Thursday, August 28, 2008

"The Same River Twice"

Many weeks ago I finished "The Same River Twice" by Alice Walker. It is her opportunity to reflect back upon the making of the movie version of her book "The Color Purple." Alice Walker is a favorite author of mine, with "The Color Purple" being my favorite or next to favorite book (right next to Walker's "Temple of My Familiar.")

I fall into the group of people who love both the book, and the movie but know they are both the same, and yet two different entities. Steven Speilberg did a good, but not great job of adopting "T.C.P" for the screen, but even in the face of all the mistakes he made, the truth of the story shone through.

Speilberg failed the book in many ways, but after reading Walker's own screenplay (which was never used), it is clear that even she was unable to capture the magic of the book, leaving out some major scenes and creating new ones that did not exist in her book.

One place of disappointment for me was realizing the wonderful "voice" Alice Walker gave to her characters was actually reflections of here own voice and at times she could be taken to almost cosmic-self-indulgent-babbling that makes her sound not in the best state of mental health...and yet, so many bits of wisdom and insight pop up.

For Walker, as for any fan on "TCP' these characters really are alive. She notes that Celie was indeed a lesbian, Shug a late-in-life bisexual who was freed from her fears after nearly facing death (page 140). She clearly states the redemptive qualities of Mr and Harpo. That Squeak's voice need not "be 'pretty' but sincere. This sincerity comes out of the life lived and the struggle endured. Period."

There is so much more to comment on, too much in fact. Sadly, I would not recommend this book to anyone except a die-hard fan.

"Romancing the Dead"

I just finished "Romancing the Dead" by Tate Hallaway. This book is Pagan with a capital P, and proud of it. In swift, witty language, Hallaway tells the comical story from the first-person perspective of Garnet, a modern-day, ecologically conscious witch living in Wisconsin who is trying to purchase the book store she works in, begin a new coven and just happens to have the Goddess Lilith living inside of her. Oh, and she's engaged to Sebastian, a vampire, who gets kidnapped, and she is also stalked by a coyote-man-God.

Ever read a book or watch a movie where you are not really sure of what's going on because you're having such a great time, as is the author? Well, this is one of those books, and I enjoyed it.

Bits of wisdom creep in on page 88. A man states that he thought Goddesses were aloof. This upsets Garnet who states "Why makes you think any Goddess is like that? The earliest Goddess sculptures are of pregnant women and are small enough to be carried close, held in your hand-very personal. The Goddess watched over times when women were most vulnerable, most connected to their humanity-when they started to bleed, when they gave birth-very visceral, messy moments...'Aloof' just sounded like what people expect the Christian God to be."

On page 187 Garnet is brought to a humbling place: "I'd lost my house, my lover, and someone very powerfully magical was gunning for me. Instead of trying to suppress my fears, I let them grow. I allowed myself an unadulterated moment of sheer panic. My muscles began to tremble, but I pushed myself even deeper. I imagined the worst...Then I opened my astral body and my mouth and screamed, "Help!"

Finally, on page 265, Garnet knows who the guilty party is, and in a heroic manner she states "I'd had enough. This person had gone after my place, Sebastian's home, and now my store. It was time to take the fight to her."

Why do I like these three parts? Well, the notion of the Goddess has always fascinated me, and the realization that the Goddess being present when life is messy and vulnerable is powerful. And how sad that the God I worship, the God I believe in, is seen as aloof or distant. But isn't that how some people have presented God?

In the second example, I believe strongly in the need for us to allow ourselves to connect with the parts of us that are scared and panicky, and allowing ourselves the chance to be weak so we can call out to God for our strength.

Finally, and this also goes along with my comments on "Halloween H20", I thrill when the supposed victim takes it upon her or himself to seek out the one trying to do harm and reclaim control for themselves.

All in all, a good, convoluted read. I'd be interested in reading her other books in the Garnet series, but for now it is time to read "Twilight" and find what everyone has been raving about.

August 10, 2008 sermon

August 10, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33
Sermon Title: "Silent Voices"
Rev. G
It’s been 4 years since I graduated from seminary. I learned a lot while I was there. I also forgot a lot. But there some things I easily remember. One of those things is a test I took for Church History taught by Professor John Riggs, son of infamous tennis player Bobby Riggs.
It was question #3 and it went like this " The earliest Christian church that archeologists have dated around 232 CE. There are 8 wall painting in the house church, among them: the scene of Peter sinking in the sea as he tried to walk to Jesus (Mt. 14:22-33); Jesus the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11-18); and Jesus encountering Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20:1-18).
What information might you bring from your background in early church history to help someone understand the theological perspective of those who gathered in the house church...."
It was a mystery we were given. The mystery of what were the pictures trying to tell us about the community that gathered there to worship Christ. Whose voices we were meant to hear and were these voices that still speak today or have they been silenced?
That is the mystery I place before you today. But before we go about solving the mystery, let me tell you a story that comes courtesy from the TV show "Designing Women."
In this particular episode Julia and Charlene attend a Religious Convention. Julia is dumbstruck when she is selected to sing the solo for "How Great Thou Art". Charlene is dumbstruck when the church leaders vote to ban women from being preachers. She’s even more upset that it’s her pastor, Rev. Nunn, who is leads the debate against ordaining women.
Charlene invites Rev. Nunn over for dinner to discus his view. Bernice, a friend of Charlene’s joins them. As the daughter of a preacher, once the conversation of Biblical authority comes up, Bernice jumps right in.
Charlene asks Rev. Nunn why women can’t be preachers. He quotes 1 Corinthians that tells the women of the church to be silent. To which Bernice quotes from Galatians 3:28 that says in Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free.
Rev. Nunn quotes that women should ask their husbands religious questions and stay silent in worship. Bernice quotes that the Spirit will come down and both men and women shall prophecy.
When Julia says she doesn’t buy that women are supposed to be silent in church, Rev. Nunn says "Well, then you don’t buy the Bible."
To which Bernice admonishes the reverend to remember the historical contexts of when specific scriptures were written. She then points to the King James Bible and how it interpreted certain Greek words to keep women in their place.
For example, she states, in the book of Romans Phoebe is refereed to as a Deacon, but when the writers of King James translated it into English, her status was changed to a servant, meaning that instead of being seen as an active worker of the church, she was seen as someone’s slave.
The next day Charlene pays Rev. Nunn a visit. She explains that she can not belong to c church that does not believe she is fit to preach the Word of God. She explains that as a young girl she dreamt of traveling the world, preaching the gospel.
"I had that dream because no one told me I couldn’t," she tells him. "What about all those little girls who want to do that but can’t because a group of men got together and decided that’s not what God wanted. Why wouldn’t God want that?" Charlene drops her membership to her church and walks out of his office.
It is now the convention’s closing ceremony. Julia has decided not to sing the solo, claiming its too hard to hit the high notes.
Charlene breaks down into tears and tells Julia she has left her church.
Julia asks if there is anything she can do. To which Charlene says "I need to be proud of women tonight. I want to hear you hit the high note. Do it for all the girls of the world."
The episode ends with Julia singing "How Great Thou Art" hitting every note, Charlene beaming with pride.
Through Julia’s singing, Charlene has found the voice her pastor and her church had tried to take away.
For far too long, and in far too many denominations, women have not been allowed to have a voice or a say.
But what if I was to tell you, that it hadn’t always been that way. What if I was to tell you that although it wasn’t always easy sailing, women once had a voice and were active leaders of the church.
Allow me to share with you some basic Church history, a history that you can’t always find in the books or in schools. But a history that is starting to be rediscovered.
In the very beginning of Christianity, it was a movement, one that was always on the go, meeting people were they were, and involved celebrating Communion in people’s homes during an actual meal.
Jesus was understood as God’s wisdom made real. Ministry was shared by all. Everyone were equals which meant everyone, male and female, preached, prayed, baptized, served communion, read scripture.
And women, especially Mary Magdalene, were viewed as key disciples of Jesus and most likely had the first resurrection experiences.
As modern scholars begin to reread scripture in its original language, they take note of how woman are referred to.
For instance: the Samaritan women who meets Jesus at the well displayed what we would now call missionary behavior, carrying the message of Jesus to her town.
When Acts and the original letters of Paul are reread, there is an abundance of references to women doing various church activities.
Paul calls Priscila a co-worker, Apphia a sister, Junia an apostle. And Phoebe, well Phoebe is called a deacon which meant she most likely served communion and preached sermons.
Far from being someone’s maid.
Women traveled in pairs with men and other women, spreading the Good News of Christ. When these women weren’t traveling, they were running and overseeing the house churches that often began in their very homes.
And it was here, in their homes that the earliest churches took place, where people gathered and literally drew lots to see who would preach, read the world and serve communion that day.
It was truly a ministry of equals, not only in terms of social standing, but of economic wealth and sexual equality.
During this time, the church continued to grow, thrive and find its place in the world. And soon there were at least two branches of Christianity. One branch followed Peter, another followed Mary Magdalene.
The strain of Christianity that followed Mary Magdalene developed the tradition of prophetic leadership, embracing the active presence of the Spirit. Women had leadership positions. One women, named Maximilla spoke in the spirit and called the church to follow strong moral codes.
It was thought that each person has the spark of life in them that Christ sets free, so anyone could become a disciple; you did not need the teaching or authority of a bishop. They believed in equality and pointed to the resurrection stories as proof that it was to Mary Magdalene that Christ first appeared.
During this time the other strain of Christianity looked towards Peter as their leader. They pointed to the Gospel stories in which it is said Jesus gave his Spirit to the disciples and they were the ones appointed to carry the Spirit to the rest of the world.
Those who followed Peter looked to scripture and said the first missionary activity to the gentiles was OK’D by Peter.
Churches that only allowed male leaders claimed they could trace their lineage back to Peter and the disciples, and if they can trace their lineage, then they can also trace which doctrines were correct and which were not.
And over time, more and more of the voice of Peter’s church silenced the voice of Mary Magdalene’s church.
This happened because as Christianity became more mainstream, the house churches tried to confirm to popular society, and popular society said it was the man, not the woman who ruled the home.
Popular society also said it was the old not the young who are the leaders. So it soon came to be that house churches became more and more lead by older men who had been formerly trained.
With so many new people joining the church, the only way the church good exist was to remove any stumbling blocks, that would be seen as too radical. And for many women being in roles of power was too radical and was too distressing to be appealing for all.
Finally, with Peter’s branch getting the loudest voice, they were able to claim that movements like Maximilla’s that spoke in prophecy and tongues was heretical and false. Their writings were destroyed, and Gospels that placed an emphasis on Mary Magdalene was kept shushed or stashed away.
Eventually, Peter’s church prevailed, silencing the voices of women, forbidding them from writing any documents, or holding church leadership. The peter church claimed only true apostolic succession came from the men, even though, at one time, Phoebe was a deacon and Jesus had met Mary Magdalene in the garden.
I wonder what the church would have looked like if the branch that claimed Mary Magdalene to be a disciple had survived.
How many more female preachers would there have been? How many more female scholars would have been writing books? Would ancient manuscripts like the Gospel of Mary Magdalene been included in what we now call the Bible.
And how would it have influenced the world. Would we have had by now a female president? Would children and not war be given the priority?
The truth is is that if Christianity did not conform to the patriarchal ways of doing things, it probably would have been snuffed out, just as hundred of others religions were.
The sad fact is that by silencing those voices, Christ voice was still able to be heard, although his message was changed.
But an interesting thing has happened. You see, truth is something that can not be hidden for too long. And God’s voice, no matter how hard we try to suppress it, is a voice that breaks through the silence, and to breaks down the conventions that we think are dear.
And how exciting it is to be part of God Speaking. As members of the UCC we get to reclaim those voices.
It began centuries ago when Martin Luther found the courage to speak out against what he saw as abuses of the church.
It continued with the Pilgrims who found the courage to leave their homeland to settle in America and worship God they way they felt called too.
It continued when Antoinette Brown became the first woman ordained by a denomination.
It continues with scholars like Elisabeth Fiorenza and John Riggs who research history and scripture and rediscover lost voices.
It continues with denominations like the UCC and the Methodists who ordain women, invite them into leadership and vote them into bishop positions.
It continues with seminaries like Eden Theological that train men and women, old and young, gay and straight to become leaders and scholars of the church.
It continues right here in our own congregation where women serve as ushers, head committees, serve communion, preach from the pulpit, raise money for various ministries, and go to school for their bachelors, their masters, and as Barb is doing, go to become certified Lay Leaders and eventually certified pastors.
What this means, is that as Christians, we, like the disciples, are all in that boat. And when we see Jesus coming towards us, we all have the opportunity to say "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you."
And when Jesus speaks to us, and reaches out his hand, and says "Come", we are all invited to take our chance, and to step out on that water with Jesus, and to be with him.
We do not have to feel like Charlene, held back and restrained by what a group of oppressors believe. But instead we are free to seek and answer Christ’s call.
Regardless of who we are, and where we are on life’s journey, we are all given that chance to step out of the boat and follow Christ.
No one has to be silent anymore.
Finally, in conclusion, I began the sermon with a mystery about an ancient church with paintings on its walls. We were asked to figure out what the paintings were trying to say, and by now I pray the answer has become clear.
The pictures were of Peter sinking into the sea. Mary Magdalene with Jesus in the garden. And Christ as the Good Shepherd.
Chances are this meant that the earliest found church was a church of equality, in which both men and women lead, and Mary Magdalene was acknowledge to be one of Christ’s disciples.
It meant that within those walls both women and men preached sermons, served communion and read the scriptures.
It meant that in that church all were welcome, equality was celebrated and concern was not given to how the rest of the world lived, but to how God was calling them, as sisters and brothers, to live.
Let us give thanks that although it did not last, and try as we might, we may never get it right, we as a unified church are making attempts to reclaim the original vision of church and the way things Christ intended it to be.
Let us give thanks that voices are not as hushed as they once were. That history has a way of revealing its true self and that in Christ we all have a voice, and the right to lift it up and sing.
Let us give thanks to God the parent who cares for us all, to Christ who call us all and to the Spirit that falls down upon us all.
How Great Thou Art. How Great Thou Art indeed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

August 24, 2008 sermon John 1:29-42

August 24, 2008
Scripture: John 1:29-42
Sermon Title: "Piglet and the Rock"
Rev. G
As I said in the Children’s Message, names make a difference. The names and nicknames we give our children, we give to one another, and we give ourselves can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Names and nicknames can affect how others view us, how we view ourselves and how we interact with one another.
I can think of no better example then of Piglet. Piglet, if you don’t know, is the best friend of Winnie-the-Pooh from the Winnie-the-Pooh books and movies that have been popular for the past 50 years.,
In the books Piglet is always referred to as a small creature, a timid creature, he is often called foolish and afraid.
Because he is called small, timid, foolish and afraid, that is how he acts, placing himself as the helpless victim as opposed to being the heroic victor.
Until one day when everything changes...
...You see, as the story goes, little Piglet and Pooh go to visit their friend Owl who lives way up in a tree house. Well, that day turns out to be a rather blustery day, with the wind whipping about.
And wouldn’t you know it, but a huge gust of wind comes along, and knocks down the tree.
Suddenly Owl’s house is knocked about: the top becomes the bottom, the bottom becomes the top. The doors and windows are all blocked, and the only way out is through the tiny letter box opening that is now up where the roof should be.
Well, Pooh and Owl are too big to squeeze through such a tiny letter box. The only one who can squeeze through it is Piglet.
But Piglet is used to being called Timid and Afraid, so he makes excuses why he can’t do it. But eventually he is talked into doing it.
Using a long piece of red string, Piglet climbs all the way up to the top of the house, squeezes out of the letter box, and finds help for his friends.
Piglet the Helpless has now become Piglet the Rescuer. In gratitude, a song is created about Piglet’s heroics. And in the song Piglet is called Gallant.
His ears perk up, and he sighs with happiness and he begins to think of himself as Brave with a capital B.
And being called Gallant and Brave affects his future actions. He begins to act Brave and Gallant. And when his friend Eeyore becomes homeless, it is Piglet who offers him a place to live.
And in that act of brave unselfishness, Piglet is given yet another name: Noble.
It was in the act of being renamed that Piglet is able to makes choices that fulfill the destiny his new nick-name implies.
Names and nicknames make a difference. They affect how we view ourselves and how others interact with us.
Biblically speaking, Simon is another perfect example. In today’s reading Simon has an encounter with God incarnate who not only knows him, but renames him.
Before we visit that moment, let’s reflect on who Simon is before that fateful day.
The Bible tells us Simon was many things: a son, a brother, a husband and son-in-law. Simon was a fisherman, and he was also a waiter. Not a waiter as in one who serves food in a restaurant, but as one who must wait.
Waiting, after all, was part of his career. Those who fish know about the countless minutes, hours, even days you can wait for a fish to bite.
Simon certainly waited. Waking up when the moon was still out, climbing aboard the boat not knowing what the day had in store.
Will the sea be calm or will it toss the boat to and fro? Will the nets come up empty or will they be filled to the point of breaking?
How long did Simon spend on that boat each day, waiting?
The sun burning his skin.
The sea spray bathing him
the wind battering against his back?
Not sure what the day will bring.
I am sure that
And Simon wasn’t just waiting for the next big catch. He was waiting for something more. For life to get better. And like many others, he was waiting for the promised Messiah.
Others had come and gone claiming to be the Chosen One, but all proved to be false. How often did he get his hopes up only to find it was all in vain?
I bet Simon grew tired of waiting for the Messiah. In fact, with all the waiting he did Simon probably has become impatient, disillusioned, mad.
So when his brother came to tell him he saw the Messiah, and this time it was real, Simon probably didn’t make a big deal of it. He probably went with Andrew more to humor him, to take some time away from the fishing and the waiting.
But something happened.
Jesus looked at Simon. And Simon could tell that Jesus was looking at him. Not through him, or around, but at him.
And Jesus said "You are Simon. Son of John."
With those words Jesus let Simon know he knew who he was.
But then Jesus said something else. He said "You are to be called Cephas" which means Rock.
Not only did Jesus know Simon’s past and present, but he also knew his future.
Jesus looked at all Simon was and would be. He could have renamed him many things. He could have called Simon Waiter or Fisher, Lost Hope or Uncertain.
But he didn’t.
He could have called him Betrayer or Fearful.
But instead Jesus called him Cephas: the Rock.
In changing his name, Jesus revealed to Simon his future potential and the unique and unrepeatable role he would play in Christ’s life.
Through an encounter with Jesus, Simon the Fisherman, Simon the Brother, Simon the Waiter became Simon the Rock.
And his life, as well as ours, would never be the same.
Today’s Scripture reminds us that God enters into our lives in ways we may not recognize. But then there are times in which the face or hand of God is so clear that to deny it would be the same as to deny our own breathe.
It is in those moments when we can be renamed.
When God sees us, he does not just see our present, but God is aware of our past.
God knows of the hurts and pains we have endured. God also knows of the hurts and pain we have inflicted on others.
God looks at us and is aware of the families we come from, the trials we have endured, the joys we have celebrated. Nothing is hidden from God: our past and present smiles and tears, our giggles and our bouts of depression.
God knows all about our lost dreams, the tragedies, the wrong paths taken.
But God does not dwell on our past, God looks at and sees all of our future possibilities. God sees our potential. Our gifts.
God is aware of what we can do even if we are not aware of it ourselves. God sees us and knows what unique and unrepeatable role we can do that no once else can.
And God renames us.
To God, we are no longer to be called or known as Fat and Ugly, Lazy or Stupid, Over the Hill or Adolescent.
To God we are no longer easily labeled as Man or Woman, Black or White, Gay or Straight, Right or Wrong.
We are no longer to be known as Small and Timid, Foolish and Afraid.
We have a face-to-face encounter with the Living God and we are renamed Gallant and Brave.
We are nicknamed Laughter and Father of Great Nations.
We meet God face-to-face and we become Princess, Joy and Prince of God.
Simon has an encounter with God incarnate and instead of being called Waiter, Disillusioned, or Betrayer he is called The Rock. The direction of his life changes and the future of the church is established.
What do you hear God calling you today?
Do you hear God calling you Loved? Valued? Somebody?
Do you hear God calling you One-Of-A-Kind? Merciful? Charitable?
And when God bestows upon you a new name, do you listen? Are you willing to believe and to act accordingly?
We are all like Simon. And, we all have a little bit of Piglet inside of us.
We can be timid, we can feel scared. We can get tired of waiting and feel disillusioned.
When we have moments like that, when we feel like there has to be something more, may we have that encounter with the Living God in which we are not only renamed, but we are able the believe and live in such a way that the new name is fulfilled.
What do you hear God calling you today?
All thanks be to God who is present in our waiting, to the Son who meets and renames us and to the Spirit who gives us the energy ability to live up to our new names.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Book Review: Turning Tables

I recently finished "Turning Tables" by Heather and Rose MacDowell. If you have ever worked in a high-end restaurant where they treated their wait-staff like crap, this is the book to read. From the start you can tell the authors have paid their waitressing dues and everything their heroine goes through is so true. Reminds me of some hellish places I worked in Port Jefferson and Fire Island, New York.

The novel follows Erin who has lost her job at takes a waitressing job to pay the bills. The "soleful" moments of the book come towards the end. There is a scene where Erin applies for a marketing job and is told her time spent as a waitress is not relevant to the position, to which Erin processes in an articulate way how no matter what a person does, it is about knowing the people they are working with, about finding out who they are, what they want, about "creating a new marketing campaign ten times every night" and how as a waitress she has to market and be a sales person, as well as work with the other wait staff as a team, and that without their support, no one can succeed.

The real soleful moment comes (SPOILER ALERT) when she finally realizes that the owners/managers/chef who have made her life there a hell actually need her more then she needs them, that they are not doing her any favors.

And after nailing an extremely important table, she is complimented and told she's "inspired", but she realizes she is better off just walking away. And in walking away she reclaims herself, her talents and here gifts.

This is a good book. A fun read. In fact, I read the last 200 pages in one sitting.

Sermon for August 3, 2008 Matthew 14:13-21

August 3, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
Sermon Title: "What I Believe..."
Rev. George
Every pastor, every theologian has a core group of Scriptures that shapes their faith. This Scripture is one of those for me.
It should be no surprise to anyone that this story of Jesus breaking bread and showing radical hospitality, of Jesus being outside with people has become foundational to what I hold dear.
If you recall last week message, I truly believe that God is able to take little and make much. My belief in this is so great that it makes it difficult to attend meetings where everything is boiled down to the number of people we have in attendance and the funds in our account.
To the rest of the world those numbers may seem small. For a Fortune 500 company it would be time to close up shop and sell our property to the highest bidder.
But we are not the rest of the world. We are not corporate America or a social club. We are the Church. The Body of Christ. The living presence of God in the community.
And the God we worship, the God we believe in, is the very one who was present that early evening, when Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed 20,000 people.
This story, in my mind, is not only very true, but it is very real.
Why do I believe this? First of all, it is the only miracle to appear in all 4 Gospels, the writers making sure we hear what is being said.
Why do I believe this? Because I have witnessed it in my life: at seminary when a meal designed for 8 students fed almost twenty and ended with more food then it began with.
Why do I believe this way? Because I’ve seen this miracle happen again and again at our church. In 2006 when a $1,000 VBS program cost only $300. How our Block Party began with a $0 budget and ended up donating a van full of left-over food to Mel Trotter’s Ministry.
I believe in this scripture to the very core of my being, and yet I am always amazed whenever I see it become true again and again. It teaches us of how God is able to take little and make much...
...And yet there are other morsels of truth to this story that we miss if we are not careful.
For you see, this story does not take place in a vacuum or in the spirit of celebration. Instead, this miraculous feeding takes place in the midst of loss, sadness and the cruelty of death.
To fully understand this story, we have to look at what happens before hand. In Matthew 14:1-12 we are told that John the Baptist has been killed by Herod; his head presented on a plate.
Herod next sets his sights on Jesus, assuming he is John raised from the dead. Meanwhile, Johns followers bury his body and tell Jesus the news.
It is here that today’s Scripture begins. Jesus is told of John’s death. He’s aware that Herod feels threatened by him. And Jesus’ response is all too human, showing us his frail side: he withdraws to a place where he could be alone.
This is, in fact a common response for Jesus anytime he feels threatened. When John was arrested, Jesus wandererd off to be by himself. When the Pharisees conspire to destroy Jesus, he again sought refuge in a solitary location.
This demonstrated to us the very real, vulnerable side of Jesus. This need to run away, get away and sequester himself from it all.
We can only guess why Jesus wants to be alone this time.
Perhaps he wants to privately mourn his co-worker.
Perhaps the news of John’s untimely death has brought to his mind the reality of his own: Jesus’ reaction like that of a cancer patient who’s told their roommate just died from the same cancer they share.
Perhaps he is also feeling fearful and anxious about what will happen to him. After all both he and John were speaking about the same truth.
John’s murder was an unkind reminder that you can’t speak about the Kingdom of God without the earthly king punishing you for it. Does this mean Jesus will die for his beliefs as well?
In this all-too-real sense of loss, death and fear, Jesus removes himself to be alone. But the crowd does not allow him his space: hey follow him.
When Jesus sets his eyes on the sick and needy, he is so moved with compassion that he sets aside his own needs and goes about curing their woes.
Eventually night comes and the people are hungry. The disciples offer to send them away, but Jesus says "No: you give them something to eat." And with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish, he does not blink, he does not fret, he doesn’t declare defeat.
But instead, he tells all those lost, all those sick, all those lonely people to sit on the green grass; he takes what little he has, he looks up to the heaven...
...And he gives thanks to God by blessing it.
The disciples take the blessed and broken bread and fish, and pass out it out until not only has everyone eaten their fill but there are leftovers.
This is what I believe to be the power of the story: that in the midst of John’s supremely cruel death, in the midst of political unrest, in the midst of Jesus’s great fear about the future, he still found the ability to look towards heaven and to give God thanks.
Jesus did not give in to his fear. He didn’t look at what little they had and proclaimed defeat.
But Jesus looked at who he was, at what they did have. He looked at the people, he looked at the lonely place they were at, and he managed to find a way to give thanks.
Is that not a testimony to hold onto?
A miracle in the dessert; plenty in the midst of death and loss.
But even more then that: for me, this is the turning point of Jesus’ ministry. Through what has happened to John, Jesus gets a glimpse of what will happen to him.
Jesus could have taken what Herod did to John as as a threat to his life, as a reason to leave, and decide there and then that his ministry was done.
He could have said "That’s it, no more. The party’s over."
Jesus could have wandered away into the wilderness and when the people followed him, he could have been moved by hatred and fear and said "Enough of you all: go away, leave me alone."
In the shadow of the death of his friend and the foretelling of what was to come, Jesus could have turned his back on the people, he could he turned his back on the disciples, he could have turned his back on God, and left them all behind.
He did not have to heal them that day or any other. He didn’t have to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven. He could have left them all to starve by themselves in that wilderness.
Jesus could have walked away from it all, wandered into the next town, settled down anonymously, spent the rest of his life as a carpenter, find himself a nice Jewish wife, raise a household of children.
He could have lived out his days, attending the weddings of his sons and daughter, welcomed grandchildren onto his knee, grown old and grey and died of old age, in his bed, surrounded by generations of his seed.
Jesus could have permanently walked away. But he didn’t.
For somehow in the midst of loss, and death, fear and loneliness, Jesus found a way to look towards heaven and give thanks.
Somehow Jesus found the audacity to think "So, they punished John for telling people about the Kingdom of Heaven. Well let me show them what the Kingdom of Heaven is like."
And in that wilderness, surrounded by thousands of folk, Jesus took the bread, he looked up towards heaven, he blessed it, and fed them.
Jesus gave thanks, and it wasn’t just a simple action but a bold declaration that said "I am still here and God is still working."
And that act of radical thankfulness not only spoke to the people back then, but to all of the gospel writers and to all of us today. For just as Jesus was all too human and vulnerable at that moment, so are we at various times in our lives.
We have all faced threats of various kinds. Threats that come from the outside. Threats from people who don’t like who we are, don’t like what we have to say, don’t like how we think.
We’re all faced with threats of scarcity. How to make our groceries stretch. How to pay our bills. How to fix the car. How to care for our children.
We are all faced with threats we seemingly have no control over. Threats of our health. Threats to our sanity. Threats from leaders and governments that are foolishly run or wish to do us harm.
And sometimes those threats, those fears make us want to run away. To hide out. To forget everything we have learned and all that we have known.
To turn our back on everyone, and to turn our back on God.
Sometimes temporarily running away can be the healthy thing to do. Sometimes, like Jesus, we just need to get away from whatever is bothering us and to spend some time alone, with God.
But there also comes the time when we have to reenter life, and we have to make a choice: Do we run away permantely?
Or do we stop, look around, and find the courage to look up to the heavens and give thanks and blessing to God for what we have?
Because the truth of the matter is that running away will never be the final answer.
But finding the courage to look at what we have, finding the courage to look towards heaven and seek out God, well that is that start of new hopes and new beginnings.
That is that start in becoming your own hero and a way of declaring "in the midst of it all, and through the help of God, I’m still here."
I believe that Jesus had the chance and good reason to leave it all behind. But somehow, in someway he the courage to continue being who God called him to be.
And he demonstrated to himself and to everyone else around that through God what may seem like a little can indeed become much.
But first he had to look up towards the heavens.
And then he gave thanks.
May you find the courage this week to give thanks as well.
All glory and honor be to the father that meets us in our lonely place, to the Son who feeds us when we are hungry and to the Spirit that multiplies what little we have.

Wanderings for August 10

Good evening everyone. I pray all is well and you're able to enjoy this weekend.

This Sunday we'll be hearing from the Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33 which many of you know as the story of Peter trying to walk on water with Jesus.

This scripture reminds me of something we learned about in church history: that in the beginning there were two branches of what was then called "The Jesus Movement."

There was those who followed Peter, and there were those who followed Mary Magdalene.

That's what I'll be sharing with you all on Sunday, so be prepared for a bit of a scholastic/historical/pastoral sermon.

In the time being, I invite you to take out your Bible and take a look at the Gospel of Matthew.

Look at Matthew 14:22-33. Jesus dismisses the disciples so he can be alone and pray. The disciples get into a boat. It's the evening. The boat is battered by the waves.

Do you recall what water/the sea often represents in the Bible? The answer is chaos, confusion, death.

It is now early morning. The disciples see Jesus walking toward them, on the sea (Jesus is literally walking over death/keeping chaos underfoot), they are terrified and cry out "its a ghost." Jesus tells them not to be afraid, it is he.

Peter says "if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus says "Come." Peter takes a few steps and sinks. Jesus reaches out his hand and says "You of little faith, why did you doubt."

When Jesus gets on the boat, the wind stops and they all worship him.

Now, turn to Matthew 28:1-10. Jesus has died on the cross and he has been buried. As the sun rises, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb.

What does the tomb represent: death, separation.

There is a great earthquake.

They see an angel of the Lord come and roll back the stone. The angel tells them "Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus...he is not here...Come see..Then go and quickly tell the disciples...this is my message for you."

The women leave the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and they run to tell the disciples.

Jesus appears to the women and says "Greetings". They come to Jesus, hold his feet and worship him. Jesus says "Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee..."

I hope you got a chance to see some of the similarities

Matthew 14 begins with the disciples being separated from Jesus by the sea

Matthew 28 begins with the women being separated from Jesus by death

In Matthew 14 the disciples move away from Jesus on their boat

In Matthew 28 the women come towards the tomb where Jesus is buried

In Matthew 14 there is a storm at sea

Matthew 28 an earthquake

Matthew 14 the disciples are terrified and say "its a ghost" and cry out in fear

Matthew 28 the women are told by the angel and Jesus not to be afraid, and when they leave the tomb they run with fear and great joy. And they see the Resurrected Christ.

In 14 Peter walks on water

In 28 the women run on dry land

in 14 the disciples worship him

in 28 the women take hold of his feet and worship him

in 14 the men see what they think is a ghost of Jesus and are terrified and cry out in fear

in 28 the women see the once-dead Christ and come to him, touch him and worship him

Can you see the similarities in these stories. can you also see the differences? I don't know if any other scholars have picked up on these things. But I find it fascinating.

It's like the men in the boat acted like scaredy cats whereas the women were able to hold it together and balance their fear and joy. In fact Matthew 28:4 tells us there were guards present who were so afraid they shook and became like dead men. Yet the ladies remained calm and standing.

What is Matthew trying to tell us? Is there something he was letting us know?

Does it mean something that Matthew 14 involves men, water, walking, waves, terror, cries of fear and worship and Matthew 28 involves women, a tomb, running, an earthquake, fear, joy and worship?

I'll let you thoughtfully ponder it all this weekend.

Until next time, be cool.

Peace, Pastor G