Childish Wisdom

I was listening to On Being with Krista Tippet. She was talking to Seth Godin, an entrepreneur, who’s written books and has a podcast called Akimbo. He is open about his failures and what he learned from them. In his conversation with Krista, Godin said that we have been trained from early on that we want to get the right answer. The younger we are the easier it is to fight against this trained behavior. He said if he asked a room full of 1st graders to brainstorm and make something new, they would find it much easier than a group of college students. Because the college students are afraid to be wrong. 

Children have the incredible way of seeing the world. Just spend time with young people and it’s amazing. The creativity. The outside the box thinking. The exploring and imagining. The unending questioning of the world and how it works. They are not afraid to seem foolish because so much is new. It’s natural and inspiring and something so far removed from us as adults. It’s childish. Which has a sort of negative connotation. Like silly, immature, not something to be emulated once we’ve reached a certain age. But what if we somehow kept that childish way of being? 

We learn that failure is a sign of weakness and ineptitude. We are not born with that understanding. Wise people have learned that failure is a way to learn and grow. To find out how the world works and to shift the way we do things in order to make a greater impact. But really taking that to heart is difficult. I struggle with that fear of failure all the time. And I know deep down that it keeps me from learning and reaching a fuller potential. 

We approach our faith the same way we approach other things in our life. Somewhere early on in our development we learn what is expected of us. We get the message that we are not good enough unless…

We figure out the right way to behave. The right things to say. When to say them. We start feeling embarrassed when we don’t know something. And we don’t ask questions for fear of looking stupid. And often times we lose our connection to church because it seems like a bunch of things we can’t live up to. And a bunch of boxes that are constraining rather than freeing. 

In this reading it sounds like the disciples are trying to position themselves in the seat of power. But arguments about who is the greatest illuminate the insecurities of the ones doing the arguing. When we are secure in ourselves and our place in the world we don’t need to pretend toward greatness. And when it comes to living out God’s purpose for us, none of us is great at it. We are just trying to figure it out. 

But we still measure ourselves as the world does. We can’t help it. We are programmed this way by our parents, our schools, our society, the media. The barrage of messages that tell us what the right way to be is. What success in life means. Ultimately it comes down to how we value ourselves and others. 

We are quick to judge who is better on every level. Intellectually. Socially. Financially. The only questions we never stop asking are the ones that question our own worth. Are we cool enough? Fashionable enough? competent enough? Productive enough? Lovable enough? 

The disciples are as close to Jesus as anyone could be. And still they were clueless. This should either fill us with relief or concern. Relief because it means that we are not alone in questioning among ourselves and in our hearts what this faith stuff is all about. Concern because it leaves us with the reality that we are not going to be able to understand all of this. 

The problem with the fear of being wrong or any fear really is that we lose focus on what God is doing. We can’t see it because we are so inwardly focused. So worried about failing and seeming foolish that we paralyze ourselves. We keep ourselves from moving forward. What if we were able instead to ask ourselves in every moment what God might be doing? The Bishop reminded us last week that when we are told that God is doing a new thing, the new thing could be good or bad. Easy or difficult. Uplifting or tearing down. In order to build up again. That’s the thing about God’s work in us and in the world. Sometimes we have to lose in order to gain. We have to see the depths of despair in order to understand the light. 

When Jesus went to the cross and died, everyone, including the disciples thought he had failed. All the things he promised. All the things he taught them. All the things he said about what God was doing. If this is how it ended, then he must be wrong. He was foolish to tell us these things and we were foolish to believe. 

But what happened after was what turned it all upside down. It’s what redeems even our greatest failures. It’s what makes the least the greatest. The resurrection of death to life. Darkness to light. Failure to triumph. So that our truest life is not dependent on our ability to understand and be right and successful. It is completely reliant on God’s valuing us above all else, no matter what the world or we think of ourselves. 

This is the teaching that was so hard for the disciples to comprehend. It’s still hard for us. But if we can be in touch with that childish part of ourselves that is not afraid to live boldly in the world, we can get closer to the full trust in God to lift up the least. 

Sacrifice and Commitment

Followers of Jesus have always faced a deep tension within themselves. A tension of wanting to follow Jesus whole-heartedly and yet being solidly grounded in the world around them. The pull of the world is powerful. Valuing power, money, prestige, public image. 

I’m sure all of us have heard of if not seen the Nike ad with Colin Kaepernick. We know the controversy stirred up by his activism on the sidelines, when as a player he used his body in protest. This one man became a focus for the President’s ire because he dared to challenge the sacred gods of football and America. At least that’s how it has been framed by some. But the same people often deny there are any issues that need a call for change. Kaepernick says he was using the opportunity and the power he had as a player to visibly protest the abuses of power by police against black people. 

The tag line of the ad is: Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. Kaepernick lost his job and has not been picked up by any team. Nike snapped him up to do this ad. And there is the tension. Because Nike is a huge corporation with tons of money. They sell shoes. But they present footwear as something nearly akin to salvation. Because it is clear that if they didn’t think they would make any money, they wouldn’t run an ad. In this case it might have been a calculated risk. But we can bet if they started losing significant sales, the ad would be pulled. 

Many have praised Nike for taking a stand on an issue of justice. And we wonder if this public platform reaches a greater audience for a meaningful message. A message about having conviction to things that matter. 

I’m struck by the way advertising in the public, secular realm wants us to truly believe in the products and services they are hawking. That’s the point, right? If we didn’t trust the products, we wouldn’t use them. And who among us hasn’t touted something we’ve found to be useful or life-changing to a friend? “You have to try this new __________! It’ll change your life.I mean think about it, we could put Jesus’ face in the Nike ad and it would suddenly seem like a sermon. “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” It scares me a little how much this sounds like the cliff notes of Jesus’ teaching in the reading today. If you want to understand what Jesus means by taking up your cross and following, it seems like a pretty good elevator speech. Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. And what scares me is that advertisers do it so much better than we do. 

The context for Jesus’ interaction with the disciples is Caesarea Philippi. Even in Jesus’ time the place had a history of being a religious place. There were temples that lined the streets dedicated to gods, particularly the god Pan. Walking together in that city they would have seen people moving in and out of the sacred niches offering various items to show their devotion to these other gods. And it’s there that Jesus asks them to make a statement of faith. “Who do you say that I am?” 

Peter enthusiastically blurts out the right answer. You are the Messiah! But when he learns what it means to make a commitment to Jesus, he has a difficult time with that. So much that he is brash enough to chastise Jesus for even suggesting that they would have to give up anything to follow him. 

It is a difficult struggle. One that requires us to be self-reflective about where we put our full trust. Is our faith just a nice thing to say or is it transformative? 

In a context where too many possibilities for where to put our allegiance and trust, can we make a commitment to God? 

It’s part of the reason that it’s so difficult to grow a church in Brooklyn. Consumerism and money are what move people. And those things make us feel secure and powerful. A faith that asks us to give that up is not attractive.Taking up a cross to follow Jesus doesn’t sound like a great life plan. We are told to sure up our investments in physical things and in material wealth. But we neglect too often the deeper part of us that seeks a connection with God and with other people around things that matter. And to really achieve that means we do have to sacrifice some things to really believe. 

We can’t escape the tension that a life of faith brings with it. We can’t help being tied to this world by our obligations, our work, our desire to have a good living. To be allured by the flashy and the fashionable. Convinced by the constant barrage of advertising about what products will make life easier and worth living. While at the same time knowing that in the end none of that matters as much as how we have lived as human beings in relation to one another and in relation to God.

To believe in Christ does call us to sacrifice everything. To give over our whole lives in trust to God. We don’t lose ourselves but receive the promise of a transformed self. Who lives not only to ourselves but for the sake of what we can offer to the world.  

Following Jesus means following to the cross to see how one gives himself up for the sake of all. And in following we give ourselves to the same movement to transform the world into a place that is more just and more hospitable to all people. 

A Woman's Persistence and the Humanity of Jesus

Kate Harvey was a British women’s suffragist in the Victorian era. Through her work and activism she sought to open the way for women to claim rights she knew they deserved. She used the inherent power she had, refusing to let the norms and acceptability of the time prevent her from achieving more than most women of her time were permitted. Besides fighting for women’s rights she worked diligently to help people in poverty and was a doctor in a pioneering field of medicine. 

And she was deaf. She pushed the boundaries of law, withholding taxes as a means of non-violent resistance. Authorities responded as expected, trying to silence her by putting her in jail. But still she persisted in working toward justice.

Shame is a powerful weapon. It keeps intended targets from claiming what belongs to them. When we feel shame we don’t feel worthy. We give into false messages that we don’t deserve what others have. We accept our place without pushing for justice because we don’t want to cross those with more power. By definition it is humiliation and cutting someone down. Making them less than they are. 

The woman in this story is unnamed, though her nationality is defined. She is a Syrophoenecian woman. And she is facing a crisis. Her daughter is possessed by an evil spirit. But she has heard about Jesus’ powers to heal and cast out demons. Her non-Jewish heritage means she is crossing a boundary. She takes a risk that Jesus and the owner of the house will even let her in. She makes it past the front door and to the feet of Jesus. I’m sure she knew that at some level she was unwelcome. An intrusion into the intended plan of Jesus’ mission. But what parent wouldn’t do whatever they could for the sake of their child? 

Assuming a posture of lesser status she pleads for her daughter’s life. And in an uncharacteristic response Jesus shames her. He tells her that dogs don’t deserve to eat what is intended for the children. 

It is shocking. And many have tried to get Jesus off the hook. That he was testing her, but meant to heal her daughter all along. That the term he used is diminutive — little dogs. Not sure how that makes it better. 

But the woman is not deterred. She is willing to bear the brunt of his words to get what she deserves. She is not shamed. Instead she harnesses her power and subverts his initial response. She turns Jesus’ assertion around, accepting even the crumbs that fall from the table. 

She and thousands of others have striven against the status quo and the powers that be for the sake of moving the needle incremental steps toward full justice. And we have seen how far we’ve come and still how far we have to go. 160 years after the end of institutional slavery, almost 60 years after the Civil Rights Movement, people still strive for black lives to matter as much as white lives. 100 years after Kate Harvey and Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells Barnett we still know that women don’t have the same access to power as men. And the fight for Trans-lives and full recognition of gay rights is in many ways just beginning. In fact just this morning I saw one of my colleagues shared the names of transwomen killed to date in 2018. Three just in the last week. 

Perhaps the humanity of Jesus here shows us how powerful the forces of systemic injustice are. Even the best intentioned among us can give into the assumptions and expectations of the dominant power. We often don’t even know we are doing it. We accept that it’s just the way it is. 

I remember when seeking my first job as a pastor that it was the first time I realized being a woman was an issue. There were women who came up to me from the church and said, “I always thought women could be anything, just not a pastor.” Even in 2018 there are jobs and roles that people don’t feel are the place of women. 

The boldness of the Syrophoenecian woman changes Jesus. It is like his ears were unstopped. One of his favorite sayings to others is “Let anyone with ears to hear listen.” At first he heard the woman but his own power and privilege prevented his listening. But when she persisted he heard her for the first time. And he saw her. Who she was and what she needed. Something shifts for Jesus in this encounter. It appears to shift his whole mission. What was a more minimally defined scope, now was broadened to include the whole world. Even and especially those left on the margins. 

Many people have had to be content with crumbs. And they have maintained dignity even when the society around them does all it can to put them in an inferior position. The woman had faced rejection before. She’s had to be clever and crafty to get what she needs from a society that didn’t fully acknowledge her worth. She has had to sacrifice dignity for things that men and more powerful people were handed without question. But she claims and lives into the power that is given to all people by God. 

It is true that God’s mission to save the whole world is expansive, not limited. The part of Jesus that had to figure that out was showing today. But the reality becomes clearer as he continues his steady walk toward the seat of power. Where he comes up against those who do not recognize him and his mission as part of the status quo. Rocking the boat is never appreciated. And Jesus in his humanity will take the brunt of their shaming tactics as he's arrested in front of his friends. When he is stripped bear of his clothing and hung on a cross for all to see. When he is spat on and beaten by soldiers calling him names. He will know about the woman’s shame and all of our shame as he bears it for us. And there on the cross — a tool meant for humiliation and cutting down. A means used by the authorities to silence movements seeking more for those who have been content with less. There Jesus subverts the assertions of the world that values the powerful over the weak. And by  Jesus in his Divinity, God lifts up the lowly over the powerful. And proclaims the worth of all people. 

Is Your Heart in It?

Yesterday was my 11th anniversary of ordination. Mostly the day passes without a lot of thought. When I do think about it, I realize how curious this whole business of being called to something by God is. Being a practical, grounded, rational person, I don’t tend to talk about it in very spiritual terms. But I do believe that somehow in all of it the Holy Spirit was involved. Though I wonder often what God saw in me as a person to call me to this job of pastoring. I could have been something else. Pursued some other studies and field. But in my heart I felt that God wanted me to share my gifts and passions this way. As much as it is difficult, it is a privilege. But it is not more than any other person is called to. You have a calling too. Because the truth is that we are all called by God to a purpose beyond ourselves. 

The group of Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus encounters in the gospel followed God’s call to the “T”. They were the faithful stewards of the things of God. They knew the law and they followed so that all could see. They performed ritual washing at the right times. They ate only the right foods. They made the right gestures. And they held others accountable to the same level of piety. They seemed like good examples for other people to follow. Except that they neglected to search their hearts to guard against corruption. 

Jesus holds them accountable too. He points out the masks they wear. Highlighting for the crowd and the disciples the way they criticize others without looking inward. You see the thing about the masks we wear is that they are covers for the pain underneath. How often do we tell people things are fine when they are not? We answer the question, “How are you doing?” with, “Fine,” “Okay.” But there are times when we say it knowing that the truth is something else entirely. Even the image of perfection is a cover for the fears and inadequacies underneath. 

Part of studying to become a pastor is an emphasis on wholeness. We pastors sometimes joke about the wellness wheel. It’s a tool put out by the church to remind us to attend to all aspects of health -- the physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional. We joke. But every one of us knows we have areas of deficiency and struggle. We also know that we cannot serve our calling faithfully if we don’t examine ourselves. If we don’t acknowledge our own need for healing and forgiveness. 

In his remarks to the disciples Jesus gives a list of behaviors. Not an exhaustive list. But there are some pretty big ones. What I noticed about these behaviors are that they can all be signs of more pervasive issues. Some of them seem to be the end result of a longer festering under the surface. Actions like fornication and adultery usually don’t just happen, even if it appears that way. When they do happen it is often because of dissatisfaction and needs that hadn’t been met for some time. Other things on the list are behaviors that express themselves when we are not acting out of our healthiest self. If we are content with who we are and what we are doing with our life then we are less likely to be envious and greedy. We don’t seek out dangerous and uncaring interactions with other people. We don’t lie about people and inflate our own egos. When our hearts are in the right place we are content to be who we are and to share what we have with people around us in a nurturing and caring way. 

It is important to notice that Jesus doesn’t say that wicked people do these things. He says that wicked actions are within the capacity of the human heart. Everyone is susceptible to behaviors that corrupt. And it is important for us not to neglect attending to our needs. 

Pointing out these behaviors is not a means to condemnation. It is a call to healing and wholeness. It’s a reminder of the deep need we have for healing and forgiveness. 

Right after this encounter Jesus meets a woman who is not Jewish. So she cannot fulfill the laws the religious leaders thought important to a relationship with God. But she asks for Jesus’ help to heal her daughter. And in the end it is the intentions of her heart. The humility and genuineness with which she approaches Jesus that is the means to the healing. 

The trouble Jesus has with religious leaders in his time comes from their inability to see that God was offering a way of forgiveness and reconciliation to all people. In their view they didn’t need it and others didn’t deserve it. But Jesus points out that all of us fall short of perfection. It’s the human condition. Where the religious leaders sought ritual cleanliness, Jesus brought even the ordinary and “unclean” under the umbrella of God’s grace. 

We may not feel God’s call on our lives. Even more probable is that we don’t feel like we are worthy of it. Maybe we hear the list of behaviors and realize we have done one or more on several occasions. If we understand our relationship to God as one of legal proscriptions to follow, we might be right -- if we mess up, we are not worthy. But if we understand our relationship to God as one born of deep love and mercy, then we see that God wants what is best for us. And to free us from the corruption of our hearts that comes when we sit in our brokenness instead of living into our freedom in Christ. 

We are called to live as Christ did for the sake of the world. Imperfect as we are, God still has a purpose for each of us. Are our hearts in it? 

The Cosmic Struggle

In the more rational church contexts these texts have long ago reached “out-there” status. They’re a bit too sci-fi fantastical to be taken literally, so we have defaulted to metaphorical understandings. But the words of the author of Ephesians are amazing. As I read them I knew they were true at some level. I couldn’t help but nod my head. And then shake my head at the things in this world that struggle against the will and promises of God.

Something about the phrase “…against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” It gave me a chill to read it.

And it is true that in many ways are contending against forces beyond our control.


And while it seems naive or childish to imagine that the “Devil made me do it,” there is a spiritual sickness that needs rooting out in our present time. Just like there have been spiritual sicknesses in times past. As long as God’s people have been on this orb of dirt and water, as long as we have struggled with flesh and blood people over access to power and resources. As long as we have been in relationship with God, we have faced what the author is trying to put words around. Our rational minds want to push away the idea of spiritual forces. But what if we suspended our need to rationalize and considered our present spiritual health crisis?

When people we have trusted to tell us the truth, offer consistent, blatant lies about things that impact the lives of thousands if not millions of people…

When the evil of racism causes authorities to use their powers to block access to resources, security and well-being for specific groups of people rather than care for their needs…

When we have a growing opioid crisis because market forces pressure some healthcare professionals to skirt the oath to do no harm…

When so many of us are stressed out by the rhetoric of American productivity and industriousness, and find too often that hard work does not always translate to a good living…

We can certainly add more to this sampling.


But combating it is not about donning armor of kevlar or steel.

It’s about surrounding ourselves with the truth and righteousness that comes from a relationship with God. And God’s truth and the faith we’ve been given is what compels us to struggle against these forces. Not with violence and war, but with different weapons.

In a time when we flirt with military parades to show dominance and compensate for insecurities, we are urged to rely on a different means of protection — speaking truth, trusting righteousness, living our faith, nurturing a relationship with the spirit of God.

When the flesh and blood adversaries of this world continue their agenda, the church is called to struggle against it.

In the reading from John many of the disciples at Jesus’ feet can’t get what he is saying. They find his enmeshing of the two kingdoms too out there for them. So Jesus asks the ones that didn’t leave if they also want to walk away. And Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life?” As a church what we offer is an alternative to the flesh and blood struggles.

Though Jesus speaks a lot about the heavenly things. He is well aware that we are earth-bound people. And this eternal life we participate in through our relationship with Jesus is not about some time after we leave this realm and go on to other, bigger and better things. It is about accessing the power of that relationship with God right now.

Somehow God’s age, God’s time overlays the chronos of our existence. Like an armor maybe.

It’s why the sacrament of communion is so meaningful to the church. It is the moment every Sunday when the cosmic becomes tangible. When what is of God can be held in our hands and touched to our tongues. When the amazing grace of God — the free gift of truth, faith, hope, righteousness, salvation and peace — is handed over to each of us. Not in proportion to how we’ve earned it. But in the same abundance as the person next to us. Or the person in the church down the street. We come hungry for this meal precisely because it is not of this world.

We share the same struggles as the first followers of Jesus. We are stuck in this earthly space where we see with our eyes and hear with our ears things that make us want to scream or fight or just disappear. It can be a lot to process. A lot to bear. And we wonder what will be the breaking point to the spiritual sickness we see around us and among us.

And as much as we want to rationalize our faith, the message of the gospel is about more than that. It’s not something we can put in a box and categorize for our own comfort. It is a force that moves in people of faith, giving us strength and courage to struggle on against the forces that defy God. And as we come to this table, somehow we are fed with the truth, righteousness, salvation and faith of God by partaking together in the body of Christ given for us.

What Consumes Us?


What are we consuming? What is consuming us?

Whether we are talking about food or media or goods that we buy, we can’t escape our role as consumers. As creatures of this world we consume. It is essential for our survival. How much and what we consume depends on our appetite and the situations we find ourselves in. It is a power position to be the one who consumes. In consuming we use up the thing we take in for our own purpose. Think about the food chain. No one wants to be on the bottom and be eaten. We want to be among the top consumers.

My family has long struggled with addictive behaviors, especially the women. My grandmother smoked and drank until her young death at 63 from emphysema. My great aunts, my mother, my sister, me — whether it’s alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, internet gaming — we have a tendency to become consumed by anything that gives a temporary hit of comfort and exhilaration. A relative faced their addiction years ago. I remember being told as a child that they had to go away to get better. And they did. Partly they found a faith community that supported them in the struggle. They were transformed by focusing on their relationship with Jesus rather than on the substances they were using.

When our consumption becomes disordered we say that we have then been consumed by the very things we once had control over. Being consumed is idolatry. It means we put our ultimate attention and trust in something that is finite and limited. But that feeds a need in the moment. We are ruled by our desire to consume more. And in the end we are consumed little by little ourselves. Hitting rock bottom happens when there is little left of us to go anywhere but up.

In the snippet of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church he warns against becoming consumed by anger. In reality it is a neutral emotion. But when fed in negative ways it can be all consuming. And we can find ourselves relishing the feelings of anger to the point that it turns to hate of the other.

On this year anniversary of the hate march in Charlottesville that turned deadly, we must be concerned with what is consuming us. Hate is easy to feed. The more media we take in that confirms our biased views, the more we let the fires of hate to be stoked. The sentiments that fueled the white nationalists waving torches and swastikas continue to feed fear of the other. There is no way to rationalize or explain away the words of hate they chose to speak. And sadly the president refused to condemn the sin and evil that was promulgated that day.

But what are we to do with the anger we feel at people who think white supremacy and nationalism are the truth? We know the truth is something else. But do we let our anger drive us to hate? Or do we let it fuel the work of speaking truth to our neighbors?

Feeding hate can blind us to the possibility for reconciliation or transformation. I was watching a documentary last night on Amazon called The Uncomfortable Truth. The filmmaker is the son of a woman who was very involved in the fight for civil rights in the 50s and 60s but whose ancestors helped to build and perpetuate the institution of slavery in the US. He holds up a picture at one point and names some of the figures. It is of the lunch counter protests. His mother is one of the people at the counter getting soda dumped on her by an angry crowd. He points out another individual. A young man who was a segregationist standing in the angry crowd. He said that the young man turned and walked out. Seeing the brutality of that moment he was transformed. He could no longer bear the ugliness of the segregationist movement.

Paul tells us to put away falsehood and speak truth to our neighbors. To remember in doing so that we are united by God. That there is no place for hate, even when it comes to our enemies. Lest we forget that very challenging command from Jesus himself. If we let hate consume us, then that is the god we put our trust in. As though hate will vindicate us. Hate will console us. Hate will revive us and sustain us. But hate doesn’t push me outside myself to act for the sake of the world. It only keeps me in the idolatry of my own opinions.

What we should be consumed by is the truth. Not let ourselves be chewed up and spit out by the falsehood that barrages us on a daily basis. It’s what Jesus means when he invites us to eat the Bread of Life.

Is Jesus inviting us to use him up for our own purpose?

Or is it an invitation to be consumed by the love of God that has no limits?

Maybe it’s both. In our broken state Jesus enters and offers himself completely to us and for us. But in consuming we ourselves are then consumed by the powerful grace of God.

We can put aside the things that consume us and put our trust in the way of God in this world. A narrative that is counter to the hate mongering and opinion wars on facts and alternative facts. The love of God can be all consuming, even giving us the power to love even our enemies. If we consume and are consumed by the Bread of Life, it means we put our trust in one outside ourselves. Who empowers love against hate and reconciliation over cutting us off.

What are we consuming? What is consuming us?

We can let the answer be that it is the God of all love and grace. The Bread of Life that lasts for all time.

Feeding a Need


In some way when we pray give us today our daily bread, we are demanding from God the basic needs of all humanity. To eat and be satisfied is both a literal need and a metaphoric one. Symbolic of all the stuff we need for life. And our prayer is not only for ourselves but for all who are in need.

At text study this week a colleague of mine shared about his year living in a leper village in Korea. His friend was a pastor there and invited him to come and serve with him.

I was so moved by his story. It is powerful — about feeding, care, and having enough, even when we might look and think that what we have won’t possibly be enough to satisfy our needs let alone the needs of others.

He said that year was when he learned what hungry is. He lived on half a bowl of rice a day. One bowl of rice shared between the two pastors.

But the bowl had been created by each person in the community giving a little bit of rice from their own. The people fed their pastors as their pastors had been caring for their spiritual needs.

What stuck out to me in the story of Jesus feeding the 5000+ is that Philip notices what they have and then discounts it because he sees the roadblocks not the possibilities. “There is a little boy here with five loaves of bread and two fish, but what are these among so many people?”

In a time when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, daily bread is becoming less and less certain for more and more people. And those of us who are striving toward upward mobility often get caught in the fear of not having enough. It is the dis-ease of the middle class — to want what the rich have. And to not be satisfied with having just enough. Because we believe that enough is not enough.

I watch this show sometimes called Expedition Unknown. A recent episode was about the Mayan Empires’s pre-classic period. The archaeologists pointed out that the conspicuous consumption of the elite, who built enormous pyramids and temples, ultimately led to their downfall. In order to build roads and structures bigger they deforested the lands around their cities. They wanted more and more. Ultimately they ended up poisoning themselves when the clay soil was not longer held in place by trees. It leeched into their agriculture, destroying the crops.

What if Philip focused on the fact that they had people in that gathering who were willing to share what they had for the sake of others? The little boy offered his food to feed others.

I also had a new understanding of this passage. It seems like the loaves of bread and fish that Jesus multiplies are not just food for those 5000. The gathered remnants of their hillside picnic symbolize the people themselves who will be fed by the abundance of God. Jesus tells them to gather up the leftovers so that none will be lost.

The loaves feed the people and they are the people. Or rather we, the people, are fed by God to be bread for the world.

We will live with the Bread of Life for six weeks. This is an important chapter for Christians in understanding the will and action of God in Jesus for the sake of the world.

It’s why we come and gather around this table every week. And we act out the drama of just a little bread and sip of wine feeding us with the abundance of God. That is what the meal Christians share is about. The reminder that we don’t need as much as we want to be satisfied.

The other thing for us to remember is that our vision of what is possible is often much too small. “God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…” As a small church that does big things, we know a bit about doing a lot with a little. But we are facing uncertainty because of funding and wondering what we’ll be able to do. But the real question is what do we have. And we have a gathering of amazing people willing to give a little of themselves to the mission of God in the world.

When we come here and take a bit of bread and a little wine together, we receive the abundance of God's grace. And when we leave here we feed each other as we are fed by Jesus. So that none will be lost.

Compassion Breaks the Walls Between Us

Palestinians at a border checkpoint.

Palestinians at a border checkpoint.

Some of you may know that I spent 3 months as an Ecumenical Accompanier in Israel and Palestine. Part of my work in that program was to be present at checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian territories. The checkpoints themselves represented division between people. Keeping people separated. Then there was the 30 foot high separation wall that snakes through the West Bank, keeping Palestinians separated from Israelis and often Palestinians from other Palestinians. The other part of my work was a commitment to tell the stories of the people I met when I returned home. I did that in my church in Michigan. Sharing stories of people facing the reality of restricted movement and discrimination. The symbol of which was a giant, grey, concrete wall.

When I finished my presentation this woman from my church named Martha came up to me with her walker. She was in her mid to late 80s and was German. With her thick German accent she said, “We had a wall too! When we tried to visit family in East Germany they did not let us bring in anything. Not a magazine, no paper.”

She could understand the pain of the Palestinians facing similar realities. It was a moment of connection to people she seemed to have little in common with. “For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

I sat across from Jim. It was a pastoral visit. But I was a very inexperienced pastor. Still he sought counsel of me and I did my best to oblige. What Jim wanted to know as he was dying of lung cancer was not about what happens after death. What was troubling his heart and soul most was that there was someone he had a divide with. He couldn’t forgive this person. Had I been a more experienced Pastor, I might have gotten more of the story. But I tried to reassure Jim that he would be OK. But it seems to me as I reflect on the visit, that’s what would’ve been true healing for Jim was the restoration of that relationship. But we are good at building walls.

A question: Is compassion something you want to have? Do you want to be considered a compassionate person?

We are told in Mark’s gospel that Jesus had compassion for the crowds seeking healing because they were like sheep without a shepherd. If we break down the word compassion (Com — passio), we find it actually means to suffer with. Jesus suffers with the people who are lost and in pain. I wonder if we really have the capacity for compassion. Compassion that really frees. I mean, how do you suffer with someone? You can sit with them in their pain. Hear their stories. Hold their hands. Empathy, understanding, sympathy… But compassion. Can we suffer with?

I think it helps to remember that as much as we attempt to follow Jesus, we are also the ones in the crowd clamoring for healing. On our best days we are able to muster the energy it takes to listen and respond to needs of someone else. On most days we barely have time and energy to help ourselves. We wander like lost sheep seeking guidance and respite from everything crying for our attention. I’m pretty convinced that I didn’t say the exact right thing to heal Jim of the wall that stood between him and his friend. I still wonder if I had the capacity to do better.
The perfectionist in me has trouble with knowing that even when I want to help, I won’t be able to do it all the way. Maybe you share that feeling; that I should do more to help people in need. But I’m reminded that the act of being with and hearing someone’s story can be a step on the way to healing. Maybe it is only Jesus who is capable of true and complete compassion. Only he can completely suffer with. For us, no matter how hard we try there will always be a divide — it might be of our own creating or because life circumstances make it difficult for us to know fully the plight of another. At least not enough to suffer with.

But Jesus knows each of us completely and takes on our flesh to suffer with. He the one whose compassion succeeds in fully taking on the pain and plight of the least among us. It’s the reason we gather here around this table and take into ourselves the com-passioned body of Christ. The flesh destroyed but redeemed. The blood spilled for the healing of all flesh. So that as we eat and drink together, we are united as the Body of Christ for the world. So that we can have courage to attempt compassion, however imperfectly. Through Christ in us, we have the capacity to poke holes in the walls between us and the other. Trusting that one day they’ll be torn down completely. And the unity God promises will be our reality.

The Plight of the Prophet


The question I've been mulling over this week is, “Who are the prophets today?"I really wrestled with this, unsure even how we would identify a prophet. There are so many voices. So many speaking. Many speaking out against injustice and the broken systems that have failed us.

And this certainly is one of the characteristics of the prophets of the bible.

They were tasked with the challenge of being between God and the people. The job was to point out where the people or even the king had fallen short of being faithful. But can we say with any certainty which voices are prophetic and which are just promoting their own agenda?

It’s been said that we don’t have any clearly identified leaders in society today. And people don’t necessarily trust the leaders they once did. For instance, even clergy who were once among a trusted group, no longer hold that position for a majority of people in our country.

But not that long ago there were identified leaders. During the fight for civil rights, a number of strong figures arose. Of course, most famously MLK Jr. In South Africa there was Nelson Mandela. In India, Ghandi. Earlier there were Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas. Perhaps these were prophets among us.  

One of the other characteristics of prophets is that they are of the people to whom they are speaking. So, in reality they are speaking to themselves as much as to their neighbors. In more recent times we might think more of movements than one particular voice. #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #NeverAgain, immigration rights and reform. Individuals from communities affected by injustice and violence, standing up and crying for change. Pleading for us to hear and act.

No one likes someone standing up and pointing out their issues. But they resent it even more when it is someone pointing out flaws they pretend are not their own. Though we see that the temptation is always to dismiss the prophets words. We will use whatever excuse we can to undercut the prophetic voice. In Jesus’ case the people use his familiarity with them against him. Isn’t this the little boy who used to play around the carpenter shop? Oh, isn’t it cute that he’s telling us about what God is doing! Who does he think he is really? Speaking for God!

It actually says they took offense at him. They aligned themselves against him because they could not hear the words he was speaking.

Prophets point to God’s action in the world. But mostly they demonstrate how the people are not ready to receive the loving action of God. The coming of the Day of the Lord sounds like something people would be looking forward to. But prophets warn that if God were to come right this moment, we wouldn’t be ready. That is the root of our brokenness as humanity. That we are not ready to receive the full force of God’s love and grace. It sounds crazy. Like, why wouldn’t we want that?! But it doesn’t fit our agenda to have everyone receive the same mercy, love and grace.

Even for people who say they want justice and peace for everyone. When it comes to those we perceive as opposed to us and our views, we have a hard time.

If we get back to the question of how to identify a real prophet, the truth is it shouldn’t be someone who wants the job. All the prophets of the bible resist the call to do this kind of work. They know that prophets suffer. They are hated. They are threatened and sometimes killed by the people they are trying to save. The prophet’s own body become the symbol of the rejection of God. That the people refuse to hear God’s call to repent in order to receive the hope and promise that will come.

When we think of some of the prophetic voices of the modern era we see this too. MLK was assassinated because of the very evils he spoke against. Nelson Mandela was jailed by the regime whose power he threatened. We should beware the prophet who hasn’t lost anything.

In Jesus’ case his prophetic work of speaking on God’s behalf became a Messianic role of giving is own body up to the forces that defy God. He realized in this experience at Nazareth that if his own friends and neighbors couldn’t hear it, then it would be hard for the majority of people to understand the coming Kingdom of God. If he was going to make it a reality it would be at the cost of his own life.

The work of prophetic speaking is no less relevant now than it was in biblical times. It’s also no less difficult. We are still the stubborn, impudent people who refuse to hear God’s call. But knowing this about us, God made a way that can’t be denied. A way that can’t be opposed or lost by our own refusal to hear. In Jesus the promise of salvation and hope is available to all people. Even the most stubborn and hard hearted among us. For people of faith the difficult part is accepting that without resentment. And living into it as a call on our own lives. To speak of God’s mercy and love even for those we can’t stand.

Power Through Powerlessness


A few years I was on the train dressed up for one of those dinner cruises. It was rush hour, so the train was very full. People were pressed in tight. At some point I felt someone behind me touching me in away that felt uncomfortable. I turned around and glared to let the guy behind me know that I knew it was him. Only a little while later I felt it happen again, and I reeled around and yelled at him. I told him he better not touch me again. Instead of support from fellow passengers I felt others thought I was overreacting. Like the disciples asking Jesus how he could wonder who touched him when so many people were crowded around. I felt powerless in that situation. I questioned my own judgement but knew it was not just someone bumping me with the movement of the train. But I think most women are meant to feel this way at times. Powerless, vulnerable, questioned.

The woman in the story has suffered so much over the previous 12 years. She is powerless to change her situation. Even though she has tried and tried to find a cure from the many doctors she has seen. Still she suffers with bleeding everyday. In that time her condition made her unclean in the eyes of the religious authorities. She could not cook for her family because she would make them unclean. She could not sit on the same furniture. Could not sleep in the same bed with her husband (if she has one).

In contrast there is Jairus, a prominent community figure. He is quite powerful in his situation in life. As a leader of the synagogue he would have been one of the men in the community that kept this woman from being fully integrated with the rest of the people. He was charged with upholding the purity laws and practices that were thought to have kept the rest of the community in God’s favor. But now he too is made powerless by the sudden illness of his daughter. A girl who has been alive as long as the woman has been suffering.

Both these figures — one named, the other anonymous — come to Jesus in their desperation.

I think power and feelings of powerlessness are at the root of much of the conflicts of our time. The turmoil in our political system is about who has the power and who feels like they don’t. And it’s about those in power wanting to keep their power at all costs. Even making policies that further disempower whole groups of people. From police brutality to legislation that limits women’s rights to make their own decisions about reproductive health. To detention of families seeking asylum and the expressed with to deny them due process. To the people in middle America who voted for Trump because they feel their power slipping away. The desperation of powerlessness takes many forms. Some take up arms and shoot classmates and teachers. Others take up protests in the streets. Still others cross borders against the law hoping for mercy.

With more anxiety coming down the road with questions about who will fill an open position in the highest court. We are constantly dealing with dynamics of power.

For the woman she found some power in persistence. Though she had received no help from medical professionals, she took one last chance. But it meant crossing a boundary that could have had severe consequences. It meant breaking the laws that kept her separated from others, especially men. To reach out and touch without asking permission. Trusting the power of God to heal her. She takes what she believes she is owed. Knowing that if she asked first, she might get rebuffed again. She doesn’t take that chance this time. This time she takes what belongs to her as a daughter of God.

Jairus, who may have never faced powerlessness like he did in the face of his daughter’s death, assumes the same posture as the woman before Jesus. He kneels in a gesture of recognizing one more powerful than he is. It is an amazing thing. Here a religious leader also transgresses what he himself has taught. Against the other authorities who fail to recognize Jesus’ power, Jairus takes a chance. What if this is the only option for his daughter? He is willing to risk losing his position, looking foolish, looking blasphemous in front of his congregation. If it could mean life restored to his child.

I would like to think that Jairus learned something in his encounter with Jesus. Whether or not he knew the woman personally, though if they were from the same village it is likely he did. His experience of limited power might have taught him empathy for those whose power was limited by virtue of their gender or other life situations. Empathy as a means to shared power is something we should work to cultivate.

Jesus feels the power leave him when the woman reaches out for healing. And in that state of powerlessness he goes and heals Jairus’ daughter. Both the woman and the girl were restored to full life by their encounter with the emptied Jesus.

Follow me on this logic, but with empathy we learn to speak against abuse of power and imbalances of power. Not because we need to rescue others but because we understand our connection to them. That we are all in the same boat, even if we are separated by life experiences. Jairus was one sick child away from losing all his power for the sake of the one thing that mattered most. And he and the woman both come to the same place, the feet of Jesus to find healing.

Building Sacred Communities

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
— Mark 4:35-41 Jesus Calms the Storm


This week words printed on a $39 jacket spoke volumes. Simultaneously tone deaf and descriptive of the President’s response to people seeking asylum. “I don’t care, do you?" It wasn’t meant this way, but perhaps it can be read as a challenge to us. We can be outraged at all of this. But do we care? Really? “Do you not care that we are perishing?” The disciples cry from the depths of their fear. And Jesus’ words after calming the storm are a challenge back to them — “Have you still no faith?”

But what is faithful response when the storms of the world rage?

Sacred community is one of the values of the Park Church Co-op. Or rather we understand that what makes this a sacred place is not the ornamentation and the stained glass windows, but the people who are gathered here. And that gathering is done by the Holy Spirit. So that each time people come together this becomes holy ground. The question then is how we will respond to the gathering God has wrought among us this morning. Or next Sunday, or Tuesday at bible study or for concerts and community.

About 10 years ago I went to Maine with a friend. One place we visited was Sabbathday Lake, which is the last remaining Shaker community, with only two official Shakers left. The model of the Shaker community was not a sustainable one. They saw themselves as faithful remnants. In the 18-19th centuries, they practiced celibacy and removed themselves from the world. It was their way of creating a sacred community. Set apart, protected from the immorality and impurity of the world around them. They saw themselves as the small boat on the ocean. Jesus was inside and the storms raged around. But they were kept safe by their faith.

There are still those communities that believe holiness is about separating themselves from the world. But that is not what Jesus promises. Jesus sends his followers into the world as the storms rage. To be the ones that understand the peace of God in the face of tumultuousness around them. It’s why having places like this to retreat to for just a time is so important. When we are gathered in here we enter sacred time and space. We say we are part of a different reality. The values of God’s Kingdom are in full force as we proclaim peace to each other, even if there were war outside the doors. We say that salvation belongs to all, even when we know there are people out there suffering because of who they are. We give thanks for blessings, even if things are not quite what we wish they would be for us or our neighbors. For this hour they can be. This may seem like delusional thinking. But the reason we practice living this different reality here is so that we can take it with us when we re-engage with a tempestuous world.

Jesus, do you not care that we are perishing? In the midst of the disaster that is our government and the lives that are being destroyed even as we gather, we ask this same question. Do you not care? Jesus knows what they don’t in that moment. That the depths to which humanity can sink under the guise of enforcing law and order would reveal itself sooner than they knew. And Jesus would be the one left on the cross alone. The followers would disappear as he hung on the cross. Do you not care that I am perishing?

We know the storm raging right now. We can’t escape the media coverage. And we ourselves are filled with roiling outrage at the scenes of children, even infants being torn away from parents. Put in detention centers. Even here in New York City. Over 2000 in just the last two months.

In the story fear and faith are intimately tied. Jesus seems to put them at odds. But facing down fear is the seed of faith. Acting despite fear is what faith is about.

I think about parents who fled countries with children on their backs and at their sides. Where was their fear the greatest? Was it facing gang violence in their homeland? Was it when they got into trucks driven by strangers on a treacherous journey across multiple borders? Was it when they arrived at the US/Mexico border to face ICE agents unsure of what the next step would be? Was it when their children were taken away for baths never to return?

And yet the journey they undertook was with hope that in the end they would find safety and that things would be better than they were back home. It takes an incredible amount of faith to enter the storm like that. Do you not care that we are perishing?

We should not doubt that if Jesus is anywhere he is in those detention centers with people who are suffering. And what we practice in here is a definitive, “Yes,” to the question, “Do you not care?” We are reminded at the table when we are all fed by God’s grace. And we assure one another the sharing of peace. That Jesus is in the boat amid the storms with us.

In turn we enter the storm out there with people who need to know that the answer to the question, “Do you care?” is “Yes, we do.” Sacred space and community is where we are reminded of God’s care for us. Not so that we sit and relish it, soaking it all up for ourselves. It’s so we are strengthened to be the ones proclaiming God’s peace for those who are being tossed about in this life.

Even when we don’t care or don’t know HOW to care, Jesus does. And the grace of God is poured on us and all people. So when we see the storms coming, we face with faith despite our fear.