“what belongs to me can only be mine only when it is also for others” [a sermon]

Ia sermon preached for slocum union church and elkhart first united methodist churches on sunday 7/26/2015. before the service the congregation was asked to answer three questions on a sheet of paper and add them to the offering plates later in the service: “what i wonder about our community_____ what i dream for our church ____ and what i hope for our future____”

they’re not leftovers: “what belongs to me can only be mine only when it is also for others”*

john 6:1-21 after this jesus went to the other side of the sea of galilee, also called the sea of tiberias. a large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. now the passover, the festival of the jews, was near. when he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, jesus said to philip, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” he said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. philip answered him, “six months’ wages would not buy enough bread fore ach of them to get a little.” one of his disciples, andrew, simon peter’s brother, said to him, “there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. but what are they among so many people? jesus said, make the people sit down.” now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 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. when they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” so they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. when the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say,” this is indeed the prophet who is come into the world.”

when jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to capernaum. it was now dark, and jesus had not yet come to them. the sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. but he said to them, “it is i; do not be afraid.” then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

are these things even related?

are there any bread bakers in the congregation? have you ever or do you now bake your week’s bread each weekend or mid-week? something that i hope to get back into the habit of doing is baking my own bread on an at least semi-regular basis. my desire to bake my own bread is an equal split of really enjoying the process of bread-baking–the measuring and stirring, kneading, resting and how the house fills with that special warm-sweet smell of a risen and yeasty bread that has just gone into the oven–as well as having full control over what ingredients go into my bread–honey rather than sugar, a mix of rye, whole wheat and spelt flours, less salt than usual…

bread comes up a lot in scripture–in both the hebrew bible (or old testament) and the new testament. there is talk of bread for the journey, unleven bread baked in a hurry when escaping slavery in egypt, a bread-like substance called “what is it?” or mana that miraculously appears when needed, jesus as the bread of life and the pattern of bread blessed and broken that we now call communion and remember jesus’ life, death and resurrection by

today we have a story about a miracle that involves bread.

interestingly, in this week’s lectionary gospel reading we also have a shorter story of another miracle: that of jesus walking on the water. i will admit, it took me a while to make the connection between these two stories and why the writers of the lectionary would include the second miracle story with the first.

eventually, after several re-readings, a lot of pondering and wondering and some conversations with friends and colleagues did it sink in for me: these are both stories about the common human experience. these two stories have to do with hunger, safety, provision and rescue from danger. held apart from each other, and dissected they become two stories that both involve jesus. but without cutting them apart it becomes evident that in these stories we as followers are reminded of our basic human needs and that our neighbors have the same needs, too.

they’re not leftovers

in the story of the feeding of the 5,000 there are a few parts of the story that we as 21st century readers have to fill in. for example, the crowd would have been far more than 5,000 people–if you go back and look closely at the reading you will see that most translations are sure to tell us that it is a crowd of 5,000 men. as far as i know, there were not just huge packs of men roming around ancient israel alone–but when a crowd was drawn, let alone to see jesus, it is a mixed crowd–men, women, children–persons of every age. if there were 5,000 men present a conservative guess would be to at least double that number to know how many people could have been following jesus and the disciples out into the judean version of hill country.

considering this story with just 5,000 people already presents quite the crowd to feed–but to imagine it at least double that size? 10,000 people? of course when jesus asked philip and andrew “where are we going to buy bread for all of these people?” they panicked and flailed around at least a little for an answer.

but jesus already knew what he was going to do–he knew that the disciple’s worldview was one still locked in to a linear worldview. they saw all of those people and heard the question of “how will we feed them?” and said “we do not have that kind of bread, nor that kind of money.” jesus, however, being the son of god, does not function on linear time alone. jesus functions on god’s time and god’s reality. therefore he knows that there is a way.

using what they had at hand–a child’s lunch–five barley loves and two fish, jesus gave thanks for the food and all (ALL!) ate until they were satisfied. and not only are they satisfied, there are twelve baskets of remnant left over. these aren’t to-go boxes at the end of a feast with what happens to be left over. these are not left-overs, friends. what the twelve baskets of remnants teach us is that when god is involved there is enough for those gathered, and for those who have yet to join us.

our culture is one that has taught us for a long time that there is not enough to go around. that if i do not keep what i think i need, and some extra, then i may not have enough food or money, power or control. we have been taught we should lookout for ourselves and our immediate families before considering anyone else’s well-being or needs or desires.

but what jesus is saying here is that this innate human desire to hoard and to believe that there is a scarcity of resources is not how things are supposed to be. that all persons are created in god’s image and likeness and we are all invited to partake in the abundance of god’s provision.

this scene from jesus’ life foreshadow’s when he will sit at the passover meal with the disciples and what our communion liturgy is patterned on now. something i want you to notice is that when we come to this table for communion as a community, there is plenty for all present and there is always a remnant. there is always something left.

these are not leftovers. these are proverbial twelve baskets are unclaimed main dishes. they belong to our brothers, sisters and siblings who did not gather at the table with this this time. to the home or nursing home bound member, to the young woman who had to work and couldn’t join us, for the man who feels just uncomfortable enough coming to church alone that he chooses to stay home. the remnant belongs to those who have not yet been invited, to the children who need a ride, to the woman trapped in an abusive relationship, the lonely son, and to the widowed and grieving.

these are not left overs. they belong to someone.

after all are fed and satisfied jesus and the disciples move along their way. the disciples head back to their boat and are on the sea when a storm kicks up. their boat is being bashed about a few miles off shore. when things are getting rough, the disciples look out across the water and see a figure moving toward them–it is jesus walking on the water. and here is where this second miracle dove-tails with the first of abundant food and provision for all:

here we learn that just as god provides enough for all to eat and be fed, so to is god’s provision of grace bountiful for all. jesus shows that it is now power that he desires or wields, but brings peace and presence.

upon this grassy spot

in verse ten we read “now there was a great deal of grass in this place” and this is where jesus instructed the disciples to have the people to sit down. in my time here i have explored a bit around the church property, and the parsonage and have found there to be a great deal of grass in this place, too! the backyard of the parsonage is rather large, [there is an abundance of yard here in slocum] [there are several yards around the elkhart church–the yard with the gazebo and basketball hoops, the yard in front of the church office, the back yard of the church office and the sides and front of the church!

i wonder how god could be asking us to use these spaces to invite those who are missing at the table. i wonder how we could follow jesus’s example and ask the people to sit down in the grass and share a meal together and see what happens from there.

i wonder what dreams you have for these spaces.

maybe you have had a vision for using these spaces with and for the community for a long time, or maybe today is the first you have thought of these grassy spots as an extension of the church. i wonder what you wonder.

perhaps there is space for a community garden, where the children from across the street at the school can grow vegetables and keep chickens. perhaps there is a space for community movies on the lawn. or a prayer garden. or a prayer labyrinth. perhaps there is space for a bluegrass festival, a back to school party and fall festival.

jesus shows us that we do not have to be afraid–god’s presence is always with and accompanying us. and we do not have to be afraid of running out of provision–because god will provide that, too. so if we have nothing to fear, what is holding us back?

what do you dream?
* alejandro jodorowsky “the spiritual journey of alejandro jodorowsky: the creator of _el topo_ p 83

you’re already dead : lean in [a sermon]

my second sunday in elkhart sort of snuck up on me after being away with the texas youth academy for two weeks–my second sunday in this community found me reworking an older sermon (from youth academy two years ago, it may be familiar if you’ve been around this blog for a bit) for this week. beginning sunday onward we shall be a lectionary community (expect new material!) 

ephesians 2:17 says “so he [jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you, who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him bot of us have access in one spirit to the father.”

one cultural note before we begin: i just spent two weeks with high school youth–who, as you may know, speak their own version of english. still popular today is the phrase: YOLO, which i will say several times below. it simply means “you only live once”. and is the mind-set of a generation that gives some freedom to live life for their pleasure and gain rather than service of others. (and this is not just the younger generation that acts this way, this is just the generation that uses that phrase!)

i love to weave. i am learning how to weave cloth, and my hair-weaving-skills are lacking. but the kind of weaving i mean is the combining of, the shaping of, the melding together of words. this morning i want to add to the tapestry by weaving stories and concepts and ideas with the stories and perspectives of some friends who stand on the same foundation of apostles and prophets with jesus as the corner stone, fellow citizens of the household of god.

this morning i want to take these stories, these beliefs, these theological concepts and, by the power of the holy spirit winding her way among us binding us together in this community bind them together into a word-tapestry to call us out of being a bystander into the waters of baptism. to call us to reconciliation with ourselves. with our triune god. with one another in this gathered community and beyond.

i was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the lord, let us pray:

come, holy spirit. fasten these words together in the way that you see fit. open our ears that we may hear your whisper, our hands that we may grasp yours, and our eyes that we may view the world as you do. may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord, our rock and our redeemer. amen

imagine being in high school. not just any high school, but a boarding school. not just any boarding school, but an elite well known boarding school. not just any elite boarding school, either, but an elite boarding school nestled in the quiet village of aboke, uganda–east africa. if you are wondering where uganda is, let me show you on my handy map of africa that i always carry with me: uganda is here… sharing borders with kenya, south sudan, the drc and rwanda.

the students of st mary’s school, and their teachers are aware of the rebels who have been abducting children in the area. they have been taking extra precautions by having guards stand post around their school at night while the students sleep.

but one night the guards do not show up. students are sent to bed anyhow, after long detailed and impassioned conversation on if the students should be moved away from the school and hidden elsewhere for the night. rather than take these students off campus it was decided that everyone would stay put.

meanwhile, elsewhere in the apach district, the parents of students at st. mary’s were finishing their evening activities as well, having dinner and washing up, preparing for the next days work and also laying down to sleep for the night. one particular mama, angelina atyam, fell asleep not knowing that mornings first light would reveal tragedy.

all good theology begins with baptism. this is the crux of the ministry of reconciliation, of discipleship. early christians were plunged into coffin shaped baptismal fonts, providing a symbolic death through the baptismal waters.

as christ had his figurative cross to bear (our sin) and his literal cross to bear so we too have our own specific, personalized and custom-made cross to bear in this life.we read in in luke 9, “we must all take up our cross daily–deny ourselves and follow christ.

in this denial, in this death of baptism, we acknowledge, i hope, that YOLO-ing everything (saying “you only live once”) is not what the gospel demands of us. but if jesus is truly worth denying ourselves for, truly worth dying for, then we are crazy to not believe in the utmost importance of the ministry of reconciliation. reconciliation within ourselves, with our neighbor, with god.

it was not until around 2:00 in the morning when the rebels finally came. sister rachele was awoken by the gate guard, “sister, the rebels are here.” sister rachele, sister alba and sister matilde began to move to the front gate of the school, hoping that the gate would slow the rebels siege. it did not take long for them to realize that the dormitories were already swarmed by rebels who had come in through the back gate of the school. the sisters, knowing if they were caught they would be forced to unlock the dorm doors, went into hiding–spending the night in analysis of the sounds around them–what were the rebels doing? were the students safe? on and on into the night they hid.

as the sisters hid, and the parents slept in their homes wholly unaware of the siege occurring at st. marys, an estimated 200 armed rebels burned the school vehicle, raided the clinic’s supplies and the special treats for uganda’s independence day celebration that was to be held the following day. between around 2:00 in the morning, to first light on uganda’s independance day, the armed rebels forced their way into some of the dormitories, forcing windows and demolishing a wall, kidnapping 152 secondary school girls between the ages of 13 and 16 years old.

as the situation was assessed friends of the school went running into the villages, carrying the news that the girls of aboke have been abducted.

i really hate the phrase YOLO. not only does it give the wrong idea that just because you receive one physical birth and one physical death means you should fill the days in-between those two dates trying to expedite the latter with bad life choices; and it also rejects the idea that we, as christians, once baptized are already dead. when we are baptized as an adult, or confirm our baptism after being baptized as an infant or child, we are already dead. for we have died with christ in the waters of baptism, rejecting seeds of darkness that are not of our god. if we live by the example of YOLO we have no need for the resurrection, and therefore no need for reconciliation. i don’t know about you, but i have been out in many places in this world of ours. i have seen a lot of things in many churches, youth groups, high schools, and homes. in towns, cities, villages, states and countries around the world and know that something we are in desperate need of is reconciliation.

some need reconciliation within themselves, to themselves. those whose inner pain and wrestling that they mark their bodies in acts of self violences. there are those who refuse to eat attempting to starve away the voice that says “you’re not good enough.” but our bodies deserve to be more than war-torn collateral. when god created you, god created you as good. god created you as very. good.

mama angelina atyam was sleeping when the pounding on her window began. “ANGELINA!” ANGELINA! the girls have been taken! the girls have been taken! [pound pound pound] ANGELINA! ANGELINA! the girls! they are gone! the rebels have taken them!” sitting bolt upright in bed the words of the man pounding on her window begin to fall into her ears and she hears him.

“what!” she cries. the rebels were not supposed to be this far south–we have heard the bad things occurring in gulu and are sorry for the situation there, but this is apache, we are safe here!”

some need reconciliation in the home–relationships with mom and dad, step mom, step dad, brother, sister, cousin, uncle or auntie, grand mother or grand father…the tapestry of this relationship is bulging at the seams–threatening to tear at any moment.
ephesians 2:17 says “so he [jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you, who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him bot of us have access in one spirit to the father.”

days pass, some of the students were released and sent with the two nuns who pursued the rebels into the bush but many remained in captivity. the parents of the still-missing children began to gather together to pray. every friday the parents would gather in the church just outside the gates of st. mary’s school and lift their voices in prayer.

one friday, after several weeks of prayers behind them, the parents gathered as usual. and they began praying, “our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. give us this day our daily food and forgive us our trespasses as we…”

they could not finish the prayer. as one body the gathered congregation held the words in their mouths they could not forgive those who had trespassed against them. they could not even say the words any more. their cheeks full of of unsaid prayer the parents silently left the church. there was no “amen.” there was no blessing or passing of the peace. no hymns were sung. hurting, angry and silent shells of parents filed out of the church into the evening air. the last candidates for examples of those to offer forgiveness or reconciliation.

some of us also need reconciliation with god. we have head knowledge that god is with and for us. but them something goes awry. we fall into old habits of skipping meals to feel light-headed and strong for beating our bodies, inflict pain on our bodies to feel again, our tenuous but “its going okay” relationship with a family member or care giver bursts forth from its casings and erupts into anger and we lash out at god for letting this happen. we turn our faces to heaven and say, “how could you let this happen to me!?”

mama angelina is one of those parents who silently left church. who held the words of forgiveness in her cheeks. one of those parents whose child was violently taken away from her, who swallowed those words of forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation where they stayed rolling around in her belly.

she was angry. “why would you do this, god?! how could you let this happen!?” angelina, while angry, stayed in conversation with god–voicing her anger, her pain. and then one day it happened.

she decided, “i must go to the rebel leader’s mother and make peace with her.” angelina wanted her daughter back. and in wanting her daughter back she came to the conclusion that not only did she want her daughter back, but she wanted all of the children back. she says “all children are my children.” and she does not just mean all of the children who were abducted by the rebels are my children, but the rebels themselves, too. for all are children of god.

angelina took herself to the rebel leader’s mother’s village, sought this woman out and sat with her. these two hurting mothers sat together and talked. mama angelina told the rebel leader’s mother “i forgive your son for what he has done.”

ephesians 2 tells us that “Jesus Christ is our peace; that in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the diving wall, that is the hostility between us.”

there are deep, profound and intricate layers of need of reconciliation just within our own hearts, let alone the heart of our neighbor.

mama angelina’s visit to the rebel leader’s mother was not a move of pride. going to sit with the mother of the man who has abducted your child, and thousands of other children is an act of utmost humility. mama angelina had to have truly forgiven this rebel leader. but it began in her heart.

as she continued in conversation with god, as she began to pray again at home, as she told god of her anger and frustration her heart began to heal. and as she began to heal she reached out across the rift, and with the miracle of the power of the holy spirit, “broke down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us”

i really want you to hear what this woman has done–angelina did not know if her daughter was alive. if she would ever see her again; and even if she would if her daughter could ever be the same. she had never met the man who had taken her daughter. and in this time between the abduction and her visit to the rebel leader’s mother she has essentially adopted all children in all the world as her own. and in that place of unknown she said “i forgive him. i forgive you.”

she reaches out beyond the way that now has a whole in it, poking her hands, arms, head and body through and cries out that she has forgiven the one who has inflicted pain on her and all parents.

angelina and many other parents formed an organization to advocate for the release of all children abducted by the rebels. she is not quiet about her desire to reconcile with the man who has led this rebel army. as a matter of fact, she has been so loud with her desire to reconcile, so loud with her forgiveness that the leader of the rebels has been frustrated with her–he promised that if she were to just be quiet he would release her daughter.

she says, “no” i want all of my children.

this is what it looks like to bear your personal cross. this is what it looks like to not YOLO one’s way through one’s life but to know that in baptism you have died and been raised with christ, are a new creation who is charged with the ministry of reconciliation–which really means to love your neighbors. all of them.

a dear friend and professor of peace studies says, “to acknowledge something means we are called to act.” there is a lot going on in our great big world, in our neighborhoods, our homes and in our own hearts that we acknowledge is not quite right. will you choose to shrug it off and say, “eh. you only live once…not my problem” or will you lean forward into the deep rushing baptismal waters, perhaps for the first time ever or perhaps in remembrance of your baptism years ago and let the rushing current remind you of the promises god has made to us as god’s children–shown to us through christ jesus who came and proclaimed peace to us, who became flesh and made us a new humanity reconciled together all as children of god.

lean forward.

amen.

if it is important to you:find a way [a sermon]

a sermon preached with the texas youth academy 2015 on discipleship day (july 16, 2015)–in a world worship service at southwestern university–perkins chapel.

deuteronomy 11:18-21 you shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

brothers, sisters and siblings, i wonder if you know what it is to be held in tenderness. for someone who loves you to cradle you in their arms and hold you. maybe the warm embrace from a parent, or a kiss on the cheek from a grandparent, or a touch on the arm from a mentor or teacher. i wonder and i pray that you know that touch–the physical manifestation of compassion and love.

if you would, put your hands out like this: close your eyes with me–and i want you to think about that sort of tenderness–with your hands still up and your eyes still closed, try to remember a time where you were upset and someone wrapped you up tightly in a hug, or held your hand or placed their hand on your shoulder or a shared moment of eye-contact where you feel the connection [hand on heart, hand outstretched] so intensely it feels like you’ve made physical contact. remember that time and try to remember what it felt like–the weight of their hand, the warmth of another living being coming into contact with you. hold that moment and that feeling in your hands:

and now if you would pray with me--holy and compassionate and tender god, open our ears that we may hear your voice, our minds that we may build a higher ceiling for those who come after us, our hearts that they may look like yours and our hands to share your gentleness with our neighbors. and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen.

you may open your eyes–and if you are still holding your memory and feeling of tenderness, cup it gently, don’t forget it–we’re coming back to it, soon.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

the theme for today has been discipleship. in general to be a disciple means to be a follower. what we are talking about here is to be a disciple, a follower, of jesus christ, son of god, in trinity with the holy spirit. we are not talking just about the twelve disciples of jesus we read about in scripture–but also us who have and us who continue to, day by day and those who will one day respond to the nudges of the holy spirit through prevenient grace to recognize our place at the table with those called christian.

it is evident, by your being here, that each of you is a disciple of jesus–we may carry questions and pain and secrets and serious doubt about this god and church thing: but you showed up to ask, and learn, and question and seriously (and sometimes not so seriously) reflect on a life of faith. you found a way to be here.

lets check on our tender moments: may i see it? good, good. thank you. keep holding them.

this pericope, or reading, opens with “you shall put these words of mine…” whose words? what words? looking backwards in deuteronomy we learn that moses is our narrator–and the words he is talking about are the words of god–behind us we have, among other things, the decalogue or ten commandments and we have the shema–like katie preached on our very first night here together. these are the words god is telling us to put in our hearts, bind on our hands and fix upon our foreheads.

i would like to couch my next statement by saying that i am not condoning secretly getting tattoos behind your parent or guardian’s backs. n-o-t not the point of the following story.

when i was nineteen years old i got my first tattoo. it was the summer after my first year of college and my childhood best friend and i wanted to commemorate our friendship and an amazing summer of working at camp together with matching tattoos, right here:

we were nineteen, it was the early two-thousands, and so of course we got matching icthus (christian fish) tattoos at the end of the summer on our way back to our homes. i had almost almost almost made it through the week or so back in my parents home before heading back to university when i was finally found out. i was ever-so-innocently loading the dishwasher the evening before i was to leave–and leaned across to put a dish in when i suddenly felt a rush of air on skin that shouldn’t be feeling air. before i really had time to process what was going on i hear my mothers lamenting cry, “what did you do to that perfect body i made?!” and i said: ” :\

and it was really just the beginning–i now have five with a few more in the works. some of you today at lunch asked about the raven on my shoulder (if you weren’t there and you want to know, you can absolutely ask me later) and while i was telling you about its meaning i also told you why i have tattoos in the first place: it is because i am forgetful.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

i need a way to remember the “these words” from god that are referenced in deuteronomy–and for me, my tattoos are one way to put them in my heart and soul, to bind them as a sign on my hand and to fix them as an emblem on my forehead. as a disciple i need these to remember.

this morning andy taught us about a middle eastern, what? middle eastern understanding of discipleship. this whole discipleship thing isn’t just about me and my jesus. we do not claim ourselves as individual 10 feet away from everyone trying to only have our personal relationship with jesus–no, no… true discipleship is we claim ourselves together with one another having and being 1 foot friends.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

when we are looking for god not just in the sky above us and not just inward inside of us–but with our heads up and looking for who are still ten feet away we are doing the work of a disciple.

i recently had the privilege to make pilgrimage to israel and palestine under the leadership of our bishop in the texas annual conference. while we were in jerusalem our group had the opportunity to go and pray at the western wall-sometimes called the wailing wall-on the temple mount. this wall was build by herod the great in 19BCE and is believed to be the wall that would have been closest to the temple where the holy of holies rested. where god’s presence dwelled. and, once a year, the high priest would enter into the holy of holies–the sole human to enter into god’s presence.

this place is considered holy still today by our jewish siblings–and so when our group gathered we saw men and women praying at the wall. in judiasm they take this passage from deuteronomy very literally–and we saw what are called phylacteries bound to the heads and forearms of those praying. a phylactery is a small leather box that you tie to your forehead, and your left arm when it is time to pray. inside of that box is the shema–do you remember it? “hear, o israel: the lord your god is one. you shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

we as christians tend to not physically bind these words to our bodies. (except perhaps those of us with theological tattoos.) even so, remember what i told you: i can be a bit forgetful and sometimes ADD takes over–so i have to find ways to remember. while standing as a group i had stopped listening closely to our guide and was watching a group of teenagers in military uniforms who were regathering from their time at the wall. when i looked our group had already dispersed- i was a little confused about where to go (because i had missed our instructions) and saw bishop huie walking, and so followed along behind her letting her, unknowingly i think, show me the way.

tears came to my eyes as i walked behind my bishop to an ancient place of continual and constant prayer made holy not only by god’s ancient presence in the holy of holies, but by the presence of the holy spirit gifted to us through jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension and by the prayers and tears of millions of jews and christians and wonderers through the centuries who have touched that wall and tucked their prayers on paper into its crevices. in that moment her embodiment of discipleship was for me a living, breathing, has skin on, embodiment of a phylactery. she had bound those instructions upon her heart and soul and served as a physical reminder for this sometimes forgetful disciple.

it is good to practice being a disciple even when we aren’t sure anyone is paying attention. you never know who may be following you.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

we are called to be disciples. we are called to follow jesus not because it is good for you or i individually. but because we cannot be us without one another.

do you still have your tender moment? it’s time for it. go ahead and hold it in your hands –it is okay to keep it in your lap, or hold it up somehow–just hold it. close your eyes for a moment again and feel that embrace, that hand on the shoulder, the power of eye contact. feel it in your heart, your fingertips and your tummy.

and picture the scene of jesus and the disciples around the table of the last supper. and remember how much trouble jesus got into for dining with people who weren’t jewish. jesus took that old law of only like going with like–with only those born as jewish and “able bodied” as worthy of god’s love and said “this is not how it is going to be anymore.” those who were sick, those who had differently abled bodies, women, sinners were left only scraps that they had to scavenge from under the tables of the wealthy, well connected and born by happenstance as jewish. through his incarnation, life, death and resurrection he placed his wounded hands on each of their faces and tenderly lifted them from underneath the table and said, “no, not down there–not scrounging for scraps–that is not where you belong. you belong here at this table–you can have my seat.”

take the tender moment you have been holding and feeling and expand it as far out as you can imagine. and if you do that right now, you are going to encounter someone else’s hands–someone else who is a part of this family of disciples of jesus christ. it is your job, siblings, now that you are seated at the table to look around and see who is not with us. and to extend your hands and body mind and soul in tenderness and say “we are not us without you.” that is what it means to be a disciple.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

who is missing? are there people who don’t look like you at the table? are there people who don’t think like you? whose theology or politics are different than yours? who is missing? are your enemies missing? are you willing to make space for those you hate? for those who smell bad, for those with untreated mental disabilities who say things that don’t make sense? what about for those who are mean and violent? jesus still says they’re invited. and if you are a disciple you are still tasked with saying “we are not us without you.” who is missing? are the rich at the table? what about the middle class? what about the poor?

the potentially offensive thing about grace is that it is actually for everyone. everyone. we are not us without you.

it’s hard. and frequently makes us uncomfortable, and we feel compelled to do weird things like get into a swimming pool fully clothed because it makes somebody smile. or get knocked on the head a toy because we wanted to be close. weird things like sit on the ground under a bridge, holding a strangers hands and praying with your eyes closed. y’all. that’s weird. but it’s right.

we are not us without you. and we are not us without them.

this is not your home. your homes are out there–we have been here together to learn and play and worship and create and become family, but it is almost time to go home. and your job, dear TYA family, is to go be a disciple out there. take these practices home and share them. remember that tender feeling and look to see who is 10 feet away and invited them into this 1 foot space with us. remember that we are all sometimes forgetful and need human phylacteries. pass the mac and cheese. and remember that we are a people who are radically inclusive–everyone is welcome.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.
we are not us without you.
we are not us without them.
find a way.

thanks be to god, amen.

phoenixes

you are not rising from the ashes, you are ashes re-membered. coaxed back into shape. re-formed. 

you are fire and flame and all consuming beauty. blazing. fire-life. 

you, dear love, are reborn from the smoke-remnant of the fire that was supposed to subdue.                           

the fire that was supposed to put you in your place so they could tell you who you are. so you could make them comfortable. 

but that’s not you. 

you? as fully you? rise above the othering they bring to you as socratic hemlock–meant to destroy–drink deeply but rise:

your warm, living and breathing body drawn heavenward on wings of flame and feather–not consumed but strengthened by the white heat–a contradiction on the wing. 

soaring. 

what is the plural for phoenix?              all of us.
  

on being washed and fed

a first offering for solcum union church and elkhart first united methodist church. july 5, 2015.

i was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the lord. would you pray with me? gracious god, send your holy spirit to be among us—to comfort and to guide us, that our hearts and minds may be open to what you would teach us this morning. and may the words of my lips and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, o lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen.
[on being washed and fed]

something really amazing happened late tuesday morning. i arrived at the parsonage for the first time i would call it home, and found that not only had my dining table already been assembled, but that some of you had already assembled yourselves around the table. some had come and gone by the time i arrived and there was a collection food growing in the fridge and on the counter. what a truly wonderful welcome. my gratitude for your gifts and for your presence, and your prayers as i have been journeying to slocum/elkhart swells my heart and is nourishing my soul already. and what a profound way to begin a week, and begin a season of life together, than today to gather around this table for communion. it is around this table that we are reminded of the importance of gathering around one another’s kitchen tables.

this morning’s gospel lesson is also about gathering around a table. jesus is with the disciples for their last meal. this is a story that, perhaps, is a familiar one—often remembered and retold during holy week, the final week of lent. the table, which is an important and a crucial part of the story, generally takes center stage. we focus on eating together, on gathering around the lord’s table for communion and the power of that spiritual food that feeds our souls.

john’s telling of the story, however, has a different heading than the other three: jesus washes the disciples feet. all of the other gospels are titled the preparation for the passover and the institution of the last supper. this is a story about eating, yes. but it is also a story about washing, about bathing. this story, this lesson is of eucharist/communion and of baptism.

within one lesson we find both of our sacraments as embodied and enacted by our Teacher and our Lord, jesus christ the son of god. within one lesson we find a humbling example of the purpose of both the church and of the pastor—this simple example we have been gifted shows us, as followers of christ what the heart of god looks like, and how we each can embody it, too.

the disciples are a walking people—their feet tend to get dirty. and this is long before the advent of the vacuum cleaner and disposable swiffer mops—it is difficult to keep the floor clean. also, dining practices are different than our ways of sitting and eating here: their feet are not safely tucked under a table far from anyone’s hands or the food. traditionally they would have lain on their sides and leaned over the table rather than sitting up over it. not much of a barrier between one’s feet and one’s food.

each home or host would provide water for guests to wash their feet upon arrival. if you were coming to my home i would provide this water for you at the front door where you would wash your own feet. or, if i had a slave, i could instruct him or her to wash your feet for you. so this is where the gospel lesson really turns things up on its head. jesus is the host. jesus is god incarnate. jesus is the Teacher (with a capitol ‘T’) jesus is the Master he is Lord. he is all of those things and he is servant. he removes his outer garments—ties a towel around his waist like slave—and performs a humiliating task of washing feet. 

[the purpose of the church and the pastor]

 i recently heard the Church (at large, not one in particular) referred to as a dying social club. as places where some still gather together to see and be seen by others in the community, and as places that are no longer relevant to our more and more fast-paced lives. i have spent a lot of time reading and researching those in my age group (frequently called millennials) and the generation following mine and what they and we want from the Church. i have a lot of feelings about this research—about who is doing it and why, about how it is reported and what parts of it are taken seriously or disregarded. but the feeling that rises to the top is that the Church was never really meant to be relevant before, so why are fighting tooth and nail to be something we were never intended to be?

and the same goes for clergy, for pastors. it is all the rage to be reading, studying and researching ways to be the most relevant pastor. if we are relevant, they will come! our numbers will grow! the bishop will notice me! so i feel like it is really important for me to share with you, right out of the gate, that my hope for the Church, and for this church is not to be relevant to the community.

my hope is not as your pastor to be relevant to you. no, my hope is listen to what the heart of god is saying in this community. my hope is to listen to what your hearts are saying. my hope is that we can share what we hear god whispering to each of our hearts together. that you share with me, and i share with you, and together we learn how to listen to the heart of god in slocum/elkhart, texas. this, far and above, is the purpose of the church and the pastor—and it has nothing to relevance. 

it was not relevant for jesus to kneel down, as a slave, to those following him. but it shows us the shape of god’s heart. jesus as both lord and servant teaches us how to be like god. this is the purpose of the church and the pastor: that together, you and i kneel in humility with each other, wash one another’s feet, and live in this community in this humble and vulnerable way. 

let us not seek to be relevant, but let us seek to embody god’s heart and love one another. this is what we are here to do. jesus gives us the example of humility, radical hospitality. he shocks his disciples with his gentle actions. this is what i hope we can do together. 

jesus said “i am your teacher and master-i have shown you who and what i am, and how i do it. now it’s your turn.”

it is our turn, friends. right here. to listen to the whisper of god in our community, to reach even further beyond our walls to the hearts of our neighbors. to those who have lived here all their lives, to those who moved in last week. across the street to the teachers, administrators and students and their parents in our schools and, perhaps hardest of all, to those who seem forgotten by everyone else. jesus calls us commune and be washed. to dine together here at this table, and at one another’s dining room tables. to draw one another in and always to make more space. 

i hope we can encourage one another to think, to pray, to learn and wonder. i hope we can doubt together. i hope you and i can rest together in the fullness of god’s love and tenderness. i hope that when you doubt, i can hold you in the safety of god’s love and when i doubt you can hold me too. i hope we will come to love one another as family—even if that means we will disagree sometimes—and walk and work together in god’s love. 

i hope to see you at my dining table soon. i am so excited to be here with you—and cannot wait to see what god has in store for us and for this community. 

thanks be to god. amen.

waiting [moving day: 1]

this morning i waited for the movers to arrive– julian-dog pacing amongst the boxes, then flopping dramatically to the floor, every bone connecting and sighing, each furry sigh deeper than the last. saddest of eyes. 

they were late–and i started to sigh, offering sad eyes back to julian, who then in her puppy-wisdom placed her head on my keen. it’ll be okay eyes. 

and now we wait together on the porch while our (okay, my) worldly possessions are loaded up, to sit and wait until tomorrow to be unloaded again in a new home where they will undoubtly wait varying numbers of days and weeks to be unpacked. 

where, i suppose, they are long term waiting to do it all over again.