What Gives You Life? – Bread of Life week 5

Preached on 23 August 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Year B

What gives you life?
As we go through our days, we each have a variety of interactions with people, activities and tasks.  Some of them are life-giving.  They build us up, give us joy or satisfaction; they make us feel alive.
Others are life-draining or even deadening.  They drag us down and drain us emotionally and/or spiritually.
What is life-giving one day may be life-draining on another day.

Often, we find our relationships with special people to be life-giving.  Or it may be something we do that truly makes a difference in someone’s life or something that gives us a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction that gives us life.  Even things that are difficult, challenging, and exhausting can be life-giving.

On the other hand, pointless tasks, mind-numbing activities or difficult interactions with people can be life-draining.

In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus and Peter talking about what gives life.  At last we have come to the final section of the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel.  Now we see the people’s response.  The reading begins with the last few verses from last week’s reading; where Jesus talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood; about abiding in him and drawing life from him.

Today we learn that this has all taken place at the synagogue in Capernaum; no wonder the Jewish leaders are upset.

It seems it’s all just a bit too much for most of the crowd.  These are people who have been following him.  They followed him to the grassy knoll where he fed them bread and fish.  Then they followed him across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, to the synagogue where he delivers this discourse.  He makes some pretty bold claims, talking about manna and bread from heaven.  He claims to be living bread that has come from heaven – that he is from God, that he is God, and that he will return to heaven.  Then there is the bit about actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

They start grumbling (like the Israelites in the desert).  “This is difficult,” they say, “who can accept it?”  Another translation puts it, “This is intolerable!”

At this point, Jesus stops talking about bread and begins talking about the spirit and life.  But it’s all too much.  Many of those who have been following him turn and leave.

So Jesus asks the Twelve if they want to leave as well.  And we hear Peter’s confession of faith.  “Where would we go?  You have the words of life.  You are the Holy One of God.”

Following Jesus, discipleship is hard; the teaching is difficult – but it is life-giving in a way he has never known before.

It’s important to remember that the crowd following Jesus are faithful Jews.  They know the law and the teachings, but they have no experience of the sacraments; they know nothing of the crucifixion or resurrection or ascension of Jesus.  What he is saying is abhorrent to them; it is an offense to what they have been taught.

John’s original audience, however, is seeing this with post-resurrection eyes, with post-ascension eyes.  They have tasted the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  And we have the benefit of 2,000 years of Christian tradition and practice.  In fact, it may be so familiar to us that we have become rather blasé about what we do at this table each Sunday morning; about what God does at this table each Sunday morning.  Can we, with Peter, proclaim, “Lord, You have the words of eternal life?”

Going back to where we started, What gives you life?

I encourage you to try the spiritual practice of the examen.  Each evening, spend some time with God in reviewing your day.  When did you feel truly alive? Most loved and loving?  When did you feel at home in yourself?  Aware of God or Christ’s presence?  Give thanks for those times and notice what they were.

Then ask yourself when you felt disordered, drained?  Unloved, unlovable, or not very loving?  Did you feel like a stranger to yourself?  Separated from God?  Acknowledge those times.  Note what made you feel that way.  Ask God what you might have done differently, forgive yourself and let it go.

With time, you may notice patterns.
What do you find is life-draining?  Can you eliminate it from your life and replace it with that which is life-giving?  Obviously, there are obligations that are life-draining but that we can’t neglect.  There’s a reason they’re called “chores,” after all.
Ironically, though, as we seek joy and satisfaction, as we seek life we often try to find it in life-draining pursuits.  As Jesus put it, “we work so hard for bread that does not satisfy.”  And then we find that we have no time or resources left for that which does satisfy, for that which gives us life.

Do you notice a pattern of what is truly life-giving?
Don’t forget to include times of relaxation and refreshment.  What draws you closer to God?

This teaching is difficult, the people say.  Following Jesus can be hard, challenging.  But in the end, will we find, like Peter, that Jesus, the Holy One of God truly does show us the way of eternal life?

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Living Bread, Living Water for the Life of the World – Bread of Life week 4

Preached on 16 August 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15, Year B

Today’s gospel is disturbingly graphic.  It’s visceral. My gut reaction is to resist and reject what Jesus says.  Along with the Jews, I ask, “How can this be?”

So, let’s spend some time with it.  Remember, while the lectionary gives us bits and pieces, John’s gospel has a long trajectory with each part further developing what has gone before.

We started this Bread of Life series three weeks ago with Jesus performing a sign – feeding a multitude of people with a small amount of food, five loaves of bread and two dried fish.  We are now in the third week of Jesus’ interpretation of the sign.  It began with a dialogue about his identity; that he is God; the God who provides sustenance in our lives.

Throughout the discourse, Jesus refers back to the time in the wilderness when God brought the Israelites out of the land of slavery in Egypt.  Our lives are sustained through believing in him where believing is about a deep abiding relationship with God.

The discourse continued last week with Jesus talking about where he comes from; his Origins.  He is the bread that came down from heaven to give life to the world.  He is God; he is from God.  And we heard him extend those origins to all whom God sends him; all who believe in him.  They, too, are of God.

Today, he takes it one step further. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” he says.  “The bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Just two chapters earlier, he promised the Samaritan woman that he would give her living water.  Just as God gave them manna from heaven and water from a rock in the desert, Jesus gives living bread and living water.

But we have to go back even further – all the way to chapter 1.  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  In Jesus, God became a flesh and blood human being.  And the bread that he gives is his flesh – the same word.  The living bread that he gives is his life: birth to death and beyond.  In Jesus, God embraces human life.

John’s focus is the incarnation.  Make no mistake, John is making it absolutely clear that Jesus is as human as you and I.  “How can ‘this man’ give us his flesh to eat?” the Jews ask.  In other words, this ordinary man, this living man, How can he give us his flesh, the meat of his body, to chew?  I did say today’s gospel was disturbingly graphic.

At the same time, John is proclaiming that Jesus is from God; Jesus is returning to God; Jesus is God.  And just as the living Father sent him and Jesus has life from the Father, those who eat his flesh and drink his blood truly have life, eternal life; life from him.

This passage is about as close as John gets to talking about Eucharist, Holy Communion.  And he puts it, not at the hour of his death, but smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ life in a discourse focused on Incarnation – on Jesus’ earthly life.

How does this incarnational focus expand our experience of Communion?  When we think about Jesus living for our sake so that we might have eternal life in our own lives.

And what does he mean when he says you must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have life in you.  It literally means “chew my flesh like meat.”  The words are so graphic, repugnant, even, it’s clear that he means something deeper.

Perhaps, if we look a bit more closely at the promise he offers we will get an idea.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life; those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them… so … they will live because of me.

God, in Jesus, fully embraces and engages human life.  Jesus gives us the sustenance we need to truly live.  It’s about more than bread and water and even meat.  If we just think about food or look at it or even if we smell it, we will still be hungry; we will starve.  No, in order to have life, we have to step up and bite into it and chew it up and swallow it.

To have life in Jesus, we must consume him.  It’s about intimate, deep engagement.  Jesus gives all of himself for the life of all the world. This is where God has chosen to meet us – as Incarnation; living among us.  It is where we meet God.

The promise is abundant life; life in the presence of God here and now and always.  It is Jesus abiding within us; within you, within me.  It is you abiding in Jesus – the whole of your being; nothing held back.

Perhaps Jesus is saying, “The bread that I give, this living bread – my self, my life with you and in you – is as vital to your life as the bread and the fish I fed the crowd.

Living bread, living water.
Jesus living for the life of the world.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Holy food for Holy people.

Where Do You Come From? – Bread of Life week 3

Preached on 9 August 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, Year B

Twenty-five years ago, or so, my husband and I and our almost two-year-old daughter visited my cousins on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, where my grandfather was born and raised.  Now, I had never met them before, although we had exchanged letters and Christmas cards.  For that matter, I never met my grandfather – he died before my parents even met.

Even so, my cousins welcomed me Home.  As far as they were concerned, Lewis was my home, I just happened to live in a house in the States.  While I was there, another, more distant cousin quickly drew up our family tree, tracing my lineage back to the mid-1600s.  These were my People, my family.  Lewis is where I was from.

It’s a matter of origins, where we come from.  Our origins, and how we talk about them, are about our connections; our Community, our Family; our People.  And there are many ways to tell about our origins.

For example, I could focus on myself as an individual; perhaps giving my educational story, or my work history, or talking about my husband and children.

Or I could say that I’m a Seattle native – born and raised there and that my father was, too, and that his mother moved to Seattle from Scotland when she was just 8 years old and his father was 17 when he immigrated.

Or I could go back even further, my grandparents were from the Old Country – old countries, I should say – and go back from there.

Today, we find Jesus talking about his origins.  We’re now at week 3 in the Bread of Life series.  As promised, Jesus is drawing us deeper as he interprets the sign we heard about two weeks ago – feeding the multitude.  We’re learning that this story was more than providing a meal for a large number of people.

Last week we heard him in dialogue with the crowd, talking about his identity.  And this week we hear the beginning of his discourse and he is talking about his origins.

Where does Jesus come from?  Each gospel writer tells of Jesus’ origins a little differently.  John tells it not as a story of his birth, not as a lineage back through David to Abraham or Adam.  John goes all the way back to before the Creation of the World.  His gospel opens with

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…  And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”  The trajectory of the gospel takes him back to God, the Ascension.

And here in chapter 6, John has Jesus making claims about his own origins.  “I have come down from heaven,” he says.  And the Jews object.  How can he claim to have come from heaven, from God?!  They understand that he’s claiming to be God and that is blasphemous to their ears.  They know where he’s from!  He’s from Nazareth.  They know his family, his parents!

I couldn’t help but think of Downton Abbey where family and connections and titles and lineage were so defining.  They defined who you were, whom you could marry, what you could and could not do, where you could go.

Well, it was even more so in the culture of Jesus’ day.  About the only way to break out of  your box was to disgrace yourself; to bring shame not only on yourself, but on your family.  And this was certainly not worth choosing.

So, what Jesus says next is even more startling.  He extends his origin story to those who believe in him.  Everyone whom the Father sends him is welcome; none will be rejected or thrown out or lost. It doesn’t matter who their family is or if they have no important connections, or even if they have brought shame on themselves and their families; all are welcome.  They will have eternal life, beginning right now.

And then, on the last day, He will raise them  up.  He’s not talking about resurrection from the dead, but ascension – returning to God.

Wow!  Imagine how it would feel to hear that.  God in Jesus offering them new life.  Offering himself as the food that will sustain them; sustain them so that they never hunger or thirst.  Food that gives them abundant life; not an abundance of things, but an abundance of life itself.

So, thinking about what Jesus has said, another way I can tell of where I come from –
I am a Child of God.  I am sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.

Where do you come from?  How will you tell your story?

Conversation Matters – Bread of Life week 2

Preached on 2 August 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, Year B

Conversation Matters.  It is fundamental to being human.  Through conversation, we build relationships; we share our joys and our sorrows.  We solve problems using conversation – not only our own personal problems, but societal problems and those we face as a nation.  Conversation gives us a way to begin to address major issues of our day such as racism, poverty, climate change, and epidemics.  Conversation helps us make meaning of our lives.  It helps us understand scripture, discern God’s presence and opens our eyes to what God is revealing to us.

Conversation or dialogue is a key characteristic in John’s Gospel.  Whenever Jesus performs a sign, he then interprets the sign through dialogue.   That’s what we have in today’s gospel.  When we come into the story, the crowd has been looking for Jesus and finally finds him.

The day before, we heard last week, Jesus fed them – all 5,000 men plus women and children – with just five loaves of bread and two fish.  As evening came, the disciples left by boat for Capernaum.  The sea was rough from the strong winds and Jesus came to them, walking across the sea.

The crowd experiences the first sign, feeding them all, but they don’t seem to understand what it means or even that it is a sign at all.  So Jesus engages them in dialogue.

When we have an encounter with God, it can take quite some time for us to process it; for it to sink in that it was God or what it means, what God might be revealing to us.

When it comes down to it, an encounter with God is first and foremost an experience.  While we try to describe it or explain it with words and understand it with our minds, there’s more to it than that.  We encounter God on all levels and God touches us through our emotions, our spirit, our soul.

In this story from John, there are many, many layers of meaning; not only in the sign itself, but also in the dialogue that follows, in Jesus’ words.  So, let’s look a little deeper at the conversation Jesus has with the crowd that comes searching for him.

Jesus suggests to them that they did not come searching for him because of who he is or because they understand the sign, but because they were fed and were satisfied.  On one level, yes, their bellies were filled and their physical hunger was satisfied.  On another level, perhaps they recognize that some other hunger was satisfied as well; that they were in the presence of something more, although they may not understand it or be able to articulate it.  And so they go looking for him.

Jesus helps them understand what they have experienced; he helps them understand who he is and something about the nature of God.  When the crowd points to their time in the wilderness when they ate manna from heaven, and ask him for a sign, Jesus draws a parallel.  Manna perished if they kept if overnight.  But he gives food that endures for eternal life.

“It wasn’t Moses that gave you manna; it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven,” he explains.  This is about God’s ongoing providence – he switches to present tense; and it is about Jesus’ identity.  God is his father.  Jesus is the bread that has come down from heaven; that has come to give life to the world.

If we were to read chapter four, we would hear a similar conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman when she recalls the well given to their ancestor, Jacob.  And Jesus says he would give her living water and “the water he will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  Whoever drinks will never be thirsty again.

Just as God provided sustenance in the desert, Jesus provides sustenance for eternal life, living bread and living water.  Abundant life with God is now.

Jesus told them that they should work for food that endures, not food that will perish.  They ask what work they must do.  “Believe in the one whom God has sent,” he says.

Believe in him; give your heart to him; be in relationship with him.

By the end, they say, “Give us this bread, always,” almost as a prayer.

Do you see how Jesus draws them deeper into their experience of the sign?  They move from knowing they had full bellies to beginning to have an idea that they are in the presence of God incarnate; to prayer.
They’re just beginning to get it, though.  We still have three more weeks of Jesus drawing them ever deeper; just as Jesus invites us ever deeper into relationship with him.

As I said at the beginning, conversation matters.  There are so many different conversations we could have, beginning with this gospel lesson.  Any one of them could be an invitation from Jesus to go deeper; to see God revealed.  Here are just a few conversation starters:

The crowd experiences a sign – Jesus feeding the multitude with just a few fish and loaves of bread, and they miss it.  What signs might we be missing or just plain taking for granted?  For example, this week, I read a post by a woman who grows vegetables in a pea patch type of garden.  She wrote about noticing the miracle of watching the seeds sprout and grow and produce nutritious, delicious food.  No amount of human ingenuity can make that happen.

The people go across the lake seeking Jesus because he fed them.  Where, when, why, and how do you seek Jesus?  Talk about your own encounters with God or Jesus.

Most of us have no personal experience of famine and we are rather distanced from the source of our food.  And yet, in the United States, 50% of all the food produced ends up in landfills while many people are hungry and can’t afford food.  What can we say about that?

In the world of the gospel, as soon as one meal is finished, they have to think about where the next one will come from.  They look to God for the basic sustenance of bread and water.  How does God sustain your life?

What other subjects come to mind?
With so many possibilities, let’s have some conversations.

Let’s seek Jesus.

Stirring Signs – Bread of Life, week 1

Preached on 26 July 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, Year B

There is a beauty to our lectionary – especially in the long season after Pentecost.  Each year of our three-year lectionary cycle focuses on one of the three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  In the seasons around Christmas and Easter, the readings are chosen to be appropriate to those festivals.  But in the summer and fall, during ordinary time, the lectionary takes us fairly sequentially through the gospel for the year.  That is until we come to these five weeks in the middle of summer in Year B – the year we focus on the gospel of Mark.  We will spend 5 weeks beginning today, in Chapter 6 of the gospel of John.  Five weeks; 71 verses.  It’s an opportunity to go deep.

Now the thing about John is that it doesn’t get its own year.  We read it in bits and pieces throughout the three year cycle, so we never get a chance to hear how it flows; how it holds together.  We don’t get a chance to notice how one story reiterates a message from another passage or repeats a theme or takes an idea deeper.  So, before we dive into today’s reading, let’s talk a little bit about the overall flavor of John.

John is writing for a Jewish audience toward the end of the first century; after the destruction of the Temple in 70.  He uses the Jewish festivals as time markers.    He focuses on Incarnation and Revelation of the Divine. Jesus is the Word made flesh who walks among us.  Jesus, the Incarnate One, reveals God to us.

Jesus uses “I Am” statements that recall God’s words to Moses and the patriarchs in the Old Testament.  “I Am the Lord Your God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  In John’s gospel, we hear Jesus say,
I Am the light of the world,
I Am the gate of the sheepfold,
I Am the Good Shepherd, I Am the True Vine,
I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and
I Am the Bread of Life.

There is an emphasis in John’s gospel on Abundance – an abundance of grace offered by God, Abundant Life, and in today’s reading, an abundance of food.

John writes of “signs” rather than “miracles.”  And he uses a pattern.  He sets the stage, Jesus performs the sign, then there is dialogue and discourse.  In today’s reading, there are two signs – one for the crowd and one just for the disciples.  We’ll hear the dialogue and discourse in the next few weeks.

The first sign, the feeding of the 5,000, is in all four gospels and in three of them, it is paired with Jesus walking on water (the second sign).  Of course, each writer offers a slightly different account.

How is God revealed to you through these signs?  Imagine yourself in the crowd or in the boat.  Dwell on the details.

John sets the stage:  It is near the time of the Passover.  So the people may be thinking about the stories of God’s deliverance of their people from slavery in Egypt, of their time in the desert, following Moses; of God giving them manna to eat all those years.

Jesus goes up on the mountain with his disciples – reminiscent of Moses going up the mountain to talk to God.  Jesus looks up and sees a crowd of people approaching and he immediately begins to talk to his disciples about feeding them.  “Where can we buy bread?” he asks. His disciples point out their resources are meager.  They don’t have enough money to buy even a little bread for so many people.  There is a boy here with a few barley loaves – peasant food – and a couple of dried fish; but what is that among so many?

Apparently, they go down the hill.  Jesus tells the people to sit on the grass – and John notes that there is plenty of grass.  On the one hand, it brings to mind Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…”  On the other hand, it looks ahead to when Jesus says, later in this gospel, “I am the Good Shepherd.”

Then Jesus distributes the food, the bread and fish, to the crowd himself.  All receive plenty to eat.  Afterwards, Jesus instructs the disciples to gather up the leftovers and there are 12 basketsful.

In this scene, Jesus doesn’t heal or teach. The crowd arrives and he is present to them.  He walks among them providing a basic necessity of life – bread.
The people understand the sign, at least on a certain level – he must be a prophet and they want to make him king.  But Jesus will have none of it; he won’t be co-opted for someone else’s purposes.  He withdraws back up the mountain.  Alone.

The disciples go to the sea and decide to take one of the boats across the lake to Capernaum.  The stage is set for the second sign; the one for the disciples.

They are three or four miles out when a strong wind comes up and the sea becomes very rough; they are terrified.  It’s night now and Jesus comes to them, through the storm, walking across the water.

He doesn’t calm the storm, though; he calms their fears.  “I Am,” he says, “don’t be afraid.”  And they immediately reach shore.  The NRSV translates it as “It is I,” because grammatically, that’s what our ear expects, but the words John uses are the same ones he uses for all the other “I Am” statements.

God, the I Am, is present; they need not fear.

John’s purpose in writing is to reveal who Jesus is and to reveal the nature of God.  He writes so that his readers will come to believe; to give their hearts to God.  What do these signs reveal to you about God? And Jesus?  How do they touch your heart?  How do they speak to your soul?

Sit with them awhile; imagining yourself in the crowd or in the boat.  Dwell on the details. What is God stirring within you?

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Preached on 12 July 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, Year B

That’s a rather grisly way to start the morning.
You may recall, Mark often interrupts a story with another one.  That’s what we have here.  This story about Herod is the interrupting story, the one in the middle.

Last week, we found Jesus in Galilee.  He was sending his disciples out in pairs to cast out demons, heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God.  Next week, we’ll hear about their return and the feeding of the multitude.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, Herod, the Jewish ruler of Israel who is working on behalf of the emperor in Rome, he hears about what’s going on up in Galilee – the wondrous works Jesus is doing and how now his disciples are doing them too.  He’s perplexed, concerned, even fearful.  He thinks that it must be that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead.  And he has a flashback.

You see, John had challenged him, saying that he should not have married his brother’s wife – that he, Herod, needed to repent.  Now Herod didn’t like hearing that, but still, John intrigued him.  He didn’t want to do anything too extreme because he could see that John was holy and righteous.

But then he went and said something rash and foolish.  He got himself into a rather awkward position.  When he publicly offered to give his step-daughter anything and she asked for she asked for John’s head on a platter, he may have felt that his honor was at stake; that he had to do it.  But then again, he’s not an honorable man.  He is ruthless and politically savvy.  He is powerful and he knows it and flaunts it.  It is because of his power that he could have afforded to laugh her off even in front of his friends.  After all, he has just treated this young girl as a sexual object for the viewing pleasure of his guests.  But instead, he ordered it done.

Now he’s having an “Oh shoot” moment, if you know what I mean.
“What have I done?” he’s probably thinking?
What does this mean?

Mark offers this picture of kingdom –
Where a man with wealth and power has a man arrested because he doesn’t like what he says.  Then he casually has him killed at the whim of a young girl like a tip for a lap dance.  And not just killed but killed in a particularly gruesome manner and then put on grisly display to be scorned; all for the “entertainment” at his birthday party.

Mark paints that picture of the kingdom of the world and inserts it right in the middle of the story about Jesus and his disciples proclaiming the kingdom of God. They are not simply proclaiming it, but they are enacting it.  They are healing people and casting out demons.  Clearly, God is with them.

Next week, we’ll hear about Jesus feeding thousands of people; almost as an indictment of the empire.  With all its wealth and power, people are still hungry.

No wonder Herod is panicking.  He knows that his power is no match for God’s.

What strikes you about this?
About the stories in and of themselves?
What does each say about the other?
What do you get from them being told together?

A couple things stand out for me.

First, I notice the contrast between these two images of kingdom – and that they exist simultaneously.  God’s kingdom doesn’t depend on the destruction of Herod’s kingdom.  In fact it breaks into and challenges Herod’s kingdom.  The kingdom of God is at hand, as Jesus so often said.

Second, I notice the stark reality of danger in the story.  The story of the beheading of John draws our attention to the fact that the disciples are risking their very lives; not only because of their vulnerability, their dependence on the hospitality of others, but also because they live in a dangerous time and place.  Their works are a direct challenge to the authority, the power, the sovereignty of the ruling power; a ruler that has proven himself to be capricious and cruel.  Because they have come to his attention and he feels threatened, they are in danger.

And yet, despite the danger from the rulers; despite the danger of their vulnerability and dependence – still they go out and do the work Jesus has given them to do.  They not only proclaim the kingdom of God, they live it; they inhabit the kingdom and welcome others in.  They lead them across the border.

What dangers do we face?  Mark shows us an extreme picture of kingdom.  As we look at the world around us or listen to the evening news, it isn’t hard to find similar examples – particularly of the abuse of power and wealth by individuals, by corporations, even by nations.  We are less likely to notice, however, the less extreme but insidious signs of Herod-like kingdom.

The Good News is that the kingdom of God is at hand it exists alongside the kingdoms of worldly power and in fact is breaking through.
We don’t have to conquer the world in order to live in the kingdom of God. What signs of God’s kingdom do you see around us?

Have you ever known someone who just seems to live in the kingdom of God; someone about whom you think, I want whatever it is that they have.”

They proclaim the kingdom with their lives.

When I see how troubled our world is, it can be overwhelming.  But I find incredible hope in knowing that we don’t have to conquer every problem first. The kingdom of God is at hand.  Even now, it is breaking through.

Images of Hopsitality

Preached on 5 July 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year B

It’s Independence Day weekend. Yesterday, many of us celebrated the birth of our nation by getting together with family or friends, relaxing, sharing a meal perhaps maybe even watching a fireworks show.

We Americans treasure our freedom and our independence.  We try to raise our children to be independent, to stand on their own two feet.  We celebrate rugged individualism.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not true.  We are dependent on one another and always have been.  From the pilgrims who survived because of the hospitality of the people who were already here to the pioneers who blazed trails across the plains and the mountains, to the countless people who work unseen but make our lives better, to the many small acts of kindness we give and receive every day.  It may be that in the past, we were better able to recognize our interdependence.  When a neighbor needed to raise a barn, everyone showed up.

God created us as social beings.  We need one another.  Our well-being is inextricably linked to the well-being of everyone else.  That’s why the practice of Hospitality is so important.  We see it all throughout the Bible – Old and New Testaments.

It’s a key theme in our gospel reading today.

Now when we think of hospitality, we usually think of the interaction between two roles – host and guest.  And we generally prefer the role of host, where we maintain control of the system.  But in the gospels, it’s not always so cut and dried.

Jesus is most often a guest.  But he is also simultaneously host and guest in many of the stories.  Or the lines between host and guest are blurred.

Today, we have two closely linked stories.
Jesus arrives in his hometown and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Jesus is a guest here. At first the people are astounded by the power of his deeds and the wisdom of his teaching.  Amazed exclamations of “Where does he get his wisdom” quickly shift, however, to “Who does he think he is?  He’s one of us!  A carpenter!”

He is rejected not because of his remarkable deeds, but because he is an unremarkable person.  He doesn’t fit their image of a wise rabbi or a prophet.  He’s too much like them.

It can be difficult to recognize grace when our vision is clouded by expectations – whether of someone like us or of someone different from us.  Sometimes, we know so little about the other that we reduce them to a single characteristic as if that one trait defines them, things like age or race or sexual orientation or where they were born or their accent or their political party.

I wonder if the people reject Jesus because he’s too much like them and they start comparing themselves to him.  It’s only human nature to compare ourselves to our peers and then judge ourselves.

We do it all the time from comparing report cards in school, to reading our friends Christmas newsletters telling of all the wonderful things they or their children or grandchildren have done all year; from reading other people’s Facebook posts to going to class reunions.  For that matter reading the newspaper or checking out the obituaries.  We compare and judge ourselves – “at least I’m not like that!” we may say to ourselves, or “What’s wrong with me?  I haven’t even fill-in-the-blank with whatever my friend has achieved.”  Maybe the people in our story are thinking “Jesus is no different from me, I grew up with him!  Should I be able to do what he is doing?”

And then, almost as if to make just that point, Mark goes on to tell of Jesus giving his authority to his disciples and sending them out to cast out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God.  Unremarkable people – people like you and me – sent out to do remarkable deeds.  Discipleship is more than following and learning from another.  It is also accepting the role and authority of the one you follow.  It’s continuing the work of Jesus.

Jesus sends these unremarkable folks out with surprising instructions.  They are to be utterly dependent on the hospitality of others.  They may bring a staff, but no extra clothing, no food or money or even a bag.  They are to risk becoming very vulnerable.

Jesus sends them out as guests in this hospitality scenario.  They must learn to be humble and gracious guests.  Perhaps it is in their dependence on the Other that they can recognize God in the Other.

Perhaps it is because of their vulnerability that their message can be heard; the kingdom proclaimed, the grace received.

Perhaps through their vulnerability they will come to understand that ultimately, they are always utterly dependent on the hospitality of God.

What if we were to value and celebrate our interdependence as much as we do our independence?

I wonder, what if we were to shift our mindset to see ourselves not as hospitable hosts to those who come through our doors, but as guests in the North End or even in greater Tacoma.  What if we were to let go of power and instead, risk being vulnerable; to offer our gifts, our story and risk rejection or ridicule?

What if, when we walk down the street downtown, we see ourselves as guests entering the home of the people who live there – on the streets or in shelters; as guests entering the home of people whose political views are different from ours or whose culture is different; who have made life choices with which we disagree?

What would it be like to embrace hospitality as a lifestyle; a practice that guides every aspect of our lives, every decision we make.

Perhaps we could try shifting our mindset and see what happens.  I wonder how we would understand our mission.  I wonder in whom we might find Christ.