demonstrates this great mystery to them. Do you feel how mysterious this miracle is? That’s a key to understanding it. Jesus doesn’t turn the rocks on the ground into bread for everyone. Jesus doesn’t magically multiply the fish in front of the crowd as they ooooh and aaaah. He just sends the food out. And somehow, by some miracle invisible to us, there is more than enough. Do you see the key there? The miracle is not that God will turn your one loaf into ten loaves. The miracle is that when we allow God to touch the little that we have, God is able to make it sufficient. But if we hold back what we have, what we do, who we are from God, then no amount of anything that we ever get will ever satisfy us.
Perhaps the spiritual key to this mystery is to accept that rich or poor, hungry or satisfied, lowly or mighty, all of us are in a state of ultimate need if we don’t have that which is of ultimate importance—God. In one story, Jesus meets a devout and rich young man. This young man has lived a blameless religious life, but longs for more. Jesus tells him there is one last thing he must do: Go, give away everything you have to the poor, and then come and follow me. And the rich young man goes away very sad because he has so much. And Jesus laments how hard it is for the rich, for the full, to enter the Realm of God. It’s not class warfare. The gospel writers are very careful to tell us that Jesus loved the rich young man. It’s just a psychological reality of human nature. We are easily distracted by bright and shiny things. We fundamentally believe that power and privilege are necessary for human flourishing. And we horde resources we don’t actually even need.
We saw what happened with toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, right? There was no scarcity. There was no lack of TP. There was no slowdown in production or distribution. We had the same amount we had always had. But just the thought of scarcity, just the idea that our toilet paper supply might be…wiped out, left many of us heading into the bathroom with Kleenex and the napkins left over from last night’s takeout. There was no scarcity though. It was the idea of scarcity that led to us being a world of toilet-paper haves and toilet-paper have-nots.
Jesus is telling us that the opposite is also true. If we believe that what we have been given, when it intersects with God’s perspective and power, is not only enough, but more than enough, that attitude gets around. Everybody breathes a little deeper. Suddenly, there are leftovers everywhere. And that’s an important part of the message of this miracle to us today. As we try to figure out how to reboot in-person community, in-person church, in-person ministry, it is so critically important for us to come together and just get out there, and we don’t need to oversell it. We don’t need to overthink it. We don’t need to have or do or be enough. Right? “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.” All we need is a little abundance. A little abundance is 10% substance, 90% attitude. And that is how Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.
This is why this story is so important. It’s the whole story of the good news in one event. It’s the whole story of how Jesus provides for us and then pushes us to provide for others from the place of abundance that he has welcomed us home to. It only takes a little abundance to get a miracle going. Don’t you have just a little? Don’t we at least have that? What if we trusted that it was enough to make miracles?
I’ve been listening to a song all week—one of my favorite songs, the Beatles Come Together. You know it! “Come Together, right now, over me!” It’s part of the soundtrack of the 60s! Quintessential. People—coming together—right now. It’s positive, it’s urgent, it’s fun. Great song!
Have you ever listened closely to the other lyrics of Come Together? Right after the chorus, they go like this: “He bag production / He got walrus gumboot / He got Ono sideboard / He one spinal cracker / He got feet down below his knee / Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease.” John Lennon once referred to these lyrics as quote “gobbledygook.” But then there’s that chorus—bright, bold, and inviting “Come Together, right now, over me!”
The 60s were a watershed decade in American history. And it’s easy to romanticize the past as a simpler, more innocent time. But just scratch the surface and you see what an oversimplification that is. There was Camelot, sure, and there was a presidential assassination. There was the Civil Rights Movement and civil rights legislation, but there was also Jim Crow, segregation, lynching, the assassinations of Black leaders, and church bombings. There was the summer of love, and there was the war in Vietnam. There was the moon landing, and there was the Cold War and bomb shelters. Even the song Come Together itself was originally written by John Lennon to be the campaign song for Timothy Leary (the guy who popularized LSD) as he was running for governor of California against the famous actor turned politician, Ronald Regan. Only in America, people! Some things in American politics have been with us for a long time. And just like today, in the 60s there was culture and counterculture. It was a time of polarization and division in American life.
And then at the tail end of 1969 here comes this song and this incredible chorus, so necessary and transformative: “Come Together, right now, over me!” But then if you leaned a little closer to your AM radio or if you turned up the volume on your record player a little hoping for some insight, all you heard in the rest of the song was just a jumble of nonsense: “He roller coaster / He got early warning / He got muddy water / He one mojo filter.” Huh? Say what?
It’s almost like the song is saying, “We know the medicine we need to heal what ails us as a people. We need to come together. But we don’t know how to write the prescription for that medicine. We don’t know what to say that will actually bridge the divides, overcome the fear, and get us working together again. So, we’re just gonna fill in that bit with a little bit of playful babble and hopefully you all don’t notice before the chorus arrives again…” Come Together, right now… but we don’t know how.
Obviously, there’s a reason why I’m listening to this song now. It’s our second Sunday back in person together in the sanctuary. After more than 16 months apart, we need to come together again. After 16 months of being dragged behind the wagon of life together and of community, we need to get back on that wagon and take the wheel. What I believe is that we don’t want a tepid return to community. After the drought of this pandemic, we need to jump back into the deep end and commit ourselves (maybe even more than before) to figuring out how to swim together again.
As 21st century Westerners we generally have a problem of thinking of everything in terms of being consumers. Marketing experts say we’re exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day, all reinforcing the idea that we are, first and foremost, the consumer. Many of us work 40+ hours a week trying to make consumers happy (it’s called a job), reinforcing the mantra in our minds that the consumer is king. People used to have personality. Today we all have “brands.” We used to share photos of our vacations and our kids. Today we market ourselves on social media.
We think of everything in terms of being a consumer. Do I like this product or not? Am I happy with the service I’m receiving or not? But the problem is, of course, that community is not something that can be consumed. It cannot be consumed, it can only be participated in. And that participation is a give and a take, not a take and a take and a take and if I’m happy with the product or the service, I’ll think about getting involved. It’s oxymoronic. It can’t possibly work, right?
So, it’s important that we jump back into neighborliness and back into the work of church, which is offering the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, because if we all hang back at the edges to see if the community spontaneously produces a product or a service that we like, and want to invest in, and associate with our brand, we’re all going to be disappointed. We cannot consume community, we can only make community, and we can only do that if we come together. We cannot consume church, we can only be and do and offer the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we can only be and do and give if we come together. But that’s not always easy for us. It’s getting harder and harder. Because we’re mad, we’re scared, we work too much, and there’s too many good shows on TV.
The other reason I’m thinking about this song right now goes way beyond church reopening. There is so much at work to divide us in our larger culture right now: COVID has kept us apart—literally, physically apart—and it’s divided us politically. Racial inequities and ideological disagreements about how to even talk about hose inequities continue to plague us, keeping us apart from one another. Our national conversation is devolving. We’re more interested (or at least more successful) at hurting the other side than we are at doing the most good for the most people. We’d rather fight over political sideshows than cooperate on the pressing matters that affect all of our shared interests.
In the past it was credibly said, “Let’s make the world a better place. Let’s leave it better than we found it.” And now many of us feel that we don’t even have that option anymore. The pending environmental catastrophe due to climate change, just beginning, will require our unprecedented best efforts just to leave the world less worse off than it might be rather than better than it was. The only way for us to begin to tackle global catastrophes is with global solutions which can only happen if we come together. The only hope for our polarized infighting is to turn outward with a shared goal and vision, which can only happen if we come together. But that’s not easy. It’s getting harder and harder. Because this hard work is essentially spiritual work. It will require repentance, compassion, sacrifice, difficult conversations, commitment and courage. And we’ve pulled up our own roots out of that spiritual soil. We’re on another journey now. The religion of Jesus is not the religion of victory over enemies, it’s the religion of turning yourself entirely over to God’s purposes and to the great benefit of all people. Isn’t that what coming together is? And it isn’t easy.
Well, it wasn’t easy for the churches that Paul founded to come together either. And we see that in our scripture reading this morning the letter’s author believed that the churches needed a little reminder. The reminder was not to come together, the reminder was that God has already brought you all together. God, as usual, has a different perspective. As the Bible tells us on more than one occasion, “With God, all things are possible.”
It is possible for us to come together because God, through Christ, has already broken down the boundaries that separate people. “You’re a Jew, I’m a Gentile. It won’t work.” “Yes, it will,” says God. “But I’m a man, you’re a woman, I’m a slave and you’re free, we’re not the same, we’re different you and me. We can’t come together. I listened to that John Lennon singing that song, and you know it was just a bunch a baloney other than that chorus!” “But you’re already together,” says God. “You just don’t know it yet. You just keep on forgetting my ways, how I work, what I do.
“First, I broke down the boundary between myself and you. I sent Jesus Christ into the world. I emptied myself into the limits of flesh to be as close to you as skin-on-skin. I lived with you, taught you, died for you. Whatever boundary was there, I wiped it away.
“And when I did that, I broke down the boundaries between people. I taught you to love your neighbors. I commanded you to love your enemies. I said yes to the Samaritan, yes to the Syrophoenician, yes to the Ethiopian eunuch, yes to the lame and the blind, yes to the tax collectors, yes to the Roman centurion, yes to the Gentiles, to the ends of the earth I said YES. I brought you all together in me. You’ve already come together. You just keep forgetting who I am, what I do, what I ask.”
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
Beloved, faith in Christ means that we believe and live as though the boundaries that once separated us from others no longer exist. Through Jesus Christ reconciliation and community is always a possibility. The only thing that can separate us from one another is putting our faith in divisions and hatred, rather than in the unbounded ocean of love that is God all around us.
We can’t ultimately control what other people think and do and say. But we are responsible for our ourselves, for our response to God’s grace. It’s up to us to live out our lives as an offering to community, rather than seeing community as a product to be consumed or a service to be rated with one-star reviews. And if we can live our lives as if this truth of the Gospel is true and alive and liberating, if we can live out the truth that God has drawn near to us, so close now that God dwells within us, and if we believe that one person alone cannot stand as a temple to God, but that all of us together in love and justice, without division or exclusion, can become God’s dwelling place on Earth, then I believe we can all come together.
When the Lord brought back those who returned to Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Sometimes, if something feels too good to be true, we might just pinch ourselves a little, just to make sure that we’re not actually dreaming. So, give me just a second here…Tom, could you give me a pinch... Okay, you’re all still here, yes? What a relief! I wanted to make sure because sometimes a dream, pleasant though it may be, is nothing more than a figment of the imagination.
But, remember, that’s not how God thinks about dreams or about the dreamers. The Bible tells us that angels show up in our dreams to bring us good news. And in dreams, prophecies can be revealed to us. And even God can show up in your dreams. When God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis, even though God knew how to talk to Abraham when he was awake and had done so before, and even though God knew how to show up in person on the earth and would do so with Abraham later, when God first makes the covenant with Abraham, God waits until Abraham falls into a deep sleep and then comes to him in his dream to make that covenant, that promise, that new beginning that changed everything.
Why? Why a dream? Why does God trust the space of our dreams for the most important business of our lives? After 16 months away from this sanctuary and away from each other, maybe we feel “like those who dream” just because it feels too good to be true to be back together again. But there’s another way to be like those who dream—to be like the Judean people returning to Zion, singing psalms and rejoicing, after generations in exile, to be like Abraham getting the news that even though he is old and has no children, God is making a covenant with him to become the father of a great nation.
We’re not like dreamers just when it’s too good to be true, but also when it’s so good that we get a glimpse of God’s vision for our future possibilities. Seeing such a vision, not a figment of the imagination, but God’s dream of the possible—it’s like a dry riverbed in the wilderness of Negeb after the rains finally fall, and overnight there’s an explosion of life and flowers and colors in the desert. Dreams—full of joy and possibility—are a sacred space where revival can be planned.
We are like those who dream when the thing we thought was impossible becomes our possibility again—to be a father, to be a nation, to be an in-person church. The arrival of possibility is not the end of the dream—it’s the beginning of the dream. Don’t wake yourselves up yet! Parenthood, nationhood, churchhood—they’re visions of possibility that we dreamers must hold in our sacred imaginations long after we’ve woken back up to the hard work of reality. That’s why the poet William Butler Yeats wrote, “In dreams begin responsibilities.” Because this Sunday, with all its joy and freshness, is not only this Sunday. This Sunday is just the beginning.
So, beloved, you dreamers you, welcome back to the joy, to the community, to the revival, to the possibility, to the church that is both our pleasant dream and our joyful responsibility. Hallelujah! The choice is yours: You could pinch yourselves and simply allow being here this Sunday to be the fulfillment of the dream, or you could let this Sunday become the foundation of a revival.
And let’s be honest: After 16 months out of the habit of in-person worship, in-person meeting, and in-person community, we need a revival.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Who among us hasn’t suffered over the last 16 months? Some of us have been luckier than others, but all of us have suffered. For 16 months we have sown in tears. God’s promise is that our tears are never wasted, and our suffering is never meaningless. Locked arm-in-arm with our troubles and our trials is our liberation and our revival.
Not every saint makes it to the Promised Land, of course. But Moses, who led the people through the wilderness for 40 years, and who died before reaching that Promised Land, still goes to the mountaintop and is allowed to see the Promised Land before he dies. Not all our saints make it to the Promised Land, but that makes it all that much more important that we fulfil the possibility of the dream, of the vision they shared with us.
Our time apart may have been the most productive time we have ever spent learning about the ministry of Jesus Christ and what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ. The lives we have lost, the loneliness we have suffered, the depression that has laid beside us in bed at night, the tears of mourning and loss we have wept in rooms by ourselves with no one to offer us a hug—here are the very seeds of the harvest we shall gather! Here are the goads that are driving us deeper into the arms of our joyful and crucial mission—bringing good news to the world. We need one another!
Marie Kondo, the world-famous organizer, author, and host of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” has a fascinating ritual when she starts with a new client—and her clients are people who are struggling with various levels of hoarding, clutter, and disorganization. She takes all of their clothes and puts them in a giant pile. Then she tells her client to pick up each piece of clothing and see if it still “sparks joy” for them. If the piece of clothing brings them joy, they put it in the keep pile. If not, they thank it for all it’s done for them, and they put it in the give-away pile.
This is another part of revival: To plant new seeds, we need to make room for the new garden beds. After 16 months of tears, we need to make a lot of room for the dreams and the possibilities. And we know this for sure: the God we worship and serve is a God who sparks joy in us always. And if something is getting in the way of the joy we feel and the joy we show to others, it’s high time to thank it, whatever it is, and dismiss it. After 16 months of tears, we’re ready to say goodbye to the things that don’t bring joy to us or to the community we serve.
Revival doesn’t necessarily mean going from nothing to a whole lot of something. Sometimes it means simplification—getting back to basics, cleaning out the cupboards, opening up the windows and letting a fresh breeze into the house. When we get rid of the things that don’t spark joy for us, we open up the space to establish healthy habits in our lives. In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus is at the very beginning of his ministry. And he decides that it’s time to commit himself to the dream. The time has come for him to announce himself and his ministry to the world. How does he do it? Did he try to gain an audience with the high and the mighty to announce himself to the powers of the world? No. Did he pull together a crowd of thousands of the common people to announce himself to the masses? No. Did he climb to the top of a mountain to announce himself to the heavens? No. When Jesus went to declare the extraordinary news of who he was to the world, he didn’t do an extraordinary thing. He did a simple thing—he went to his hometown synagogue. He went to church—and this wonderful little line--as was his custom.
Jesus is the Messiah who always manages to do a lot with a little. And, in fact, one of his biggest recommendations to those of us who have a lot is to give it away until we have just a little, so that we don’t get distracted from what matters most by the many, many, many luxuries, entertainments, comforts, and privileges that ultimately do not matter at all.
And this is how many of us live our lives. The most important things—our health, our joy, our relationships, the meaning and purpose of our lives—are crowded out by the less important concerns and pursuits—status, power, pleasure, money, clutter. And these less important pursuits often leave us feeling empty and miserable and despairing that there’s nothing more to life than a hamster wheel of work and consumption. And there is nothing “more!” But there is something “less!” Simplify! Give it away! Let it go, if it doesn’t spark joy! Come back into the customs of your heart!
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The Sabbath is the day on which we learn the art of surpassing civilization.” In other words, your Sunday, your day of holy rest, is not there to give you a chance to recover just enough to go running back to the rat race on Monday morning. You’re not a beast of burden, are you? Your Sabbath day is about transcending civilization—beating it at its own game—reclaiming your sacred center from the world and returning it to the One it came from and whose claim upon it can never be successfully dissolved or disregarded. Coming to church should not be one more thing in the competition of priorities and events and schedules in your life. Church is the Sabbath habit that simplifies your life, returns you to yourself, and highlights the true joy that so many of us have been missing.
And so Jesus reads the scroll:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
It is the distillation of Jesus’ mission in the world. A mission that he passed on to the Church—to all of us. After reading it he rolled up the scroll and sat down and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The scripture is fulfilled. But the ministry is just starting. The dream is just about to begin.
Beloved, may this Sunday not just be the end of 16 months of tears. May it be the beginning of a revival of your Sabbath, a revival of your soul, the revival a vital, life-saving, joy-giving mission.
2 Corinthians 12:2–10
Happy Fourth of July everybody. Please, drive safe and sober this holiday. Don’t blow any of your fingers off, please. If you’re at the beach, wear plenty of sunscreen. Watch out for sharks. Don’t forget to put your thunder shirt on your dog tonight. This is a tough weekend for a lot of dogs. And if you manage to do all that, and you’re having a pretty good fourth of July, maybe say a prayer for the good ol’ US of A on her 245th birthday.
We’re not feeling quite as spry as we were some years back, but you never know. I’m nowhere near ready to count the old girl out. Things are tough right now. These are some hard years. And difficult times lead some people to look for any excuse to behave badly. BUT there are also deep wells in this country of pragmatic sense, hard work, creative ingenuity, and selfless sacrifice. This morning I’d like to talk to you about maybe getting the bucket to go down a little further in those wells. We might need a longer rope—the wells are deep, and they’re nowhere near dry—no way.
Funny thing I’ve realized about democracy: If you live in a country where everybody seems to agree all the time, you probably don’t live in a democracy. Democracy is designed to bring the will of the people to the government, of course, but it’s also designed to hold the people together as a nation even as we disagree. When most everybody has a right to speak, and most everybody gets a vote, the world gets loud with opinions. There’s a competition of ideas and interests. There are appeals to our ideals and to justice and fairness. AND there’s mudslinging and name calling and baloney, and plenty of frustration to go around.
You know, it wasn’t God’s idea to put a king over all of Israel. But the people came to Samuel and his sons who were acting as judges over the individual tribes, and they said, “We want a king! Things will be easier with a king! One guy to ride out in front of us and tell us all what to do!” So, Samuel prays to God, “Hey, what I do with these people?” And God says to Samuel, “Listen, tell them how lousy kings are. Tell them he’s gonna send your sons off to fight his wars, and he’ll take your daughters for his servants, and he’ll set you to plowing his fields, and he’ll take the best of your wine, and your oil, and your livestock and give it to his favorites, and you’ll all basically become his slaves and won’t be able to say a word against him. And if after telling them all that they still want a king, well, we’ll give ‘em a king.” So Samuel tells the people how lousy the king’s gonna be. And the people still want a king! “Everything will be easier with a king! One guy to ride out in front us and lead us! It’ll all be worth it for that.”
It’s an understandable mistake. It’s tempting to want to quiet the voices of dissent and disagreement, voices of conspiracy, rage, and sometimes hate by shutting the whole project down. Just shut it down. Give us a king. One guy, one opinion. Everybody else, shut up!
In a country as large and diverse as the United States, with such a complicated history of ideals and failures, it’s not surprising that there are such big differences of opinion about the state of the nation. It’s unfortunate to me that the loudest voices seem to be at the extremes, and they seem to be saying (even more loudly recently) that you have to choose a team: You can either love your nation uncritically or you can criticize it lovelessly. Those in the middle who choose to love their nation while acknowledging its flaws or who choose to quarrel with their nation—like a lover working for a better shared future—are made out by both extremes to be suckers, simpletons, and traitors.
As Christians we see how God works to redeem the whole world—by loving us unceasingly and by offering us sharp warnings when we stray from the narrow path. That may be all well and good for God, but apparently in the United States today, you can’t love America and criticize her, you can’t criticize America and support her. So, patriotism has become artificially bifurcated into pro and con, when God has given us hearts that are big enough to contain both deep love and passionate critique.
I love in our scripture reading this morning that in Paul’s refusal to boast, he manages to boast quite a bit, doesn’t he? That’s the wonderful way that Paul has with words. Paul was writing this as a letter to the church he founded in Corinth. He’s replying to a letter they sent to him. We don’t know exactly what that letter said, but it seems like there were possibly some other preachers moving in on Paul’s turf, and they were maybe badmouthing him. “Oh, Paul?” they might have been saying, “Yes, he’s a nice guy, but a little boring, don’t you think? Take a look at me, I’m the newest, fanciest, holiest thing in Corinth.”
So, Paul feels like he has to respond. He doesn’t want to play the bragging game. At the same time, he wants everybody to know that if he were to stoop to their level and play the bragging game, he’d definitely win. But even as he relates being taken up to the third heaven (in the third person, of course, to be humble about it), he still manages to keep his feet on the ground. Sure, Paul could boast all day about his spiritual bona fides, but he knows ultimately that won’t serve him, serve the Church in Corinth, or serve God. So, very quickly he transitions to bragging not about his strengths, but about his weakness—the thorn in his flesh.
We’re not exactly sure what this was. Chronic pain? An old injury? A disease? We don’t know. But since he doesn’t name it or describe it, the folks in Corinth must have all known what he meant. Maybe even the new preachers were putting Paul down for it, “Oh Paul?” they might have said, “He’s a fine enough fellow, I suppose, but I do wonder why God hasn’t cured that old limp of his. Did I ever tell you about the time God cured my lumbago?” But (in one of the most extraordinary lines in all of scripture) Paul reminds the church in Corinth that his ailment is a sign of God’s grace and favor because “power is made perfect in weakness.”
In 1887 Lord Acton famously wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” More than 1800 years earlier, Paul understood the temptation to power and invincibility, and chooses instead to brag about his weakness as the piece of his humanity that keeps him human and brings him closer to God.
Paul’s words are shocking to us because he’s saying something most of us are too afraid to say—that there’s nothing wrong with being weak. But there is something terribly wrong with trying to pretend that we’re not. Every boast of perfection, Paul says, should be a boast that acknowledges our vulnerabilities. Because boasting that doesn’t is a denial of God’s grace. Paul prays three times to be healed. And God answers, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Perfect people (and flawless nations) don’t need God to shed his grace on them. I need God’s grace shed on me because I am not perfect. I am flawed and working to improve. America needs God’s grace because we are not perfect. We are flawed and if we’re going to improve, we’re going to have to work together.
Improvement and working together require two key, related ingredients: Grace and Love. It would be a terrible mistake to limit our patriotism to the idolization of a whitewashed history, just as it’s a mistake to drain our struggle for a better nation of the lifeblood of our most profound and positive connection to that nation—our love. Loving the nation doesn’t mean you have to love everything America has done or is doing. I don’t. Loving America doesn’t mean you have to like everybody living in America. I don’t. But in a country this big, this diverse, this beautiful, you can find something to hold onto and call your own, some community to cling to, some kid whose future you care about. Disenchantment and outrage are not sufficient to write a new chapter in American history. The brighter future of our more just nation will be written down by the hand of grace in the ink of eyes-wide-open love, or it won’t ever be written at all. Don’t put your fingers in your ears when someone tells you the story of a piece of the American landscape that needs to be changed. And as you tell those painful and difficult stories, don’t forget that you have every bit as much right to love your home as anyone else.
So, beloved, let’s say a prayer for the good ol’ US of A. But let’s also commit ourselves to working together as an American people for the American people. In the words of Tacitus, let’s set ourselves in loving competition with our forebears, and let’s build a better future for all from the uneven grounds of our triumphs and failures, relying on the grace of God to make our flaws more perfect and our love more known.
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations