Monday, July 27, 2015

Cries of the heart: the cry of physical need

The cry of physical need  072615

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
In John’s gospel Jesus always knows what’s going to happen….John has a very different image of Jesus than the other 3 gospels……the point here might be that God is already at work, what are you going to do to participate in that work?
In the book of Jeremiah this week I read this:   prophets and priest ply their trade, but still there is war and famine.   The professionals have a role to play, but meeting the physical needs of the world is everybody’s call.
Jesus sees an immediate need.  And he expects his disciples to get involved in the need….in one of the other gospel versions of this story he tells them directly, “Give them something to eat”
It’s the same today….there are people with deep physical needs right in front of our sight, sometimes actually, tho we protect ourselves carefully from the sight… sometimes on the tv or computer screen, which we can turn off.   Hunger and poverty and physical danger are rampant in a world where we have plenty and others not enough.  I’m not telling you anything new.  But it seems we haven’t yet got the message.   God expects us to participate in meeting the need.
  Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ 
The power of thinking little….we don’t have enough, we will never have enough, and even if we had money it wouldn’t be enough to really make a difference.  A great excuse for inaction.
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ 
Enter a child who is willing to share his lunch…..someone who has already got God’s message.  But Andrew can’t see that.
There isn’t one of us who hasn’t said or thought something like Andrew:   what can one person do, what difference can I make, the issue of poverty and hunger is too big – there’s no hope of fixing this…..
Rather than see what we have, and go with it, we see what we don’t have, and go with that.
When Jesus takes something in hand, and blesses it, it is transformative.
Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 
There was enough.   Not just enough to meet the immediate hunger, but enough to absolutely satisfy the hunger.    Some commentators have suggested that the real miracle here is that of sharing.   What that child did may have multiplied into a community of sharing….I bet he wasn’t the only one who’d brought his lunch. Jesus takes something in hand and blesses it, and the situation is transformed, the need isn’t just met, it is exceeded.
When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
Left overs…..clearly more than enough….enough to take home and make a lasting difference.
When we see the need, and share from our own bounty, things change.   And there is enough and more than enough
Which leads us to one more enough….are we changed enough by our relationship to the living Jesus?   We can remain observing receivers of the abundance,  or we can become participant givers to the need.
Our youth and their leaders see the physical needs of those living in poverty, and give what they have in abundance, time and money – we’re going to hear from them what happens when we share our own bounty… makes a difference not just to other recipients, but it changes us too.
(Reach sharing)

Lets take a few moments of quiet, to reflect on God’s message so we might finally get it, and do something about the cries of physical need that we hear…..more than just salving our conscience with monetary donations that become toxic charity, may we become physical participant givers, with eyes to see the need and hearts to hear the cry.   Amen.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Cry for Wholeness (Jewell)

Without going out of my door
I can know all things on Earth
Without looking out of my window
I could know the ways of Heaven

The farther one travels
The less one knows
The less one really knows

Without going out of your door
You can know all things on Earth
Without looking out of your window
You could know the ways of Heaven

The farther one travels
The less one knows
The less one really knows

Arrive without travelling
See all without looking
Do all without doing

That is a song called “THE INNER LIGHT” by George Harrison. And it captures the essence of this week’s Gospel

Rabbi Jesus is teaching us an ancient practice this morning—how we ourselves—and those we teach can find wholeness—in the first century Christianity was called “the way”—the way was and is, the way toward wholeness. All of the world’s traditions, including Jesus’ Judaism and early Christianity, teach that humans have lost their way due to be being disconnected from our divine origins.---We are broken—we are fragmented because of this. Where there was once a whole circle there is, in a sense, now a circle broken in half—the human half and the divine half---we are consciously estranged from God. Our tradition says we have fallen away from God—you know the the Eden story. Other traditions say that people have not fallen away from God—they have forgotten God—they have forgotten their divine origins. But all of the traditions agree on this—most of us are estranged from God. The way of Jesus is the way toward making that broken circle whole again…in fact Jesus or Yeshua means “salvation”—we are saved from our brokenness through reconnecting with God--this makes our hearts whole again. The New Testament gives us a great clue as to how these first century Jews reconnected to God…Today Rabbi Yeshua or Jesus is teaching us how to be made whole. Conscious Re-Union with God equals wholeness. All of the healing stories in the New Testament point to this—through Jesus the human being is Re-United with the divine. And the circle is whole once again!

Verse 31 contains a very important message, Jesus says to the exhausted disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”. This talk of going off to deserted places opens up a window onto the practices of Jesus and other first century Jews. The New Testament tells us that Jesus often went off by himself to lonely or deserted places to pray. Modern Jewish scholars like Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan note that internal and external seclusion was very important for the ancient Jewish experience of God. There is a strange Hebrew word I want to introduce you to, “Hitbodedut”—it is a word that literally means “self-seclusion”—and it points toward an ancient Jewish method of prayer and meditation that is still practiced today. For thousands of years Jewish Rabbis and prophets have gone off to deserted places to commune with God—to rest or abide in the presence of the divine. They go off by themselves--and then they go into themselves. That is where people are spiritually fed and that is where people are healed. That is where they are RE-UNITED WITH THEIR OWN HEARTS. THAT IS WHERE THEY ARE MADE WHOLE. THAT IS WHERE THEY ARE REUNITED WITH THE GOD THAT LIVES WITHIN THEM.
In verse 33 we hear that some people see Jesus and the disciples leaving for the deserted place and they follow them. Just like the people in our text today, we need to follow Jesus and the disciples into the deserted places—that is where we will experience Jesus for ourselves. As you can see, our scripture reading today is a little chopped up—but if we continue to go on to verse 35 we see that the feeding of the five thousand takes place in a deserted place where the people have gone to meet Jesus. All churches must ask themselves these questions---How do we help people follow Jesus? How are we helping people re-unite with God? Simply giving money won’t do it—simply having fun with people won’t do it. We must re-unite people with their own hearts--“heart” in the New Testament means, “inner-life”, or the deepest part of one’s being. For that is where God is—in our hearts, or in the deepest part of our humanity. The great theologian Paul Tillich said that modern western religion lacks a “dimension of depth”. If that is true—that is a serious crisis. We are not simply a community center—a place to hang out with friends—we are not merely a place to serve. We are a church and a church must help people access Tillich’s “dimension of depth” or it is reduced. As faith-ful Jews, Jesus and his disciples would go away to a deserted place and abide in God. As we see several times in the NT, even Jesus the man needed to go off alone to pray so that he could re-connect with God at the deepest point of his being.
In this era of uncertainty in the church we must remember who we are—first and foremost we are people of God—that means we are people of depth, people concerned with their hearts, their inner-lives. We will make disciples, we will heal, if we lead people along the way—the way that leads to their own hearts, the way that leads to wholeness.
The Gospels offer us several examples of people following Jesus into deserted or secluded places—to name just a few, Luke 4, Matthew 14, Mark 1, and our text today. As I said earlier—we are a church—we are people of God—as all are. As followers of the way—how do we go with Jesus into the deserted places? Our culture is undoubtedly the noisiest in the history of the world—our phones, our TV’s, our radios, our computers—they’re all fine—but does anybody doubt we overdo it? We are too often distracted from our own hearts, our own inner lives. Maybe our hearts, our inner-lives, are the deserted places we need to follow Jesus into. Can we shut off all distraction for twenty minutes a day and just be  with God? Can we have a Sabbath day in which we follow Jesus into the secluded places? Maybe we can have a regular practice of quietly and meditatively walking a labyrinth.
Even a few minutes a day with the divine—even one small taste—even just touching the hem of Christ’s garment--even that can be healing---even that can RE-UNITE us with the God that lives in our hearts. And that is what makes us whole.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

the cry for revenge

The Cry for revenge 071215
After psalm:  interruption of liturgy
wait a minute, did we really hear this psalm?
clean hands and pure heart?  Really?
How did we come into God’s presence today?  Psalmist asks us to have our hands and heart matching. Outside and inside, not just saying with our lips but praying with our hearts..
Look at your hands…..what do they do?  think of all the things your hands have already done today, that you do at home, at work, for pleasure.
Are there things your hands do that your heart may not be happy with?
So often we wear masks over our hearts, saying and doing one thing yet not really being true to who we really are, or who we are really called to become….
Look at our heart image (screen, painting)….is there something your heart is crying about that nobody would know?
Here, today, we set ourselves intentionally in God’s presence, so let’s take a moment to match up the outside and the inside…..for we are in a safe place…..acknowledge our heart, name our inner thoughts, (quote from prayer)
Our gospel this morning is another interruption, with what we hear interrupting Mark’s story about Jesus sending out the disciples to care for the world.  Let’s stand with open hands and hearts to hear God’s good news…….
Children’s message…..ugly story of what happens when people get mad about something someone else says or does, and want to get back at them…..called revenge.   This story is in the middle of another story…..a bit like a sandwich:  just before, Jesus has sent his friends out to care for people who are hurting, and just after this story he and his friends get together and go off to a quiet place to rest.
When we have people who hurt us, we need to remember we are part of a bigger story, and not get all upset about what they’ve done.  Jesus’ friends are about love and helping, not about hurting others.  We can always talk to Jesus about what’s happening.  (Prayer)

You may remember two weeks ago we noticed the writer’s penchant for bracketing a story with another…the bigger story here is what we heard last week, ending “the disciples (who’d been sent out) anointed many people with oil and healed them”   and after this story’s interruption, “the disciples returned and told Jesus all they had done”
We know that an inserted story has a literary purpose, and perhaps this time it’s to point out the wide-ranging implications of the Jesus movement.   Jesus people’s lives have an impact beyond the immediate….like ripples on a pond, they have an impact on the political system….hmmmm, makes you wonder.
Anyway, when Herod, the governor, heard about this movement and activity of disciples….. he wondered who Jesus really was, and his first thought, probably out of a guilty conscience, was ‘it must be John the Baptizer come back to haunt me’!
You heard the story:  Herod, an admirer of John the Baptizer, gets himself in a situation out of his own impulsivity and unclear thinking; he’s between a rock and a hard place as they say.   And he ends up saving face by misusing his power instead of doing what’s right.  He plays the political game that is only too familiar to all of us—to use the psalm image, his heart tells him one thing, but his hands do another.
His wife has been harboring a grudge and wants revenge; his daughter uses her sexuality to muddle his mind and she’s clear thinking enough to take her time about what wish she wants granted, looking to the wrong person for advice.

Now we might think this tale of ugly violence and revenge belongs in the first century, but it’s still incredibly relevant….whether its Isis beheadings or our own ‘don’t get mad get even’ attitudes, whether the intolerance of differences all around or our nation’s pathological hatred of admitting we’re wrong, it’s still all out there (hands), and in here (heart).  Violence often happens because we have to be right, or because someone has hurt us and we choose to retaliate.

Then as now, Herodias’ desire for revenge has implications for more than just her one victim…..first for herself, as Chris said last week ‘revenge keeps us in the past,’ and is a spiritual killer.  As Nelson Mandela is cited as saying, revenge is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.   Then it ripples out: she draws her daughter into the web, her husband gets manipulated, John’s disciples lose a leader, and society’s leaders get to theological wondering—just who is this Jesus and his movement?
And that might be the bigger point of this interruption story…..Mark’s gospel is contrasting the kingdom of Rome with the kin-dom of God that Jesus and his people are acting out….between the political empire and the Jesus way.    A contrast that still stands starkly today.
Just who is this Jesus for us today?   Some ancient reincarnation, or someone who impacts our heart and hands?   Some historic character, or someone who makes a difference in our political system?
Are we the Jesus people who are sharing, healing, anointing, tending?  Ripples of grace? Or are we so enmeshed in the culture of the empire we cannot see ourselves clearly?   Does Christianity in fact send out Ripples of resentment and revenge as it is caught up in the politics of life?
May God grant us eyes to see ourselves honestly, and ears to hear God’s word for us, and may our hands  and hearts be undivided in following the Jesus way, inside and out.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Travel light (Jewell)


This scripture today is about our everyday lives—it is about something that most of us do. It is about something that keeps most of us from encountering the Truth that is right in front of us all the time. Mark’s Jesus speaks of a problem and then he teaches us how to go forward. As usual, Jesus is a very practical teacher…
In verse 1 we hear Jesus and his disciples have come to his hometown. And on the Sabbath Jesus begins to preach in the synagogue. At times I am very glad I do not have to preach in front of people I used to hang out with. They would probably have a good laugh—just seeing me up here, let alone listening to me go on about Jesus. I can imagine it might not fit with the image they have of me.
The people in the synagogue hear Jesus and they are astounded. They ask, “where did this man get this all this stuff?”  “What is this wisdom that he has been given?” Isn’t this Jesus, a person we know? Isn’t this the carpenter, Mary’s son? We know him, we know his family. Verse 3 says the people were offended, they were skeptical—but why did his hometown people reject him? And what does this tell us about our faith? We saw that Jesus, Jesus as he is now, doesn’t fit with the image they have of Mary’s son, the carpenter…isn’t this something that causes us problems, this image making process? The images we build of ourselves and other people. We obviously need memory to learn how to speak Spanish or build a computer. But memory in relationship is the image I build of you. I build an image of you, you build an image of me. And very often it is actually two images that are in relationship. These images separate us. Prejudices of all kinds are built out of this image-making process. There is the image I have of myself, of Muslims, of black people, of gay people, of a heroin addict, of an ex-girlfriend, of my boss. All of these images are of the past—they do not actually tell me who someone is right now. Again, images separate us. If I have an image of myself as a white guy, an American, a Christian, that image not only limits and distorts my observation of myself, it also separates me from others. It separates me from the non-white guy, the non-American, the non-Christian. I have told people that when I first started at the Salvation Army I did not consider myself a racist. But I quickly realized that I had these images that I had built up of poor people, of people on government assistance, of black people, of women and men that sell their bodies. I could not truly see the people I was talking to until I transcended or dropped those images. We can say, no, not necessarily, my images don’t do that—but really look at what these images do—they separate. And where there is division, there is conflict. These conflicts are all over the world—the white cop vs the Black man, the Arab against the Israeli, the Muslim vs the western capitalist. Jesus’ hometown against Jesus. These images also cause us problems with our faith---the people of Nazareth miss the Christ right in front of their face because they can’t get past the image they have of hometown Jesus. Do our images cause us to miss the Christ that is right in front of us? We’ll come back to that…
Jesus responds to the skepticism of his hometown people by saying, “a prophet is without honor in his hometown, with his family, and in his own house. Now, the Hebrew word for prophet, Navie, is a very interesting word with a rich array of meanings. But basically, a Navie or a prophet is one who is an open channel for the Divine—God can flow through them unimpeded. As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan said, A prophet is one who is empty of all ego (Kaplan).  Jesus refers to himself as a prophet. Remember Jesus also emptied himself and said that when people see him they see God. A prophet, because his or her openness, is where the divine and the human flow together. Jesus is both human and divine for that reason.
In verse 5 we hear that Jesus’ power was reduced in his hometown. Of course. The people could not receive him as the Christ because they were stuck on what he was, what he used to be…they were stuck in the past and the Christ is always RIGHT NOW. They were not open…they were carrying their baggage from the past…Christ is not the Christ if he is not received as the Christ…I cannot see the Christ within you if I only see the jerk I think you used to be…
In verse 6 Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith or unbelief. This is the cry of disbelief in our scripture todayJesus’ astonishment at the people’s lack of openness. I can hear him thinking, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”—they are not open, they are all clogged up with the past, with their ideas and images, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”—they can’t see how they’re all broken and divided up—“Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”—they can’t see the Christ right in front of their faces because it doesn’t fit their image of what the Christ should be…
As I said in the beginning, Jesus is a teacher, he is teaching us something about ourselves…he points out the problem and then tells us how to proceed, we find his solution in the next section…
Jesus begins sending out the disciples to teach and minister to the people. He orders them to take nothing—except a staff on their journey. The disciples are travelling light---they are not to carry a lot of baggage around with them—this symbolizes their openness. And by open I don’t mean up for anything, I don’t mean recklessness. I mean open spiritually. The disciples must remain open so that the divine can flow through them—they are contrasted with the people who are not open—who did not receive the Christ. The disciples are to be open channels like a Navie or prophet. It is after all, our baggage that divides us from one another, that causes conflicts. The ideas and images we carry around with us—we must be willing to set those aside. In fact that is what our spiritual disciplines or exercises do for us—they help us clear our minds, they help us let go of our thoughts so that the New or divine can flow into us. He is sending out the prophets with nothing so that they can be open to the power of God.
Jesus next instructs the disciples to shake the dust off their feet as they leave a place that has not welcomed them. In other words, shake off their rejection of you, do not carry it around with you, don’t create a resentment. There is a story from Buddhism that illustrates this.   Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed. 

As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. "Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!" 

"Brother," the second monk replied, "I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her."
The experiences , images, and resentments that we carry with us cause us to live in the past, to miss the Truth that is NOW. This stuff keeps us from being open to the divine, it keeps us spiritually constipated. That is what causes the lack of faith that Jesus noticed in his hometown people—they were stuck on yesterday, stuck on the image they had of him—so they missed the Christ standing before them.
We must let go of our baggage…we must travel light. The spiritual journey is a journey that demands we travel light. What is keeping you from being open?? What is separating you from your neighbor, what is separating you from God?? Are you missing the Christ that is right in front of your face??? Are you stuck on an image of what the Christ is supposed to look like???
Are you willing to drop your baggage??? Are you willing to travel light into the New Creation???