August 13, 2018

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August 12, 2018

Zombies, gods and bread for the world

A sermon on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost | John 6:35, 41-51

"Never judge a book by its cover." You've heard this phrase.

It’s an idiom typically used to remind us not to judge other people by appearances. Doesn't usually have anything to do with books. Nonetheless, this is a truth we all know; that we shouldn't evaluate others merely by how they present themselves. I confess, I’ve certainly been this shallow, judging others on appearance. I'm sure you're better about this than I am.

As the gospel writer reflects back on his experiences with Jesus, he tells about how this same thing happened to our Savior. As Jesus attempts to explain who he is to Israel–and indeed the world, he’s cut short by those within earshot. "Isn’t this just Joseph’s kid? Who does he think he is?!" All they could see was a poor, country boy, the son of day laborer–and word on the street was that Joseph wasn't even is real dad, some saint that Mary was! What right did he have to say he was anything more?

This image hearkens back to the calling of the disciples: What good thing could come out of Nazareth? (Nazareth being akin to one of those small, seemingly insignificant towns off the side of the highway you'd miss if you blinked)

Judging him by his appearance, class, and family they could not see who Jesus truly was. Yet, they weren't hung up on his appearances alone. His words were insolent!

In this section of John's Gospel, Jesus speaks a great deal about food. Bread in particular. Just when you're starting to get hungry for grandma's home baked bread, Jesus starts alluding to his flesh being the bread everyone needs to nosh on! Ew! To our modern ears this rings more of zombies than anything else, right? But for those listening in first century Palestine, the undead did not rise up within their imagination.

Rather, gods did.

In the Roman world of the first century, everyone was religious. There were a number of religions–or possibly more appropriately tribal spiritualities–and even more gods. It was a regular practice to offer a burned sacrifice–meat or grains, for example–to your god. It would not have been uncommon for you, and those with you, to consume a portion of whatever had been offered in sacrifice. The belief, then, was that the essence of that god was within that sacrifice and when eaten was now within you.

When Jesus says, "Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread [...] is my flesh.” They didn't think "Zombies!" Instead, the would have thought, "Heresy!"

Jesus was telling his hearers that if they were to partake in his life, they were partaking in the very life of God. That was madness! He was a nobody from nowhere. Who did he think he was!?

Well, for one? God.

Judging this book by its cover ensured that they completely missed the point.

As I mentioned from the top, Jesus speaks a lot of bread here. This is not the first, nor is it the last time, that Jesus will refer to himself as a source of nourishment. He did the same when talking with a woman at a well in Samaria. In that interaction, he refers to himself as the source of living water. He will refer to himself again as bread, and wine as well, at his last meal with his closest friends in an upper room.

Here lies a distinction. After eating a meal with foods recently sacrificed to gods, your belly would have been filled with god-ness for only so long. Jesus refers here to a sustenance that is everlasting. He conveys to those that would here him that through Jesus a different kind of life is accessible.

We draw from passages such as this one, an understanding of what the Eucharist is intended to mean for those of us who call ourselves Christian. It would be convenient to surmise that Jesus is merely referring here to a spiritual state. Yet, it seems important to point out that John's Gospel does not end with a re-telling of the Lord's Supper. Rather, the writer of John's Gospel seemed to think it important for us to recall that partaking in Jesus' essence means partaking in his way of living. It does not merely connect us to his atoning work on the cross. Not simply to his death but his life as well. In responding to God's good news, by entering into the way of Christ, we accept Jesus' life as our model. Partaking in this communion service or saying a certain prayer does not discharge us from following in his steps. We receive nourishment in order to live. This Table is not the finish line. It's the starting line.

"Okay, Jason, I'm tracking with you," you might say, "but what's 'eternal' about living like this Jesus character?"

Consider the Sermon on the Mount. What gives life again and again?

Coveting what is not ours or learning to practice contentment? Vengeance or learning to love your enemy? Hoarding wealth or giving to those in need? Judging others or practicing humility?

We don't know what it is to live in the way of the Jesus only because we are too proud to attempt it. It is more convenient to live a temporal life that benefits me, myself and I.

Now, none of us are perfect. Like the poet W.H. Auden wrote, all of us attempt to love our crooked neighbor with our crooked heart. As we try to in our feeble ability to live into Jesus' way, take assurance that we are drawn into this way of life not by our own effort but by God's. In the passage read this morning Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me [...]" The word "drawn" that Jesus uses here was a fishing term. When I take my kids fishing, we place a lure on a hook and cast out our lines. In order to catch the fish, the fish has to make an effort to bite the lure. In Jesus' era, a fisherman would cast out a net, draw it in and the fish would be caught up within in it. The effort is not the fish's. It is all the fishermen's. Could this be an analog to the covenant made between God and Abraham, in which God carries the responsibility of both parties?

We know we will come up short; we will trip over ourselves, failing to offer ourselves as bread to the world. In these moments, be reminded that this is the miracle. Don't judge your own book by its cover! Even in our flawed efforts to nourish the world as Jesus has nourished us, God shows up and uses these broken moments, failed attempts and flubbed opportunities to transform this world.

Our lives do not culminate at the Eucharist feast. It is here that they begin. At the dismissal, our journey into living as Jesus begins. If God can choose to break into our world through the life of a Nobody from nowhere, then he will certainly use our crooked hearts to love our crooked neighbors.


Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

August 11, 2018

Weekend Listening: Sons of Kemet - My Queen is Harriet Tubman

YouTube | Spotify
Jazz may have been birthed in America but London is host to some of the coolest, cutting-edge jazz at the moment. Sons of Kemet is at the forefront. Check out their latest album, Your Queen Is A Reptile.

August 10, 2018

Be. Give. Share. Accord.

"By the seventh day God had finished his work. On the seventh day he rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a holy day because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. This is the story of how it all started, of heaven and earth when they were created."Genesis 2:2-4, The Message

Have you ever had that feeling when you get home from a vacation and say to yourself, "I need another vacation!"?

Sometimes this comes after a vacation filled with physical activity; walking, hiking, surfing, etc. Or if you're an introvert, it may be a vacation filled with lots and lots of people and you end your vacation exhausted by all the extroversion. For certain, this vacation was filled with lots of people and plenty of physical activity but none of that was why I felt I still needed a vacation by the time we got home.

Not long before our scheduled vacation, my supervisor had told me I needed a break–the energy I was expelling wasn't endless. I appreciated the care and concern but did not think too much about this because I love the work I get to do.

Yet, we all have limits.

By the time I sat down on a plane to head towards our family hometown for two weeks, I found myself saying under my breath, "I need a break!" The boss was right. Within a few hours, I was walking along a beach with my shoes off. It was incredible ... but I still struggled to relax.

I confessed in my Instagram story recently that I don't rest well. I have mastered the art of displaying a sense of calm but underneath I tend to be restless. Throughout the majority of our time away, I could not say I felt relaxed until the last few days when I began to find a rhythm–a pattern of routines that help me rest. Like riding a bike, the muscle memory began to set in. Unfortunately, we are already beginning to prepare for a return back to our busy lives.

In Judeo-Christian traditions, there is a connotation between rest and the word "sabbath." Sabbath is intended to be a period of time during which labor is abstained from. It is a concept rooted in our creation narrative. After creating the cosmos and appreciating its goodness, God rested. Throughout his ministry, Jesus is documented in the Gospels in speaking about the sabbath. After being criticized for healing people and gathering food to eat–understood in that culture as work–on the sabbath, Jesus says in Mark's Gospel, "The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath." Throughout his responses to his sabbath-activity criticism, Jesus implies that the sabbath exists not only for abstinence from activity but to renew life.

In his great meditation on the sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord." This sense of being, or presence, does not mean we do nothing. Rather, it means we do the things that increase our presence–or availability to and awareness of God, our loved ones, our neighbor and ourselves. Heschel contrasts the activities of our common, everyday lives with sabbath activities: have vs. be, own vs. give, control vs. share, subdue vs. accord. Be. Give. Share. Accord. These sabbath ideals require action, but they are actions that subvert the norms and expectations of our harried culture. My realization towards the tail end of our vacation was that I was trying to abstain from activity without realizing I needed to engage in those actions that give life; to be, give, share and live in accord.

This makes me wonder, if I create time to practice those activities that are defined by Heschel's sabbath characteristics throughout my everyday life would extended rest come easier for me? What are the activities that help you live into a sabbath way of being? For me, writing is one of those activities that when shared gives me life. I am attempting to create time for that sabbath activity. How will you find ways to be, give, share and live in accord; practicing sabbath in everyday life?

Photo by Ilham Rahmansyah on Unsplash

July 6, 2018

A Tight Rope of Humility and Courage

NOTE: This is an edited version of what was in my July '18 newsletter. Go subscribe and you'll be the first to read these kinds of updates.

This week, I am in Austin with thousands of people from across the Episcopal church. Months ago, I thought this would be a huge opportunity to recruit church planting leaders. I sent emails and made phone calls, inviting people to sit down with me to discuss partnering with my office to start new congregations. Half a dozen people responded to my meeting requests. A little disappointing but I gladly reached out to those people to set up meetings. Guess what happened next?


At the end of the day, no one would agree to a time and place. Before casting blame, I reached out to wiser leaders and mentors asking, "What did I do wrong?" Was I intimidating, too informal, too formal, etc. The response I received? "People are not prepared or desire to take risks." Granted, I've learned to improve how I recruit leaders and at the end of the day I've connected with the right people to partner with in other ways. Nonetheless, I think these mentors are right; most people want to take a familiar path, a path with a predictable outcome.

I find that boring.

You don't have to come to Texas and plant new faith communities with me but if you have an imagination for something new and different, take the risk and do it. Whatever you learn, however you grow, no matter the outcome it's a win because you were the one to do it. Notice how I framed the benefits of risk-taking? The competitive edge is internal. Those that take risks, learn from the risk–whether failure or success, and try again are those that walk a tight rope of humility and courage. It has far less to do with whether you're "the best" at something and so much more to do with whether you're willing to try and learn. Being "the best" is an external perception. The will to try and learn is internal and matters a lot more.

What risk are you going to take?