Sunday, August 31, 2014

Eating With Paul (8/31/14)

Eating With Paul
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 31, 2014

Isaiah 25:6-10
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines
strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might
save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.

1 Corinthians 11:17-3
Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.

We are spending the summer with famous and some not-so-famous meals of the Bible.   Perhaps the most famous meal for Christians is the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper.     This meal has been the centerpiece for worship for the vast majority of Christians over the centuries.   It is overlaid with a great deal of symbolism and theological meaning.    In the Roman Catholic tradition it isn’t worship unless one participates in the eucharist with appropriately ordained priests.  The wafer and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament. 

Protestant traditions vary in how they understand the magic of it all.  For most Protestants, the weight of worship is in the preaching as opposed to the sacrament.     Some regard the Lord’s Supper as a memorial.   My Baptist background saw the supper in that way.   The best I could figure out how Presbyterians understand it is that Christ is really present but not literally present.    That is a typical way for Presbyterians.  Yes and no. 

Yes, the sacrament is more than a memorial.  Christ is present.  Stuff is cooking here.  Transformation is happening.   It is the means of grace through faith.   So it matters and it matters to do it with appropriate reverence.   But, don’t go too far.   It is not the literal body and blood of Jesus.  It isn’t magic.   It is symbol.    

I don’t think I have ever served a congregation that didn’t have discussion about this ritual. How to do it.  How often to do it.  Who can do it.  What it means to do it.  Why do it at all.  Should we rip and dip or sit and sip?  Do we say, "The blood of Christ?" or "Bottoms up?"  I shed no light on any of those marvelous questions this morning.    I say all of this to say that it has mattered to Christians over the centuries.  

I would add personally that it matters to me.  I have found myself often transformed by this ritual.   Nearly twenty years ago I participated in a communion service in the narthex of Riverside Church in New York City.   I was attending a conference and this was a special service as part of that.  This was before most denominations including the Presbyterians had begun to ordain openly gay and lesbian clergy.   At this communion service I attended the presiders and servers were openly gay and lesbian people.    It was an act of ecclesiastical disobedience or spiritual obedience.  

It was a first time for me to receive communion from an openly gay person as such.    As I received the elements I felt that what was happening was very important.  Communion is a ritual of boundaries, who can receive it, who can not, who can serve it, who can not.     Hanging over all of this are these ominous words from Paul:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

Paul was not afraid to dabble in superstitious rhetoric to make a point.  Don’t do this meal in an unworthy manner, or you’ll die!    I will talk about what I think he means by that in a minute.   I remember hearing those words in my little Baptist church as a kid before communion.  It was understood as a threat. 

“Don’t take communion if you are not right with Jesus. Or you’ll die!” 

Implied clearly in that imperative is, “If in doubt, you are probably not worthy.”

Communion was designed to scare the sins out of us.   We have centuries of mystery and authority and judgment over this ritual.    Forbidden.  Unworthy. 

In the midst of this, here are these gay and lesbian people who had been refused entry into the world of the clergy, not worthy for church, administering this forbidden meal.     I knew that was important.    

It was also important as I could see on the faces of those who received the sacrament, many with tears in their eyes, that this meal presided over in this way symbolized for them the power and possibility of acceptance.   Equality, yes.   But even more, full humanity.   Full embrace as children of God.   In short, worthiness. 

I felt as I participated in this that I would be needing to participate in a great many more rites like this.  Rites that symbolized rights.   But more even than that.  This spiritual ritual was the means of grace for material freedom.   But even more.   Full human dignity and not just for others, but for me.    I felt as though I participated in another level of meaning of this sacrament.     It was a feeling of being all one.   We are truly in this together.  We are worthy.

This experience of boundary breaking for me would be a way I would be called to sacramentally live my life.    As I took the bread from this woman, whom I assumed was a lesbian, although I wasn’t sure I had ever known one (this was before Ellen), and sipped from the cup, in the narthex, on the margins, on the edge, of this huge cathedral, I felt as though I was participating in a transformation of the world itself.   I was catching up, being caught up, as it were, in the Great Feast at the Heavenly Banquet.  You have to use images from sacred texts to describe it.     That was the power of this meal.    The power to exclude and diminish but also the power to make worthy. 

This ritual meal had nothing to do with the body and blood of Jesus or with Jesus dying for my sins, at least for me.  I did not think of myself eating his body and drinking his blood either literally or symbolically.   

The body and blood has been problematic for many.   Did the historical Jesus really institute a ritual meal in which a cup of wine and a piece of bread would literally be his body and blood?  That he himself would drink his own blood in the coming kingdom?  That is hard to imagine.   Certainly not literally.  Even symbolically, it sounds foreign.  It doesn't sound Jewish.  It sounds like Greek mythology.    

James Tabor in his book, Paul and Jesus:  How the Apostle Transformed Christianity, recounts this parallel in which:

One drinks a cup of wine that has been ritually consecrated to represent the blood of the god Osiris, in order to participate in the spiritual power of love he had for his consort, Isis.  P. 151

The tradition of the Lord’s Supper in which we symbolically or literally think we are eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus is not from the historical Jesus.  

Jesus ate meals.  He ate some with his followers.  He may have had a meal in which he shared a cup and bread and said it had something to do with a great hope for a transformed world.     He, like other first century Jews, hoped in a messianic banquet, a banquet celebrating God’s justice.    Perhaps something like Isaiah’s vision:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines
strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,

But the body and blood imagery?   That is from Paul.   Those words of institution attributed to Jesus were likely created by Paul.  

Paul’s letters are the earliest documents we have in the New Testament.    The gospel writers drew in part from Paul in creating their theological accounts of Jesus. Paul himself says, “I received from the Lord.”  Paul did not know the historical Jesus.  He had mystical experiences in which the risen Christ spoke to him.   He isn’t repeating information that he heard at an actual supper that Jesus had with his disciples.  He isn’t recounting the words of the historical Jesus as reported from them.  Paul created those words, or if you take Paul at his word, he is repeating what he heard from the Risen Christ himself in the midst of a mystical revelation.  

The gospel writers and later editors of the tradition picked up Paul’s theology and wrote it into the gospels, especially the story of the last supper or the Lord’s Supper.   When we participate in the Lord’s Supper by recalling the body and blood of Jesus, we are not eating with Jesus as much as we are eating with Paul.    For further reading, I would recommend James Tabor’s book, Paul and Jesus.  (Religion For Life interview)

There are other traditions for the words spoken in regards to this ritual meal.    But by the end of the second century, Paul’s theology dominated Christian theology as it does to this day.  But there were other paths.  Those paths could be worth exploring as we continue to create meaningful worship and ritual that empowers and transforms today.     This is from a document called the Didache.   Outside of Paul, this is the earliest record of a ritual meal:

You shall give thanks as follows:  First, with respect to the cup:  “We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child, which you made known to us through Jesus your child.  To you be the glory forever.”  And with respect to the fragments of bread:  “We give you thanks our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child.  To you be the glory forever.”  P. 147-8. 

Nothing about dying for sins.  Nothing about body and blood.   It is about giving thanks for the life and knowledge of Jesus.  

Let's turn to Paul.

As James Tabor points out, the meal in Paul’s churches was a charismatic event.  People would gather until all were present.  In the course of this gathering of the body of Christ, that is the gathering of the people, the Christ-Spirit would be manifest and gifts of the Spirit would be demonstrated.   Speaking in tongues.  Prophecy.  Healing.   Ecstatic shouting.

These meals were wild affairs.  They were participatory.  You were united with this mystical Christ experience with others as Tabor says:

“By taking this bread and this wine into one’s own body, one is uniting with the body and blood of Christ.”  p. 152

Paul is concerned that people are participating in this meal in a destructive way.  Paul literally believes that people have become sick and died because they have participated in an unworthy manner.   In the first century, the world is filled with magic and spirits.   We can dismiss that superstition.  But Paul’s concern about eating in an unworthy manner is important.  What is unworthy?  What is Paul worried about?   

Paul appears to be concerned about the inequality of the meal.   Paul writes:

For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk!

What kind of messianic banquet is that?  That is the world, right?  That is the growing inequality we see today between the rich and the poor.  Paul is still enough of a Jew to know that this inequality is not the meal on the Lord’s mountain.   It matters how we eat.  The meal we enact ritually is the way we understand and participate in our world.   If our ritual eating is unjust, how can we expect to enact justice in the world? 

Paul combines Greek and Jewish practices and understanding.    He applies the body and blood language of Greek gods and applies it to Christ.  But he retains the emphasis on social justice that was preached by the historical Jesus and the prophetic tradition.   

Paul is reminding his Corinthians that it isn’t enough to have ecstatic experiences.  These experiences must be transformed into justice and love for all people and for all creation.     

This sacrament of communion can be a powerful, transformative ritual that calls us to acceptance and equality.   I feel that power when we celebrate it here and gather in the circle around the sanctuary.    It is the power of our community.  It is an expression of oneness.   Sometimes we feel it, like I felt it when I participated in communion at Riverside Church many years ago and many times since.

The point is not the ecstatic feeling.   Sometimes we don’t feel it.  But the participation remains.   The true sacrament is not the ritual eating and drinking.   

The sacrament is being bread and wine for the world.   

In fact, every meal is a sacrament.  We are taking in the energy of Earth and transforming that energy into actions and words.    As we participate in the spirit and community of Jesus, in the spirit of Christ, in the spirit of Paul, those words and actions are to be words of healing.   

Our sacrament is to heal and transform our world and to bring dignity and worth to all beings.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Meals of the Rich and Famous (8/17/14)

Meals of the Rich and Famous
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Mark 6:14-29
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’ 
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

As we move through the menu of biblical meals this summer we come across this rather unappetizing one.   This is one of the meals of the rich and famous or perhaps rich and infamous.   You could call it, “What the powerful people do at supper when they are bored.”    It is a story of how not to use power. 

If it helps, the story is fiction.   It is a fiction similar to the Christmas story of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.   That story is a retelling of Pharoah’s killing of the babies in Exodus.   Both stories tell of the divine escape of the hero from the clutches of the ruthless.    Baby Moses escapes.  Baby Jesus escapes.  

The story we have in Mark about the dance is a fiction likely based on an account by the historian Livy.  Livy tells this story about Lucius Quinctius Flaminius who was expelled by the senate in 184 BCE for abuse of power.  Here is the story:

“…at Placentia a notorious woman, with whom Flamininus was desperately in love, had been invited to dinner. There he was boasting to the courtesan, among other things, about his severity in the prosecution of cases and how many persons he had in chains, under sentence of death, whom he intended to behead.  Then the woman, reclining below him, said that she had never seen a person beheaded and was very anxious to behold the sight. Hereupon, he says, the generous lover, ordering one of the wretches to be brought to him, cut off his head with his sword.  This deed, whether it was performed in the manner for which the censor rebuked him, or as Valerius reports it, was savage and cruel: in the midst of drinking and feasting, where it is the custom to pour libations to the gods and to pray for blessings, as a spectacle for a shameless harlot, reclining in the bosom of a consul, a human victim sacrificed and bespattering the table with his blood!”  (Crossan, Jesus:  A Revolutionary Biography, p. 36.)

Biblical scholar Dominic Crossan writes that this is not the way to exercise power.  Flavinius was expelled from the senate for doing so.   It is likely that the author of Mark’s gospel has this story in mind when he creates the story of Salome and her dance.   Why does Mark tell this story?  Mark is painting a portrait of Herod as an abuser of power.    This takes the focus away from the actions of John the Baptist and Jesus.    Mark wants to sanitize the Jesus movement for Rome.   

Yes Jesus was executed. Yes John the Baptist was executed.  But both were executed by bumblers, by abusers of power, and by rulers who were influenced by others.   Herod doesn’t really want to do it but he does it to save face.  Pilate doesn’t want to execute Jesus but he does so to pacify the crowd, all according to Mark’s gospel.

Mark wants to say that neither John the Baptist nor Jesus, nor especially us, dear reader, the followers of Jesus, are a threat to Rome.  We aren’t going to start a revolution.   We are good guys and those who killed Jesus and John were bad examples of Roman leaders.    Mark goes out of his way to paint Herod and Pilate as bad, incompetent leaders and take the focus away from what John the Baptist and Jesus were really doing. 

John the Baptist was an historical person, probably more well-known than Jesus in his time.   Herod executed John the Baptist.  This is what first century historian, Josephus writes about him in his Antiquities:

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the baptist  [the dipper]. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt -- for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise -- believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret.

And so John, out of Herod's suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.

This is an amazingly understated passage by Josephus.   Josephus needs to sanitize John the Baptist.  Josephus paints John as a good guy encouraging people to be their best selves, etc.  But he gives away the likely reason that Herod executed John.   

“Herod…feared that such a strong influence over the people might carry a revolt.” 

It is likely that John the Baptist was a revolutionary.   He wanted Rome to end the occupation and for Israel to be a kingdom.   He thinks that God is going to make this happen.   That is why is doing his part.  He is baptizing people in the Jordan River.  As historical Jesus scholar, Dominic Crossan wrote, the “Jordan is not just water.”  (Crossan, Jesus, p. 29ff)

The Jordan is a highly symbolically charged river.  It is the river that Joshua crosses in order to conquer and claim the Promised Land.   When John baptizes people for purification, for repentance, he is baptizing as Crossan puts it, “apocalyptic time bombs.”    He is baptizing them into a righteous fervor.    

This is all supernaturally charged.   Weather happens good and foul because of the activities of the gods, or in Israel’s case, because of God.   Why does God send rain or not send rain?  Why does God punish his people or reward his people?  Because God is responding to their behavior, whether it is line with Torah or not.   Who decides?  The scholars and especially the prophets, like John in the wilderness dressed like a madman.   

He like any prophet, read any of them in the Old Testament, thinks that if people repent of their sins, then God will restore their fortunes.    John is baptizing and  purifying people and calling for their repentance so that they will move into the promised land, sanctified and ready.  Ready for what?   The Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God, says John, is at hand.   John is getting people spiritually fired up for the restoration of Israel and the end of Roman rule.    The Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Rome.

Now we have been taught that the Kingdom of God is spiritual.   The kingdom of God is heaven, some otherworldly place.  We think that because the gospel writers did a good job of sanitizing John and Jesus.   They had to explain why John and Jesus were executed by the state, a punishment for criminals and insurrectionists.    The explanation is that John the Baptist died because he criticized Herod’s marriage and Herod’s second wife got back at him.   The explanation for Jesus is that he died for our sins.   That is the big divine plan.   It was carried out because Jewish leaders were jealous of Jesus or whatever.       None of that is historical. 

As the centuries wore on and Christianity became the religion of empire it became a religion of the powerful preaching otherworldly salvation and most importantly one that sanctified the powers that be.    Jesus the social and political prophet, to use a metaphor from Robert Price, was hidden behind a stained glass curtain.   

When we strip away the legends and the spin, we find that both John the Baptist and Jesus were insurrectionists.  They wanted to overthrow Roman rule and to re-establish Israel as a kingdom under God.  

Remember John baptized Jesus.   This is an embarrassing fact that the gospel writers go to great lengths to explain.  He was himself, a ticking apocalyptic time bomb.   

Debate surrounds how far Jesus moved from John.   Was Jesus apocalyptic like John was thinking that God would respond with vengeance on behalf of his people, newly baptized and ready, or was Jesus similar but different?    Crossan offers that Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was a collaboration between humans and God, a non-violent insurrection.     I wonder if Jesus knew what to do.   What do you do?

How do you end Roman occupation?  Fight and lose.  Fight and lose.  Fight and lose.   Or don’t fight and still lose.    

It is a similar story today.

The parallels are striking between ancient Israel’s fight for independence from Rome 2000 years ago and the Palestinian fight for independence from the modern state of Israel and its ally the United States over the last six or seven decades.   

What do the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza really do?  Fight and lose.  Don’t fight, still lose.    Violent resistance.  Non-violent resistance.  It doesn’t seem to matter.  The powerful have too many resources and chief among them is propaganda.  

One lesson from history is that fight and lose against a powerful and ruthless enemy really loses.     The Jewish revolts in 66-70 and later in the 130s were crushed mercilessly.    You have to find a way to balance the power.  You need to get allies.  You need to tell your story again and again and get it heard.  

I think the religious task in all of this, and this is the point of the sermon, is to do the hard work of reading our texts critically and to deconstruct them.   The movement toward understanding our texts historically has opened our eyes.    We are finally starting to hear that Jesus was a social and political prophet.  The mythical and supernatural elements are a distraction.    When taken literally, these mythical and supernatural elements serve the interests of the status quo.     When understood as symbols for transcendence, they can serve liberation.

The point is not to find the historical Jesus and then worship him.  The point is that the process of deconstruction itself is liberation.    Our modern task is to strip away the myth, legend, and propaganda in order to uncover the power relations in and behind the texts and then to re-imagine possibilities for our future.    To notice where God is bubbling up.

Many things are done in the name of religion and God that are against the good health of our society and our world.    Just yesterday I saw a story about a group in Dallas, Texas, of the Institute for Creation Research, who are out to prove scientifically that the creation stories in the Bible are scientifically accurate.    This is silly but in the popular imagination this nonsense gets a hearing in part because moderates and liberals have treated our texts and traditions with kid gloves.   

Religion needs to be deconstructed and it needs to be deconstructed from within.  We don’t look at these texts such as the silly story of Salome’s dance at face value.  We read it with suspicion.  It is a story that misdirects.    

John the Baptist and Jesus were really executed.  They were really executed because they were, in fact, enemies of the state.   They were threats to the Roman order.  They were insurrectionists, rebels, and freedom fighters or terrorists depending upon which propaganda network to which you listen.   

If Jesus was an insurrectionist what does it mean to follow Jesus today?   If Jesus was on the side of the poor and the oppressed, what side are followers of Jesus to take?    You might say, “I don’t want to follow this Jesus.”  That is a mature decision.   

Another mature decision is to take what we can and leave what we can’t.    For example I leave behind the first century supernaturalism.    It doesn’t matter how many people John the Baptist baptized in the Jordan in order to get a divine being to take action.   All they got was wet.    I have seen no evidence that a divine being either controls weather or political processes.   I leave behind the supernatural elements whether Jesus believed in them or not.   

I take the humanistic elements of the Jesus movement.    I draw from it many of his parables and his passion for social justice and his love of enemies that I think distinguished his non-violent movement.     

I do honor the transcendence of this movement.  

This is why his movement was explained through myths of resurrection.    There is something alive in this passion, something with depth.   God rather than up and out and intervening on occasion, is instead within and through.   God is the bubbling up.

This is religion after being deconstructed that can be constructed again.   For example, today I see God bubbling up in young adults calling for divestment from our fossil fuel consumption, making music and art that both transcends and embraces  our ethnicities, questioning all forms of institutional propaganda.    I call that transcendent bubbling up, God.   

It was a beautiful bubbling up at this year’s PCUSA General Assembly.  The Young Adult Advisory Delegates or YAADs voted with the historical Jesus in my view.   On the issues of importance, they were on the side of the angels.  The issue that ignited their passion was divestment of fossil fuel companies.  They lined up several at a time at the microphones to speak articulately and with the passion of John the Baptist on behalf of Earth.  They were ready to dismantle industrial civilization.  The old Presbyterians weren’t quite ready for it.  

I saw in these young adults God bubbling up.

It comes through in this hymn we are going to sing in a few minutes, Soon and Very Soon.   It is transcendent language about a liberation movement sung by African-Americans.    It is a song of hope while in an otherworldly framework is about a-this-worldly hope.    

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the king.  Which means…
Soon and very soon, we will know this sacrifice and loss is not in vain.
Soon and very soon, we will find our liberation and freedom.
Soon and very soon, those who hunger will be filled.
Soon and very soon, those who thirst for justice will be satisfied.
Soon and very soon, spears will be turned in to pruning hooks and swords will become plowshares.
Soon and very soon, tears will be wiped away.
Soon and very soon, racism will end in police departments.
Soon and very soon, religion will not inspire violence and ignorance but peace and courage.
Soon and very soon, Palestinians and Israelis will exist hand in hand in true justice and freedom throughout all the land.
Soon and very soon, the kingdom of heaven will be on earth. 

That means that we can never, never, never give up hope, no matter the Herods, no matter the Pilates, no matter the mountain before us.

God is bubbling up.   

Soon and very soon.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Eating in with the Out Crowd (8/10/14)

Eating In with the Out Crowd
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 10, 2014

Luke 5:27-35
After these events he went out and observed a toll collector named Levi sitting at the toll both.  He said to him, “Follow me.”  Leaving everything behind, he got up, and followed him.  And Levi gave him a great banquet in his house, and a large group of toll collectors and others were dining with them.
 The Pharisees and their scholars would complain to his disciples, “Why do you people eat and drink with toll collectors and sinners?”
In response Jesus said to them:  “Since when do the healthy need a doctor?  It’s the sick who do.  I have not come to enlist the upright to change their hearts, but sinners.”
They said to him, “The disciples of John are always fasting and offering prayers, and so are those of the Pharisees, but yours just eat and drink.”
And Jesus said to them, “You can’t make the groom’s friends fast as long as the groom is present can you?  But the days will come when the groom is taken away from them, and then they will fast, in those days.”

You know what smear is.
When you have weak argument you can always resort to smear.   A smear is when someone links his or her opponent with someone or something distasteful for the purpose of demeaning the opponent or dismissing his or her opinions in public discourse.   
You see this in politics often.   A classic example was in the 2008 election when vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said that President Obama was, quote, “palling around with terrorists.”   She was attempting to make a connection with Obama and Bill Ayers the 60s radical.   

I see this in church politics.   Recent actions by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have been smeared with all kinds of evil motivations.  This is done by finding someone distasteful who agrees with one of the decisions and then saying the PCUSA is the same as this person.    

The ultimate smear is linking someone to Hitler and the Nazis.   That is an old smear tactic on internet conversations that has earned the name, Godwin’s Law.      According to Godwin’s Law:

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."   In other words, regardless of the topic, if the discussion goes on long enough, someone will eventually make the comparison to Hitler or the Nazis. 

Smear has nothing to do with content but everything to do with perceived associations.     If I can associate you with something distasteful, whether it be an ideology, a person, or a movement, then we don’t have to deal with the content.  You have been smeared.

The smear campaign is at least as old as the Bible.   

“Why do you people eat and drink with toll collectors and sinners?” 

Or to use the Sarah Palin vernacular:

“This Jesus fella is palling around with sinners!”    

When we read the gospels we are reading the residue of controversies and skirmishes that have been preserved for us in a frame.   This historical task is to try to remove the frame and see what the skirmish was about and who the players were.

Who were toll collectors and sinners?
Why did Jesus eat with them?
Why was he criticized for it?

I used to think that the Pharisees were like modern day self-righteous church people and the toll collectors and sinners were the outcasts of society because of their sexuality or poverty or whatever, the uncool people.  They were discriminated against and Jesus cast his lot with them.   

“I am palling around with these people you church people reject.”  

That is a fairly common interpretation.  The “sinners” are the hoi polloi, the poor common folk who didn’t have the means to follow the ritual of the law.  They were the underdogs despised by the religious and political power structures.   Jesus hung out with them.   

I like that interpretation.  It is a good thing to be in solidarity with the oppressed and those who are the victims of discrimination and the underdogs.    I think Jesus probably did that.  

But those aren’t the toll collectors and the sinners. 

The thing that bothered me about that interpretation, even though I really liked it, is that when asked about it, Jesus doesn’t defend them but says he is like a physician and is here to call these sick sinners to repent.   He agrees that they are sinners and that they need fixing and he wants to fix them.  That isn’t quite the same as being in solidarity with them.  

A book that has been valuable is James Crossley’sWhy Christianity Happened.      His book helps answer this question: 

Who were the sinners?

First we have to let go of 2,000 years of Christian theology that calls people who are not Christian, sinners, or those who do not engage in appropriate Christian piety, sinners.    We have to let go of the notion that sinners have something to do with sex.    Those aren’t the sinners of the Old Testament and the Gospels.

The Greek word for sinners is hamartolon.   You find it throughout the Bible.  Sometimes it is translated as sinners at other times wicked.  This is Psalm 72:

For I was envious of the arrogant;
   I saw the prosperity of the wicked (sinners).
For they have no pain;
   their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
   they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
   violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness;
   their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
   loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
   and their tongues range over the earth.

According to James Crossley, sinners were “violent, oppressive, and exploitative rich people.”  P. 76  The sinners had power.  They were greedy, wealthy, and successful.   They were like in modern parlance, the one percent. 

In the time of Jesus, Palestine was occupied by a foreign force, the Roman Empire, sinners par excellence.    It truly was, if not one percent, just a small few percent controlling, oppressing, insulting, and keeping at subsistence level with heavy indebtedness, the other 99 or 95 percent. 

Toll collectors were especially nasty, because they would often be Jews who have sided with the oppressors and collect tolls on behalf of the occupation.   These toll collectors profited from the occupation. 

When Jesus and his disciples are eating with the toll collectors and sinners, they are not eating with the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed.  They are eating with the rich, the powerful, and the oppressors.   The sinners are those we would call the bad guys, the wicked. 

This is Psalm one verses one and five:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked
or take the path the sinners tread,
or sit at the seat of the scoffers.

Therefore the wicked
will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

The belief was that eventually, judgment will come upon the sinners.  God will make things right, one day.  In the meantime, what do you do with sinners?  You don’t pal around with them.  They should be avoided.   If you are not careful, you could become one.    Right?

Don’t drink, smoke, chew, or hang around with girls who do.

Don’t be an oppressive, violent, greedy, rich person who profits by the occupation of others.    Who are the sinners?   They are sodomites.   Remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?  It has nothing to do with sex.  According to Ezekiel:

“This was the guilt of your sister Sodom:  she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”  16:49

Those are the sinners, the wicked, the sodomites:  the exploitative rich.

The Pharisees are asking a legitimate question.  Why are you associating with these people who are exploiting us?  The Pharisees didn't like the occupation either.   The accusation that the disciples are eating and drinking or that Jesus is a glutton or a drunkard is a damning one.  They are eating and drinking like the sinners and the wicked do.   It is another way of saying that they are palling around with the occupiers.   

Jesus and his disciples are eating with those Jews who are wicked and who are sinners.   These are people not following the Torah.  They are lending money at interest.  They are exploiting fellow Jews.  They are collecting tolls on behalf of Rome.  They are bad apples. 

When we read the gospels we are reading the remains of intra-Jewish conflicts.  Jesus was a Jew, 100%.    Crossley makes this point and I agree:  every thing that Jesus says and does is in line with the Torah.  He is a prophet, teacher, and movement leader within the tradition.     The Pharisees are too.  They are both concerned about the law and both opposed to the occupation.  They represent competing movements within second temple Judaism.   

What do you do with sinners? One answer is to avoid them.  Do not follow in their paths.  God will take care of them eventually.  

Another answer also in the tradition is that sinners can repent.  

Earlier I quoted Ezekiel.  This is Ezekiel again.  In these verses, the Lord is instructing the prophet as to his mission:

Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: ‘Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?  33:10-11

Turn. The Greek word is metanoia.   It means repent.   It doesn’t mean feeling bad or when you get caught, crying to Jesus and mama on the television.  It means changing behavior.  It means turning one’s life in a different direction.      

Jesus saw as his prophetic task, calling sinners, the wicked, the sodomites, the greedy, exploitative, violent, successful wealthy people to repentance.  As he said to the Pharisees:

“Since when do the healthy need a doctor?  It’s the sick who do.  I have not come to enlist the upright to change their hearts, but sinners.”

We are familiar with the story of Zaccheus, the wee little man in the tree.  He is a toll collector.   Jesus tells him he will eat with him and Zaccheus is so overwhelmed that he repents and gives back four times the amounts that he has defrauded others. 

While this particular story is more legend than history, it shows that Jesus was understood as one who sought out the wicked and the sinners, the exploitative wealthy and called them to change. 

Why are the Pharisees picking on Jesus for doing this?  Why are they calling him a glutton and a drunkard and smearing him with “sinner?”  He is doing what prophets are called to do, call sinners to repent.    

Crossley suggests envy might be a reason.  This is an intra-Jewish conflict and the Pharisees don’t want Jesus to be successful as people might follow him rather than them.

On the other hand, if Jesus is not successful, they could accuse him of wasting time and effort and even becoming one of them.  A respectable teacher like Jesus should not be palling around with these bad apples who show no signs of repentance.   His mission is naïve.  

What to take home?

It is interesting that much is made of this in the gospels.  Several stories independently attested have Jesus eating with the wicked and the sinners.   He is not eating with the marginalized or the oppressed.  He is eating with the bad guys—those who are unjustly wealthy and who are oppressors.   This could be the gospel. 

It appears that the historical Jesus did believe in something naïve and acted on this belief.  He believed that the house of God, the Greek word is oikos where we get the word economy, is a just house.    He believed and he preached that the economy of God was one of justice.   

It is a house in which the rich do not exploit the poor. 
The powerful do not oppress the week.  
The sinners do not scoff at the plight of the hungry.  
Jesus believed that people could change. 
Jesus believed that the kingdom of God could exist on earth as it does in heaven.
It could exist in reality as it does as an ideal.  
Heaven to Earth.   

Religion is about spirituality for sure.  It is a spirituality about a just economy.   At least that is what the Jesus tradition is about.   It isn’t about political opinions.  It is about the gospel of the economy of God.    We are all part of it.

Where might we see a glimpse of this gospel today?     I see it in the work of those who advocate for a just society all around me in this very sanctuary.    Those who write letters and columns in the newspaper and who lead workshops and who teach classes and who work hard to convince people of what it means to live sustainably and fairly.  

Economic justice. 
Health care justice. 
Reproductive justice. 
Immigration justice.  

This is Jesus business whether those who do it are Christians or are religious or spiritual or not.   

This is not politics.  This is gospel.  This is what Jesus did.   

Jesus ate with the wicked.  
If he were here today, he would eat with me.  

He would tell me to open my eyes, get off my butt and participate.    At the supper table he would say,

“John, I want you to look at my servant, Sister Simone Campbell, the nun on the bus.   She hardly has any money or any influence and she has to speak her truth to everyone from politicians to the Pope about people who are dying because they can’t afford an operation.    

She doesn’t whine about it, John, like you do.  She gets on the bus and travels the country and talks with everyone.  She calls up the politicians who don’t have their heads on straight and she introduces them to those who are hurt by their policies.  

She doesn’t give up hope either.    She expects that people will repent.   Read what she wrote, John, from her book, A Nun on the Bus:  How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.”

All right Jesus, here is what she wrote:

“Conversion?  People tell me that’s naïve.  And yet my heart, and the hearts of my sisters, have been profoundly changed by encounters with so many people….

…I believe that walking with people who are struggling in our country will open our hearts to our better selves.  If that’s naïve, I’m proud of it.  Because we have been effective, for the sake of God.  Maybe we should all be more naïve.”   Pp. 71-2

If Jesus were having supper with a sinner like me, that is what I think he would do.  He would tell me about what life is really like for so many people in our world.  He would connect me with others from all walks of life.  He would talk about what bad policies and laws do to real people.     He would show me what we could do.

And he would invite me to change my heart.   


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lunch With 5,000 of My Closest Friends (8/03/14)

Lunch With 5000 of My Closest Friends
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 3, 2014

2 Kings 4:42-44
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat.’ But his servant said, ‘How can I set this before a hundred people?’ So he repeated, ‘Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.” ’ He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
Mark 6:30-44
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’
 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

We are spending time this summer with famous meals of the Bible.   Today’s meal is a popular one.   There are six versions of this parable in the four gospels.   I use the word parable for this story following historical Jesus scholar, John Dominic Crossan.  

Professor Crossan wrote a book a few years ago called The Power of Parable.   In this book he writes about a variety of parables.   It is obvious that Jesus told parables.   But parables were also told about Jesus.   The writers of the gospels told parables about Jesus or they repeated parables they had heard.    Crossan prefers the word parable to fiction or legend.  A parable has a function.    The storyteller uses parable to show us something.   A parable is about what is more than literal.   

When we hear Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan, we don’t worry if it was an historical event, whether it happened or not, but we are concerned with what it means for us.   Similarly, many stories told about Jesus are not historical events but are parables about Jesus.  Their importance is about what is more than literal. 

The word parable means literally, “to throw alongside.”  A parable throws things alongside each other.    How is seed scattered on various types of soil the kingdom of God?  How is the Samaritan story the kingdom of God?    You throw the phrase the kingdom of God alongside the Samaritan story or the seed story and see what happens. 

Those are both parables by Jesus.   We don’t care if they happened or not.  They invite reflection and action on behalf of the kingdom of God.  That is what is important.   The same is true for stories about Jesus.   How is Jesus feeding the 5,000 or the 4,000 depending on which parable we are hearing, the kingdom of God?   What does this parable show us about life, about God, about humanity, about justice, about food? 

To get to those interesting questions, we need to look at these parables a little more closely.    This parable occurs six times in the gospels, twice in Mark, twice in Matthew, once in Luke and once in John.    This parable meant a lot to the early Jesus movement.  

Four versions, one in each gospel has Jesus feeding 5,000.  In Mark it is just 5,000 in the other gospels it is 5,000 men plus women and children.    In each of these tellings there are five loaves and two fish and twelve baskets left over.    We have some good numbers.  Five loaves plus two fish is seven.  Twelve baskets.  Twelve tribes of Israel.  Twelve apostles.  Twelve months in the year.  Seven and twelve are sacred numbers.   You don’t need to make a whole lot of it, except to note that they are storytelling numbers.   They indicate that we are in the realm of parable.

There are two other versions to this story.  In Mark and in Matthew, not long after feeding 5,000 with five loaves and two fish and twelve baskets leftover, Jesus feeds 4,000.  This time he has seven loaves and there are seven baskets left over.    Seven is important whether it be five loaves plus two fish or seven loaves.   '

What do we know?  This is an important parable that was told often with a couple of versions, 5,000 and 4,000.   The use of magical, sacred numbers indicates that it is a parable with a more than literal meaning.  It is not meant to be journalistic report of an historical event.  

What might have been the basis for this parable? 

The major story of the Torah is the escape from Egypt through sea and the wandering in the desert.   This journey is filled with water miracles and food miracles.  According to the legend, the Israelites cross the sea miraculously and are fed manna from heaven each day---daily, their daily bread--in the wilderness.  

In the Gospels, Jesus walks on water, calms the sea, and feeds the crowd in a deserted place.   Parable.  As God was present then, so God is present now.   As God led the ancestors through the wilderness to the promised land, so God will care for us in this occupied desert and lead us to a promised land of justice and peace.   

The feeding of the 5,000 calls to mind vividly the Torah. 

But that is not all.  It also calls to mind the prophets, particularly Elijah and Elisha who also perform miracles.    Elisha’s story is similar to this one.   A company of prophets, like a union of prophets are hanging around hungry.    A guy brings twenty loaves and some fresh ears of grain.    Elisha says give it to them.   The complaint is that there isn’t enough for 100 hungry prophets.  Give it to them anyway, Elisha instructs.  God will work a miracle.  Sure enough.  Everyone eats and there are leftovers. 

It is the same story even to the details of the plot.   A hunger problem with a specific number of hungry people.   A small specific amount of food.  Doubt and concern among the servants or disciples.   The demand of trust by the hero.   Everyone eats.  Leftovers.   

The story is applied to Jesus and expanded with numerical detail that gives it that sacred quality.   Seven pieces of food for 5,000 with twelve baskets leftover.   Seven loaves feed 4,000 with seven baskets leftover.    That is the divine presence.   Jesus embodies the divine presence and is worthy of trust.  

That is the take home.  In the midst of the wilderness, the desert, the deserted place, where there isn’t enough, God provides.   Live with that trust. 

How often has that parable been true in your life?    My hunch is that this parable has been true a lot in your life!  It has been true in my life.

How often have we faced something that seems to have no answer, that seems overwhelming, that seems against the odds, and that fills us with worry?   Now look back.   We made it through, didn’t we?    We may have the bruises to show for it, we know the grief over the loss, but we are here.    We might even look back and scold ourselves:  “Why was I so worried?”    

The parable of the miraculous feeding was popular and repeated because it is true.   There may be many ways of stating this truth.  One way is this: 

“Life happens and will happen.   It is a lot easier if you can take a breath, trust, and watch it unfold.” 

It is sometimes easy to confuse trust with belief.  We may think that the important thing is to believe that this story happened.   I find that the important thing is trusting that this story happens.

As I look back and as I look ahead and as I look in the present, I realize this story repeats itself again and again in my life.   Like the disciples I am worried or anxious, “How are we going to feed these people?”  It happens whether I trust or not with leftovers.  I look back and wonder why I didn’t trust more.  

After this feeding of the 5,000 in Mark’s gospel, the disciples follow Jesus around.  Then he feeds the 4,000.  Immediately after that, after two miraculous feedings, the disciples are in the boat and they are worried because they forgot to bring bread.    What will we do now?  That is true, too. We worry, we get by, and we forget that we got by so we worry again.   

I like to think that I am getting a little bit better in the trust department.   If not, that’s OK, because the disciples were dullards, too.    I guess that is a good reason to go to church, to be reminded that this parable is true.  

And there were twelve baskets left over.

Another reason this story is popular is because it is connected with a ritual called the potluck.   The church over the centuries turned it into a symbolic potluck, reducing the loaves to a little wafer or a bit of cracker, and the fish turned into a plastic shot glass of grape juice.   Many other meanings and rituals gravitated toward it, but originally it was a potluck, a divine picnic.   

You bring what you have.  You share it.   Everyone gets something.  There are leftovers.  That is church.    Notice the liturgical language in Mark’s version of the parable:

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and he divided the two fish among them all.”

It is like communion.  It is a sacrament.  

Some biblical scholars think this parable was told to explain the meaning of their gathering.   In other words, the gathering for a common meal was first and this story was told later to explain it.   

Think of it this way.  You can imagine people asking why they are seven days in a week and why should they keep the Sabbath holy?   What is the story behind that?  Someone creates the story of the seven-day creation to explain why.     

I can imagine the followers of Jesus asking why do we gather for a common meal?  What is the meaning of our meal?  What is the meaning of our community?  This parable of the feeding of the 5000 is told to illustrate that experience.    We gather to share our resources, to share our lives, to encourage one another to trust, and to watch God happen with leftovers.

While this parable is not historical it does reflect the essence of the ministry of the historical Jesus.  In the face of hopelessness, occupation, ethnic division, and scarce resources, the historical Jesus encouraged trust, liberation, the breaking of boundaries, and sharing.     So it was appropriate, natural even, that a parable would be told about him feeding 5,000 with meager resources.  

The challenge for us, the invitation to us, is to notice how this miracle continues to happen and to participate in it.   Dominic Crossan writes that this parable is about “the equitable distribution of our earth for all.”   There is more than enough Earth for all when “it passes through the hands of divine justice.”

When we consecrate Earth and Earth’s resources, whether it be food or whatever, because everything is a gift literally from the stars, when we recognize that all is sacred, and we trust that there is enough for all, miracles happen. 

We are invited to participate in this divine justice.   We do this by offering our gifts to the work of our community.   Our time, our skills, our treasure sharing, trusting that even as we cannot see what will happen, nevertheless it does without our knowing.

I do want to say something about this congregation.    It is important to acknowledge the presence of divine justice.   I don’t say this to pat ourselves on the back.   It is important to say what this congregation has done and has meant to people.  We can forget that this parable is true.  We can forget that this parable is enacted in the lives of our community. 

This past week I received a phone call, a request to officiate at a holy union ceremony for two women.  The person who was to officiate had an emergency and couldn’t do it.   I received the call Tuesday.  I met with them Friday and we had the ceremony on Saturday.   They didn’t have much money.    It was nothing elaborate, a ceremony and a picnic.    The ceremony was at Elk River Falls in North Carolina.  Just the other side of the town of Roan Mountain across the state line.  

I asked them why they wanted to do this.  They said they wanted to commit themselves to each other in front of their family members.    I asked them how they heard about our church, and they knew someone who knew us.   Our reputation is starting to grow.

On the rock that overlooks the falls, I officiated on behalf of our congregation at this holy union.   It was a Saturday and it is a busy place.  There were people going back and forth.  As this is happening there are people gathering and watching.   I can imagine the wheels turning, “That is a preacher, all right.  That’s a wedding for two women.”     I realized that we were participating in divine justice and love.  

As it is with these things, not all family members are on the same page.   But it is harder to keep hearts hardened when you witness something like that.  After it was over another person asked me for my number so I could do a holy union for her and her partner.   I gave her my card with our church name on it.  I don’t know if I will see these women again or any of the people who were there.    This was a divine  sharing of bread.

I could see the recognition and gratitude on the faces of the couple and the family.  It was an eye-opener.  This is a real minister with a business card who has an office in a real church building.  This is a real minister doing this on behalf of a real church.    That means a lot.  I do these things as a minister of this congregation.   There are some things I do on my own, so you don’t get in trouble.  But there are other things for which I want you to get in trouble.   You are becoming known as the church that does this. 

I don’t say this to pat myself on the back or the church.  I certainly don’t say this to compare ourselves to other churches as if we are better or something.  We are not.   There are many, many things we could learn from other churches.  Every church has its own particular gift and one of ours is equality for LGBT people.   That is it on that. 

I share this story because I want to remind you that this congregation has effects beyond its walls.   I share this story because I want you to know that this miracle of feeding and sharing and divine justice happens.   It happens far beyond our knowing and our awareness.  Divine justice does pass through you.    As uphill as the journey might seem, as meager as our resources, nevertheless God blesses and shares what we have with the world.   

And there were twelve baskets left over.